'They were heroes': Ceremonies in Quebec honour COVID-19 victims
MONTREAL -- Families who lost loved ones from COVID-19 commemorated victims of the pandemic at special ceremonies in Quebec City and Montreal Thursday, marking one year since the virus was declared a global health emergency.
At the National Assembly, relatives wearing face masks laid white roses next to a large wreath outside the steps of the building for the National Day of Remembrance. The white rose was chosen as a symbol of strength and delicacy and the "sincerity of the sentiments expressed in tribute to the victims of the COVID-19 and the unity of the Quebec people," according to the government.
The Quebec flag flew at half mast Thursday, while down below a wreath was adorned with the words 'Je me souviens (I remember)'.
One man invited to attend the ceremony approached the wreath, laid a rose, and looked up to the sky as sombre music was played live by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra conducted by its former maestro, Kent Nagano.
Nagano, too, laid a rose after his performance.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault attended the ceremony alongside the lieutenant governor of Quebec, the speaker of the National Assembly, a number of ministers, including the health minister, and leaders of the opposition parties.
In his remarks, the premier noted the tragic toll the crisis took on the elderly. In Quebec, long-term care homes were at the epicentre of the pandemic last spring. Today, people over the age of 70 make up the majority of the 10,518 recorded in Quebec.
“We lost great mothers, great fathers, brothers, sisters, parents, friends. And today, Quebec remembers,” Legault said. “Quebec remembers all those people who left much too quickly.”
The premier also praised the service of essential grocery store workers and those in hospitals who have been on the front lines in hospitals since the pandemic started.
“Imagine at the time -- we didn't know the virus all that well, and they had the courage to go to the infected patients,” Legault said.
“They were heroes, and they have continued for the past year and are still continuing the entire Quebec nation owes them recognition and gratitude.”
The event was held the same day Quebec surpassed 600,000 doses of the vaccine being administered to residents since the start of the pandemic. That covers 7.3 per cent of the population of Quebec as home vaccinations at home are slated to being next week.
The Quebec premier admitted just two days ago that “we could have done better” at responding to the public health crisis.
'A SAD ANNIVERSARY'
A ceremony was held in Montreal followed the event in Quebec City, with Mayor Valerie Plante making a short, solemn address.
"We are marking a sad anniversary today," said Plante at the ceremony outside Montreal city hall. "It's the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, which has turned our lives upside down. A pandemic that has changed us forever, a pandemic that has taken tens of thousands of lives; loved ones who have left us, alone, far from their family and friends. Is there a greater sacrifice than leaving our loved ones without the chance to say a final goodbye? I don't think so."
Local politicians including Benoit Dorais, Lionel Perez, and Beny Masella took part in the event, alongside Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Chief Gina Deer, Montreal public health director Mylène Drouin, Montreal fire chief Richard Liebmann and Montreal police chief Sylvain Caron.
A temporary memorial was erected at Place Vauquelin, composed of drawings made by children from schools in the boroughs most affected by COVID-19, namely Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension, Montreal North and Riviere-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles.
"This pandemic has tested the resilience of Montreal is for 365 days, and as we see the light, and hope of spring sunshine, let us remember the departed," said Plante as she thanked health-care and front-line workers for their efforts in fighting the pandemic. "We can look forward to the future with hope, strength, and solidarity."
Several monuments and emblematic buildings in Montreal will be illuminated on Thursday evening in honour of the victims and in support of their bereaved families.