Cornwall woman who loved nature died while camping during Saturday's storm

Joanne Labelle was in her "happy place," in nature, when the severe storm hit Saturday. The 64-year-old from Cornwall, Ont., is being remembered by family as a caring person who loved the outdoors.

'There's no chance to say goodbye. That's the worst part,' says family member

Joanne Labelle, 64, was killed in the storm that swept across Ontario on May 21. She leaves behind her husband Robert Labelle, and two sons. (Supplied by Zachary Labelle)

Joanne Labelle was in her "happy place" when the storm hit.

She wasn't in a specific town or city. In fact, it was the opposite — the thing Joanne loved most was being outside and camping, said her son Zachary Labelle.

"She loved nature," he said on Tuesday. "Summer time, you'd always notice a little bit of an extra shine in her smile on days like today where she could be outside in her garden."

A camping trip on a friend's property brought the 64-year-old from Cornwall, Ont., to the Peterborough area over the long weekend.

She was there on Saturday when powerful winds swept across Ontario.

Provincial police say Joanne was struck by a falling tree. She's one of 10 people who died during, or in the aftermath of, the derecho storm that ravaged parts of southern Ontario into southwestern Quebec.

"I am still in shock. It happened way too quick," said her son. "We're just being there for each other right now and trying to digest what happened."

Joanne leaves behind her husband Robert Labelle and sons Zachary and Cole Labelle.

Zachary describes his mother as a positive person who was happy all the time.

She worked as a pharmacist in Cornwall for more than 40 years.

Family in 'total shock'

Desiree Martin has a moment of her own that she's been holding onto since she heard the news.

Joanne was her cousin-in-law, but Martin said she often referred to Joanne as her aunt.

The pair dressed up together as characters from Sailor Moon during a convention in Toronto in 2018.

The serious face Joanne is pulling in a photo from that day only makes the picture funnier because "she's always smiling and stuff," said Martin.

Desiree Martin, dressed here as Sailor Moon, said Joanne Labelle, far right, was always smiling, making her serious face in this photo even funnier. (Suppled by Desiree Martin)

That night at their hotel, after everyone else had gone to sleep, they shared a deep conversation, according to Martin. Now, she's mourning the fact they won't get a chance to speak again.

"I always felt so at ease when I was around her, which was a big thing for me because growing up I was surrounded by a lot of stress," said Martin. "When I was with her, it just didn't exist."

Joanne is someone who "always had her arms open," she added.

The two didn't see each other over the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they had plans to meet up this summer.

WATCH | Family member describes pain losing Joanne Labelle:

‘A total shock’: Family remembers woman who died in destructive Ontario storm

4 months ago
Duration 0:49
Desiree Martin described her cousin-in-law Joanne Labelle as a kind and caring person who put family and friends at ease. Labelle was camping near Peterborough when the storm hit on Saturday.

"It was just total shock. There's no closure," she said through tears. "There's no chance to say goodbye. That's the worst part."

Zachary said anyone who wants to pay their respects to his mother is invited to sign a condolences book at the Shoppers Drug Mart at Cornwall Square, where she worked for decades.

Joanne was the heart of the family, he said, adding his loved ones are what he's focusing on now.

"She was there for everybody so we now need to let her live on ... We're going to do the same."

More Ottawa-area residents killed

Four other Ottawa-area residents died due to the storm.

Among those killed was a 44-year-old man from Ottawa. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in Renfrew County said he died after being hit by a falling tree at a cottage near Calabogie, Ont..

Gatineau police said a 51-year-old woman drowned after a pontoon boat capsized in the Ottawa River near the Masson-Angers area.

OPP said 80-year-old Gail Greene of Ferguson's Falls, Ont., died Sunday afternoon when she was struck by a falling tree branch near Lanark, Ont.

And 59-year-old Ian Fraser was killed by a tree at Canadian Golf and Country Club east of Stittsville.

Fraser was a member of the RCMP whose career included "varied experiences," according to his obituary.


Dan Taekema


Dan Taekema is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He has worked with CBC News in Hamilton, Windsor and Toronto and for newspapers around southern Ontario. You can reach him by emailing