'Her gentleness captured everyone's hearts': Community celebrates life of homicide victim Elisabeth Salm

An Ottawa church was filled with more than 350 people who remembered homicide victim Elisabeth Salm as a music-loving, bike enthusiast who cared deeply about others and the environment.

'In every situation, in every way of her life she looked to include people'

Elisabeth Salm inherited "a total love of the forest" from her parents. Her father worked as a forestry engineer and educated local youth. (Submitted by family)

An Ottawa church was filled with more than 350 people who remembered homicide victim Elisabeth Salm as a music-loving, bike enthusiast who cared deeply about others and the environment.

"Elisabeth was the most wonderful person," said her brother-in-law Lauren Young. "In every situation, in every way of her life she looked to include people." 
Salm's favourite bicycle on stage at her celebration of life. Her husband said it was the perfect symbol for many reasons including that Salm was dutch, it runs on air and contributes to urban sustainability. (Twitter/Shawn Young)

"She was small in stature, but she was very fit and her gentleness captured everyone's hearts. She would approach every situation with the same calm, gentle, loving demeanour."

The 59-year-old was a long-time volunteer for the First Church of Christ, Scientist. She was found badly beaten on May 24 in a reading room the church operated on Laurier Avenue, where she was working alone. Salm died of her injuries the following day in hospital.

Police have charged Tyler Hikoalok,18, with first-degree murder. 

Rather than focusing on the way Salm died, her family and friends wanted to honour the way she lived.

The Johannes Brahms Choir that Salm performed with sang a German Requiem. Her four siblings then shared their memories. 

Salm's parents immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands. When she was younger her sister nicknamed her "Djies" and it stuck.

They brought up her favourite bike and placed it on the stage at the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. People travelled from as far as Australia and Japan for the memorial. 

"I don't claim to know specifically what Djies is doing right now," said her husband Lyle Young.

"But believe me I do know this: in some way, in some form she is biking, on a bicycle whiter than this one. And one last point: She is going fast." 
"The strong voice of true womanhood can never be silenced." said Salm's husband Lyle Young at the celebration of life. (Twitter/Shawn Young)

'Sweet way of living her ideals'

Mundie says Salm had a "sweet way of living her ideals without being aggressive about it." She was passionate about sustainability and insisted there would be zero disposable items at her wedding.

That meant sewing and ironing 80 pink napkins for the reception that she later used at home and lent out to others.

She also kept large jars in her bathroom. Most people as they wait for the water to warm up for a shower let that water go down the drain, but not Salm. 

"My sister rather than wasting all that cold water in the drain captured it in those bottles to later use to water her plants," said Mundie. "How inspiring is that."

Her brother Roland said Salm used cruelty-free traps to catch spiders in her house and release them outside.

Career in geology

​Salm graduated from Carleton University with a geology degree and later worked in northern Ontario and witnessed serious problems with resource extraction. A family friend read a statement from Bruce Hyer the former federal MP who knew Salm well. He said Salm's biggest career achievement was working on a mine east of Thunder Bay where he visited her.

"Elisabeth might have weighed 98 pounds, but each morning she would load her pack with lunch, compass, maps, shovel, rock hammer, and head out to collect rock specimens," read the statement.

"At first everybody worried about her. They soon realized that she would be back with a pack full of rock samples that often weighed as much as she did."

Salm was raised in a Christian Science Sunday School and her dedication to the religion grew when she married Lyle, who is a Christian Science practitioner. They spent time living in both Ottawa and Boston between 2011 and 2017 on church assignments. 

Salm was the main librarian at the reading room. A place she cherished because she could be in a quiet, reflective space and help others. She opened the doors for anyone who needed it to come in off the street and learn about her religion or just share the space. 

'She was gentle. She was generous'

Salm lived in Ottawa's New Edinburgh neighbourhood and was an active member of the community.

City councillor Tobi Nussbaum knew Salm well and says she was always coming to him with creative ideas about how they could improve the area including suggesting a butterfly garden. 

"Elisabeth was a beloved member of the community," said Nussbaum. "She was gentle. She was generous. I was always taken by her creative ideas, her thoughtfulness."

People have already gotten in touch with Nussbaum to find a way to recognize Salm's contribution and mark her legacy.

Flowers adorn the entrance to the Christian Science Reading Room in Ottawa on Monday, where 59-year-old volunteer Elisabeth Salm was badly beaten Thursday afternoon. Salm died on Friday. (Kristy Nease/CBC)