As dusk fell over the Winnipeg riverside, tight rows of 645 flameless candles gleamed near The Forks.
It’s been one year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and the memorial is meant to honour each person who has lost their life to the coronavirus in the city.
Just behind the panorama, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights lit its Tower of Hope blue, in support of health-care workers. The memorial and the blue lights will remain in place until Sunday night, with additional candles added should there be more fatalities announced by the province.
“This time last year, the world as we know it had changed completely,” Mayor Brian Bowman said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“I hope this small gesture of support will provide some measure of solace to those who have lost loved ones, and I hope each of them know that Winnipeggers share in the sorrow that they feel.”
Manitoba reported its first cases of COVID-19 on March 12, 2020. Since then, 911 people in the province have died from the disease.
That number includes 645 people in the Winnipeg health region — two more of which were announced Thursday, prompting city staff to add more candles just hours before the memorial was lit.
“All of these numbers represent real people. These are our neighbours, our friends, family members,” said Bowman.
“Many Winnipeggers were restricted from being by the side of their loved ones in their final days... It’s absolutely heartbreaking to think of how much that has impacted so many in our community.”
Edie Louise was walking by The Forks to catch some fresh air with her young granddaughters Thursday evening, when she noticed the candles.
“I immediately paused in my steps and had to let the girls walk ahead of me because I needed to catch my breath,” she told the Free Press.
“I lost my best friend to this virus,” Louise said. “It happened last fall, I’m still trying to process it all... This is just a beautiful thing to honour her life, because she just loved walking right here with me.”
Earlier, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service’s assistant chief of emergency management recalled the “team effort” required to respond for pandemic protocols, as the provincial capital scrambled in the early days of the crisis.
“Our emergency operations centre has now been in activation for the longest period in the city’s history,” said Jay Shaw.
“While we may see a glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel, we know we’re not out of the woods yet. This pandemic is not over.”
Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press