Mr. Gelijs Smilga
1928 - 2020
In Côte Saint-Luc, peacefully in his sleep on Friday, August 7, 2020, Gelijs Smilga, husband of the late Louise Dufresne, passed away, at the age of 92. He was the son of the late Roberts Ivanovitch Smilga and the late Emma Ozols, and brother-in-law of the late Édouard Dufresne (late Pauline Thouin), the late Robert Dufresne (late Madeleine Godbout), and the late Cécile Dufresne.
He is survived by his loving children: Robert (Isabelle Richard), Christine (Nicolas Mesly), Anne-Marie and Pierre; his grandchildren: Gabrielle (Loïc Quesnel), Antoine, Hugo, Anne-Sophie (Gabriel Legault-Boutin), Camille, Maxime, Louis-Philippe and Catherine; his great-grandchildren Arthur and Léonie; his brother-in-law Dr Marc Dufresne (Claire Parent), as well as several cousins, nephews and nieces from the Dufresne family and his dear friends from the Ziegenfuss family.
Like so many other refugees from global conflicts, Gelijs’ early life was marked by profound upheavals, which he overcame but uprooted him forever. Born in Moscow to Latvian civil servant parents who held enviable positions there, his early years were comfortable, embellished with the privilege of a summer dacha and stays in Kazakhstan. He grew up in the Soviet Union, which explains why he was, in fact, Russian-speaking.
In 1937, during the Great Stalinist Purges, he witnessed at the age of 9 the arrest of his father, executed a few months later. He was 13 when he and his mother, visiting relatives in Latvia, were surprised by the German occupation. Staying with his uncle Kristaps who became his second father and who ensured his ideological re-education, he experienced with the latter, according to his account, the greatest adventure of his life: the flight to the West, biking through Europe at the approach of a new Soviet invasion. An invasion which resulted in him never seeing his mother again, who upon their departure had preferred to wait for their hypothetical return scheduled for the following year.
After the war came years of refugee camp life in West Germany. It was at the end of the 1940s that Gelijs seized the opportunity of an offer of immigrant status in Canada in exchange for a year’s work as an assistant cook on Hydro Ontario’s hydroelectric lines construction sites. He thus began his new life, at the age of 20, alone, penniless and speaking neither English nor French in a completely foreign country.
Driven by an intense desire to build and surpass himself, a tireless worker, Gelijs made his way, at first, from job to job. He later confided to us, not without pride, that he always managed to find in each of his tasks a challenge, therefore an interest, even in the context of his most off-putting first jobs. His decision to enroll in the Radio College of Canada brought about new opportunities: becoming a television repair technician, he eventually landed a job as a telephone exchange technician at Bell Canada, which was the start of a very fruitful and deeply rewarding career for him. From promotion to promotion, all the while studying at night towards his University degree, he eventually became Manager of an Engineering team and a key figure in his business community.
His greatest happiness was without a doubt the meeting of his dear Louise, and their 62 years of life together. There was the routine and there was the daily, but they were in love, Gelijs told us. Right until Louise's death in 2016, they would not leave each other for a second.
A courageous and remarquably persistent worker, passionate about problem solving, chess, hiking, nature and readings in several languages, a humanist and an environmentalist before his time, both taciturn and of great sensitivity, Gelijs was a contrasting and unique character. He upheld his values in all his conversations, to pass them on to us. He loved us deeply.
Sincere gratitude to the fifth floor team at the CHSLD Le Waldorf for their generosity, warmth and dedication.
Due to the current pandemic situation, the immediate family of Mr. Smilga will gather in privacy at the Complexe Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA (1111 Laurier West, Montreal, Qc) on Sunday, August 30, 2020.
Suggested donations :
Parkinson Québec (External link)