Nova Scotia

Candlelight vigil held for international student killed in Sydney house fire

About 50 people gathered on the waterfront to remember Rajesh Gollapudi, who died in December.

About 50 people joined the memorial event on the waterfront in Sydney, N.S.

Students place plastic candles in front of a photograph of an international student from India who was killed in a December 2022 house fire in Sydney, N.S.
Students at a vigil in Sydney, N.S., place plastic candles alongside a photograph of Rajesh Kumar Gollapudi, 33. Gollapudi was killed in a house fire in mid-December. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Members of the student community in Cape Breton gathered Wednesday evening to mourn the loss of one of their own.

About 50 people gathered along the Sydney, N.S., waterfront where candles were placed around a framed portrait of Rajesh Gollapudi.

The 33-year-old died in a fire at a Sydney duplex last month. Gollapudi, who was studying business analytics at Cape Breton University, was one of eight international students living in the building. He is survived by a wife and daughter in India. 

Sanjib Biswas, a student from Mumbai, said the vigil provided a space for international students to mourn a terrible loss.

He said people who come to Canada to study form bonds based on their shared experiences of navigating a new country. 

"It is heartbreaking and it takes a lot of courage to come here, but we are here together and we have friends, our colleagues, our students who study alongside us," he said. 

"We're just here to show our support and make sure we are together as a community."

Students gathered in front of a ship on Sydney waterfront.
About 50 people gathered along the Sydney waterfront before marching through the downtown streets to remember Gollapudi. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Sai Shankar said he met Gollapudi in September through mutual friends and developed a bond, as they were from the same city in India. 

"He was a very polite person," said Shankar. "He always comes forward when anyone needs help. This is shocking news about a person who's my friend."

Shankar said Gollapudi's family is preparing to host a 13-day ritual of mourning that is typical within the Hindu faith. 

Himali Kadam of CBU's students' union said grief is being felt throughout the Sydney campus, as many foreign students struggle to imagine how Gollapudi's family is handling the news. 

"Being a student, I understand and I have my own husband. I was petrified when I heard of this. I was holding my husband," Kadam said. 

"What would happen if he's in India and I'm here and something like that happened with him? I would be devastated. So yeah, [I'm] showing my respect and my condolences to the family, let the wife have much strength to digest this pain."

The fire erupted at the rooming house on Park Street on Dec. 17. Seven international students who escaped the flames were given free lodgings at a local hotel while they searched for new homes. 

Some of those students are moving in with friends who live in already crowded homes, which raises the possiblity of increased fire risk. A few other students who were Gollapudi's housemates say they've opted to stay at the hotel, which is more costly but safer. 

Francine MacDonald of Sydney said she attended Wednesday evening's vigil to support the international student community.

MacDonald said she would also like to see a solution put in place for the area's housing crunch and wants universities to be more up front with students about the challenges they may face upon arrival. 

"It's a very sad situation. These students of course need a place to live, so they have to take what is available."

Officials with the provincial Fire Marshal's Office say the cause of the blaze remains under investigation. 



Erin Pottie


Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 17 years. Story ideas welcome at

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