The town of Inuvik, N.W.T., is grieving the loss of 48-year-old Star Café owner Gebie Pedroso, who died unexpectedly last Tuesday morning.
Pedroso was a pillar of Inuvik's small but mighty Filipino community. She was also beloved by customers of the café that she worked at, then owned, for several years. At lunch hours, customers would line up to get a table.
Longtime customer and friend Aru Vashisht says Pedroso was a beloved member of the Inuvik community and that people are still in shock.
"It's one of those tragic deaths where it's very hard, not just for her family to accept, but also the entire community," said Vashisht.
"It might sound crazy but I still think when the café reopens and we go there that she will be there. It's very hard that she's left us."
Pedroso had lived in Inuvik for about 10 years and had worked at the local café for a couple years before becoming the owner this past November.
"Since we don't have too many options in Inuvik… it was definitely a good change for the community, the type of change she brought to the café," said Vashisht.
She says she will remember Pedroso as a "very helping person, very kind, with a very beautiful heart."
"I have never seen her complaining, I've never seen her tired. She was always smiling… she created a good aura in the café, for sure."
Pillar of Filipino community
Close family friend Jenel Zabala says Pedroso was a very giving person, who was easy to talk to. She was the reason that he and many Filipinos came to live and work in Inuvik, he said.
"She told us that there's a couple of jobs in here, in Inuvik," he said. "That's why me and my wife moved here, up North."
Zabala says Pedroso was a central, supportive figure in the town's Filipino community.
"Every birthday celebration for every Filipino kid, they held it in the café... Every Christmas, every kid in the Filipino community receives a gift from Gebie."
About a day after Pedroso's death, a GoFundMe account was set up with a goal of raising $20,000 to help her family with funeral and travel costs, to take her remains home to the Philippines.
With donations from current and past residents of the town, the goal was met in just over 24 hours.
Former Inuvik resident Dorothy Wright, now living in Edmonton, is also holding a raffle auction until April 3 for a quilt she made to raise funds for Pedroso's family.
"It was very heartbreaking and thinking of her family and her young son that she leaves behind. It's the least I can do," Wright said.
Pedroso is survived by her husband Leo and teenage son Lynelle.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at Our Lady of Victory Church followed by a community feast at the Midnight Sun Complex.