But they are more than statistics. They were people, much loved and greatly missed: mothers, grandfathers, Indigenous elders, business owners, immigrants and community advocates.
As fathers, they took their kids to Dairy Queen for a special treat. As single mothers, they dedicated their lives to helping others. They reminded their loved ones that family comes first. And when tragedy struck their communities, they were some of the first in line to offer support. Like so many of us, they were flawed but loved fiercely.
Here are some of their stories, told by those they’ve left behind.
Frank & Doris Peres: The pillars of their family
My grandfather, Frank Peres, met my grandmother, Doris Peres (née DeSa), in India. He was raised in Bombay (before it was dissolved into two states) and she was raised in Goa. They married and emigrated to Canada in 1972 when my father — the eldest of their three sons — was 9 years old.
They sacrificed a lot for a better life for our family, and they never stopped instilling in us a need to give back. They were firm Catholics, always sharing charitable teachings, donating and helping others.
My grandfather lit up any room he was in, while my grandmother warmed you with her smiles, her birthday telephone calls, and her neverending culinary feats.
I spent so much time with her growing up. When I was a baby, she used to use this relaxation technique she learned in India, massaging my scalp with oil until I fell asleep. When my parents worked, she would look after me and my brother. She taught me about God and she cooked the tastiest curries.
As a family, we would always gather on the weekends for dinner. My mother and grandmother would cook for us and we’d sit and eat and drink (my grandparents loved rum and cokes). After we would play cards and laugh together, my grandfather sitting close to the TV so he could keep one eye on the hockey game. We tried to keep those weekend dinners alive even after they moved into the same long-term care home.
They were truly the pillars of our family, the people who held us together whenever we had normal family squabbles, who reminded us that family matters and we needed to be there for one another.
Right up until the days they died, you would find them with big smiles plastered to their faces.
Our family misses them both dearly, our grief compounded by the lack of answers as to what exactly happened in their final days.
My grandmother, Doris Agatha Peres, died April 23 at a long-term care home in Lachine, Que., a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19. She was 84 years old.
My grandfather, Frank Peres, died May 20 at that same home. He tested negative four times for COVID-19 before a positive test just six days before he died. He was 86 years old.
They would want you to know what they instilled in our family: spend as much time as you can with those you care about, love them hard and do not neglect them, because life changes fast.
— Frank and Doris Peres’ granddaughter Kaylea Peres, as told to Jane Gerster
Nelda Maurice: a fighter with a big heart, beloved by so many
My mom, Nelda Maurice, sacrificed a lot in her life to make sure her family had everything they needed. She was everything to us and trying to make sense of this loss has been so difficult for my family. Everything is different, there’s an empty space in our lives. I don’t have anyone to call with my good news.
My new baby will never know his or her kokum. My younger babies won’t remember how excited she would be to see them on her visits, and how she would count down the days and hours until she got to hold them. She won’t bring me bannock or fish or moose meat anymore. She’s not here to sing to us. She won’t walk me down the aisle. My dad is alone. The only love he’s ever known, gone, just like that.
She wasn’t ready to go, and we weren’t ready to lose her. Our hearts are so broken.
Everyone says it’s like she’s still here. No one ever expected to lose her because she was a tough woman. She beat cancer. She was living with diabetes for years and years.
She was fighting her battles with her health and still finding time to devote to helping others.
Growing up, I always remember her working. She would not sit down and relax until all her priorities were taken care of. She would either be working on her spotless house, baking bannock for family members, planning her next fundraiser for medical trips, visiting elders and friends, volunteering at the school, planning activities for her Girl Guides or attending elders’ days and card games for a little entertainment.
A student she previously assisted mentioned, “She never had anything bad to say about anyone, and she had a way of treating a person and talking to them. She never told me what to do, but laid out my options and helped me choose the best course for me. It made you feel like you mattered, instead of just giving orders like you meant nothing.”
Her niece said, “She was so happy to see me. Each time I would see her, she was proud to be my auntie, always had a good story to tell, and she was never shy with the hugs and kisses.”
Relatives say in comments taken from Facebook, “Your mom was the most caring, loving individual as she cared for family so much,” and, “Your mom was ‘the glue’ for the family.”
She always made an effort to see her relatives and made them feel special; she was a kind lady with a big heart. She took on role of keeping family connections and loved all children. A true Métis kokum.
Life will never be the same without our kokum Nelly, who died on May 25 at the age of 64.
— Nelda Maurice’s daughter Lana Maurice, as told to Laura Hensley
S. M. Abdus Salam: father, grandfather, community advocate
My father was a force of nature. He did everything for me, my brother and his grandchildren. He was very tall, very handsome and very involved in his community.
In his very short life of 66 years, he accomplished quite a lot. In Bangladesh, he was a freedom fighter, lawyer, freelance journalist, and he contributed with a national political party. When he moved to Canada, he continued his legal practice. He was deeply passionate about human rights and social equity, and he never compromised on his principles.
If there’s anything that defines my father, it was his love for his fellow human beings. It never mattered to him if the person who needed help had different views or if he knew he wouldn’t get anything in return — he always offered to lend a hand.
He was so involved in his community that when COVID-19 began and everything was shutting down, he worked with the community to make sure that those families who were affected by the virus were given help. And yet, he was so humble. He never boasted about his work or himself.
Since he passed, people have called from all over the world — Australia, the U.K., Africa — to offer their condolences.
Everyone who met him remembered him. Our house will never be the same.
When he came into a room, you noticed. When you spoke with him, he made you feel loved. He made you feel like you mattered.
— S. M. Abdus Salam’s daughter Sharmin Sharif, as told to Meghan Collie
Gerald (Jerry) Reiter: a family man with a quick sense of humour
My Dad’s name is Gerald (Jerry) Reiter and he was born in Vernon, B.C. on Jan. 14, 1939. He passed away on May 16, 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the Langley Lodge nursing home.
His parents did not remain together while he grew up, and his mom moved them to Vancouver. They lived in downtown Vancouver and he was number two of five children (although his brother David passed away in infancy). My grandmother worked at St. Paul’s housekeeping and the kids were left to do the best they could while she was gone.
My dad and his older brother Ben were the caretakers of the others and sometimes not very successfully. The most memorable was when he was about 5 or 6 years old and playing on the waterfront on the log booms and a log rolled and down he went. If it wasn’t for the quick arm of a stranger, that would have been the end of him.
My mom lived not far from where my dad did, and they were friends from about 12 years old. They married while they were still in their teens. Interestingly, my mom married my dad and her sister married his brother. My dad had many jobs over the years, from building houses to taxi driving, but settled into a career as a hardwood floor layer. His work was beautiful. Renovating, fishing, bike riding, hiking and golfing were my dad’s hobbies. My mom was his gopher who looked after his tools and brought whatever he needed to do the job. They were a great team in all walks of life.
They have four children: Jim, Kathy (myself), Dave and Ken. We were a tight-knit group, eating dinner together every night at 5 p.m., and had a happy family life. Every Sunday, my dad would drive us all over the Lower Mainland teaching us a little bit of something about everywhere we went. He was a loving dad, and a fun man with a terrific quick sense of humour.
A really happy early memory is of all of us kids wrestling with him on the floor: dogpile on dad, and yes even the dog participated.
Neither of my parents had good examples to work from on how to make a good family life, but they succeeded on their own. We all thrived, graduated and did well. Today we are all married, with kids and some grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My dad really enjoyed his grandchildren. He would let my girls play hairdresser, put barrettes in his hair, and pretend he enjoyed it. He was the family videographer and historian.
My dad nursed my mom through her liver illness and finally a liver transplant with love and dedication. He had an easy smile, was a great listener and offered good advice when asked. He gave the best hugs! His praise was worth striving for. He loved his family, volunteered at the Pender Harbour Golf Club, did recycling for the Bargain Barn, helped with the Forest View Cemetery refurbishment, he was a long time member of the Royal Canadian Legion #112 and was always available to lend a hand to their many friends and neighbours.
Due to health problems (my dad had dementia and my mom suffered a series of strokes looking after him), we persuaded them to move closer to us. After a short while, my dad was deemed acute and moved into Langley Lodge. We continued to visit a few times a week and he never lost his incredible sense of humour and always recognized my husband when he didn’t know anybody else. Eventually, care home visits were not allowed due to COVID-19, and I would just talk for short periods of time to him on the phone. We had a final FaceTime chat at the end of April.
Langley Lodge had just recovered from their first COVID-19 outbreak when a second larger outbreak happened. My dad’s floor was hit severely and several people there did not survive. He was so much more than a COVID-19 statistic. He was a husband of over 60 years, a father to four, a grandfather to 11 and great grandfather to five. He had an exceptional sense of humour. Was loved beyond belief and one of the most genuinely nice people you could ever know. He will be so missed!
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” — Thomas Campbell.
— Gerald Reiter’s daughter Kathy Kear, as told to Laura Hensley
Gurinder Anand: father, chef, community champion
My father, Gurinder Anand, was a simple man who spoke little English or French. Instead, he spoke volumes with his heart, his eyes, and that smile. He had this innate ability to turn restaurant staff and its many, many patrons into his family. It was his home, after all.
My family’s restaurant, Resto Darbar, sits on the main floor of a brick walk-up on St. Laurent Boulevard just below Sherbrooke Street in Montreal. When my father moved to Canada from India as a teenager in the 1970s, his family moved into the apartment just above it.
It wasn’t an easy transition. My father and uncles were the only Sikh boys in their local Montreal high school and they were often bullied for wearing their hair long and uncut. Growing up, I was told stories of dad and his brothers having to leave school early because their turbans would be ripped off.
Dad eventually dropped out of school. He wanted to focus on building a business that could support his parents and siblings in a new country. Despite his lack of education, my father never stopped reminding us of how important it was.
When I got accepted into law school, he was the proudest of anyone, and when I was named valedictorian of my graduating class, he recorded my speech just so he could walk around the restaurant with an iPad, playing it for any patron that was willing to spare a minute over their dinner. He was my biggest champion and I owe it to myself to be his biggest champion.
He loved that restaurant. He cooked delicious, traditional Punjabi food and would spend countless hours in the kitchen. Each break from the kitchen was an opportunity for him to walk around and learn about his guests –where they were from, how many children they had, what they were looking forward to in life.
In 30 years, he built a reputation as an authentic, genuine man who knew his way around a kitchen — of course, all of that’s evident from the online reviews.
My father’s generosity extended well beyond the bounds of our restaurant. He was community-minded – he once packed his van with food and travelled with restaurant staff to cook hot Indian curries for families forced out of their homes during severe flooding.
My father died on May 2, 2020, at 57 years old after a three-week battle with COVID-19. He leaves behind me, my older sister, Chandni Kaur Anand (along with her husband and their daughter), our mother and his wife of 35 years, Jaswinder Kaur Anand, and his favourite, Bahadur. No doubt, his legacy will continue.
— Gurinder Anand’s son Simar Anand, as told to Jane Gerster
Sarah Townsley: loving mother, wife, traveller
My mother, Sarah Townsley, came to Canada in 1947 from Ireland with my dad, a Presbyterian minister.
They lived all over the country because he was sent from church to church for work, so they lived in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and then they settled in Ontario. Once they got to Toronto, my mom said, “that’s the end of that.” She liked Toronto, so she decided they would stay in Toronto. She was a city girl.
She was a stay-at-home mom until I was about 12 when I needed braces, so she took a job at Simpson’s department store.
One of my favourite memories of my mom was when I was having my own baby. I lived in Vancouver at the time, and she flew out to be with me. We were in the hospital and I was in labour and my mom kept coming into the room, then leaving again. After I delivered my daughter, the nurses told me she had been visiting a woman in another room who was also giving birth.
That other woman was a young sex worker who had addiction issues, and she was giving birth alone. My mom was going between my room and this woman’s room to be with her and comfort her. The nurses said, “your mom is one special woman.” I think that sums her up pretty well: she was a true Christian who loved everyone.
She was caring, she was funny. She loved all her children and grandchildren unconditionally.
As a child, my whole house was filled with songs and laughter and unconditional love.
— Sarah Townsley’s daughter Charlene Rathgeb, as told to Meghan Collie
Patricia West: successful, independent, proud mother
My mother Patricia West was a fiery woman. She was strong, she was outgoing and independent and supportive. My parents actually divorced when I was born so I’ve never known my father — it was always just mom and me. She took me everywhere, I was basically glued to her hip.
She raised me as a single parent and she did the best she could. There were definitely hard times, but I look at where I am today and I have her to thank for everything — being independent and successful — I wouldn’t have what I have if it wasn’t for her.
One of the things I remember as a child is she had to do it all. She was the one who taught me how to ride a bike. I played the flute in our school band, she was there for every concert, front and centre, for all those years. She was always there.
The last, best memory I have (of mom) is that I got married last year in Jamaica and because of mom’s declining health, she couldn’t come. So last August, we renewed our vows at a celebration at our home and we replicated the entire wedding so that she could see me get married.
It still makes me well up.
I can see her clear as day in my mind, sitting there watching me get married, and tears of happiness streaming down her face.
I would like her to be remembered as the person she was before her health declined. Mom was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in late 2017. I had noticed things were declining long before then. Even in the last ten to fifteen years, she was not the same woman that raised me.
But it didn’t matter what I did, she was always so proud. She would tell anybody who would listen about whatever was going on in my life. She could be tough, she was strict when I was growing up because she had to do it all. But I wouldn’t be here today without her.
Mom always said: “If you can’t do something yourself, don’t expect someone to do it for you.” And I still carry that with me, it’s that tough-as-nails act she had to put on. She didn’t have a partner to rely on. You do what you need to do to get by, and you make it happen.
My mother died on April 22 at the Northwood manor care home in Halifax, N.S. She was 66.
— Patricia West’s daughter Erica Surette, as told to Olivia Bowden
Giuseppe (Joseph) Mio: family man, handyman, scopa king
Our father, Giuseppe (Joseph) Mio, immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1951 when he was 11 years old. He lived with his parents, three sisters and two brothers in Saint-Michel, Que., before it was annexed into Montreal. He spoke Italian, French and English and became a plumber by trade, although he also worked in construction.
Our father met my mother, Tina, in 1963. Their relationship was one to emulate: they were wonderful, loving, committed — even in their later years, they held hands when walking. Together they started a family, Sylvia, Robert and Steven.
Our dad worked long hours, often late into the evening, so he wasn’t the dad who helped with our homework. But he liked to chase us around the backyard with the garden hose or take us on picnics or to Dairy Queen for a special treat.
He was also dedicated to the eradication of weeds, a task that was funny for us since he set about killing them with a blow torch.
At his core, our dad was a helper — dedicated to his family. When we were kids, he gave us a boost with our newspaper routes on cold, snowy winter days and when we became adults, he helped us with our home improvement projects. My dad’s mind always seemed to whir with new projects and ways to make our lives better.
Our father liked watching Star Trek and playing card games like Scopa, as well as Sudoku, Tock, in-Between (strictly on holidays) and poker. In every picture of him, he appears joyful and happy.
Until 1975, our father was unable to take a vacation, so our first — to Hampton Beach, New Jersey — was so memorable it became a yearly vacation including our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We went in a caravan of cars, my father leading the pack out the door early on Saturday morning, the start of the construction holiday. When my siblings and I became adults, those trips became a getaway just for our parents. But three years ago, we joined them, bringing my two nephews to create their own special holiday memories.
Our father was a great storyteller, the kind of person you would happily sit back and listen to as they talk for long stretches. He was a tall, strong, hardworking man that many would think looked intimidating, yet he had the heart of a soft teddy bear.
Our father died in the hospital on April 13 in Laval, Que. He had gone into hospital with a fractured hip, was transferred from hospital to a long-term care home, where he was sent for physiotherapy but where he instead contracted the virus. During this time, he was alone as we were unable to see him.
We miss him and we are devastated by how he died, waiting for physiotherapy that he never received, in a place we believe contributed to his death. This, we will need to make peace with.
We lost a great man, one who will never be replaced.
— His loving children Sylvia, Robert and Steven, as told to Jane Gerster
Jamal Ali: dedicated father, coach, mentor
Jamal Ali was a father before anything else. He was an incredible dad. He was always there for our son, Rayyan.
I always tell Rayyan that in the 10 years he had with his dad, the amount of love and care and attention and everything he received from him… most people don’t get that in a lifetime. Jamal truly was obsessed with his boy.
I would get mad at him and say, “Don’t spoil him. You’re giving him too much,” but he would always reply, “Anything that I didn’t have in my childhood, I want to make sure he gets.”
He joined basketball as a coach because of Rayyan so that he could be close to him and teach him.
As a person, he was an incredibly giving and generous. Anyone who ever knew him knew he had a really big heart. What was really surprising for me was how much he did for others — a lot of it, I didn’t know until he had passed away because he never mentioned it.
He had his own business, and he had quite a bit of business acumen and experience. A lot of folks, after he passed away, reached out to me to say, “you have no idea how much he helped us to get going with our own business.”
He really went out of his way to give and be there for people.
So many people called me just to say how incredible he was. It was an incredible thing to witness and it definitely encouraged me to be more like him.
Jamal died from COVID-19 in April. A fundraiser for youth education is being held in his honour.
— Iffat Rahman, who was married to Jamal Ali, as told to Meghan Collie
Evelina Upshaw: community organizer, dedicated mother
My mom, Evelina Upshaw, was a big inspiration in her children’s lives and with those around her. She was loving, kind, understanding and giving. She just loved taking care of children and making sure they were getting a good education. My mom was a very special woman.
She was the first Black woman in Nova Scotia to give birth to a set of triplets. It was always, ‘there are the triplets’ — you never heard your name. But my mother was very protective and loving, and made sure we always stayed together. It was a lot of work for my mom, being a single parent.
She was there for every concert in church and choir. Some of my best memories were when we were younger, we were 6 years old and in the fashion show at our church. She was so proud, the tears just ran down her face. Then when we played cello, that was another proud moment.
She expected so much from her children because education was important to her. We were poor, but she made a way — we were in piano lessons, we were in voice lessons, we had skating lessons. There was always a meal on the table and a roof over our heads, she was amazing.
She would tell us: “If you make your bed hard, you have to lay in it.” I never understood it until I got older. I realized it’s about how the choices you make in your life can determine if life will be hard or easy.
My mom loved to eat and she loved to laugh.
It was spending time with her children and playing board games brought so much joy and laughter to her life. As we got older, we went our own ways, and we would see her getting lonely. But she also had our Lord, the Heavenly Father, and she was very active in her church. And that brought a lot of joy to her life.
For 33 years she ran a food program for kids and cooked five days a week. She just loved it. When she had to retire, it really was hard on her, it broke our hearts. But then she got involved in her own community running the breakfast program for six years. She really enjoyed that, feeding children and sending them off to school with mittens and hats.
She was very humble, she didn’t seek any gratification or praise. She just did it because she knew it was the right thing to do. I’d like her to be remembered for her selflessness. She just lit up the room, she just loved to do for others.
Even at the church — to this day, they say: “Your mother never knew how to say no.” She would always do it, even if it took her time and her health. And that made her happy, she left a beautiful legacy behind. I just hope I can only be half that kind of person my mom was.
My mother died on May 8 at the Northwood manor care home in Halifax, N.S. She was 94.
— Evelina Upshaw’s daughter Debi Upshaw-Nolan, as told to Olivia Bowden
Rosa Ferrulli: doting grandmother, eternal smiler
My grandmother, Rosa Ferrulli, was the quintessential grandma: sweet and gentle, always happy and always with a treat in her pocket for whoever was near.
She was born in Italy but lived most of her life in Venezuela with my grandfather, Domenico Ferrulli. Growing up, she reminded me of those Avon ladies, always out and about — independent and confident and busy. She didn’t drive but she walked everywhere.
We helped her move to Montreal 10 years ago, two decades after my grandfather died when it became harder for her to travel back and forth on her own. It was a hard adjustment, she could no longer walk everywhere on her own and it was hard for her to learn to speak English after a lifetime of Italian and Spanish. Still, she did it, and she did it with a smile.
I treasure that time because she developed a strong bond with my daughter, Stella Rose. Even after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and moved into a long-term care home a few years ago, she was our grandmother: always happy and smiling and laughing.
Even when she no longer knew us by name, she knew that we loved her.
She’d see her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren and just light up.
My grandmother, my namesake, died in a long-term care facility in Montreal on June 3 at age 90, following a three-week battle with COVID-19. We miss her so very much and are heartbroken to think her last few weeks were complicated by head-to-toe personal protective equipment that she struggled with because of her Alzheimer’s.
We will miss her the most.
— Rosa Ferrulli’s granddaughter Rosa Ferrulli, as told to Jane Gerster
Joseph Pierre Sylvestre: respected elder, beloved grandfather
My grandpa, Joseph Sylvestre, was the sweetest man, although he couldn’t do things for himself (later in life), he used to work for his family, doing outside mechanical stuff.
He was a respected elder and loved by so many and I’m thankful for each and every one of them who was a part of his life.
My grandpa died April 26 from COVID-19. He was 83 years old.
— Joseph Pierre Sylvestre’s granddaughter Suzanne Sylvestre, as told to Laura Hensley
Antanas Stankevičius: adoring uncle, dear friend
People used to call my uncle Antanas Stankevičius ‘Tony.’ He wasn’t really my uncle — he was my mom’s cousin — but I called him ‘uncle’.
He came to Canada from Lithuania when he was in his 30s, and before that, he was in Siberia working as a soldier. He was pretty private about his life before he came to Canada. He went through a lot, and he came to Canada to start a new life.
His parents were here in Port Colborne, Ont., and he wanted to be with them. He loved it there. He would always reminisce about being around the water. He never married or had children, but we were very close. That’s why I considered him my uncle.
I would visit him and spend as much time as I could with him, and he really appreciated it. I remember one time, he wasn’t doing very well, health-wise, and he was having a lot of back issues, which had him in and out of hospital. Eventually, he ended up in a rehab centre for his back. I remember going to see him when he started to feel better and he was just so happy to see us. He got up with his little cane and he was walking so well. I commented on his walking and he spun his cane, making us laugh.
We would always look through photo albums together, and he loved watching TV and movies.
— Antanas Stankevičius’ niece Krista Ptasinskas, as told to Meghan Collie
Gerald Jackson: loved the sea, found his way back to his family
My dad Gerald Jackson was a character. He was raised in Nova Scotia and then went into the military and married my mom young. After his military life ended, they separated and he went out to British Columbia. He was in the navy and was a cook on the naval ships.
My mom really raised the seven of us. I would go out to British Columbia to visit (my dad) every couple of years. That was just who he was, either you accepted it or you didn’t. And that’s kind of what I accepted, you don’t get to pick and choose your parents.
That was until he started getting his dementia. It was later in life when he came back (to Halifax), he was definitely closest to me. My siblings would say I was his favourite.
I guess I didn’t judge him. I kind of let him be who he was. He always came back to our (me and my husband’s) house for a visit. Seeing him around my children when they were growing up — he was good to them.
When he came home, my favourite memory is we’d always go to Peggy’s Cove together. We’d walk around the rocks. That was his spot, since he was a teenager. He often said to me: ‘It’s the place I’d go and think about myself, and my life.”
He was very much a man’s man.
He loved to dress in his finest suits and he and his long-term girlfriend at the end of his life, they loved to travel around the world cruising. If you asked dad when he was happiest, it was definitely cruising.
My dad’s dad, he was a survivor of the Halifax explosion. So my dad was all over the news about three or four years when we had the anniversary of the explosion. It was pretty special, he put on his finest suit and his medals. My dad loved that, he got to meet the mayor.
I’m at peace with him dying because he had dementia and was leading no kind of life, he was slowly dying himself. I’m just not at peace with the fact that he died alone due to COVID-19. It’s happening across our country.
After he passed, we took dad’s ashes out to Peggy’s Cove, that’s how we did a final goodbye. It was what he wanted, he wanted his ashes out to sea. And we played “I did it my way”.
My father died on April 28 at the Northwood manor care home in Halifax, N.S. He was 84.
— Gerald Jackson’s daughter Charlene Chiddenton, as told to Olivia Bowden
Questions about COVID-19?
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