Nova Scotia

Portapique is finding ways to heal 3 years after a shooter's rampage

Nearly three years after a deadly rampage started in Portapique, the small Nova Scotia community is finding ways to heal. The rampage, which took place on April 18-19, 2020, left several people injured, homes destroyed and 22 people dead, including a pregnant woman. 

Residents working together to strengthen sense of community after 2020 mass shooting

A woman wearing a dark coat, a man wearing a blue coat and a woman wearing a blue coat stand in front of a construction site on a sunny day.
Portapique residents Erin MacKinnon, Andrew MacDonald and Alana Hirtle stand in front of the construction site where a new hall is going up. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

Nearly three years after a deadly rampage started in Portapique, the small Nova Scotia community is finding ways to heal.

The mass shooting, which took place on April 18-19, 2020, left several people injured, homes destroyed and 22 people dead, including a pregnant woman. 

The Mass Casualty Commission that has examined the causes and consequences of that deadly weekend will release its final report on Thursday in Truro.

Andrew MacDonald was one of the people wounded by the gunman that weekend.

He and his wife were driving through Portapique when the gunman pulled up beside them in a replica police cruiser and opened fire.

'It's the same place it was before'

MacDonald says he isn't dwelling on the past.

"That event had no bearing on the land and the places where we live here, it's the same place it was before," MacDonald said.

"Of course, something bad happened here but it was a short incidence of time. We wish it didn't happen, of course, but no, other than that, it's a great place to live."

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Residents of Portapique, N.S., are finding healing and hope through the construction of a new community hall that's bringing people together, and honouring those killed during the April 2020 tragedy.

Erin MacKinnon shares MacDonald's sentiment.

She has raised five children in the community and three still live there. They've never considered leaving.

"It was important for us to stay and it was even important to let people know that it was OK to stay," MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon said it's also important to add to the community. A playground completed in 2021 is a major part of that.

"The first thing we all were saying [was] we want a playground, we want somewhere where our kids can feel safe, because their healing was more important than our own healing as adults," MacKinnon said.

A tarp lies on top of a pile of lumber in front of a construction site on a sunny day.
Building materials lie at the site of a new community hall being built in Portapique, N.S. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

The residents have now turned their attention to a new community hall.

The Rotary Club of Truro is one of the groups spearheading the hall's construction.

"This project, we've labelled it the Portapique community buildup project, and it was all about creating an opportunity for the residents of the community to be able to come together and literally and figuratively rebuild their community," said Alana Hirtle of the Rotary Club of Truro.

The foundation was poured last fall. Construction workers are framing the structure with the goal of completing it by September. 

A hall had stood on the site for about 200 years, but the old structure was too dilapidated to be saved. Some of its beams will be incorporated into the new structure.

Not interested in report's findings

As for the release of the commission's report this week, MacDonald said he isn't interested. He said worrying about that weekend would be like worrying about lightning striking the same place twice.

"It's a very rare odd chance that what happened here in Portapique happened, and I think for those lessons learned to be needed again here would be really bad luck," MacDonald said. 

"Like … I would really hope that that's not something we need to worry about."

MacDonald said he's focused on completing the hall and to figure out how to make sure it's sustainable for the future.

How to remember that weekend remains a subject of debate.

In the days following the murders, when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented people from gathering together to mourn, an impromptu roadside memorial — stuffed animals, flowers, signs and cards — popped up. 

"The shrine at the side of the road, although well-intentioned, was difficult for residents to drive past every day," Hirtle said.

It was a constant reminder, she said, adding that everything from the memorial has been saved. "There may be a few pieces put in the hall once we have walls up and we can see what we've got for display space."

MacKinnon said a more fitting memorial will be the programs offered through the community hall.

Those program's will honour Emily Tuck's love of music, Lisa McCully's love of teaching, Jamie Blair's love of sports and the legacies of the others who died that weekend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 40 years, the last 31 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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