What we know about the first 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Canada

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March 8

Ruth Sheppard was 93 years old when she died in an Ontario nursing home, with no loved ones by her side.

Its decline, due to COVID-19, was rapid. Sheppard Tami’s daughter, who had Down syndrome and lived in the same residence, stopped eating when her mother disappeared from her life and died herself five days later.

Their friends and family were not allowed into the nursing home to say goodbye.

“Do you know how everyone talks about closure?” Said Dorothy Hannon, one of Ruth Sheppard’s closest friends. “I guess that’s what you don’t get now, with close people dying and you can’t even see them. “

Thousands of Canadians across the country are struggling with this lack of closure. They are physically forbidden to be with their loved ones in their last moments, they say goodbye on phones, screens or, in some cases, not at all.

For several weeks, a team of CBC journalists has been tracking the dead, trying to find out as much as possible about who they were in order to tell their stories.

At first it was easier. Public health officials were able to share more information – ages, genders, cities – when the numbers were relatively low. In some cases, they even revealed how these people came to acquire the virus.

But as the virus has claimed more lives, the number of deaths per day has become a fixed number announced at a press conference or sometimes just plainly posted on a website. Twenty here, 60 more there. Points on a curve that may or may not flatten.

The history of COVID-19 in Canada is more than a graphic. Each of these data points represents a hole in the life of a Canadian family, who is now forced to cry from a distance.

Here are some of the stories behind the first 1,000 lives lost due to COVID-19.

First days

Canada registered its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in late January, but it was not until March 8 that the virus made its first victim in that country.

In one case that foreshadowed many of the deaths to come, the victim was a man in his 20s who lived in a nursing home. His family asked for privacy to mourn their loss, but it is common knowledge that he lived at the Lynn Valley Care Center in North Vancouver, where COVID-19 killed seven of its first 10 victims.

Ming Ball Lee pictured with daughter Nancy Lee
Ming Ball Lee and his daughter, Nancy Lee, went to Vancouver’s Chinatown to collect dim sum.

March 14 • North Vancouver, British Columbia

One of these early victims was Ming Ball Lee, who immigrated to Canada from southern China in 1949. His early years in that country were marked by hard physical labor in the mines of northern Saskatchewan and from the Northwest Territories, said daughter Nancy Lee in an interview.

Later in life, he moved to Bowen Island, British Columbia, where he lived a quiet life marked by a meticulous routine by which some Islanders could set their clock. “He walked every day, rain or shine, and people stopped and offered him a ride, and he refused,” recalls Nancy.

Lee moved to the Lynn Valley Care Center in 2013, and Nancy visited him regularly to bring him lunch or cut his hair.

During one of these visits on Saturday, Nancy noticed signs on her father’s floor warning of COVID-19. The following Tuesday, staff told him that his father had a fever and Wednesday that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Lee said she received regular updates over the next few days, including a Friday afternoon when her father got up and ate. Nancy remembers being comforted by this message: her father was fine.

Twelve hours later, he was dead.

The first death from COVID-19 outside the Lower Mainland in British Columbia occurred on March 11, but was not reported by the Province of Ontario until six days later. Little is known about the 77-year-old man who died in a Barrie hospital, apart from the fact that he had underlying health problems and contracted the disease through close contact with a person who had traveled.

A week later, COVID-19 strikes for the first time in Quebec.

Photograph by Mariette Tremblay

March 18 • Lavaltrie, Que.

Tremblay was a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who was the beating heart of a large and growing family, according to a Facebook message which was the family’s only public statement during her death. She was well known in Lavaltrie, a town about 50 kilometers northeast of Montreal, for her kindness and generosity. Despite the number of people who loved him, Tremblay died at the hospital with none by his side.

“We wanted to be able to hold her hand, comfort her, speak softly in her ear, but we were not lucky,” the family wrote.

according to our analysis. The CBC was able to establish age ranges for 296 of these people, and the age distribution closely reflected national data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

As of April 15, the day Canada marked its 1,000th COVID-19 death, eight of the 10 people died were over 70 years of age.

But the virus has also claimed the lives of young Canadians.

Photograph by Shawn Auger

March 30 • Big Lakes County, Alta.

Auger was a married father of three who worked with at-risk youth in northern Alberta. Auger’s friend Shane Farnham, a former colleague at the Youth Assessment Center in High Prairie, Alberta, remembers him as the person who taught him to believe in him.

“Without him, I don’t know who I would be right now,” said Farnham in an interview.

It was hard work, helping young people to leave group homes, but Auger’s impact was such that former clients would stay in touch with him for years, said Farnham. “There could be a billion other people in my place who could tell you how they were heard, supported or listened to [by Auger]. ”

In his spare time, Auger was a female hockey coach in his home community. Last year, he posted a photo on social media of his daughter kneeling after a match, thanking Jesus for the victory. “Man my daughters amaze me every day,” he wrote.

When Auger died, members of the community put hockey sticks outside their doors in his honor.

Photograph by Nicole Hoffman

April 3 • Edmonton

Hoffman is Canada’s youngest known victim of COVID-19. She was in her twenties and her fiancé confirmed on a fundraising website that she died from COVID-19. The family declined to comment further.

Health workers are one of the groups most at risk for COVID-19. The country lost the first such worker to the virus in British Columbia. April 5.

Photograph of Warlito Valdez

April 5 • Richmond, British Columbia

Warlito Valdez was a devoted husband and father for a young girl.

He worked in a group home for disabled adults on the outskirts of Vancouver in Richmond. Originally from the Philippines, Valdez worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia before coming to Canada.

Her widow, Flozier Tabangin, said her husband loved the job he did, taking care of those who needed it. “He was a hero … it’s too sad that he has [COVID-19]. It’s very devastating. ”

Tabangin is now worried about how she will support her young daughter without her husband. “Now that he’s gone, how can we survive? Living with this house, with my little one, with only [one] pay check … It’s difficult. It’s very difficult. ”

but the majority of the top 1,000 were in Quebec and Ontario, with over 400 in each province. One in four people died was in Montreal or Laval – and the Greater Toronto Area was not far behind.

Most deaths in retirement homes

In early April, an increasing number of deaths began to occur in retirement homes or residences for the elderly.

This number only increased when new deaths were reported and confirmed to be the result of COVID-19. By the end of April, as the national death toll approached 3,000, the CBC had confirmed that two-thirds of the cases had occurred in retirement homes or care facilities. In Quebec, this figure was closer to 80%.

Tami Sheppard pictured with her mother Ruth Sheppard

April 1 (Ruth) and April 6 (Tami) • Bobcaygeon, Ont.

Ruth and Tami Sheppard were a mother and daughter who lived in the same room at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, one of the first in the province to be severely affected by COVID-19.

Tami Sheppard has had Down syndrome and has been close to her mother all her life, said Dorothy Hannon, friend of Ruth, whose daughter is married to Ruth’s son. The two grandchildren shared and talked on the phone every day.

Ruth was a talkative and friendly person who loved arts and crafts and played euchre, recalls Hannon. She said Ruth’s auburn hair never turned gray, even at the age of 93.

Ruth had only lived in Pinecrest for about three months and her daughter a few more weeks.

“When Ruth died … I guess [Tami] couldn’t understand where Ruth was and what had happened to her, why she had gone, and she wouldn’t get out of bed or eat, apparently. ”

Tami died five days after her mother.

“They didn’t think Tami had this disease, but she lost her heart. “

In mid-April, one of the oldest of the first 1,000 victims died in a Toronto area nursing home.

Helen Doidge Hall

April 15 • Markham, Ont.

Kathy Graham describes her mother, Helen Doidge Hall, as “almost unsinkable.” Just over a month before her death, the 102-year-old had a pacemaker installed.

“I think the cardiologist who met her realized that she was always with her and had a real love of life,” said Graham. “She was always looking forward to the next thing, the next family event. “

Doidge Hall was born in Kent County, Ontario in July 1917, the daughter of a minister. Her mother died shortly before her 13th birthday. Doidge Hall trained as a teacher and was first assigned to a one-room school in rural Milford, Ontario.

She met her future husband, Clarence Doidge, at church. After returning from fighting during the Second World War, they had four children together. Shortly before Doidge planned to retire and take the time to travel with his wife, he died.

Despite the many challenges in her mother’s life, Graham said she’s never lost her sense of humor.

“She had some difficult things that happened, but she really understood how to live a very happy life. And if it could be bottled and distributed, we would all live a much happier life. “

On April 15, Canada celebrated its 1,000th death related to COVID-19.

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