Plenty of small towns across Canada boast of being a “tight-knit” community that would always help its residents when they are in need. But when a crisis happens, what does that actually look like?
Wakefield answered that question over the past few weeks when local organizations, businesses and residents as far away as Low stepped up in a big way to help an elderly Edelweiss couple who lost their home of 43 years to fire.
The house of Fernand Baril and Madeleine Dubuc burned to the ground on Jan. 13. Everything they owned – family heirlooms, souvenirs and decades' worth of family photographs – went up in smoke. The couple did not have insurance on the home they’ve owned since 1979 and were left to start over from scratch.
The couple told the Low Down they thought they would “be all alone” in rebuilding their lives, but it didn’t take long for the community to spring into action — Wakefield style.
From the moment the couple was forced out of their burning house, their Edelweiss neighbours were outside embracing them, keeping them warm and making sure they had somewhere to go. From there, support snowballed.
Neighbours created a Facebook group where needed items are listed and shared widely. The group has already amassed nearly 300 members who have offered everything from furniture and kitchen items to clothing, lamps and accessories.
Municipal staffer Chantal Leclair also coordinated a donation drop-off on Jan. 29 in Wakefield and helped open a bank account at National Bank for donors to contribute.
But the support didn’t stop there. A resident of Low – and a complete stranger to Baril and Dubuc – launched a GoFundMe page, which has so far raised close to $3,500 of its $10,000 goal.
Second-hand shops Rupert Treasures and Chelsea’s Nearly New deserve praise for allowing the couple to shop for free and opening their doors on non-shopping days, so they could shop in peace for things they need.
The couple would also be lost in paperwork if it were not for La Table autonome des aînés des Collines senior’s organization, which is helping the couple with the burden of staying on top of medical appointments, refilling prescriptions and reordering new health cards and driver’s licences.
Wakefield’s Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle, owner of the bistro-pu Nikosi, stepped in to donate a portion of sales on Jan. 29. Riel-Lachapelle is no stranger to tragedy. Her sister, Washishkun, was tragically killed in a car accident just two weeks after she opened her restaurant in Wakefield in 2017. The community rallied around Riel-Lachapelle then, and it’s clear she wants to pay it forward.
Baril and Dubuc said they have been overwhelmed with the support, and while they were at first reluctant to accept the help, they said they realize now just how difficult it would have been to rebuild on their own.
There have been similar responses to tragedies in the Hills, with residents launching a GoFundMe for an Alcove family who lost two cats and their family home to fire last November. That fundraiser surpassed its $5,000 fundraising goal.
Plenty of towns claim to hold this type of warmth – that shirt-off-my-back mentality, but the community spirit of Wakefield and beyond proves it time and time again whenever crises arise.