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Funds for memorial to 22 mass shooting victims in N.S. shifts to municipal leadership

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HALIFAX — Funds for a memorial to the victims of Nova Scotia's mass shooting are being shifted to a municipal government trust, while some communities and families have been pursuing their own fundraising efforts.

The permanent memorial project was initially led by the registered charity Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society, which was formed by a group of volunteers after the April 18-19, 2020, shooting deaths of 22 people.  

However, board member Cees van den Hoek said in an email Tuesday the charity would shift about $200,000 to other groups to manage, with $90,000 of that money going to a trust held by the Municipality of Colchester County.

He said the charity would respect the wishes of the original donors for how they wanted their donations used, including for memorials, scholarships and grief projects.

Van den Hoek said the small group of volunteers believe the Colchester County municipal government is better positioned to take on the task of creating the memorial.

Colchester Mayor Christine Blair said of the $90,000 being placed in trust by the municipality, $50,000 is intended for the permanent memorial site, while $10,000 is intended for a potential memorial located in Portapique, N.S. She said another $10,000 would be reserved for a memorial site in Debert, N.S., with the remaining $20,000 for grief and trauma counselling.

Blair said she is consulting with the mayors of Halifax and Cumberland County and the warden of East Hants — all regions where killings occurred — to decide on a location and design of a permanent memorial project.

She said the project will unfold slowly and in consultation with victims' families. Funds will be sought from the province and likely the federal government, she added.

"We're being very gentle about it, you might say, as people are still suffering and will be for a long time," she said.

Meanwhile, some families and communities have pursued efforts to remember the lost and to rebuild communities damaged by the shooters' 13 hours of violence. The shootings started in Portapique on April 18 and included more killings the next day in the Wentworth, Debert and Enfield areas.

The family of Kristen Beaton, a pregnant woman who was shot in Debert during the second day of the rampage, has joined the family of Heather O'Brien, a VON nurse who died a short distance away, to fundraise for a seven-hectare memorial park near the site of their deaths.

Their proposal envisions heart-shaped grounds with a brook running down the centre, symbolizing broken hearts, said Nick Beaton, Kristen's husband.

Blair said $10,000 of the funds in the trust is designated toward this project, adding that the county has approved the use of the land as a memorial park. She added that the county government would consider the proposed design in upcoming meetings.

"We're trying to take a really bad spot and turn it into a happier spot," Beaton said in an interview earlier this week. He added that his family's focus will be on a playground, in honour of Kristen's close relationship with their four-year-old son, Daxton, while the O'Brien family envisions a flower garden on the site.

Marie Benoit, the local councillor assisting with the project, said in an interview Tuesday the families have a goal of raising between $250,000 and $300,000 and that to date, about $24,000 had been donated.

In Portapique, the community has shied away from creating a memorial site and has instead preferred to raise funds with the Rotary Club of Truro, N.S., toward a playground and community centre to help build relationships among neighbours. Funds have been handled by the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia.

The playground opened last fall, and the next phase is the teardown and redesign of the historic Portapique Community Hall, which will be used for activities such as dances and community gatherings. The total project is about $822,000.

Andrew MacDonald, president of the hall's board of trustees, said in an interview Tuesday the group is still trying to raise between $75,000 and $100,000 in cash donations.

"It's as a result of the shooting for sure, but we aren't going to be defined by the shooting," said MacDonald, who had a frightening encounter with the killer during his rampage.

"We don't need a reminder of what happened. We're very well aware of what happened. The goal of this project is to allow the community to move forward from this tragedy," he said.

However, MacDonald said he's hopeful that there will eventually be a permanent memorial site created in the province for all who have suffered. "I think it's important the families get what they need to reflect and remember," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press




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