Faces of the pandemic A look at the lives of 10 Manitobans lost to COVID-19 over the past 12 months and what they meant to family and friends
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2021 (812 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To most of us, they are anonymous numbers in a grim and ongoing count.
But each one represents one of the more than 900 Manitoba lives lost over the past year to COVID-19.
Many have gone without a published obituary marking their loss. Without family and friends able to gather to grieve at a funeral and, later, celebrate their memories.
Manitoba’s first positive case was announced March 12, followed by three more the next day. The first COVID-19 hospital admission occurred March 17, and the province declared a state of emergency on March 20.
Margaret Sader, a woman in her 60s who worked at a dental clinic in Winnipeg, was the first Manitoban to die from the novel coronavirus, on March 27.
“We’re in this together and we’re grieving together,” Mayor Brian Bowman said then. “Our deepest condolences to the friends and family of the deceased.”
As of Thursday, 910 other Manitobans have fallen victim to the virus, the majority during the peak of the second wave, from October to January. They range in age from a boy under the age of 10 to someone more than a century old.
These are only a few of Manitoba’s faces of the pandemic. We know how they died, but this is how they lived.
There are times when a life changes the lives of others. That’s the way it was for Justine Estelle Steinkopf.
Steinkopf was born with Down syndrome in 1950, a time when parents were encouraged by family, friends and doctors to simply send their children to an institution such as the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie.
In fact, to get a better idea of society’s attitudes at the time, the facility’s name then was the Manitoba School for Mental Defectives. It became the Manitoba School for Retardates in 1967 before it was changed to its present name in 1984.
But Steinkopf’s parents would not have their daughter live that way. She was the second of six children — four sisters and a brother — and grew up in the family’s home in River Heights. Her father was the Tory MLA for the area and the province’s first Jewish cabinet minister in the 1960s.
Steinkopf’s brother Max said she was raised the same way as the rest of her siblings, taking swimming, piano and ballet lessons and going horseback riding.
And bowling, which she loved more than any other activity. He said Justine won more than 30 trophies and occasionally took three buses to get to a bowling alley.
“People ask what it was like growing up with my sister, but it was always like that,” he said. “I always grew up with Justine in the house. You look back now and you can see it was different for the time, but she was just there and always involved in everything.”
Her parents, Maitland and Helen, wouldn’t have it any other way. In the decades after Justine’s birth, Helen Steinkopf established group homes so disabled people could live within the community. She helped found the Manitoba Marathon and was a prime mover in creating Continuity Care, an organization supporting individuals living with special needs and their families.
Steinkopf lived at home for 23 years before moving into the first group home founded by her mother. She later moved to an apartment where, with assistance, she lived as independently as she could for years and took the bus daily to work programs. She also participated in Special Olympics. Burton Cummings performed at her 60th birthday party.
“My mother got the intellectually handicapped out of institutions,” said Max Steinkopf. “It took longer than she thought, but over the years the institutionalized population has shrunk.”
Although she self-isolated in her apartment for months, visited only by caregivers, Steinkopf contracted COVID and died on Dec. 2. She was 70.
“Life expectancy for Down syndrome has gone up considerably and I believe it’s because many are born with heart defects and now it’s not as much of an issue,” said Max Steinkopf.
“And they are not institutionalized.”
Tanis Joy Van Walleghem may have grown up making trouble with her twin brother at her side, but it is her love of family and her daughter for what she will best be remembered.
Van Walleghem was 48 when she died Dec. 19.
Her 21-year-old daughter, Hannah, said her mother was “one of the most joyful, determined and kind-hearted people I have ever known.”
“Despite her struggles in her daily life, she never failed to have a smile on her face… she never let them get in the way of being a mom. She gave me the best life she could and I am extremely thankful, and wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Van Walleghem’s parents, Hugo and Adeline Muller, adopted her and her twin brother Carl when they were just six months old. The twins were from the Fisher River Cree Nation.
“I think my mom and dad just wanted more children,” said Jeff Muller, Van Walleghem’s older brother. “They are Mennonite and they grew up in a Mennonite background — they wanted to help.
“I don’t remember the first day they came to our family, but I have lots of memories of being together.”
Hugo and Adeline Muller died in 2019, just six months apart.
The twins were diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, but Van Walleghem faced life with an “I can do it” attitude.
“Although she experienced some challenges that made life more difficult, Tanis faced the world with energy and enthusiasm,” the family wrote in her obituary.
“She sometimes experienced discrimination, but she didn’t suffer it — Tanis pushed back strongly and with indignation when treated unfairly.”
Growing up, she played sports and the cello — her mother was a cellist and teacher. Van Walleghem went to Grant Park High School, graduating in 1990.
Jeff Muller said his sister had a special relationship with Carl.
“They were pretty close to each other through their lives,” he said. “The escapades of this dynamic ‘double the fun, double the trouble’ duo are family legend.”
She met her husband, Chris Van Walleghem, when they both lived near Osborne Village.
“Chris says that he was attracted to her because of her smile and her confidence,” Muller said, adding the couple married in 2007.
Van Walleghem’s family is still surprised she was stricken with COVID because she was so vigilant about protecting herself.
“She double-masked and wore gloves all the time,” said her sister Krista. “She was fully aware that COVID could be really damaging, given her history with asthma and health issues, in general.”
“This goes to show how easy it can be transmitted, including to the ones who follow the rules the most,” Hannah said.
Besides her daughter, two brothers, and sister, Van Walleghem is also survived by several nieces and nephews.
Manuel dos Santos de Sousa Calisto was able to go from being poor to a member of the middle class in a country under an authoritarian regime, but believed Canada would allow his family to have a better life.
Calisto was 88 when he died on Nov. 11, in the outbreak at the Maples Care Home.
His daughter, Eddie Calisto-Tavares, said while Canada wasn’t his first choice, or even his second, for that matter, he grew to love this country even more than his homeland of Portugal.
“If we ever complained about anything my dad would say, ‘Look where we are. Look at the opportunities,’” Calisto-Tavares said. “He loved Canada.”
Calisto was born Nov. 1, 1932 — All Saints’ Day and something he was very proud of throughout his life — to father Jose and mother Maria, in Livramento, a community on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, about 1,500 kilometres west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean.
Calisto-Tavares said her father was a risk-taker during a time when the Portuguese were living under a dictatorship. He built two houses there, invested in real estate, was a baker and was the first in his village to own a car.
“He would drive people all over the island,” she said. “He came from being very poor and he ascended to the middle class, but poor people would reach out to him and he would drive them to visit family.”
She said her father could see the potential in his children.
“I was taught how to do the accounting for his business when I was seven,” she said.
But Calisto-Tavares said her dad knew while he had been successful, it would be tough for his children to live under the regime. He first tried to move the family to Brazil in 1968, but because he was tall and thin and didn’t think he could be a labourer, the country turned him down. Boston was another possibility, but a relative there died two weeks before they were set to move.
In 1972, Calisto sold what he could and moved to Winnipeg with his wife and six children because a relative lived here. And, because no one would rent a house to a family with that many kids, he bought their first house in the West End, the first of several they lived in.
“He was very frugal and very Portuguese,” said Calisto-Tavares. “I was 14 when I worked in a factory. My paycheque was signed and turned over to my dad; it all went to pay for the house. From 14 to 20, all of my paycheques went to him. Same with my two oldest brothers. My last paycheque went to him just before I got married.”
Calisto was very proud of his children.
“He would say he had a rose and five carnations,” she said.
His wife Jesuina died 25 years ago at the age of 58. They were married 37 years and he never remarried. He continued to live in the family home where he had a large garden and shared his produce with others.
Calisto-Tavares said her father never owned his own business here, but he worked hard in commercial cleaning, then at Dominion Tanners and ConForce Industries until retiring. And, as he had in his home country, he invested in real estate.
Calisto’s family made the decision for him to move into Maples after he was diagnosed with advanced dementia in 2019.
Besides his daughter, Calisto is survived by five sons, nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and three sisters.
Victoria Quinn was born, raised, went to school and lived her long life in Winnipeg.
Quinn was 100 years old when she died on Christmas Eve at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg.
Her daughter, Leslee Mansour, said her mother’s momentous birthday on Oct. 16 was made special by the facility’s staff. And there was a congratulatory certificate from Queen Elizabeth.
“They made it “very festive, bright and cheery,” Mansour said. “She was very thrilled.
“It was so nice of them to do that… so many of the staff came by and wished a Happy Birthday to my mother. That day was the last day I saw my mother alive. The next day I was supposed to have a visit with her, but it was cancelled because the government decided that all the nursing homes had to close to visitors.
“But it was so great to have had that last day, her 100th birthday, with her. She enjoyed it and was very happy, and so was I.”
Quinn was born to Polish immigrants in the North End in 1920.
“Her father died quite early in the 1930s,” Mansour said. “My grandmother, she just carried on raising all the children — all eight of them. One of them died as a young boy.
“But in the 1930s everyone had a hard time.”
Quinn went to high school before getting married in 1939. She divorced in 1969, Mansour said.
“It was probably St. John’s High School — I don’t know if she finished — but she was able to get good jobs later on. And by the time she was married she knew how to sew and cook.”
Mansour was born in 1942 and, as soon as she was in school, Victoria began looking for a job.
“She worked at CKY, Hudson’s Bay for a bit, and some investment company,” Mansour said. “Then she took some secretarial courses. She was working her way up, and then, in the 1980s, she got a job with the federal government in the Unemployment Insurance office. She retired in 1985.”
In the 1950s, Quinn discovered golf and began to play after work and on weekends. She was a member at Elmhurst before moving to Southwood, then located beside the University of Manitoba.
“She got very good and won a couple of trophies there,” Mansour said. “She kept in really good shape. She golfed until the 1980s. She really kept active.”
Quinn won the ladies’ club championship and she was also a president of both the Southwood Business Ladies and the Ladies’ nassau league.
She lived for years in Osborne Village, but moved to the Convalescent Home four years before her death when she began to develop dementia.
“She had a very strong personality and she was self-sufficient, ambitious and strong,” Mansour said. “She was always head of the family. That was just her personality.”
Besides her daughter, Quinn is survived by three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Valerie St. Germain’s life was full of music. And love.
St. Germain, who was 79 when she died Dec. 27, during the outbreak at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, was raised in one musical family before marrying into another.
“My mom was very kind,” says her son Chet Breau.
“And she was so talented herself. She wrote a book.”
Her parents were Simon and Hilda St. Germain and she was raised with a sister and three brothers, one of whom is well-known entertainer Ray St. Germain.
But when she was 15 she met a musician who became her first love and, three years later, her husband. His name Lenny Breau, the legendary jazz guitarist.
Two kids came soon — daughter Melody and Chet. Melody died in 2014.
The couple separated for a few years before getting divorced.
“I remember, she cried a lot, but I cried, too,” Breau said. “It was devastating for all of us.
“My dad started playing late at night and started abusing alcohol. And as my dad got better and better on guitar, people wanted his time. I know he had regrets.
“I was about two-and-a-half or three when he (left). He would, now and then, come and visit. When I was nine he moved back in with us. It was a good year or two — it was good times — but eventually he moved on and went to Nashville and Los Angeles.
“I look back now and they did the best with what they had.”
Having to raise two kids, St. Germain went back to school, graduating from the hairstyling program at Red River College, later owning her own salon in Osborne Village.
“It was a beautiful salon and she loved it,” said Breau.
When St. Germain was in her mid-40s, she closed the salon and began cutting hair in her apartment.
Later, she wrote Our Memories of Lenny Breau: The Love Music And The Man.
“She wrote about the good times and some of the bad times,” Breau said.
St. Germain always had a birthday party surrounded by loved ones because she was born on Remembrance Day and everyone had the day off, her son said.
She never remarried, but had a boyfriend for several years.
“My dad was always the love of her life,” Breau said, adding he will always cherish their last conversation while she was fighting COVID-19.
“I told her I love her and she said, ‘I love you too, Chet’,” he said. “I call my mom my hero. She was resilient and she cared for people.”
St. Germain is survived by her son, a sister and brother and several nieces, nephews and cousins.
Clyde Flett made a difference in the lives of Indigenous people up north and across the province.
Flett, 49, who died Dec. 11, a month after being tested for COVID-19, was assistant to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee and, in that role, would also represent the grand chief at events and in the community, when needed.
His partner, Margaret Harper, said he is missed by many.
“He believed in helping the people up north,” she said.
Born in Norway House to Joseph Flett and his wife Anne, Flett was a member of the St. Theresa Point First Nation and grew up there with two sisters and a brother.
He moved to Winnipeg and graduated from Daniel McIntyre Collegiate before going on to get his Aboriginal Human Resources Professional certificate at the Anokiiwin Training Institute and his Certified Aboriginal Financial Manager diploma from Yellowquill College.
His first job was as an assistant welfare administrator with St. Theresa Point First Nation Social Development in 1991. Through the years he worked at Manitoba Hydro as a human resources assistant, with the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg as a community outreach worker, the Health Sciences Centre as an interpreter and resource worker and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as a leadership renewal project co-ordinator and housing research and policy administrative assistant, before joining MKO in 2015.
In between, he also volunteered on both Derek Nepinak’s and Sheila North’s Grand Chief election campaigns.
Flett had many roles with MKO, including donning the jolly red suit and white beard for children on remote reserves on MKO’s Santa Express initiative in 2018.
But his crowning achievement with MKO was being a lead researcher of the massive report released in 2019 that showed the Indigenous economy is worth $9.3 billion a year to the provincial economy.
“(His death) has really hit our organization really hard, we worked so closely together,” said Settee. “He was always committed to the work we gave him. He was just the person to help our people up north.”
Besides Flett’s partner, he is survived by three daughters, two sons, three grandchildren, his parents and two sisters.
Elsie Janzen epitomized the saying “if you want something done you give it to a busy person.”
Janzen was certainly busy; she and her husband Peter owned the Janzen Shopping Centre in Grunthal, and she served on both federal and provincial Conservative party associations for 45 years.
But, that didn’t mean she and Peter didn’t know how to relax. They stayed in the same room in the same hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii for 18 consecutive years.
“From Jan. 26 to March it was always the Waikiki Banyan, Room 711,” said her daughter Kimberly Friesen. “They just loved it there.
“She was so full of life. She was still healthy. We had just celebrated her birthday.”
Janzen died Sept. 1 after contracting COVID in the outbreak in the Bethesda Place Personal Care Home in Steinbach. She was 85.
“She was number 15 (to die of COVID in Manitoba),” Friesen said. “She was one of the early ones.”
Janzen was born near Dominion City to Peter and Mary Kroeker in 1934. She grew up with two brothers and a sister.
Her parents owned a hobby farm and that’s probably how she became part of 4H and sparked her love of gardening. She became involved in the leadership of 4H and not only tended gardens at home and outside her business, but also served as a horticultural judge at country fairs.
“I had to help with her garden while I was growing up,” Friesen said. “She had some vegetables, but she spent a lot of money on flowers. It was such a beautiful garden.”
Janzen met her husband “still in the days you couldn’t go on a date by yourself.”
“I know he chased her for a bit,” their daughter said.
The Janzens opened their hearts and home to adopt Kimberly, who was being fostered by Elsie’s sister.
“My aunt, I call her my other mom,” Friesen said.
“I was eight or nine months old, and my mom and dad met me and fell in love with me. My aunt and uncle were thinking of adopting me, too, and (my aunt) was mad when she heard someone else had adopted me. But when she found out it was her sister, that was OK.
“I was totally blessed; they were amazing parents.”
The couple, who were married 66 years, also adopted a son.
Janzen survived two bouts with cancer, and served on the Manitoba Public Utilities Board and the Manitoba Welfare Appeal Board.
“We were out driving one day and, as a joke, I told my mom I don’t know who I’ll vote for… maybe the NDP. She said, ‘Do you want to walk?’ She was really involved. She did lots of work for (former MLA and cabinet minister) Albert Driedger and she received the Queen’s Jubilee medal from (Manitoba cabinet minister) Kelvin Goertzen and (former federal cabinet minister, now Court of Queen’s Bench Justice) Vic Toews.”
And, when Queen Elizabeth visited Manitoba a few years ago, Janzen and her husband were among those invited to dinner.
After Janzen’s death, Goertzen posted on social media, thanking her for her years of volunteering with the Progressive Conservative party.
“Her work bettered our province and country and we are grateful for her service,” he said.
Besides her daughter, son, and husband, Janzen is survived by two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a brother and sister.
You might have heard Peter Kwasnycia before you saw him.
That’s because Kwasnycia, who went through his life known as Kwasny, had a wonderful tenor voice, which he used to sing in several Ukrainian choirs in the city, including the SUM Ukrainian Youth Association choir under Wasyl Kardash, and the choir at his church, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Kwasnycia was 95 when he died in the outbreak at the Holy Family Home Dec. 14. He had lived there since October 2019.
“He was the (church) choir director for a number of years,” said his daughter, Margaret Synyshyn. “He would decide what they would sing — Christmas and Easter were the big times. The church choir was well known and they would sing elsewhere too.
“And in our family, Tuesday night was choir night for years.”
Kwasnycia was known for his frugality, for fixing things instead of throwing them out. And he liked to get his money’s worth.
“My mom and dad would go to Grand Forks and he would drop her off at the mall and go back to the room,” Synyshyn said. “He said he had paid for the room, so he would use it.”
Kwasnycia was born in 1925 to Harry and Margaret, the second oldest in a family with three sisters and a brother. His parents had immigrated with their families from Ukraine.
He dropped out of school after finishing Grade 8 when he was 14.
“My dad supported his family,” Synyshyn said. “His teen years were always about work.”
She said her father learned carpentry from his father, skills he was able to use years later to build swings, desks, bedroom furniture and even garages.
“You could just give him anything broken… and he would fix it,” she said, adding he regularly said, “Don’t buy, I’ll make.”
Kwasnycia worked as a machinist’s apprentice at three machine shops before getting a job with CN Rail in 1952, the same year he married Tilly, who he met in a church youth group.
He was at CN Rail 35 years until he retired in 1987 at 62, and he was married for 62 years until his wife died in 2014.
“He was asked to be foreman, but he never did because he said it would interfere with going to choir,” Synyshyn said.
Kwasnycia didn’t stray too far from home through the years.
“He flew on a plane once. A vacation for him was going to Detroit Lakes (Minn.),” she said. “A five-week vacation meant he never went to work for five weeks.”
He also volunteered tirelessly at his parish, serving on the executive of many of the church’s organizations, and also as an original organizer of the St. Nicholas Men’s Club Sportsman’s Dinner, which ran for five decades.
“He would be the first one to volunteer,” Synyshyn said. “He worked. He rolled up his sleeves and worked really hard. They gave him an award for (working on the dinner) and he didn’t know it was coming. He was so shocked.”
He also beat cancer twice, the first time in his 70s and then again in 2013.
“They didn’t think he’d pull through,” Synyshyn said. “He said he had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.”
Kwasnycia was still living in his own home when he was 93 and had just given up driving.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a brother and sister.
Sometimes life goes in circles.
Elisabeth Friesen was only 24, with a nursing education learned by correspondence, when she was hired to be the first matron, or director of care, at what was then called the Mennonite Old Folks Home, shortly after it had been purchased by the Evangelical Mennonite Conference in 1946.
That home, which has gone through name changes through the years, is now known as the Rest Haven Nursing Home, where she lived until she died Nov. 23. She was 99.
In between, she worked as a geriatric nurse until marrying, and becoming a mother of seven overnight at the age of 39. She later had two more children, helped run a MCC Thrift Store in southern Manitoba, served as deacon with her husband at Kleefeld Evangelical Mennonite Church, worked as a volunteer nurse in Ecuador at a mission hospital and survived two bouts of cancer.
Friesen also wrote daily in her diary, something she did for more than 75 years.
“She had incredible tenacity,” said her son Jim. “She was determined. When she put her mind to it, nothing could hold her back from her ambition.
“She learned to work hard as a child, but she also grew up with compassionate care of the elderly; it was in her DNA. Mom said it’s our Heavenly Father who asks us to care for the elderly as a lesson to learn compassion and service in honour of created life while it lasts. It’s not about us, it’s about the Creator and there are no wasted years.”
Friesen was born to Rev. Jacob R. E. and Mary Reimer, the third of 10 children. The family farmed near a now-lost Mennonite village named Heuboden near Kleefeld, and she went to school at a nearby four-room schoolhouse. One of her friends there was Albert Friesen, the guy who years later would become her husband.
She also learned to be a nurse on the sly.
“She created a Murphy bed desk in her bedroom,” said Jim. “It was done secretively. Her father knew about it, but it was more a tolerance and not an encouragement.”
Through the years she also worked at various seniors homes, a mental hospital in Ontario and cared for her dad before he died in Mexico.
While Friesen was working at a nursing home in Winkler, the guy she went to school with — whose wife had died, leaving him with seven children between the ages of two and 16 — began visiting her. They married in 1960 and were together until he died in 2011.
“I was a teenager before I realized seven of my siblings were half,” said Jim. “There was zero recognition of any difference in our home. Mom had a generosity of spirit to make things work.”
He said his mother always knew what was important in life.
“People were important to Mom and she loved with compassion and commitment. She cared for her family, her community and other individuals whose paths intersected with hers.”
Friesen is survived by her nine children, 24 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.
When friends and family think of Dianne Jackman they think of the role colour played in both her personality and her work.
The interior designer’s legacy dots the Prairies, along with parts of a Winnipeg neighbourhood.
“She was an expert on colour,” said Mary Dixon, a book publisher who published textbooks Jackman authored. “She just had the eye to get the right colour.”
Jackman, who died on Nov. 25 at 86, during the outbreak at the Golden Links Lodge, was born an only child to Alf and Olive Jackman in Winnipeg in 1934.
She graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture in 1955 with a Bachelor of Interior Design. While at university she was also president of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.
She practised privately for more than a decade before going back to her alma mater as a professor.
By the early 1980s, concerned there was no university textbook on textiles in interior design, she decided to create one. The Guide to Textiles in Interior Design, first published in 1983 and later published as The Guide to Textiles for Interiors, has been used in classrooms across North America.
“The textile book has been revised three times,” Dixon said. “It was widely used and we sold a lot of them. I hear about the book from time to time; people don’t get rid of it.”
Later, she co-authored a second textbook.
The bright-orange Pioneer Grain elevators with yellow roofs were Jackman’s creative idea early in her career. So were the brightly painted colour schemes on the exterior of houses in the Broadway area — bought and renovated by Westminster Housing — she came up with after retiring.
“You can really see the yellows, the purples and greens there,” Dixon said. “I really take pleasure in what she did there.”
Jackman also served with the Interior Designers of Canada, being named a Fellow in 1987, and served as chair of the board of what is now the Council for Interior Design Accreditation from 1986 to 1988.
As well, she was an advocate for history. While with the University Women’s Club she helped champion the organization’s home — the Ralph Connor House at 54 West Gate — which received national historic building status.
She is survived by two cousins and their families and a godson.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Friday, March 12, 2021 3:53 PM CST: Replaces photo.
Updated on Saturday, March 13, 2021 6:07 PM CST: Correction: the name of Elisabeth Friesen's father is Rev. Jacob R. E. Reimer, not Abram Reimer as it originally ran.