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Online vigil shares music, messages of support in memory of N.S. victims

An online vigil honouring the 22 people who died in a tragic rampage began Friday with a fiddle performance from the massacre’s youngest victim and ended with a montage of the victims’ faces while “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes.

Nova Scotia residents with personal connections to those killed spent the week gathering recordings of music and tributes from public figures, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Stephen McNeil and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, originally from the province, for “Nova Scotia Remembers.”

Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster recorded herself playing along with a video of 17-year-old Emily Tuck performing the waltz “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod,” uploaded to Facebook a month before she was killed with her mother and father, Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck, in Portapique, N.S.

“To my dear Nova Scotia, we are there with you in the deepest of ways,” MacMaster told her home province, before commenting on Tuck’s “beautiful performance” that had been circulating on social media in the days after the murders.

“She was a fiddler, so thought I would unite myself to her performance and play this tune for all the souls who lost their lives,” she said, before a split-screen showed MacMaster and another pianist joining Tuck’s performance, which her father had shared to the popular COVID-19 kitchen party Facebook group.

Tuck was one of 22 people killed on Saturday and Sunday when a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer with a fake cruiser set fires and shot his victims across 90 kilometres and several communities in northern Nova Scotia.

A message from Trudeau, recorded in front of his home in Ottawa, said Canadians are united in grief.

“Friends, colleagues and family, they represented the best of us and they were taken from us far too soon,” Trudeau said. “To everyone who lost a loved one, Canada is mourning with you.”

The prime minister commented on the close, neighbourly spirit found in the communities shaken by the weekend’s violence, saying it reminds Canadians “why we look out for each other.”

Governor General Julie Payette opened the video expressing grief at the violence “rarely seen in Canada,” and acknowledging that the vigil had to take place online as Canadians fight the “other invisible enemy,” the COVID-19 pandemic that has restricted physical gatherings.

In a recording from his home, Crosby shared condolences with the families and thanked first responders who protected people during the crisis.

“I’m in Pittsburgh but being from Nova Scotia, my heart and mind is home with all of you,” said Crosby, whose Golden Goal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics led to a cross-country celebration. “I’m sending all my love and support back home.”

George Canyon, Jenn Grant, Reeny Smith, and Classified were among the Nova Scotia musicians who recorded musical performances for the 90-minute event that was streamed online and broadcast by CBC, CTV and several radio stations.

Pastors and reverends from around the county recorded messages from their parishes, offering spiritual support and Bible readings against the wooded, scenic backdrop of the region.

McNeil wore a Nova Scotia tartan tie and pin in a video recorded from his desk with Canada and Nova Scotia flags behind him. He said the province is supporting the families and communities affected.

“What happened here in our province is not who were are. It may change us a little but it cannot define us,” he said. “We are strong, we are community-minded and we take care of each other.”

Actor Jonathan Torrens offered an emotional introduction and concluding remarks, before the last segment that shared short biographies and photos of the people killed.

The victims included Peter and Joy Bond, Lillian Hyslop, Joey Webber, Corrie Ellison, Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck, Emily Tuck, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins, Greg and Jamie Blair, Heather O’Brien, Gina Goulet, Kristen Beaton, Lisa McCully, Const. Heidi Stevenson, Dawn Madsen, Frank Gulenchyn, Tom Bagley, Elizabeth Joanne Thomas and John Zahl.

RCMP members and other police forces across the country observed a moment of silence Friday at 2 p.m. to honour the victims.

The National Police Federation encouraged people to wear red Friday in memory of Const. Heidi Stevenson and the other victims.

Hundreds of people joined watch parties on Facebook during the vigil.