Montreal

Hundreds gather to celebrate mass funeral for 'forgotten' people of Quebec City

Gilles Kègle, who has spent 33 years caring for Quebec City residents who would otherwise die anonymously, was 'moved' to see hundreds of people show up for a mass funeral on Friday, at the Église Saint-Roch church.

Gilles Kègle 'emotional' after donations pour in to support his life cause

Gilles Kègle read out the names of the 43 people who were honoured at the Église Saint-Roch on Friday, in Quebec City. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Every six months, for the past 33 years, Gilles Kègle organizes a mass funeral in Quebec City to honour people who would otherwise have died anonymously.

Friday's ceremony at the Saint-Roch church in the lower town was the largest one yet.

"I never thought I'd get through it," Kègle said after he'd read out the names of 43 people who have died since October.

One name was particularly difficult for Kègle — Jean Abran — his roommate and colleague for nearly two decades.

"We spent 18 years and 4 months together. He gave his life to the foundation — so it's very difficult, but I'm also happy," Kègle said afterward, holding back tears.

"Happy," he explained, for the support he's seen pour in after going public last week about the foundation's financial struggles.

The Fondation Gilles Kègle's main mission is to deliver meals and check on people "who don't have families, who don't have anybody, who have mental health problems and are completely abandoned," Kègle explained.

The foundation also pays for the cremation and funeral fees for their patients after they die, as well as for those who die in hospital, but who are estranged from their families.

But with twice as many deaths to handle, the foundation is facing an extra $100,000 in costs for 2019.

Government promises support

Just hours after his concerns were made public on Wednesday, the foundation received $20,000 in private donations. That number is expected to climb, once all the mail is sorted next week.

Kègle said he also received a phone call from the vice-premier, promising action from the CAQ government, after his plea was heard at the National Assembly.

Kègle says he wants to offer strangers a proper burial because they deserve to have their dignity restored, after suffering through a difficult life. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

"I'm happy to see the government finally understands," said Kègle, who has never received a public grant for his work.

"I don't feel alone anymore. What I hope now is that other organizations will do the same, and take care of our forgotten people," he said on Friday, before going to meet with the large crowd of people who showed up for the ceremony.

Jacques Dumont, who works at a nearby soup kitchen, was among them.

"Ange-Aimée, Alain, Honoré — they're all people who came to our soup kitchen," said Dumont.

"We talked to them every day, we took care of them, we went to the hospital with them, we fed them, we listened to them and we loved them."

He also wanted to pay his respects and support family members who were at the ceremony.

Some could not afford to pay for their loved ones' funeral arrangements themselves, and contacted Kègle for help. Others — like Jean-Marc Poulin  — were estranged from their siblings.

Jean-Marc Poulin attended the funeral on Friday to remember his brother, Simon Poulin, whom he had not seen in years. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

"We haven't seen our brother for many, many years," said Poulin.

When his sister called him to announce their sibling Simon had died, Poulin wanted to take part in "a day to remember him."

"It takes me back many, many years ago. I remember many events I shared with him, and how we were living, as a family."

Kègle said the urns will be buried in June, in a lot donated by a local funeral home.

"It will be done with utmost respect. We go there with the volunteers often to pray — that's also where I will be buried one day."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.