Calgary

'Just rattled': Nova Scotians in Alberta fly flags to mourn shooting victims

Members of the large Nova Scotia expat community in Alberta have been trying to process the enormity of the weekend tragedy, while away from their coastal hometowns.

'We're all feeling the same awful feeling,' says owner of Halifax-themed restaurant

Nova Scotia expats across Alberta have been displaying the Maritime province's flag as a sign of their grieving after Sunday's mass killing. (Kathleen Hughes)

Across Alberta, people are flying Nova Scotia flags to honour the 18 victims of a shooting spree on the weekend.

In one of the deadliest mass killings in Canadian history, the victims were killed in a 12-hour shooting rampage that started in the small rural community of Portapique near Truro, N.S., late Saturday.

Members of the large Nova Scotia expat community in Alberta have been trying to process the enormity of what's happened while away from their coastal hometowns.

Calgarian Scott Robinson grew up in Great Village, close to where the shooting took place. He now works at SAIT, and despite still reeling from the horrific news, he spent the morning going to meetings as normal.

"Everything's kind of happening as usual, and we're just rattled, right, because it's so close to home," he said.

Police say the active-shooter situation began in Portapique, N.S., before moving south across the province. It ended in Enfield, N.S. (CBC)

One of the victims, Heather O'Brien, cared for Robinson's mother, who became ill last summer and required at-home nursing care. O'Brien worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses in Nova Scotia, and was a mother herself.

"That's someone who's cared for her for basically the last year and suddenly no more," Robinson said. "My mom knows the family and so on, given the small population in the region — that's a given. It's quite unsettling to learn this."

Family only recently left Alberta

One of the families killed only recently left Alberta to move home to Portapique, unknowingly next door to the suspected shooter.

East Coaster Aaron Tuck and his wife, Jolene Oliver, who grew up in Calgary, moved back to Nova Scotia two years ago to care for his mother. They and their daughter, 17-year-old Emily Tuck, were killed.

Oliver's sister has started a GoFundMe to help pay for two memorial services, one in each province, and travel expenses. Her post described a fun-loving, musical family who fixed cars together.

Jolene Oliver, Emily Tuck and Aaron Tuck were killed in their home during one of the worst mass shootings in Canadian history. They had moved back to Nova Scotia from Alberta two years ago. (Tammy Oliver-McCurdie/Facebook)

Another fund has been started for all the victims' surviving family members. The Halifax-themed restaurant, Blowers & Grafton, said it would donate its net proceeds from Monday and Tuesday's sales to the cause.

Owner Josh Robinson, who grew up in Bedford, said he's heard from many Albertans — including those without Nova Scotia roots — about how hard it is to process.

"People are obviously just torn up about it, trying to wrap their heads around it," he said. "We're all feeling the same awful feeling."

Craig Pack, who lives in Calgary, went to Cole Harbour High School while Const. Heidi Stevenson worked there. He put up a flag to mark his grief. (Craig Pack)

People turned on porch lights Sunday night, posting photos with tributes and messages of grief to social media. Nova Scotia flags now dot homes in Fort McMurray, Cochrane, Cold Lake, Calgary and elsewhere in Alberta.

Others recorded songs to commemorate the victims. All tried to come to terms with the tragedy that's left those from the tight-knit province reeling, despite being so far away.

In Banff, the bells of St. George in the Pines Anglican Church honoured the dead by playing the eastern province's unofficial anthem, Farewell to Nova Scotia.

'When they grieve, I grieve'

Craig Pack hung his Nova Scotia flag outside his house in Calgary. He said he wanted to pay tribute to Const. Heidi Stevenson, the RCMP officer who was killed. He got to know her husband a bit while in high school in Cole Harbour, occasionally playing hockey with him.

"Much of my friends and family still live there now, so when they grieve, I grieve," Pack said. "I can't stop thinking about the conversation he had to have with his young children yesterday.

"It honestly breaks my heart thinking about it."

RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was shot and killed by a gunman on Sunday, walks children across a street in a September 2015 photograph from the local RCMP's Facebook site. (RCMP in Nova Scotia handout via Reuters)

On Sunday, the suspected shooter moved south through sparsely populated communities. Police told people to stay in their homes, and that he was impersonating an RCMP officer to gain access to victims.

Officers then chased the suspect down a busy highway and apprehended him roughly 90 kilometres away near Enfield, north of Halifax, where he died.

The news trickled out throughout the day. Calgarian Andi Knappe said people back home were calling her all day, trying to share information.

Kathie Pace O'Laney hung up her flag in Cold Lake. (Kathie Pace O'Laney)

She said she knew four of the victims who died.

"It's just really emotional. It makes me want to go home even more, but of course, not going to happen," Knappe said. "My heart is absolutely with everyone there, and I'm there in spirit, for sure."

Stacy Nesbitt hung this flag up in Grande Prairie. (Stacy Nesbitt)

Details are still coming out, not all the names of the victims have been released, and police are warning there may still be more deaths. In that uncertainty, people have come together.

"Nova Scotians are tough and hardy on the outside, and the more tender-loving people on the inside," said Kathleen Hughes, who now lives in Calgary and hung up a flag.

"Being in Calgary, and far away from my parents and family, I wanted to do the most Nova Scotian thing I could think of. I wanted to put my heart on display for my neighbours, to let them know my heart was with Nova Scotia today."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with the Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

With files from Helen Pike

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