Candles Light up Across the Country for Nova Scotians

April 22, 2020 Updated: April 22, 2020

On April 20, United Church of Canada ministers across the country received a call to fill the country’s dark night with light.

The call came from Rev. Penny Noble in the Tatamagouche Pastoral Charge, in Nova Scotia’s Colchester County, the site of the largest mass shooting in the country’s history.

Ministers were encouraged to light candles from 8 to 9 p.m. on Monday, put their candles in their windows, and ask their congregations to do the same and share photos of the act.

For many, the call was simple but profound.

The response from across the country was enormous and #Light4NovaScotia was soon trending across Canada with some participants connected to the United Church and many others deriving their own meaning from the gesture.

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

Rev. Lloyd Bruce, in Sackville, was one of many who answered the call.

“Rather than curse the darkness, we light a candle and remind ourselves of the light we carry, each and every one of us,” said Bruce, who told the Times & Transcript he knew two of the victims. “And collectively, when we bring our light together we cast a glow that the darkness just can’t put out, no matter how dark it may be.”

Anne Pirie in Sackville also participated in the gesture and said, “It touches our lives in profound and unspoken ways.”

There are candles in windows along with blue ribbons and Nova Scotia tartan being displayed in homes near her, she said, adding, “Many of us know people who are grieving,” as one of the victims, Lisa McCully, was a graduate of Mount Allison University.

RCMP debrief after search for Wortman in Great Village
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) members pack up after the search for Gabriel Wortman in Great Village, Nova Scotia, on April 19, 2020. (John Morris/Reuters)

Pirie and her neighbours also sang ‘”This Little Light of Mine” from their front porches yesterday, she said.

Janet Hammock in Sackville said she lit three candles, one especially for one of her neighbours who lost a family member to the tragedy. “They sat in the gradually diminishing light as we went from daylight to twilight to darkness. It was a very emotional time,” said Hammock.

The gesture stretched across the country.

Charles Wilson from Northern Ontario placed a church candle in his window and has kept it lit as a vigil into Tuesday. “To me, candles are a way to remind us that even in the darkest times, there is light,” Wilson told the Times & Transcript. “We are going through a dark time as a nation, a people and a world right now. I believe with my whole heart, there is a bond that connects us all and gives us light. Lighting a candle is a way to remind us of that.”

Teresa Shultz now lives in Moncton but is originally from Nova Scotia. She said she was not online when the candles in windows movement was shared, but she has tied Nova Scotia tartan to her porch and many in her neighbourhood have done the same.

And Sidd Tikoo joined in the #Light4NovaScotia gesture from Toronto, offering the gesture, “For the community we call family and home.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at a news conference to comment on the shooting in Nova Scotia, in Ottawa, on April 20, 2020. (Dave Chan/AFP via Getty Images)

Susie Henderson and Jennifer Henry in Toronto lit a candle when they first heard the news and put it on their table as a way to “to lift up what was on our hearts,” said Henderson.

“When the call came out to light a candle and set it out in the window, it felt exactly like what we wanted to do,” Henderson said. “Once we had posted our picture we stayed around to watch the other lights turn on, first in the east and then across the country…. It really felt like igniting little connections.”

Henderson added that it was meaningful that the call emerged from the Maritimes itself and to her it felt like a bit of an ’Is anybody out there?’ Henderson said she hopes those closest to the tragedy were able to see that others were out there for them, both by the real lights they could see and the virtual ones.

While some have grown cynical about “thoughts and prayers” in response to tragedies like these, others are seeing thoughts and prayers and gestures like this one as a potentially much more active and even an exercise that challenges us.

“Lighting a candle is a commitment to ask the difficult questions of the situation,” Bruce said. “A commitment to love our neighbours and love ourselves in the midst of this tragedy.”

By Clara Pasieka