Edmonton

'An amazing man': Young father identified as northern Alberta's 1st fatal case of COVID-19

The first person from northern Alberta to die of COVID-19, a 34-year-old man from Big Lakes County, Alta., is being remembered as a dedicated family man with an unflappable sense of humour.

'We are a close-knit community and this news will be hard for everyone'

Shawn Auger died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was among five people whose deaths from coronavirus were announced on Monday. (Big Lakes County/Facebook)

The first person from northern Alberta to die of COVID-19, a 34-year-old man from Big Lakes County, Alta., is being remembered as a dedicated family man with an unflappable sense of humour.

Shawn Auger was among five Albertans to die of COVID-19 in the province on Monday. Auger, who suffered from asthma, is the province's youngest victim of the disease to date.

The five deaths were announced Monday by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, who called it "one of the hardest days yet" as the number of confirmed cases in Alberta reached a sobering 690. 

"Each death is a tragedy, and this many in one day is heartbreaking," Hinshaw said Monday during a news conference in Edmonton.

"Each of these individuals had a life that mattered and people who loved them."

Auger was a government youth worker at the Youth Assessment Centre in High Prairie, about 370 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. He was also heavily involved in the community as a youth hockey coach and volunteer.

He was married and had three children. 

Auger's sister, Kandace Auger, said her brother was a role model in every aspect of his life. He wanted to inspire young people in his community. 

"He was a fantastic father, husband and provider," Auger said in a statement to CBC News. "He went over and above for his family." 

And while Auger worked hard to serve to his family and his community, he always had time for a joke, she said.

Auger was known as "the jokester," she said. 

"His favourite thing to do was to take pictures of people eating and post them on Facebook. This was one of the ways he liked to bug people." 

Auger said her family will work to preserve her brother's legacy in their home community and beyond. 

"My brother was an amazing man," she said. "His dream was to open a group home in our hamlet of Grouard which his wife and our family will continue to work on in his memory." 

'Deeply saddened'

A statement identifying Auger as a victim was issued Monday on Facebook by Big Lakes County, a municipal district on the western side of Lesser Slave Lake about 300 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

It urged community members to get support during their grief.

"Big Lakes County is deeply saddened by the news of our first COVID-19 death," the statement said."We are a close-knit community, and this news will be hard for everyone." 

A statement from the Valleyview Jets hockey club said Auger had been diagnosed on March 13.

The team is asking people to place hockey sticks on their porches in a show of solidarity with Auger's friends and family. 

"Recently we lost a young man from High Prairie to COVID-19, he was fighting since first being tested positive on March 13. Today he lost his battle. 

"Let's put our sticks out in honour of Shawn and his hard, short battle. He left behind a wife and three teenage hockey players. RIP Shawn."

'The biggest heart'

Shane Farnham worked with Auger at the High Prairie Youth Assessment Centre from 2014 until 2017.

"He's been a friend of mine, he's been a mentor, he's been a brother to me and one of the guys I've always looked up to," Farnham told CBC News on Tuesday.

"I think everyone would tell you the same thing. He's got the biggest heart of anyone that you would ever meet, and he cared so much about what he did. He gave so much to the community and to all of the kids that he worked with. Everyone around him just really admired him and looked up to him."

Farnham said he was "green" when he started with Auger, and learned a lot.

Shane Farnham was a friend who met Shawn Auger when they both worked at a youth assessment centre in High Prairie, Alta. (Sam Martin/CBC)

"He taught me so much about self-confidence, and backbones, and sticking up for people while always keeping people's best interests in mind. So many lessons," he said.

"I think a lot of the kids would tell you that even in the toughest situations, he could always bring in a lot of humour, and was so funny, yet at the same time so caring.

"There's kids that have worked with him years and years ago that still reach out to him just because of how well he was just able to be there for them in their time of need. That goes beyond his work, too, to his family and his friends and just anyone that he encountered."

Alberta has now recorded eight deaths from COVID-19. The province reported 29 new cases on Monday, which came on top of 119 reported over the weekend. 

Up to 65 cases in the province are thought to have involved community transmission. Ninety-four people are listed as having recovered from the illness.

The five people who died Monday included a woman in her 70s from the Calgary zone, a woman in her 50s from the Calgary zone and two men in their 80s from the Edmonton zone. 

"Although these individuals had risk factors like older age or chronic medical conditions, their lives mattered as much as any of ours," Hinshaw said.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian

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