Speaking through webcams and video messages, community leaders, Nova Scotia natives and dignitaries from across the country came together to honour the 22 victims of Canada’s deadliest mass shooting Friday night.
“Nova Scotia Remembers: A Loving Tribute” was held virtually in an effort to bring the Nova Scotia community together to mourn the shocking tragedy, at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to stay physically distanced.
Musicians played touching and uplifting tributes, often accompanied with just an acoustic guitar or keyboard while sitting in their living rooms. Politicians and faith leaders both local and national offered their support in between the songs, while some of Nova Scotia’s most famous exports held back tears as they spoke to the resilience of their home province.
A moving moment happened early, when Nova Scotia fiddler Natalie MacMaster played along with a video of 17-year-old victim Emily Tuck, a fiddle player herself, performing in her living room.
MacMaster paid tribute to the province before her performance, highlighting the strength of its residents.
“I love you, and I thank you for all the gifts you’ve given me over the years,” she said. “You’re a strong bunch, and you’ll stay strong.”
Reeny Smith played a mournful version of the classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” while J.P. Cormier sang through Emmylou Harris’ “Green Pastures.” A performance by the Stanfields performing “Long as I Can See the Light” contained Nova Scotia’s flag in nearly every shot.
Other performers sang original songs that also spoke to loving each other and staying strong through tragedy, despite many of them being written years ago. One such song, which singer Jenn Grant introduced while struggling to stay composed, was simply titled “Love.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Julie Payette and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil spoke to the importance of communities coming together despite the need to stay physically apart.
“Right now, to all Canadians, it feels like we knew the people we just lost,” Trudeau said.
“In times like this, we remember that that same sense of community that’s felt in towns like Portapique, Wentworth, Milford and Enfield is what makes us Canadians.”
Local members of Parliament and the provincial legislature also offered words of comfort along with city councillors from the communities that became crime scenes over the weekend.
“If you need anything — and I really mean anything, anything I can do to help you — I ask you to reach out,” Colchester County councillor Tom Taggart said.
Colchester County resident and actor Jonathan Torrens briefly broke down crying as he spoke to how the shooting hit especially close to home.
“Even though it might not feel like it, you are not alone,” he said. “We are here to shoulder some of the burden of this grief.”
Other Nova Scotia natives like NHL star Sidney Crosby paid tribute to the first responders and the local RCMP detachments that are mourning the loss of Const. Heidi Stevenson, one of the victims of the shooting spree.
Faith leaders spoke to their shock and horror over the shootings while standing in nature, their small communities that were rocked by tragedy sitting behind them.
Chief Sidney Peters of the Glooscap First Nations, speaking on behalf of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’Kmaw Chiefs, called for the spreading of “light, kindness, understanding and love and caring for each other,” before turning his attention to the victims’ families.
“May your sorrow eventually be overwhelmed with the many wonderful memories you shared with your loved ones,” he said.
Many others also spoke to the importance of looking forward to “brighter days ahead,” as Heather Rankin said, while also remembering those who were lost.
“To those of you who are grieving loved ones, please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers, and we are all united in your grief,” she said.
The vigil ended with the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, as photos of the victims passed by one after another.
A website has been launched that lists verified GoFundMe pages to support the victims’ families.
Torrens highlighted the website shortly before the vigil’s end, urging anyone who is struggling emotionally or mentally with the aftermath of the tragedy to reach out to support services also listed on the site.
The shooting spree that took place over the weekend spanned 12 hours. The shooter, who police say wore an RCMP uniform and drove what appeared to be a police cruiser, targeted people in small, quiet communities in Nova Scotia.
Police have said some of the victims were known to the suspect, who was shot dead on Sunday, but some were not.
The police investigation into the shootings is ongoing, while a separate investigation into the police-involved death of the gunman is being handled by the province’s police watchdog.
— With files from Daina Goldfinger and Caryn Lieberman