MONTREAL -- After being called in to do a job that was billed the hardest in the country—caring for elderly residents of a long-term care home as COVID-19 raged—some Canadian soldiers now say it’s sad to leave.

Fifty members of the Canadian Armed Forces said goodbye today to staff and residents at the CHSLD Denis-Benjamin-Viger on Île Bizard.

For about six weeks, they’ve been attending to the residents’ daily needs, which meant getting to know them.

“They very quickly become like friends,” said one of the military helpers, Philip Primmer. 

“You laugh and joke around and provide the care that's needed, and just make them comfortable.”

There’s no doubt about it: the work really was as hard as described, said another, Jennifer David. 

“Even the first shift, after the shift, we were all exhausted,” she said.

But they realized that part of it was simply to “spend time with them.”

The federal government, which was responsible for sending the military, is only keeping them around to help for another two weeks. But Quebec leaders want 1,000 of them to stay until September.

“Two weeks is not the end of the conversation,” said Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel. 

“We will make sure that the federal government understands clearly that if we need them to be here longer, they will have to be very open to that.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, meanwhile, that the federal government was trying to find replacement workers if more were needed.

“We are proposing and working with the province of Quebec to progressively replace those military members with trained people from the Canadian Red Cross,” Trudeau said.

Most of the group leaving Friday will need to head into self-quarantine. But they said they feel like their work made a difference.

“I feel like we held the ship afloat,” said Primmer, “and now that [more staff] are back we can begin to withdraw and leave it back in their capable hands.”