Ceremonies were heldacross Canada Wednesday to mark the 17th anniversary of the day a gunman killed 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique.

École Polytechnique shooting victims
Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Natalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Maria Klueznick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Michelle Richard
Sonia Pelletier
Annie Saint-Arnault
Annie Turcotte

That day, Dec. 6, 1989, became a lightning rod for the movement to eradicate violence against women and catalyzed Canada'sgun control lobby. In 1991, December 6 was named Canada's National Day of Commemoration and Action on Violence Against Women.

In Montreal, a vigil held Wednesday morning near the École Polytechnique was especially poignant because of the all-too-fresh memories of another gunman's shooting rampage a few months earlier atDawson College, which left another young woman dead.

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Valerie Roy, left, takes part in a memorial service in Montreal on Wednesday for the 14 women slain in 1989 at École Polytechnique. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

In 1989, Marc Lépine burst into a classroom at the École Polytechnique, ordered the men outside and opened fire on the women left behind. Thirteen students and one employee were killed before the attacker turned the gun on himself. Police later found an anti-feminist manifesto and a hit list on Lépine's body.

At the Montreal vigil Wednesday, the victims' names were read out loud and 14 white roses were laid in memory of the Polytechnique victims.

This year, a fifteenth name was added to the list and a red rose was laid in honour of Anastasia De Sousa, the 18-year old who was killed at Dawson College on Sept. 13.

The victim's mother, Louise De Sousa, joined the vigil for the first time this year, saying she still can'tquite believe the circumstances that brought her there.

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Louise De Sousa, whose daughter was killed at the Dawson College in September, receives condolences at the ceremony. 'I just felt sorry for the families of all these victims. Now I'm one … I'm part of them.' ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

"I would never have imagined this. It was out of my mind. I just felt sorry for the families of all these victims. Now I'm one … I'm part of them."

Some people at the vigil said gun control measures that emerged from the Montreal Massacre — such as the federal firearms registrybrought in by a previous Liberal government — have been worthwhile and effective.

"We can see in the last years, that we have a lower rate of injury, murder, and crime against women," said Louise Riendeau, a spokeswoman for the Quebec Association of Women's Shelters.

Riendeau said groups such as the one she works forwill not let up their pressure on Ottawa to maintain the registry, which has come under attack by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives since they came to power inJanuary.

"We have not only to fight against violence but also to fight against bad decisions from our federal goverment, who try to remove the tools we have to fight against violence," Riendeau said.

Campaign to help abused women promoted in Toronto

In Toronto, the December 6th Fund organized a one-dayfundraising blitz for an innovative microloanprogram to help women in abusive relationships.

Volunteers spread across the city and stationed themselves at several subway stations to raise money by selling buttons commemorating the day.

The moneyis earmarked for a microloan program that lends money interest-free to women trying to escape abusive relationships.

Women can requestsmallloans of up to $750 to bridge their journey to independence, explained Jane Koster, the president of the December 6 Fund of Toronto.

Koster explained that women fleeing abusive relationships often leave their spouse or partner suddenly, leaving behind bank records, cheques and identification. Thatputs them in a bind when they're establishing themselves and must pay the first month's rent or a deposit to secure a phone line.

In 2005, the fund granted 80 microloans, which made an immeasurable difference in many women's lives, Koster said.