Skip to main content

Lucie F. Roussel, mayor of La Prairie, has died after being stung by wasps at a cottage in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

The mayor of a Montreal bedroom community who was enjoying a weekend in the country has died of anaphylactic shock after wasps attacked her with repeated stings.

Lucie F. Roussel, the mayor of La Prairie, was near her cottage in the Eastern Townships Sunday when she stepped on a wasps' nest, and was stung repeatedly. A friend said she suffered at least 15 stings. Ms. Roussel, 51, was transported from her cottage near Stratford to hospital in Thetford Mines, Que., where she was pronounced dead.

Colleagues on city council in the community just west of Montreal and other friends said they were not aware she suffered from allergies. But a neighbour in Stratford said she was indeed allergic to venom from bee and wasp stings but did not have an epinephrine injector with her to counteract anaphylactic shock.

Deaths from venomous insect stings are very rare in Canada.

Forty people died from bee, wasp or hornet venom in Canada during a 12-year stretch ending in 2011, the most recent period for which national numbers are available from Statistics Canada.

The annual death toll ranged from a high of seven in 2009 to a low of one death in each of 2006 and 2011. An average of 3.3 Canadians died from stings each year.

By comparison, about 10 Canadians die from being struck by lightning each summer, according to Environment Canada.

La Prairie city manager Jean Bergeron said he was in a "state of shock" at the sudden death of a mayor he described as conscientious, devoted and deeply engaged in her community long before she became mayor. "It's unbelievable," said Councillor Christian Caron before referring further questions to the city's spokesperson.

Ms. Roussel leaves an 18-year-old daughter, Constance, and a 19-year-old son, Antonin. Before she entered politics, Ms. Roussel practised law in partnership with her husband, Yvon Lemay. He died of a heart attack in December, 2009, at age 47.

"I feel just infinite sadness, so much pain for them," friend Hélène Ste-Marie told reporters. "She was just so full of life."

Ms. Ste-Marie said the mayor faced the death of her husband with enormous strength. "I hope her children will have similar strength," she said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard were among those offering their condolences over the death of the mayor, who was a provincial Liberal candidate in the 2012 election and finished third.

"Their children must now go through another test that will demand great courage," the Premier said. "I want them to know they can be proud of their mother's accomplishments."

Compared with Canada, deaths from bee and wasps stings are more common but still rare in the United States, where longer summers and milder winters in much of the country extend stinging season.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 665 people died in the U.S. during the same 12-year period. Most of the deaths were linked to allergies, according to the CDC.

Unlike bees, wasps can sting repeatedly.

About 2 per cent of the population suffer from allergies to the venom from bees, wasps and hornets.

Many people aren't aware they are allergic, experts say.