A homeless artist who touched the heart of a local restaurateur is getting a proper goodbye thanks to the generosity of Winnipeggers.

Daniel James Martin died July 28 from cancer complications at the age of 62.

While he was not a wealthy man, he was rich in friendships, said Christa Guenther, who started a GoFundMe to raise funds for his memorial.

As of Monday, that fundraiser had reached its goal.

For Guenther, owner of Feast Café Bistro, it was a way to thank Martin for his years of friendship.

“He was just so kind, humble and very sweet,” said Guenther, who met Martin over three years ago when he walked by her soon-to-open West End restaurant carrying his art.

As the restaurant is Indigenous owned and serves up traditional foods, Guenther wanted to showcase Indigenous art.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you make me some more and let’s try to sell some in the café when we open,’” she said.

From there, a friendship blossomed and Guenther learned more about Martin’s past.

She says he left his home of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation at the age of eight to attend residential school.

He went on to live in group homes, foster care, and eventually fell into addiction.

Then at age 24, he met another Indigenous man who fostered his interest in art.

“He didn’t even know he had that gift of drawing yet,” she said. “He found a lot of healing in his artwork.”

Martin had been clean for 20 years before he passed away, she said.

Three weeks before his death, knowing he didn’t have much longer to live, Martin named Guenther his next of kin.

Guenther accepted, promising to fulfill his final wishes.

“He said ‘I want blueberry pancakes with whipped cream and bacon, and I want to go to The Pancake House at The Forks, will you take me?’”

Fulfilling a friend’s final wishes

After being by Martin’s side through his last days, Guenther is now focused on helping his community say goodbye, too.

While the basics of funerals are covered by the province, Guenther says she wanted to do more.

On Thursday, a rented bus will pick up 30 of Martin’s friends from Salvation Army and Main Street Project, places she says he often called home.

A feast filled with Martin’s favourites—pickerel, bannock and apple pie—will be served at his funeral that day, said Guenther.

With all the attention Martin’s story has garnered, Guenther hopes it helps change perceptions around homelessness.

“I want to encourage Winnipeg to just make a friend—if you’re seeing that same person all the time, maybe they’re there for a reason—to teach you something more so than what they’re asking of you.”

The GoFundMe is still accepting donations, with fund raised in excess of the original goal to be donated to Main Street Project, Salvation Army and Lighthouse Mission.

-With files from Maralee Caruso