Moncton mourns loss of Joe Bourque, downtown fixture

Homeless for over 30 years, Joe Bourque was a familiar face in Moncton, known for his peculiar smile and warm laugh.

'He really did brighten up the city,' friends say of Joe Bourque

Joe Bourque was a downtown fixture in Moncton for decades. (Serge Martin)

Moncton's downtown won't be the same with the passing of Joseph "Joe" Bourque, say his friends. 

Homeless for over 30 years, up until the last few of years of his life, Bourque was a familiar face in the city, known for his peculiar smile and warm laugh.

Bourque died at the age of 72 on Saturday, April 16.

Monctonians who didn't know Bourque may have seen the photos of him displayed at the city market.

They were taken by photographer Serge Martin, who met him by chance at a café.

Bourque had asked Martin to loan him $5.

Two months later, Bourque came up running to him saying he had been looking for him and handed him back $5. "That was Joe."

The photos

Martin recalls the first time he took his photograph, while Bourque was sitting on the steps of St. Bernard's rectory, a place he often slept.

Joe Bourque on the steps of St. Bernard's rectory, reading the Sunday bulletin. (Serge Martin)
"I was walking down the street on a Sunday and Joe was just sitting at the church reading the church bulletin," said Martin. "From across the street I just shot the picture and I went home and looked at the picture. I really teared up on it, it was an emotional moment. I had a good talk with Joe about it."

He got the idea to sell his pictures at the Moncton Market of Bourque and another homeless man he had photographed, whom he identified as "Frenchie."

Martin and Frenchie had an arrangement where Martin would give the money made from the sale of the photographs to Frenchie.

Martin then decided to do the same with the photographs taken of Bourque; however he says Bourque would often refuse the money. 

Bourque had 'difficult life'

Christine Manore knew Bourque for close to 20 years, striking up a friendship with him after asking him a few questions about his life.

Joe Bourque was known for his infectious smile. (Serge Martin)
"He had a very difficult life, from quite humble beginnings outside Moncton," she said. "Very little education, had to step in for his family when his father passed away.

"Went up north, I think northern Manitoba or northern Ontario to work in the mines. And then wound his way back here to New Brunswick and for various circumstances found himself living on the street," Manore said. 

She would often see people excitedly greeting Bourque at a local coffee shop, who would then buy him a coffee.

"He really did brighten up the city," Manore said. "Everybody knew Joe. It's just part of the downtown or part of the city." 

Manore added that despite his struggles, he had a warm and friendly personality.

"He had sort of a grin where he would scrunch up his whole face and it was just smiles all the time."

Supported by local doctor

According to Martin, when Bourque's health started deteriorating a few years ago, Dr. Susan Crouse of the Salvus clinic helped Joe greatly and arranged for him to live in an apartment, although he didn't spend much time in it.
"She took care of him like you wouldn't believe," said Martin. "If one person is to be thanked for the last three years of his life, because he was well, it's his doctor."

Serge Martin sold his photos of Joe Bourque at the Moncton Market, always offering the profits to Bourque. (Serge Martin)
Martin takes comfort in the fact that he believes his friend had a good life despite his circumstances.

"He was really a friendly, nice person. He happened to be schizophrenic. That made his life a lot harder," said Martin. 
"But even though he had a hard life, I think Joe was happy, and he was always willing to tell you something to make you happy."

Joe Bourque's funeral was held Tuesday in Shediac.