Nova Scotia

Childhood friends of Const. Heidi Stevenson start band scholarship in her honour

Long before she joined the RCMP, Const. Heidi Stevenson played clarinet at Dr. John Hugh Gillis High School in Antigonish.

Stevenson ‘found her people’ playing clarinet at school, says friend

Const. Heidi Stevenson, left and Andrea Kiehlbauch, far right, met in Grade 1 and graduated from high school together. (Andrea Kiehlbauch)

Childhood friends of Const. Heidi Stevenson have created a scholarship in her honour for high school band students in Antigonish, N.S. 

Long before she joined the RCMP, Stevenson was a student at Dr. John Hugh Gillis High School. She played clarinet and "found her people" among other band students, said longtime friend Andrea Kiehlbauch.

"When we think about her high school years ... she was so heavily involved in the band and loved it that we felt she would be happy with that choice," Kiehlbauch, who now lives in B.C., told CBC's Maritime Noon on Tuesday.

Stevenson was one of 22 people killed during last April's shooting rampage that started in Portapique and ended nearly 13 hours later. The 23-year veteran of the RCMP, and mother of two, was killed as she tried to stop the gunman.

Const. Heidi Stevenson was killed in the line of duty last April when she tried to stop a gunman on a rampage. (RCMP/Reuters)

Kiehlbauch said many of Stevenson's friends from across the country felt lost after her death. They couldn't gather together in person to grieve so they met online, some for the first time in years, to remember her. 

"We're all, I think, still in a bit of shock, like I'm sure most of Nova Scotia is about what happened," she said. 

'She wasn't scared of anything'

Kiehlbauch first met Stevenson in Grade 1 and they were both members of their high school band in the 1980s. She said Stevenson was a talented musician, and someone who was never afraid to try something new. 

"She wasn't scared of anything," Kiehlbauch said. "She played rugby in Acadia. I don't think she played a sport ever in her life. She went in the [RCMP] musical ride. She had never ridden a horse.... She just went out there and did it."

When Kiehlbauch learned many years later that her friend intended to join the RCMP, it was something she hadn't expected. She said Stevenson always did well at school and had her sights set on medical school.

"We were just floored by it, but in the end we're like it kind of makes sense. You know, she's a rule-follower. She really has high regard for rules and doing the right thing and saying the right thing and being a leader, and so then it all kind of started to make sense," she said.

The scholarship is organized by a group of Stevenson's childhood friends who knew her from about age six to 18. They're trying to raise enough money to keep the scholarship going well into the future. 

"Our high school grad class is incredibly generous ... and they have responded so generously, and we've all just come together and raised a lot in a short period of time," Kiehlbauch said. 

Stevenson, second from left, and Kiehlbauch, second from right, are shown during a school trip to Halifax in the 1980s to see Princess Diana. (Andrea Kiehlbauch )

A $1,000 scholarship will be awarded for the first time this spring to a graduating student in the band program at Dr. John Hugh Gillis High School.

There are also plans to hold an annual concert to raise money to support the scholarship when COVID restrictions allow, Kiehlbauch said.

"It's nice to have something that they can aspire to every year, and we're going to choose that student thinking of Heidi and someone who emulates what she was all about out there in the community and helping to make this world a better place."

With files from CBC Radio's Maritime Noon