In many families, fathers hold an important place and are often seen as heroes. For Marie-Josée Martin, this was especially true.
When asked to describe her father, Marie-Josée took a long breath before answering.
“My dad was the most wonderful man on Earth,” she said, passionately.
Along with the people of Kanesatake, Marie-Josée is mourning the death of her father Denis Martin, 78, who passed away from pulmonary fibrosis on December 13. Denis died peacefully in the early afternoon, surrounded by his family at the St. Eustache Hospital. He is survived by his wife, Mariette Charrette Martin, 82, his daughter Marie-Josée, 49 and his two grandchildren, Sandy, 27, and Tommy, 18. He was predeceased by his son Daniel.
Denis had been battling the disease for the past six years, beyond every expectation. The life expectancy of patients with pulmonary fibrosis is three to five years after diagnosis. His long battle was a perfect reflection of his tenacity and courage.
“He wanted to fight until he was 100-years-old,” said Marie-Josée, “to not leave his wife, kids and grandchildren behind. He kept saying that he still had many pieces of advice to give us and wanted to protect us.”
Denis was hospitalized three weeks ago. The pandemic forced many families to be separated from their loved ones during their last moments, but Marie-Josée explained that they were lucky enough to be by her father’s side the entire time.
“He left this world with so much love because we were with him around the bed,” said Marie-Josée.
Marie-Josée spoke of her father’s wisdom and absolute desire to be there for his family. But on Sunday, the time had come for his family to be there for him. She described his last moment as something beautiful. While the eternal fighter in Denis was not ready to let go just yet, his family gathered around and gave him permission to leave.
Born in 1942, Denis lived his entire life on his farmland on Rang Sainte-Sophie. He started with nothing except the piece of land handed down by his father and built his empire from scratch with his wife, whom he met 58 years ago. Marie-Josée’s parents had a classic love story.
“He was so in love with my mother,” said Marie-Josée. “Even until the very end, when we would come to visit him at the hospital, he was always saying that she was the most beautiful woman in the world.”
The second love in his life, after his family, was his infamous corn. Denis’ empire of sweet corn had a reputation that preceded him. Marie-Josée recalled that he used to say that “it takes years to build a name for yourself and only five minutes to destroy it.” She said she was raised with strong morals and values, remembering how her father always led by example, knowing that actions towards others will be reciprocated.
“He taught us about respect,” said Marie-Josée, “and about the importance of helping others.”
When it came to being involved and helping in the community, Denis was there.
Back in 1990, during the so-called Oka Crisis, the barricades made it impossible for him to sell his corn and he was left with a surplus. Eventually, as the Red Cross was refused access to the community, Denis offered to store the necessities they had brought for the community. He later redistributed the food to land defenders and gave away his much-loved sweet corn.
“Everybody in the community respected him,” said his grand-daughter Sandy. “It’s going to leave an empty place in the community, but also in our heart.”
The family’s only wish is that Denis would have stayed a little longer to be able to see his farm succeed at the hands of his daughter. After her brother’s sudden death five years ago, Marie-Josée took over the family’s business with the help of her children.
“My dad was so respectful of the land,” said Marie-Josée, “so we will continue to take care of it and give back. To take less, but keep it for longer. You are borrowing from the land, he used to say.”
A wake will be held at the Guay funeral home on Sunday, December 20. Denis was 78.
Another tragic death in the community
Sadly, Kanesatake is also mourning the death of Sunny Rae Nelson, 32.
The Kanehsata’kehró:non passed away on December 10 at a private home. She is survived by her two children, Jorden, 14, and Kandra, 12 and her mother Pearl Bonspille. She was predeceased by her father, Anthony Nelson.
Born and raised in Kanesatake, Sunny Rae spent her life in the community and proudly understood Kanien’kéha. She attended École des Pins, where she became fluent in English and French.
Following the announcement of her death, the community mobilized to raise $2,500 for Nelson’s family. In less than a day, KB & PG Spin’dles, an initiative that aims to raise money for diverse causes, had sold 500 spots for the raffle.
“We wanted to help in any way we could,” said one of the organizers Patricia Kahentanoron Gabriel. “With the holidays coming up and having to pay for a funeral, we wanted to help financially.”
A wake was held on Thursday, December 17 at the Guay funeral home. Sunny Rae will be buried at the Pine Hill Cemetery in Kanesatake.
Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door