Homeless man's death leaves Calgary church to reflect on community, humanity

A Calgary homeless man’s funeral brought hundreds out to grieve, celebrate and reflect on the meaning of community.

'These people have a story, a family, a history and they happen to be on the street'

Paul Wilkinson's funeral drew hundreds in Calgary

5 years ago
Duration 0:28
The homeless man called 'Smokey' impacted many lives

A Calgary homeless man's funeral brought hundreds out to grieve, celebrate and reflect on the meaning of community.

While Paul David Wilkinson died last month from a drug overdose at the age of 52, his positivity and generosity were honoured at the Hillhurst United Church on Friday.

Wilkinson, who was known as "Smokey," attended the church and got to know many of the parishioners.

Jill Nixon said he was a ray of sunshine.

Jill Nixon said Smokey was always positive. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"It was always a pleasure to see him," she said.

"He was always upbeat. It was a guarantee that he would have a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He was a fine man."

John Pentland, the church minister, says he knew Smokey well.

Minister John Pentland said Smokey forced people to deal with their stereotypes of homeless people. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"He was a real fixture in this neighbourhood," Pentland said.

"I ride my bike to work and since he died, almost every day, I come up to that corner of 14th Street and Kensington and I expect to see him because that is often where he would be perched."

He says Smokey had a way of challenging people's beliefs and stereotypes.

Smokey's funeral drew hundreds Friday afternoon. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"I loved to watch how this community welcomed him," the minister explained.

"Lots of churches will pray for or work for people who are homeless but rarely have them sitting right beside them on a Sunday. He helped us understand homeless people are people. These are people who have a story, who have a family, who have a history and they happen to be on the street."

Marsha Mah Poy used to work at the church and said she had a complex relationship with Smokey.

Marsha Mah Poy used to work at the church. She says she had a complex relationship with Smokey, but it was based in love. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"We had a love-love-hate relationship. He loved me and I loved him. I hated and tried to think that he could overcome his addictions," she said.

"We all thought that we would have more time with him and we miss him desperately."

Smokey had a lot of friends. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Pentland said Smokey's funeral was a first for him.

"He doesn't have any biological family here but everybody who comes here today is his family and he was part of our family, so it's a really unique funeral in that sense," he said.

Paul David Wilkinson, known as 'Smokey,' died last month but a Friday funeral in Calgary drew hundreds to honour the homeless man. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"We are going to honour him, we are going to share stories and we are going to be together."

With files from Danielle Nerman, Justin Pennell