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Times Have Never Been Tougher for Nova Scotia


DEBERT, N.S.—On days when hes feeling up to it, Nick Beaton heads to a rural road just outside of Debert, N.S., where a makeshift memorial pays tribute to his late wife and unborn child.

Its been almost a month since Kristen Beaton was killed by a gunman who took the lives of 21 other people during a frenzy of violence across northern and central Nova Scotia.

The continuing-care assistant was on her way to work with the Victorian Order of Nurses on April 19, when the killer—disguised as a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP cruiser—pulled over her car and shot her for no apparent reason.

On a lonely gravel turnoff on Plains Road, her roadside shrine includes bouquets, photos, cards, candles and a wooden bench under a small canopy, where Nick Beaton can sometimes be found sitting amid scores of stuffed animals.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators search for evidence at the location where Constable Heidi Stevenson was killed along the highway in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Canada, on April 23, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press via AP)

“I call it Kristens site—its where it happened,” he said in an interview. “I dont go there every day, as I believe shes in my heart and shes in my home, too.”

Not far from the bench is a two-metre tall letter K, and nestled among some Nova Scotia flags and potted pansies is a small rock covered with painted roses and the words, “Kristen & Baby.”

The humble site is one of several similarly appointed memorials along the twisting, tree-lined roads in Colchester and Cumberland counties—improvised but sacred spots that speak to a province in mourning.

A short drive south on Plains Road is a memorial for another victim: Beatons VON colleague, Heather OBrien. Her family has planted a small flower garden there, and theres also another bench and canopy.

A homemade sign proclaims: “Proud Nurse.”

The Atlantic Denture Clinic is guarded by police in Dartmouth, N.S., Canada, on April 20, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Nick Beaton says there will be a funeral for Kristen and “baby Beaton,” but that will have to wait until the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.

Until then, those seeking solace from their grief will have to do so behind closed doors—or choose one of these very public venues.

In the tiny village of Portapique, N.S., where the gunman began killing neighbours on the night of April 18, there are two roadside memorials: one at the head of Portapique Beach Road—not far from where 13 people died—and another along Highway 2 at a former church.

Cees van den Hoek, the buildings owner, says he placed four lattice panels in front of the former church shortly after the slayings when it became clear some people were uncomfortable going anywhere near the initial crime scene.

As well, he called on people from across Canada to send him cards, letters and other personal tributes. The panels are now full of flowers, posters, paper hearts and many messages that he has laminated.

A woman pays her respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, Nova Scotia, Canada, on April 23, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press via AP)

“We had quite a few cards from Humboldt,” said van den Hoek, referring to the 2018 bus crash north of the Saskatchewan town that killed 16 people, most of them members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team.

“Were kind of in the same boat,” says van den Hoek, who knew some of the victims of the Portapique mass killing. “That was really touching. Some of the letters, when your read them, its really quite emotional.”

Theres been talk about setting up a foundation with funds that have been raised for the affected families, but van den Hoek says plans for a permanent memorial are in the early stages.

“Were trying to get some light after the dark,” he says. “We dont want to be just a morbid tourist destination.”

Still, Nova Scotians find themselves in a surreal state of mind these days, given that the pandemic has thwarted the traditional grieving process. That includes handshakes and hugging.

As well, there have been additional tragedies to deal with.

a memorial
a memorial
A memorial pays respect to the victims of a military helicopter crash, at 12 Wing Shearwater in Dartmouth, N.S., home of 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, Canada, on May 1, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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