Hundreds of people gathered in Halifax April 17 to hold vigil for Raymond Taavel, the gay activist who was murdered early that morning after leaving a Halifax gay bar.
Read how news of Taavel’s murder unfolded here.
Click on the thumbnail below for a picture gallery from the vigil.
Simon Thibault photos
Click the control below to hear a song from the vigil, “When I Went Down,” perfomed by Stewart Legere, Tanya Davis, Rose Cousins and Ria Mae.
And another audio clip, this one a poem read by Tanya Davis.
An account of the vigil
By Simon Thibault
Walking down Gottingen St, you can see people getting ready.
They’re getting ready to tell stories, shed tears and pay homage to a friend who passed away this morning.
There are rainbow flags along this block of Gottingen. It’s not unusual to see them here, as there are two gay bars on this street, as well as a bathhouse. But it would be difficult to remember a time when there were as many. They vary in size and shape, from flags that are a few feet across to small pennants. They are put up in windows and draped in front of storefronts. They’re even hanging off small shrubs, flapping in the warm wind.
Across the street from the two gay bars, and just a few steps away from the bathhouse, is a chainlink fence. For years, there was an abandoned building here, derelict and deserted. It was a blight on this block. You could smell the mould inside of it when you walked past. The neighbours and business owners complained and it was finally torn down. The chainlink fence is there to keep people out.
Today, the fence serves a nobler purpose. It is there to hang wreaths, to hold candles and artwork. It is there where people leave notes for Raymond Taavel. It is here where he was murdered.
Not long before 3am on April 17, Raymond Taavel passed away. He had been beaten to death. Police have a man in custody and according to reports, will be charged with second-degree murder.
The memorial is set to begin at 7. By 6:30, there is already a crowd of about 100 people lining up on the sidewalks of Gottingen St. Some of them are by the makeshift memorial by the fence; others stand by the doors of Menz Bar, where a set of speakers, a microphone and a two-stepped riser is set up. Kevin Kindred, of NSRAP, arrives in front of the bar. He will be the emcee for the evening.
There are red and misted eyes everywhere. People are shaking their heads. Chins and jaws shake as people try not to cry. The vigil hasn’t even begun. People are passing out small candles to light.
People continue to arrive. Conversations are struck and memories are shared. Many people take note of the growing number of mourners who are arriving. Just as many stay silent, nodding to one another; they know why they are there but choose not to discuss it. Not yet. It only happened this morning.
By 7, the crowd is near three hundred people. Journalists are setting up cameras; microphones and portable recorders can be spotted throughout the growing mass of people. Someone asks people to please move. They want to unfurl a large pride flag in the middle of Gottingen St. It is more than 15 feet long and is held aloft by a dozen people. Someone asks for a song. One person, then two, then three begin to sing “Amazing Grace.” The crowd picks up the slack and sings along.
Kevin Kindred takes to the microphone and thanks everyone for coming. He introduces Doug Melanson, the owner of Menz and Mollyz Bar. Taavel had closed the bar the previous evening. Melanson tells a story about how Taavel had been playing songs from the jukebox that night. At five in the morning, after Melanson and his staff had told the police their stories, the jukebox turned itself on. It started to play the last songs requested on it. Among them were “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, and “To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn. Doug and his staff stood there, no one moving or saying a word. They just let the songs play.
More people come up to speak, friends and colleagues. Performer Jason Rose-Spurrell, better known as Rouge Fatale, goes up to the mic, saying that he would rather sing than speak. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” comes out loud through the speakers. No one sings along; they just listen intently.
The crowd is more than five hundred strong now. People are crying, quietly. Heads are down.
More speakers come. They tell stories of Raymond. How he loves to dance. How he makes people smile. How he pisses them off and how they can never be mad at him for very long. How compassionate he is. How kind he is. None of the speakers use the past tense in talking about him. Not one.
A group of local singers is invited to come and sing. They perform “(As I Went) Down to the River to Pray.” Cameras click and roll, taking in images. People in the crowd begin to sing, ignoring the media. The song ends and a lone voice says, “Thank you.” The crowd applauds.
More stories are told. A local councillor, Dawn Sloane, takes the stage and jokes that she is a mess. People laugh a little. She begins to cry, turning away from the mic. She tells the story of how Raymond and she used to dance to Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real.” She begins to cry again. And then she tells the crowd how much Raymond is loved. She jokes, wondering who else could close down Gottingen St on such short notice without city permission.
Tanya Davis, Halifax’s poet laureate, is invited to speak. She reads a poem about the events unfolding. The crowd is quiet and reverent. She recites, “And now a being of this tribe of love is gone, and we are one less strong in a battle we are tired of fighting in the first place. Lay down your arms, peace is your birthright.”
Throughout the event, people speak of Raymond’s love of peace and hope. How he had hope for everything and everyone. How he would be pleased to see so many people, here for him. It’s eight o’clock. The vigil is over. The crowd begins to disperse. People leave, hugging one another.