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There had been a mix-up about the time, so the mourners of Tom Bagley had already been there for about an hour when the other marchers — the families of Joey Webber, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins, the loved ones of Kristen Beaton and her unborn baby, along with those who remembered the other victims of Canada’s worse mass murder — began to mass Wednesday.
Down at the Halifax Ferry Terminal, his daughter Charlene Bagley, eyes hidden behind round sunglasses, wore shorts and flip-flops to fight the heat.
Mostly what I noticed was the sign she carried which, since she is a petite woman, extended from her shoulders all the way down to mid-shin.
“Tom Bagley, my father, my pride,” it read. Beneath those words, and a pair of hearts, was a life-sized photograph of her dad, taken outside somewhere.
In it, he is seated, left hand on right knee, his face animated with a smile that was a heart-wrenching contrast to the stricken expression of his daughter, 42, a wife and mom who works with adults with intellectual disabilities.
“As an adult you know your parents are going to depart this earth. He was a planner and he tried to prepare me for his death, but nothing could prepare me for this. Ever.”
- Charlene Bagley, daughter of victim Tom Bagley
After all she’s been through — her dad’s awful murder and the hemming and hawing by governments in Halifax and Ottawa about an inquiry into the mass killing — she is used to reporters' questions by now.
The delay in green-lighting a public inquiry “was extremely disappointing to say the least,” Bagley said. We were, she added, “maybe in the process of healing a little, and then to find out that we may not get the answers we needed definitely put everything right back to the beginning.”
She went on to say that the families of the Portapique victims “felt the public’s support,” and that her hope now is that “all the families will get the answers that they need.”
Asked if she was surprised by Tuesday’s about-face Bagley said, “yes, but very grateful they changed their mind.”
Then someone asked her about her father — a navy and fire department veteran, a Harley Davidson motorcycle driver whose last act may have been going to help his neighbours McLeod and Jenkins — and the composure cracked.
“As an adult you know your parents are going to depart this earth,” she said. “He was a planner and he tried to prepare me for his death, but nothing could prepare me for this. Ever.”
She thought getting the news about his death was the hardest thing that she had ever experienced in life.
“But the hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my children that day.”
The way this good man’s life ended so arbitrarily changed her, as you would expect of a daughter who spoke in interviews of her special bond with her father.
A lot of anger
She has a lot of anger now, she said.
“Maybe once we do get the answers that anger will disappear,” she added. “I feel it will help me.”
By then, the event was gathering momentum.
Nick Beaton, who lost both his wife and their unborn child, thanked “all Nova Scotians … and all the Bluenosers” for pushing for a public inquiry, and told a throng of reporters that Tuesday’s announcement “proved the little guy can have a voice.”
Then, carrying a Nova Scotia flag, and a T-shirt emblazoned with his wife Kristen’s name, he led the assembled folk in the direction of the provincial legislature.
Before the surprise inquiry announcement, the event was meant to be a protest. Instead, Wednesday’s procession was the most somber victory march I have ever seen.
I walked close to Bagley and her daughter, a sign around her neck remembering her grandfather, along with other family members who seemed to cling to each other for support.
Nobody said much heading up from the harbour, or along the length of the legislative assembly.
The Portapique families weren’t alone: the leaders of the provincial NDP and Conservative parties marched along. As did supporters like Wayne MacIntosh, a Bedford retiree who grew up in Truro and had fond memories of the weekend dances out in Portapique.
But some things are simply beyond words, as the drivers of the cars who stopped to let the marchers cross the downtown streets seemed to understand.
The whole event can’t have taken more than 20 minutes. Afterward, seeing Bagley standing off to the side, still holding her sign, I walked over and asked her what happens now.
“As in what’s next for us? Just do the best we can day-by-day,” said Bagley, who has sought out professional help to get her through these times. “Because I know that is what my father would want. He wouldn’t want to see me crying and sad.”
When I asked if there’s anything planned to celebrate her dad’s life, she nodded.
It will be in Enfield, his hometown. She wouldn’t be surprised to see a procession of Harley Davidsons that day, whenever it is.
He was a fireman, so there will probably be fire trucks too.
“It will probably be a big turnout,” she said, a thought that seemed to cheer her, if only a little.
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