Lapierre family mourned by tight-knit community on Magdalen Islands

From above, the wind-buffeted Magdalen Islands seem isolated where they sit, alone in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, but in the island community no one is left to face tragedy alone.

Service at Église Saint-François-Xavier de Bassin to begin 9 a.m. ET

People line up at the funeral home in Cap-aux-Meules, Que., on Thursday, April 7, 2016. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

From above, the wind-buffeted Magdalen Islands seem isolated where they sit, alone in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, but in the island community no one is left to face tragedy alone.

That's why the day of the funeral service for six members of the Lapierre family is a day of mourning for all islanders.

Madelinots have a special kind of resilience. 'We have to continue living. We really don’t have a choice,' says local Marielle Chevarie. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

The town was left stunned and in shock last week after a small plane carrying five members of the Lapierre family crashed, killing them all along with two crew members. They were on their way to the Magdalen Islands to plan their father Raymond's funeral. He died the day before from Parkinson's disease.

"Us Madelinots, we're very tight-knit," said local Marielle Chevarie.

She doesn't know the Lapierre family personally, but Chevarie says she still feels their loss, like most people here.

Hundreds of people are expected to come out to support the family at the Église Saint-François-Xavier de Bassin at 9 a.m. ET.

CBC will be live streaming the event as guests arrive before the ceremony, and will have live coverage during the event.

The funeral service itself will be intimate and reserved only for family members and Madelinots.

The plane crash that killed the Lapierre siblings — Martine, Louis, Marc and Jean, as well as Jean's partner Nicole Beaulieu — was an almost inconceivable tragedy.

For locals, it brings back painful memories of another accident — one that happened eight years earlier.

"It was the same thing with L'Acadien," said Denis Bourque, referring to the fishing vessel that capsized in March 2008, killing four Madelinots.

The crew had been on its way to hunt seals.
L'Acadien II capsized on March 28, 2008. Four died and two crew members were able to save themselves. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Even years later, the event is still felt by locals at the start of every season.

"The boat crew was like a family," Bourque says.

In both tragedies, islanders pulled together and made it through. For Madelinots, it doesn't matter if you're a well-known political commentator, or a local fisherman.

"Whether it's the tragedy eight years ago or today, there are always family members who you know, or someone you know knows a member of the family," Chevarie said.

It's that unflinching support that helps Madelinots pull through even the most painful times.

"We have to continue. We have to continue living. We really don't have a choice," Chevarie said.

Nearly 13,000 people live on the Magdelen Islands, where the influence of the fishing industry and culture has a heavy presence. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Mayor Jonathan Lapierre, who is not related to the family of Jean Lapierre, says people here have a way of persevering.

"Madelinots are people who are extremely strong in character," he said.

While Lapierre believes that kind of resilience is symbolic of all islanders, he adds that it's something he's seen in the Lapierre family, specifically.

"We saw since the beginning how strong they were, and how strong our community can also be."
The isolated Magdalen Islands are about 105 kilometres north of Prince Edward Island. (Google Maps)

About the Author

Jaela Bernstien

Jaela Bernstien is a national reporter based in Montreal. She's covered a wide range of news topics, ranging from criminal trials to ice age caves, and everything in between.


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