David Bellefeuille was a family man – beloved husband to Mary Bellefeuille and father to their three children, Shannon, Patrick and Joseph. His children say that one of his best characteristics was his ability to find commonality with anyone he met. He was always there for you.
“No matter if Patty and I were into sports and Joe was the brainy one, he always found something he could do with all of us. He was always a fan and a coach on the sidelines and he was always my biggest advocate,” says Shannon.
David was also an active community member and avid cyclist. But like so many others, David struggled with mental illness and was a patient at the Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) Mental Health unit.
Unfortunately, David eventually lost his battle with mental illness and tragically took his own life in 2018.
Since his passing, Mary, Shannon, Patrick and Joseph have reflected on the time their father spent at the QCH Mental Health unit, and the fact that the physical environment of the unit was not ideal for a mental health patient. The unit has not had significant physical upgrades in almost 40 years. Mary and her children knew they wanted to do something to help improve the QCH Mental Health unit and make it a more therapeutic space for patients.
The Bellefeuille family spoke to Dr. Kathi Kovacs, QCH Chief of Psychiatry and Chief of Staff, and asked what they could do to help. “Dr. Kovacs said point blank that the hospital needs financial gifts to help support the renovations for a new Mental Health unit. And we said okay that’s great – let’s start.” That’s when the idea for the Bike Ride for Mental Health was conceived.
In tribute to David’s love of cycling, the inaugural event took place in July 2020. Family and friends joined the Bellefeuilles to complete a 100km ride around David’s favourite route, raising an incredible $31,597.
However, their support did not stop there.
After the success of their first fundraiser, the Bellefeuilles set out to hold their second event this July (2021), where they raised an additional $31,710, making an outstanding total of $63,307 raised in support of a renovated mental health unit at QCH!
The renovations to QCH’s Mental Health unit began earlier this year in March (2021) and the $15 million project is expected to be completed in 2023. The new unit will include renovated space and a new 7,000 square foot, modern two-story addition. There will be more inpatient beds and expanded outpatient services, meaning additional, faster access to mental healthcare in Ottawa.
To the Bellefeuilles, cycling is an important connection they share with their Dad. But Shannon says on her most recent ride, she started thinking about how riding a bike relates to the struggles of mental illness, and what you can do to help your loved ones:
“If you struggle, ask for a pull. If you see someone going through a tough time, help them up the hill. Sometimes, you need to pull over to the side of the road to get off your bike for a quick breather. 105km is intimidating, but it always becomes more manageable if you take it 1km at a time. Sometimes you need an e-assist, and by no means does that mean you biked any fewer km’s – everyone gets there at their own speed. You need balance – if you lean too far to one side, you’ll fall off. And when life throws you a curve, roll with it,” says Shannon.
We are so grateful for the passion and generosity of the Bellefeuille family, and all their friends, family and supporters. Their Bike Ride for Mental Health has not only created a lasting legacy for their beloved father, but it will help support many other QCH patients in the years to come who also struggle with mental illness.
Thank you, Mary, Shannon, Patrick and Joseph, for your remarkable support.
To learn more about organizing a fundraiser in support of QCH or in honour of a loved one, please contact Catherine Harwood at email@example.com or 613-581-2248.