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Dozens of candles were lit at a vigil for Harley Lawrence in Berwick on Saturday night.
The mood was sombre in Berwick on Saturday night as hundreds of people converged on the downtown to remember a man who lived and died on the streets.
Harley Lawrence, 62, who had been homeless and living on the streets of Berwick since the spring, died in an early morning fire last Wednesday when the bus shelter he was staying in went up in flames. An RCMP investigation into Lawrence’s death continues amid public speculation his death was the result of a criminal act. There have been no arrests made or charges laid in the case.
Mourners gathered in the parking lot of the Berwick Foodland in rain and darkness to honour Lawrence’s memory with a candle light vigil. John Andrew, pastor of the Open Arms Ministry in Kentville, knew Lawrence well. He said the man’s battle with mental illness took its toll on his life.
“Because of his illness he couldn’t accept help from his community,” said Andrew.
Lawrence was remembered as a “quiet, shy, bashful man who liked his privacy.” He came from a large, Hants County family, some of whom attended the vigil.
“He could be friendly, or he could be a pretty grumpy fellow,” added Andrew. His memories of the man he had known on and off for about eight years drew laughter and tears from members of Lawrence’s family.
Andrew noted many people, including his own family, had tried to help Lawrence, either through the simple act of buying him a coffee or a snack or encouraging him to seek help through local service agencies.
“Unfortunately, the endless searching for solutions by the community was ineffective,” Andrew said.
Event organizer Kelly Grant, who knew Lawrence as Gordon, was thankful so many people came to show their respect.
“Thanks for being here and for remembering Harley Lawrence, who on October 23, 2013, died at home.”
Berwick’s Mayor Don Clarke attended the service and accepted a concrete bench that will be installed in the town in Lawrence’s memory. Referencing the national spotlight shone on Berwick in the wake of Lawrence’s death, Clarke also thanked the community for coming out to the vigil.
“I think we have sent the right message tonight,” said Clark of the support demonstrated by the large crowd.
The vigil ended with Lawrence’s family releasing balloons while some in the crowd quietly called out “soar high Harley.”
Donations of warm clothes for the Kentville shelter and food items for local food banks were collected at the vigil. T-shirts with “Soar High Harley” printed on the back were sold for $10. Money collected will go towards purchasing a graveside monument for Lawrence. Any remaining funds will benefit Berwick’s Open Arms program, which has operated out of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
Details of Lawrence’s funeral will be released Monday.