Over 200 shivering Winnipeggers held vigil outside a boarded-up bathhouse on Thanksgiving night to pay tribute to a lost friend.
In pairs and small groups, men and women huddled together, hugged each other and quietly commemorated the life of Steven Yablonski, the young man who perished in a fire at Aquarius Bath on Oct 11.
The crowd was so large that mourners had to stand on the busy street in front of the bathhouse, forcing traffic to slow to a crawl.
At first, people simply passed around candles and hot chocolate and wrapped their arms around each other.
Then, after about half an hour, a man broke the silence with a short, soft-spoken speech. “I’m here because this doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Trevor Thorkalson, who knew Yablonski from volunteering at a local AIDS charity. “Steve is a part of why we come together as a community.”
Carlin Marsden told the crowd that he’ll never forget Yablonski’s broad, friendly smile. When people saw it, he said, “you knew that there would be a better day tomorrow.”
Yablonski loved performing in drag and he loved karaoke, prompting him to claim the drag name Kerri O’Kee. “He was one of the greatest singers I’ve ever met,” said Ryan Clarke. “Let’s all remember him as a good friend.”
Four of Yablonski’s karaoke pals, including bartender David Fox, led the crowd in a rendition of Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero”, one of Yablonski’s signature songs. Then, many folks went to Gio’s, a gay bar where Yablonski performed and partied almost every night.
One other man died in the weekend fire, but he has yet to be identified. Police are still investigating the cause of the blaze.
A memorial service will be held for Yablonski this Saturday night at Gio’s. Friends are posting memories of Yablonski on the Facebook group Remembering Steven Yablonski.