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Meet an antique shop owner providing a space to talk about a Nova Scotia tragedy


An antique store can be like a time capsule.

The floral teapot that sits on the shelf, or a rusty ring nearby, once belonged to someone who passed away and was greatly loved.

Cees van den Hoek sees this every day as owner of his shop in the picturesque community of Great Village, N.S.

Dealing with people who have lost loved ones is the nature of his business.

“After I talk to them, it kind of puts them at ease a little bit that somebody will get their stuff and love it once again and that’s pretty satisfying,” Hoek said inside his shop on the side of a highway that snakes through a quiet neighbourhood.

Read more: Emotional aftermath — families of victims in Nova Scotia shooting struggle to heal

The Great Village Antiques Group Shop has always been about preserving memories in a way, but it also became something more after the mass shooting on April 18, 2020.

On that tragic day, a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer terrorized the province during a 13-hour rampage across rural Nova Scotia that killed 22 people.

Hoek found out about the shooting the next day after receiving messages from friends, with some who wanted to make sure he was safe.

“(I was in) disbelief and scared because you didn’t know what was going,” he said. “Gives me shivers even talking about it now.”

Hoek’s personal story is one of three that will be told by Global News this week to show how people living in the community are healing almost a year after the shooting.

Click to play video: Jenny Kierstead discusses Nova Scotia shooting memorial run

During the time of the shooting, the shop was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it only opened a couple of months later.

When it did, “everybody was still talking about it” and bringing it up when they visited the shop.

“Everybody was in a state of disbelief. There was tears. There were people that were still in shock,” Hoek said.

“I think people are still in shock now… It’s a long time ago now in some ways, but in other ways, it’s still very fresh.”

But Hoek has found a way to cope by mostly talking to other people in the community, and found that others needed to have that same opportunity.

“If I can help somebody else get a little further (from their grief), then that is what helps me,” he said.

Read more: ‘It’s hurtful’ — Families of Nova Scotia shooting victims say RCMP keeping them in the dark

So when some of his customers come into the store and bring it up even now, Hoek doesn’t shy away from the conversation and listens to them as they share their feelings of grief or shock.

“It comes up quite regularly,” he said.

It’s also something that people from outside of the town want to talk about when they arrive at the store, which “might be a little tricky” because they may not have been directly affected by it.

“It still rocked people from across the country, so it’s something that they have to deal with as well. Everybody grieves in their own way, so talking about it and asking questions and stuff like that… it often helps them,” Hoek said.

Click to play video: Nova Scotia RCMP set surplus gear ablaze nearly a year after mass shooting

He said he doesn’t bring it up himself and would rather do that within his close group.

“If somebody brings it up, I do try to let them… unload a little bit,” Hoek said. unsure about whether that was the right word to use, especially since he doesn’t want this to be about himself.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the people that were really affected by it.”

Hoek moved to Portapique in 2007 and spent a lot of his childhood there as well. It’s the place he calls home.

“This is where I always wanted to be,” said Hoek, and the tragedy of the mass shooting didn’t change that.

“I like being close to the water. I like the small town…There’s a lot of great people out here,” he said.

Read more: ‘13 Hours: Inside the Nova Scotia Massacre’ podcast explores Canadian tragedy in-depth

As a father, he also sees Portapique as the ideal place to raise his kids.

Even when the tragedy struck, it didn’t only bring the whole community together, but also the whole province and even parts of the country, Hoek said.

But COVID-19 still made it difficult. Since people couldn’t be together in person or give each other a hug, Hoek said “a lot of extra connections” were made through social media channels.

“People had to find ways to deal with it,” he said.

Click to play video: Court documents says N.S. mass shooter’s spouse begged for life before escape

During that time of tragedy and having to deal with that during a pandemic, he learned that “there’s a lot of things you can’t do, so do the ones that you can.”

He said just chatting with people for a few minutes via instant messaging can make a difference for anyone involved.

When Hoek was asked what ‘Nova Scotia Strong’ meant to him, he said it showed that “everybody’s sticking together,” but that “it’s also OK not to be strong.”

“Because quite often when people are being strong, they might be covering something up and I think it’s better to reach out and get some help if you need it. There are people that want to help you, so you don’t have to be strong all the time.”