Vigil at Sask. Legislature remembers those lost to COVID-19, 2 years after 1st case

A small group of people gathered on the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building Saturday to remember those who died during the COVID-19 pandemic, two years after the province's first case of the illness was announced.

About 20 people stood, distanced, at the legislature for a daytime vigil Saturday

Karen Hoiland, left, was one of about 20 attendees who joined a vigil in memory of the more than 1,000 people who died with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. She listened as Father Brian Meredith, vicar general of the archdiose of Regina, offered a prayer. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

Karen Hoiland stood on the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina Saturday afternoon, reflecting on the more than 1,000 people in the province who have died since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nearly a year prior, Hoiland was in the Regina General Hospital, holding her husband's hand as he took his last breath. 

"I'll be reflecting on all of this for years to come," she said of the death of her 79-year-old husband, who had COVID-19.

Regina's Deb Nyczai organized the vigil, which was attended by about 20 people and held on the second anniversary of the announcement of province's first COVID-19 case.

Though she hasn't personally lost anyone to the illness, she said she wanted to honour the lives lost and recognize them beyond the statistics regularly shared by the government.

"These are human beings," Nyczai said. 

"We're hearing eight people a day or 40 people in a week.… When you look at it in different context, when you see those numbers, that is an entire community."

Deb Nyczai offers words of support to attendees, some of whom raised their hands when she asked if they'd lost a loved one to COVID-19. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

She related the number of deaths to Saskatchewan communities.

As of Thursday, there had been 1,151 deaths in Saskatchewan. The population of Carnduff, one of Nyczai's examples, was 1,150 people as of the latest census.

In Canada, there have been 37,229 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Canadian government's most recent update — nearly the population of Prince Albert, another of Nyczai's examples.

"That's a lot of people — and then the families and friends left behind, that's tens of thousands of people mourning," she said. 

The vigil was held without any intended political statement, Nyczai said, and didn't make a comment about public health restrictions, which have been the focus of debate between people in favour of removing them and those against doing so.

Spiritual leaders from various faiths also participated in the vigil, including an Indigenous elder, a Buddhist reverend, a Presbyterian reverend and a Catholic priest.

'Part of our statistics ... part of our loved ones'

Hoiland's husband, Robert Watson, was scheduled to receive his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine less than a week after he was diagnosed with the illness.

Unlike others with loved ones in the hospital, Hoiland said she was able to stay with him because she had recently recovered from COVID-19 and had been released from her isolation. 

"I was the only visitor on that entire ward.… The blessing there is I was there, every day, while he was in the hospital," she said, her voice beginning to crack as she talked about her husband's final days. 

"It seemed like I had been going to the hospital for weeks and weeks and weeks, and in fact it was only a few days."

Hoiland's husband, Robert Watson, died on April 4, 2021, after contracting COVID-19. She reflected on his life and his character during the vigil in Regina on Saturday. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

Two days before he died, it seemed like he was making a sudden recovery. Then, when she went to visit on April 3, 2021, he was in a coma. He died the next day.

"It is important for us to recognize that the people we lost to COVID are more than just a statistic," Hoiland said.

"They are part of our statistics, but they're also part of our family that we've lost — part of our loved ones."