RICHMOND HILL, ONTARIO: Two former Port Hawkesbury residents, grieving the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, have decided to give back to their former hometown.
Arun and Mandira Palit of Richmond Hill, Ontario are donating money to the Town of Port Hawkesbury to plant a maple tree and sustain it for next two years, in memory of the 22 lives lost in the April 18 and 19 shootings in central Nova Scotia. They want the tree in a central location so passersby will remember the victims.
“We started our new life in Port Hawkesbury,” Arun told The Reporter last week. “We got nothing but kindness from Nova Scotia.
“Once such incident doesn’t wipe away the culture of many hundreds of years in Nova Scotia, which is very kind, which is very humane.”
Arun was attending post-graduate school at the University of Waterloo, taking chemical engineering, when he was hired at the Heavy Water Plant in Point Tupper in 1976. Mandira joined him a year later.
After searching for many months, Arun said he was “overjoyed” to get his first job in the Strait area. He said the plant’s human resources manager was “especially kind” to him, taking a few minutes every day to teach him the difference in connotation between similar sounding English words.
The maintenance manager at the Heavy Water Plant also offered Arun a regular ride in his truck to StFX University after the couple enrolled in several courses.
Arun said it did not take him long to familiarize himself with the town and surrounding hamlets.
“The people at work overlooked my Indian accent and taught me many things,” Arun recalled. “It meant so much to me that I made many friends who accepted me as I was and would invite me to weekend parties as if I were no different from them.”
The Palits recalled that the post office was general delivery in those days, during a time when the Gulf Oil Refinery was in full production, also in Point Tupper.
After a couple of years at the plant, the Palits bought their first house on Tamarac Drive. Because they didn’t have a lawn mower, neighbours offered to mow their front lawn, and strangers would stop by to offer advice.
“Our house basement started leaking,” Arun recalled. “When a neighbour saw me digging manually, he came with his machine and exposed the crack for repair. That would have taken me days to dig. He just smiled and went away when I offered money.”
Mandira remembers fondly her first impressions of Nova Scotia where she was greeted warmly at the Halifax airport after leaving her homeland. She said she’s been treated wonderfully ever since.
Not long after moving to Port Hawkesbury, she started settling into a routine of watching the waters at the Canso Causeway in evenings, then on the weekends travelling to Sydney, New Glasgow, Truro, and the Cape Breton Highlands.
“Everywhere, the people were so kind, the landscape so picturesque,” Mandira recalled.
In the afternoon, women in the neighbourhood would gather for tea. Mandira remembers fondly how idyllic life was in the town, where people never locked their cars or homes, and could ask their neighbours to run errands for them.
While expecting, Mandira said the kindness kept coming as neighbourhood kids offered her flowers, and after having her first born, returned to their home to see the newborn.
“Even though we have traveled and lived in many countries in the last 40 years, I treasure the pictures of the doctors, the delivery nurses, the many cards and gifts that I received from the community and also from the Rotary Club, of which my husband was a member,” Mandira recalled.
When they made the difficult decision to leave, Mandira remembered a neighbour’s reaction.
“An elderly lady in front of our house used to baby sit our son,” she recalled. “On the last day of baby-sitting, as she found out we [were] moving away, she asked us with sadness on her face ‘why do you have to go so far away, when we have everything here?’”
In the early 80s, the Palits left Port Hawkesbury, and although 40 years have gone by, Arun said these and other gestures of kindness from Nova Scotians are forever etched in his memory.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton forwarded the Palit’s request to Chief Administrative Officer Terry Doyle, who then contacted the Palits to start the process of planting the memorial tree.