On April 18, 2020 when Nova Scotians were already reeling with COVID-19 lockdown measures they were hit again with something even deadlier: the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history.
Nova Scotia is a rural province where everyone knows everyone. I have grown up here my entire life as an uninvited white settler on the territory of the Mi’kmaq under the Treaties of Peace and Friendship. I love living here: the natural beauty of Mi’kmaki, the university options, family and friends all nearby, the art, the music, the ocean. This is home. Yet home has never quite felt the same since last April.
Gun violence is a sad reality for many, all we must do is take a look to our neighbours south of the border to see their frequency. Yet mass shootings were never something I was afraid of and I would argue many Nova Scotians felt the same. You never think a tragedy like that will happen here, until it does.
This case is intrinsically tied with spousal abuse, violence against women, gun violence, and police inaction. This event never had to happen. It never should have happened.
Everyone knows everyone here
I cannot speak to the unimaginable pain felt by those directly impacted, however, I can speak to the overall feelings of those living in the province. To this day I have shared stories with friends and family, even strangers on the internet of how they were impacted. Everyone somehow had a connection to this. Although I am writing this piece for fellow Scotians, I am also writing this for the rest of the nation, for the people who did not reach out, who may not have even been sure where Nova Scotia is.
I couldn’t help but feel an eerie sense of silence and apathy from the rest of the country. Shouldn’t this be all over the news? Why aren’t people mourning? Don’t they get it? If you are a Nova Scotian you get the stories of rural towns and villages, seaside cottages, and retirement homes. You get that everyone knows everyone here. If you are a fellow Scotian then you probably heard stories similar to what I heard.
One of my best friends who was on her way to one of the communities, she is a firefighter. She was going to do what she does best, which is help others; until her department was frantically told to stand down. “That could have been me,” she said. “What if we had gone out there?”
Or another friend, who, like many of us, has taken the “old way home”, the scenic routes and back roads that show the beauty of this province. But this sleepy drive along the coast turned into a nightmare when my friend was stopped by a police officer, who told them to “get out of here, there is a gunman on the loose. Do not stop”. I remember that same thought from my friend – “what if it was me?” “what if that wasn’t a real police officer, what if I was stopped by him?” For, you see, the gunman not only went on a 13-hour shooting rampage that spanned two days and half of the province, but he did so dressed as a police officer, with an authentic cruiser and all.
There are people I know who were even harder hit; some of their best friends had died. Their teacher. Their neighbour. We all had a connection to this, somehow. As Nova Scotians we grieved together, we felt unsafe and untrusting, scared and angry. And devastated at the loss of life.
Nova Scotia will now always have an ache that won’t go away, as we will never forget this tragic moment in history the same way we will all never forget the 23 beautiful souls that were taken too soon.
Lisa McCully. Heidi Stevens. Heather O’Brien. Kristen Beaton, who was pregnant. Greg and Jamie Blair. Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod. Tom Bagley. Jolene Oliver, Aaron (Friar) Tuck and Emily Tuck. Gina Goulet. Lillian Hyslop. Joanne Thomas and John Zahl. Joey Webber. Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn. Corrie Ellison. Peter and Joy Bond.
May they rest in peace. And may their families, friends, and all those impacted feel love radiating from the rest of us. So today on the one year anniversary, think of those lost, those impacted, think of how this can never happen again, take a moment of silence, and feel free to sing along:
Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast,
let your mountains dark and drearybe.
for when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed,
Will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?
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