A sombre candlelight vigil Tuesday in ODAS Park was an opportunity for people to pay respects and honour community members who have lost their lives to mental health challenges and addictions.
“This (was) an event where people can come and experience that they are not alone,” said vigil organizer Vanessa Wilson.
The first vigil was held in November 2021. Since then, the number of lives lost in the community has grown substantially, Wilson says. During the vigil, more than 100 tea lights were lit for those who have died.
“There is a person sitting behind every tea light,” she explained. “I would say 75 to 80 per cent of them are under 40 years old.”
If the community doesn’t commit to finding a “move-forward approach” now, Wilson fears the list of lives lost will continue to grow. She says no local dignitaries showed up to Tuesday’s event.
“I think the biggest thing is people need to stop looking away,” she said. “Even though it makes people uncomfortable, every small step of acknowledgment is a step forward.”
Until the community and its leaders acknowledge there is a major issue in Orillia with mental health challenges and addictions, there is no end in sight for the growth of the vigil, Wilson says.
Johanne Logue attended the vigil to honour her son, Shawn Richards, who died in 2020 of an accidental fentanyl overdose when he was 33 years old. Richards had been clean for nearly five months and just got out of a three-month rehab stint at Seven South Street Treatment Centre in Orillia.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Richards lost his “support systems” such as the gym, work, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, his mom explained.
“I really feel that it had an impact on Shawn relapsing and passing,” Logue said. “I feel if COVID wouldn’t have hit, Shawn would have stood a chance. He was ready.”
She says the atmosphere at Tuesday’s vigil was “heartbreaking.”
“I knew a lot of moms there,” she said. “The numbers are staggering, and it’s really sad.”
Logue calls for more help and resources for those battling mental health and addiction challenges.
“We need more rehabs or more detox centres,” she said. “We have nothing like that in Orillia other than Seven South for men.”
While the vigil brought a sense of sadness to attendees, Logue says it also gave her comfort in seeing she is not alone in her grief.
“I can communicate, talk to other moms, and hear their stories,” she said. “For me, it helps, and, hopefully, me talking to them helps them as well.”
To learn more about some of the people who were remembered at the vigil, click here.