It has been exactly a year and a day since the Dawson College shootings. I remember hearing about them on television, and then heading downtown for work, passing by Dawson on the way and gawking at the assembled police, medics and bystanders. What I remember most, though, is what happened in the days that followed, when thousands of Montrealers ventured down to leave flowers, candles and messages of support at a makeshift memorial on Atwater Avenue.
I too felt the urge to visit, motivated by a sense of curiosity tinged, perhaps, with a bit of grief. When I arrived on September 15th, two days after the shootings, the memorial was larger than I had expected. Behind the rows of flowers, a Portuguese flag hung next to a poster exhorting the end of violence, “en el nombre de todos las madres.”
After a few minutes, I realized with some surprise that the memorial seemed to have it own curator: a skinny man in late middle age, dressed entirely in black, his blond hair gelled into a fauxhawk, an unlikely guardian of the public’s grief. I watched as he greeted strangers in English and French, offering them dollar-store candles and words of consolation. He carefully arranged the things they brought along the college’s fence.
I had seen this man before: he was a notable downtown eccentric, normally found on Ste. Catherine Street, dancing alongside the Dancing Spiderman. Last June, I saw him dancing extravagantly behind the stage of the Grand Prix festival on Crescent Street; a week later, he was dancing outside In Beat Records at the Main Madness street fair.
Dawson was traumatic even for those who were not touched directly; I’ve always wanted to ask the blond-haired man why he took it upon himself to manage the memorial at Dawson. Was it a conscious decision? Or was he pulled to the college by some inexorable force, like so many of the Montrealers who felt obliged, in the week following the shooting, to go to the corner of Atwater and de Maisonneuve?
We all stood there in front of the memorial in awkward silence, uncomfortable with the sadness that lingered heavily over the street. The curator, though, bustled about with an air of cautious determination, the only one among us who knew exactly what to do.