Posted in Writing Life

*In Memory: Dec 6/89

I remember, on the day that JFK was killed, my older brother saying to me that John F. Kennedy had been shot, as if that ought to mean something to me. I had no idea who he was, but I knew that something important had happened.

I also remember that on 09/11/01, a friend called me and asked if I’d seen the tv. I knew something terrible had happend, but when she told me, I thought it can’t be this. It must be a hoax. And then that the world was about to go up in conflagration.

I don’t remember where I was on December 6th,1989. I don’t remember how I heard what had happened. Maybe because it was just a Canadian thing. Maybe because it was just women, nobody famous. It happened in the city of my birth but I no longer lived there. I don’t remember anyone in my family calling me or maybe it’s too terrible for me to remember, like other things that I have blocked out.

On December 6, 1989, in a classroom at the Polytechnique Institute (engineering faculty of the Université de Montréal), female students were separated from male students by an intruder. The man had a hunting knife and a rifle. His father had beat the crap out of him as a kid, and he had grown up to fight feminism with his knife and his rifle. That’s what he said, he was fighting feminism. He shot nine women in that classroom, then moved on to another class, looking for women to destroy, his own heart being already dead in his chest. He killed fourteen women before killing himself.

After briefing reporters outside, Montreal Police director of public relations Pierre Leclair entered the building and found his daughter Maryse’s stabbed body.

(Full story here.).

These are the names of the women who died that day: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

I wasn’t going to name the man who killed them, thinking that his soul was lost when he walked into that school. But that isn’t right–there was a flame of light within him too, down below the pain and the rage and the twistedness that caused him to dowse the light of beauty he could not see without hate drumming in his ears. His name was Marc Lepine.

Hate has its many forms. This was one of them. And today I hold my daughters close, precious spirits and free, having no idea how such hate can manifest, the worst thing they know how to say to each other is “who cares” or “your bum.” May they be strong when they meet hate; may they be upheld by the sons and daughters of love.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

12 thoughts on “*In Memory: Dec 6/89

  1. I had never heard of this incident (but then, I was very young in ’89, I wouldn’t have been reading the news). How awful – especially the idea that they might be forgotten 😦

    I watched 9/11 on a hospital TV (visiting someone) and because we couldn’t hear the soundtrack, I didn’t have any idea of what was really happening, or the significance. In particular, I only found out much later that it hadn’t been a tragic accident.

    I was on the bus in London when the bombs went off in the underground – I wondered why the buses were so busy, but I didn’t find out what was happening until I got in and switched on the news.

  2. I’d never heard of it either but it sounds all too reminiscent of horrific (race-based) killings in South Africa. Canada looks so peaceful from our distant perspective and it’s chilling to see that hate can manifest in as ugly a way there as here.

  3. I’d been living in Canada for exactly one day less than three months when this happened, Lilian, and I remember it vividly. I was on the far other side of the country – Vancouver Island – and at college myself, far from Australia, still coming to terms with the similarities and differences between the two countries, and this was the first big shock. The Quebecois students were all, of course, stunned and distressed, but I think every single female student – about 100 of us in a campus of just 200 senior secondary students – felt a kinship with those women.

  4. I remember falling into a kind of darkness when the Polytechnique massacre occurred. I didn’t have a television set at the time, but I was studying at a university in Quebec (though not in Montreal) so of course I heard about it the very same evening it happened. What I remember is learning information in snippets and then tuning out the details because it was just too awful, and too close.
    It was certainly easiest to accept that it was a lone phenomenon, a madman choosing to murder and reasoning it out in cold rage. That is certainly part of the truth. However, usually men who choose murder-suicide while reasoning it out in cold rage only have a single victim…

    Every year when Dec 6 comes around, I hug my two boys even closer and hope to surround them in a love that is stronger than anything they will see or experience in life.

  5. And they be protected from such things. Things like that terrify me when I think that it could happen to anyone.

    And there is hate everywhere. It doesn’t have to be about anything. Just a difference.

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