One year after the pandemic was declared, Quebecers took time to honour the more than 10,500 people who have died across the province as a result of the novel coronavirus.
A solemn commemoration took place on the grounds of the national assembly in Quebec City, where flags are flying half-mast Thursday in memory of the lives lost over the past 12 months.
“Quebec remembers all these people who left much too quickly,” Premier François Legault told the small crowd before a minute of silence marking the first anniversary of the health crisis.
He was joined by families of the victims and representatives for people working in essential services for the day of mourning. The province’s lieutenant governor, the health minister and leaders of the opposition parties also paid their respects.
Quebec has been the province hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 295,000 cases to date. The staggering number of victims who have died from COVID-19 represents nearly half of Canada’s death toll related to the virus.
Last spring, the first wave tore through long-term care homes and seniors residences, killing thousands of elderly Quebecers who helped build the province, Legault said.
The ceremony also paid tribute to health-care workers who have been on the front lines of the health crisis as well as other essential workers.
“The caregivers have had the courage to go to the infected patients,” Legault said. “They were heroes. The whole nation owes them gratitude.”
For the day of remembrance, the white rose has been chosen as an emblem for mourning by the province. The government says the flower is associated with “honour and reverence.”
One by one, those at Quebec’s ceremony laid a white rose before a large wreath outside the legislature to the music of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Kent Nagano, playing remotely from Montreal.
At 1 p.m. across the province, Quebecers held a moment of silence to honour the memories of the victims before church bells rang out. Cities across the province are also holding their own events.
‘Let us remember the departed’
In Montreal, which has been a hot spot for the virus, the mayor spoke of the immense loss over the past year.
Valérie Plante spoke of a hard and sad anniversary as there have been more than 4,500 pandemic-related deaths on the island.
“As we see the light and hope of spring’s sunshine, let us remember the departed,” she said.
She also addressed the city’s health-care workers who have been working tirelessly to keep people safe, while putting their own lives and well-being at risk.
Plante said it was important to honour the sacrifices made by them, as well other workers on the front lines of the health crisis.
— with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier and the Canadian Press