THE PUBNICOS, YARMOUTH COUNTY, N.S. – As West Pubnico resident Charlene LeBlanc was speaking at a ceremony last year, while her community was being recognized for its spirit, in her mind she kept telling herself, don’t cry.
She was doing fine until she hit the word “pride” in her speech.
And that’s when she choked up.
“I was proud of the people then, and I’m proud of what the people are doing now to help these families,” LeBlanc says.
The families she speaks of are the family members who suffered unimaginable loss following a Jan. 7 house fire that claimed the lives of four young children.
In the Pubnicos, this tragedy has affected everyone deeply. They grieve for the children and they grieve for their families.
This part of Yarmouth County is known for being a caring community. It is a community where people will step up to help others before being asked to. And it’s been that way for as long as some people can remember.
Area resident and writer Laurent d’Entremont has been telling stories of the Pubnicos’ past for decades. And there is much to tell, he says.
“It’s always been a community where people help people for as long as I can remember. I’m 76, so I can remember quite a while back,” he says.
“When I was a little kid and women had children, when the babies were born there were ladies who would be acting as midwives and they would take great pride in that and other people around would bake to give stuff to the household,” he recalls.
“If the man of the house in those days was sick, neighbours might chop his wood or stuff like that.”
If people were facing hard times, others would deliver food to their homes.
And it has never changed, d’Entremont says.
“Even though we are richer now than we were 100 years ago, the thing that hasn’t changed is we still help each other,” he says. “Many times when people prosper they forget their neighbours, but it isn’t like that in Pubnico.”
People experience the joyful times together and they are there for each other when times are hard or sad.
“Just as we are right now. People bond together when there is a crisis like this. They always try to help,” says Laurent d’Entremont.
Indeed, there has been a groundswell of love and support through fundraising and donations for those affected by this recent tragedy.
People – and not just those living in the Pubnicos, because truly this entire region has a huge heart – are stepping up big time to help those who are hurting.
Even as they are hurting themselves.
Charlene LeBlanc would expect nothing less.
“If you’re looking for comfort and a place where you belong and where people look out for you, it’s here,” she says.
She tells the story about how one year $13,000 was raised during a two-hour bake sale to help a young girl in the community who required a piece of medical equipment. It’s why she felt so strongly that the area be recognized for its civic pride and community spirit. When she wrote the nomination for an award that is given out by the province’s lieutenant-governor, there was so much to say. She talked about the past. She talked about the Acadians. About being a strong working community. About being an inventive community.
“We just have a really strong will to survive, to overcome and to help,” she says.
“It started with a sad story – mind you nothing sad compared to what is going on now – but it was a sad situation,” LeBlanc says. “The legion was going downhill. We had started banding together to try and put some life in the legion. We’d go there on Friday nights and would invite people to come. She points to the Chase the Ace fundraiser. Yes, people were chasing that ace, but the experience was about more than just a jackpot when the ace of spades was caught.
“It started out as doing what people in Pubnico do – someone is suffering, so let’s give them a hand,” she says.
And then it turned into a fundraiser – the likes of which had never been seen before – with the help of an army of around 260 volunteers by the time it all wrapped up.
LeBlanc says she was very emotional throughout the Chase run, because she was so proud of her community and its people.
It’s a community, she says, where even age doesn't make a difference.
“You see somebody who is 30 who goes and plays cards with someone who is 85. People care for each other no matter,” she says.
But it isn’t always easy, and this recent tragedy is one of the toughest things the community has ever faced. As soon as it happened, everyone felt a sense of helplessness, LeBlanc says.
How can we help these people who have lost so much, people asked themselves. What can we do, people asked each other.
It just makes sense that everyone would do everything they can to try to help, says Chris d’Entremont, the area’s MLA, who grew up in “west side,” as he calls it.
Almost everyone, it seems, somehow has a connection to the families who have been affected by this tragedy. Even those who don’t have that connection still share in the grief.
“This part of my constituency is very tight-knit. They’re very connected with one another, very supportive of one another,” says d’Entremont, “which made this a challenge for them because everybody is grieving together and until they had something to focus on – fundraising, getting money, those kind of things – I think they were all in a state of shock.”
And because this is a situation involving blended families, the reach of those who have lost so much is large. This has been hard, as well, for people in the community to process.
“Once they had something to do, something to focus on, it got a little bit better because that’s what they do, they help people,” d’Entremont says.
Heartbroken sums up best what the community has been feeling, he says. And these feelings aren’t just extended to the families. Others have been impacted.
As an ex-firefighter, d’Entremont says he’s been down the road of losing people in a fire. It’s a journey no one wants to experience, not first-hand, nor see others have to go through.
“I felt really bad for the emergency workers that were there because they knew what they were there for,” he says. “And God bless the ones that stayed for the cleanup side of it.”
In rural communities you need to have people in these roles. You need to have people who volunteer to leave their homes, their jobs and their families to answer that 911 call. But when you experience something like this, d’Entremont says, that next 911 call is going to be that much more difficult.
“They need support because it’s such a horrific tragedy,” he says of the first responders.
He is thankful they will receive it.
He echoes others in saying the Pubnicos and its people are very caring.
“They’re always there. They’re fundraising for someone who has cancer. They’re fundraising for this person or that person. You have a cake parade for the IWK and everybody shows up,” d’Entremont says.
Part of this also comes from being a fishing community, where sorrow on the sea – no matter the community – bonds people together. Those who leave us, d’Entremont says, you never forget.
“We’ve lost fishermen before to the ocean. We never forget them. We never ever forget them. And it will be the same thing here,” he says. “We will never forget the fire in Pubnico Head. It’s on the main thoroughfare so every time you drive by there, there will be a thought that there were four kids that perished there.”
The enormity of a tragedy like this recent fire and the young lives lost, says d’Entremont, puts things in perspective and it also forever shapes a community moving forward.
“It’s going to take a long time for this one to heal and I just hope that we stay focused on the families and the community,” he says. “I know a lot of people say what happened? How did it happen? That doesn’t really matter at this point. We’ve had to say goodbye to four beautiful little kids. That’s what’s most important.”
Yarmouth County House fire claims young lives: "This is a horrible, horrible tragedy for anyone to experience": CLICK HERE
Amazing community support for online auction for Pubnico Head families: CLICK HERE
Community rising up to assist families affected by Pubnico Head fire: CLICK HERE
Local community, province and nature ‘deeply saddened by this dark event’ Argyle Warden says: CLICK HERE
Dennis Point Café donating all proceeds from Jan. 22 to Pubnico Head families: CLICK HERE