Harley Lawrence's friends seek answers after suspicious death

A funeral for Harley Lawrence, a homeless man who died in a suspicious fire at a Berwick, N.S., bus shelter last week, will be held Wednesday in Kentville.

Homeless man, 62, died in 'suspicious' bus-shelter fire last week in Berwick, N.S.

Police are treating Harley Lawrence’s death as suspicious and are awaiting autopsy results. (Jack Julian/CBC)

A funeral for a homeless man who died in a suspicious fire at a bus shelter in Berwick, N.S., last week will be held Wednesday in Kentville.

The funeral service for Harley Lawrence is planned for 11 a.m. at the White Family Funeral Home.

Lawrence, 62, was raised in Hantsport, according to his obituary. One of nine children, Lawrence worked in the Nova Scotia farming community in his youth and enjoyed the outdoors.

In recent years, Lawrence lived in several communities across the country. He had been living on the streets of Berwick — a town of about 2,500 in the Annapolis Valley — for about six months.

Friendly for 50 years

John Harvie remembered Lawrence as a boy he went to church with. When he returned to the Valley 50 years later, Harvie let him sleep in his sunroom.

“I left the door unlocked so he could get in and use the bathroom if he needed to. I trusted him absolutely,” Harvie said Monday.

“A lot of people were scared of him because he was such a rough-looking character, but there was nothing to be afraid of.”

Brian Bishop said Lawrence looked especially rough when he first returned to the Valley. ”He was very shabbily dressed. He was dirty, had long shaggy hair,” he said.

While Lawrence had friends, he didn’t always accept help, Bishop said. When Lawrence inherited $5,000 from his mother’s estate, Bishop tried to help him get the money.  

“We were never able to get that released to Harley because Harley failed to help us by giving his social insurance number and other identification we needed.”

Community volunteer

Bishop hired him to do garden work, and Lawrence also volunteered to help repair a church and clean up a cemetery. He’ll  be buried in that cemetery Wednesday.

Last week, his body was found in a burned-out bus shelter where Lawrence was known to sleep.  

Police are treating Lawrence’s death as "suspicious" and are awaiting further autopsy results.  

Some eyewitnesses to the fire said they saw two young men fill jugs with gasoline and move toward the shelter before the fire. Police said they have no comment on the witness reports.

Hundreds of people attended a vigil Saturday night for Lawrence, including members of his family.

Donations in memory of Lawrence may be made to the Canadian Mental Health Association.