Community spirit award 'bright spot' for Portapique residents
Award ceremony held in Masstown with lieutenant-governor
Looking around the room, Alana Hirtle saw kids running and playing, and Portapique neighbours and friends laughing together.
It was a welcome sight and moment of joy, she said, two years after Nova Scotia's mass shooting that began in the small community where 13 people were killed.
Dozens gathered in nearby Masstown, N.S., last week to celebrate Portapique receiving its 2021 Lieutenant Governor's Community Spirit Award.
"I think it really was a bright spot at this particular time," said Hirtle, representing the Rotary Club of Truro.
Hirtle chairs the club's Rotary Cares Committee and the Portapique community building project involving the area's new playground and future hall.
Nova Scotians marked the second anniversary of the province's mass shooting on Monday and Tuesday in moments of quiet reflection for the 22 victims and all those affected by the tragedy.
On April 18-19, 2020, a gunman — at times dressed as a police officer — killed neighbours and strangers in a span of 13 hours as he drove across the province.
There were no events held this year to mark the anniversary beyond private moments of silence each day, but Premier Tim Houston recently announced the province will formally establish April 18 and 19 as days of remembrance with legislation to be introduced later this year.
The public inquiry into the massacre led by the Mass Casualty Commission is on break this week to reflect the anniversary.
While Hirtle said the inquiry does important work, it has also been difficult for everyone in the area as a "pretty constant reminder" of what happened.
"I think this was an opportunity to put that aside for a brief period, and put the anniversary aside for a brief period, and just relax and be together and have some fun — and remember what it's like to be able to come together," she said.
The Rotary Club had applied for the award without letting the residents know just in case it didn't happen, but Hirtle said everyone was pleased to find out last September that they had won.
Hirtle said the ceremony with Lt.-Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc was delayed until now so there would be no conflict with the playground opening last fall. There were other factors as well, including the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
While the award application focused on plans for revitalizing the community hall, which Hirtle hopes can break ground next month, she said that's not everything.
If donations had not poured in from across the country to help with this building project, Hirtle said the Portapique community would have found other ways to create strong, lasting bonds.
"Having people meet one another and re-engage with folks after the event was kind of the core purpose. And then the fact that all these other things have grown out of it is just fantastic," Hirtle said.
"This isn't looking back. This is totally looking forward and creating a legacy really, and something for their children now, and for their children's children."
Colchester MLA Tom Taggart also took in the speeches and camaraderie during the event in Masstown.
He said it was a proud day, and the image of seeing LeBlanc walking hand-in-hand down some stairs with a toddler will stay with him for a long time.
Taggart rose to recognize the event in Province House on Thursday, becoming emotional as he talked about the community's spirit. Loud applause sounded around the legislature as MLAs rose in a standing ovation after his comments.
"Evil came to their community. And … if there was ever a community that could … sort of stay down, there's one," Taggart said in an interview Tuesday.
"This is one that didn't. And they really stood up and said, 'This is what we are.'"
The award, created by Nova Scotia Crystal, will eventually have a home in the new community hall.