Prominent names among those lost in 2021

In 2021, Manitoba lost — among others — a colourful city councillor, a woman who helped Winnipeg in many ways, two singers of songs, a residential school victor, a person who helped power the province, and the man who helped bring Christmas to those who couldn’t afford it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/01/2022 (441 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In 2021, Manitoba lost — among others — a colourful city councillor, a woman who helped Winnipeg in many ways, two singers of songs, a residential school victor, a person who helped power the province, and the man who helped bring Christmas to those who couldn’t afford it.

Harry Lazarenko fashioned himself a man of the people, akin to Winnipeg mayor Steve Juba. Lazarenko, who died July 8 at age 84, was first elected a city councillor for the Mynarski ward in 1974 — when Juba was still mayor — and served for decades, stepping down five mayors later, following an aneurysm months before the 2010 civic election. 

Lazarenko worked for CN Rail, starting in 1956, and had a 37-year career with the company, juggling responsibilities those years when being a city councillor wasn’t a full-time job. He was concerned about the city’s deteriorating riverbanks, was long-time chairman of the riverbank management committee, and was popularly known as the “Mayor of the North End.”

In his honour, the Redwood Bridge was renamed Harry Lazarenko Bridge.

It’s hard to think what area of the city Helen Hayles didn’t try to help during her decades of volunteer service.

Hayles, who was 92 when she died Nov. 14, was employed as the executive director of the Volunteer Centre starting in 1978. 

But her volunteering was almost a full-time job in itself: she was chairwoman of the Winnipeg Foundation, president of both the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Winnipeg Child & Family Services Agency, and board member of the Age and Opportunity Centre, Social Planning Council, Pavilion Gallery Museum, and Arts Stabilization Manitoba. She was a member of the Core Area Advisory Committee, co-chair of the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations, and she was even part of the interim steering committee trying to save the original Winnipeg Jets.

Hayles was honoured for her lifetime community involvement by being inducted into the Order of Canada in 2000.

Bob Brennan joined Manitoba Hydro fresh out of university with a chartered accounting degree — and never left.

Brennan, who died Dec. 15, spent his entire working career at the Crown power utility, beginning as its internal auditor in 1964, and rising through the ranks to become president and chief executive officer in 1990.

During Brennan’s 47-year career and with his leadership, Hydro added Centra Gas and Winnipeg Hydro to the Crown corporation, introduced Power Smart, relocated and constructed its head office downtown, and concluded the purchase of DC transmission and converter equipment assets from the federal government.

Brennan was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2014.

Curtis (Shingoose) Jonnie left a legacy as an Indigenous folk singer and songwriter.

Jonnie, who was 74 when he died Jan. 12 after testing positive for COVID-19, was an Ojibway musician from Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation who survived both a residential school and the Sixties Scoop. He was adopted by a Mennonite family at age four, and taught to speak German.

It was after Jonnie was sent to a Nebraska boarding school that he became interested in folk music in the 1960s, later playing at the Mariposa Folk Festival.

Through the years, Jonnie wrote the song Silver River, helped persuade the Juno Awards to create an Indigenous music category, founded his own Indigenous record label, and was called “a trailblazer for Indigenous music and activism in Canada.”

Theodore Fontaine’s family said he wasn’t a residential school survivor but a victor.

Fontaine, who died May 10 at 79, attended the Fort Alexander and Assiniboia Indian residential schools from 1948 to 1960, and not only remembered his experiences there, but wrote a best-selling book about it: Broken Circle: the Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools. He spoke about what happened during those years, which he called “hell,” at more than 1,500 gatherings across the country and internationally.

He was also a leader, working as a federal civil servant and executive director of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and serving as chief of his home community of Sagkeeng (1979-81).

Kim Bullard was a leader in the province’s Indigenous business development community.

Bullard died June 1 at 57 — one of the Manitobans with COVID-19 flown out of province after local hospitals exceeded the number of patients they could provide intensive care for.

She was a member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, worked for more than 30 years with the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council (rising to general manager) and was chairwoman of the annual Vision Quest business conference.

Lianne Fournier’s voice made her mark in Winnipeg’s music scene.

Fournier, who died Sept. 28 at 57, took piano lessons when she was six, but it was when she began playing the guitar in high school that her music career began.

After going to the jazz program at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, she returned to Winnipeg and became part of various groups through the years including Trivocals, Pearl Drivers, Welfare Starlets, and Wyrd Sisters.

Fournier was also commissioned to write a 20-minute composition by the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre called Spirit North Suite for eight voices in three movements.

If not for Irena Kankova-Cohen, who knows when locals would have been able to buy transistor radios and other electronics from Sony?

Kankova-Cohen, who died Nov. 4 at 94, was the widow of Albert, one of the owners of Gendis Inc. He always credited her for cajoling him to book an around-the-world honeymoon in 1953, which resulted in meeting with the founders of Sony Corp. in Japan. It resulted in Gendis getting the Canadian rights to sell Sony products, helping propel the company to other successes including owning SAAN and Red Apple stores and investing in oil and gas companies.

Kankova-Cohen worked in the local theatre, playing lead roles in The Diary of Anne Frank, Anastasia and Gigi at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, as well as other roles with Rainbow Stage and CBC Radio.

Earlier, Kankova-Cohen made international headlines at 23, when she fled Communist Czechoslovakia on her own, crossing mountains and rivers to get to West Germany, after secret police warned her if she didn’t tell them about her friends’ meetings she would be arrested.

Kai Madsen wasn’t Santa Claus, but he did have a beard — and he helped bring the holiday spirit to Winnipeggers who needed it for decades.

Madsen, who died Oct. 6 at 80, was synonymous with the Christmas Cheer Board, joining the organization in 1969, and serving in various roles until being hired as executive director.

Through the years, Madsen not only cajoled local businesses and citizens to donate goods and funds to fill Christmas hampers stuffed with a turkey, holiday food, and toys for children, but also found donated spaces where the charity could set up for its annual campaign.

Earlier, Madsen worked in business and was in a management position with McBee Systems from 1970 until he retired there in 1994.

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

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.

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