Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia mourns loss of 27-year-old disability advocate

Alex Peeler of Conquerall Bank, N.S., died suddenly at the age of 27, according to the Town of Bridgewater, where Peeler worked as an events coordinator.

Alex Peeler, a filmmaker and advocate, had Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Alex Peeler, an advocate and filmmaker with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, often turned the camera on himself to share what it's like to navigate the world in a wheelchair. (YouTube Screenshot)

A young Nova Scotian filmmaker and accessibility advocate is being remembered this week for his kindness, courage and unwavering commitment to helping people with disabilities.

Alex Peeler of Conquerall Bank has died at the age of 27, according to the Town of Bridgewater, where Peeler worked as an events coordinator. The town said staff learned the news on Monday.

Peeler had a rare form of muscular dystrophy, called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which he spoke about candidly on a YouTube channel he created to tackle the stigma around living with a disability.

A short film Peeler produced about his life and efforts to make his hometown more accessible premiered at the Atlantic International Film Festival last fall.

Peeler was the youngest member of the provincial advisory board on accessibility when it formed in 2018. He also sat on the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and was the chairperson for the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities.

David Mitchell, the mayor of Bridgewater, said he was gutted when he found out about Peeler's death on Monday. Peeler, who had worked with the town for more than a year, had recently organized Bridgewater's first ever virtual Canada Day.

The entire town is heartbroken for the Peelers, who are a very close family, Mitchell said.

"He was such a thoughtful speaker, but charismatic and confident," he said. 

Vicky Levack, who met Peeler a couple years ago through her own advocacy work, called Peeler "very articulate, very kind, very intelligent."

Peeler told CBC News in a 2017 interview that he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was 13 months old, and that doctors told his parents that he might not live past 20. 

"He was aware that he didn't have a lot of time, so he wanted to use his time as effectively as possible, to have the best life possible and help others in the process," Levack said. 

The last time she spoke with Peeler was in late June when they filmed an interview together for his YouTube series about accessible housing. 

Levack said people may not know that in addition to being a filmmaker, Peeler was also a writer, and had recently given Levack a copy of a novel he hoped to publish one day.

"He was very, very creative," she said. "He had a very unique perspective and thought about things sometimes in a way I didn't."

She said navigating a world that's unwelcoming to people with disabilities can leave her feeling cynical and frustrated at times. But she said her friend never seemed to let things get to him.

Mitchell said he admired Peeler's determination and courage to speak up when he saw barriers to accessibility in his community.

The mayor was especially moved by Peeler's address to the graduates of Park View Education Centre in 2019 when the young man reminded them that there's nothing they can't achieve. 

"Nothing could stop him, so I think his legacy would be that if you believe in something, and you think you need to see it changed, then you just push and advocate for that change."