TWO months before their 50th wedding anniversary, Dennis and Bernadette Lidgett died after a stranger broke into the dream home they had built for themselves along the Seine River in a rural community southeast of Winnipeg.
The retired couple was pronounced dead on the scene of their quiet forested property on River Road near Lorette in the early hours of the morning on March 25. They were both in their 70s.
"We’re shocked, we’re saddened and we want to turn back time," said Jenn Lidgett, the oldest of their three children.
The family knows little about what happened leading up to their parents’ untimely death, other than the fact it was a senseless tragedy.
Jenn and her siblings were not supposed to be preparing for a funeral this spring. They were supposed to be preparing for a family celebration.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced them to postpone a family getaway to a cabin, so they were planning a group dinner instead, featuring an anniversary photo album and corsages made out of the lace from Bernadette’s wedding dress.
"I swear, over COVID, if it’s even possible, I think they fell more and more in love with each other and appreciated us as a family even more," Jenn said, about her parents.
The couple was married in London, Ont., in the spring of 1971, not long after they met through a mutual friend and quickly fell for each other.
Dennis had moved to southwestern Ontario to begin a lifelong career in agriculture after university; at the time, Bernadette was starting her career as a nurse in the city she grew up in, after her family moved from Holland when she was only three years old.
Dennis’ work prompted their move to the Manitoba capital, which they would call home until they bought a property with ample land for gardening 34 years ago.
Lorette was approximately half-way between Bernadette’s family in the east and Dennis’ relatives in his hometown of Wetaskiwin, Alta.; both of them came from big households, of 11 children and nine, respectively.
Family and friends describe Dennis and Bernadette as fierce lovers of each other, their tight-knit family of three children and five grandchildren, and the outdoors — hiking and camping included.
They spent much of their time planting vegetables and weeding on their property in recent years. Dennis’ love for oak trees also led him to sprout his own acorns in their lawn, to the frustration of his partner, who had to navigate lawn mowing around countless saplings.
This winter, they hosted their children and grandchildren for ice skating on the river in their yard and campfires on their property to keep visits safe amid the pandemic. When called upon, the grandparents joined in to play goalie.
"They had so many more years left to give," said Corey Lidgett, the youngest of their three children, adding his parents were happy, healthy and ever-talented.
Corey said his father was a "master handyman," who taught many children — including his own kids — how-to tie knots, light fires and enjoy nature as a long-time scout leader. Meantime, Bernadette could bake or sew "anything" and gave the best hugs, he said.
Corey added, "We are going to try to honour them by staying close as a family and living the values that they did."
The tragedy has left a gaping void in the Lorette community, said friend Irene Bialek, who worked with the Lidgetts during Save our Seine cleanups and at the local food bank.
"They were the most compassionate, caring, and gentle people that anyone could ever have the honour of knowing," Bialek said.
RCMP officers reported receiving a 911 call that was made from inside the Lidgetts’ home at 1:15 a.m. on March 25. They found a man and woman inside the residence when they arrived.
Authorities have declined to comment on any specific details, including the motive, of the double homicide.
"They both suited each other; you could tell, they would sit so close together and you could just tell they loved each other very much," said Marvin Weir, a life-long friend of the Lidgetts.
"These people didn’t deserve this. They were the best people I’d ever met."
Karlton Dean Reimer, 27, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in their deaths.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.