Skip to main content

Every year, in memorial ceremonies across the country, Genevieve Bergeron's name is heard first when the list of the victims of Canada's worst mass shooting is read.

The tragedy of her death overshadows her life for most Canadians. They're seldom told she was a loving, inspirational sister, a top student, a gifted musician and a talented athlete.

"For me, she was like the sun," said Catherine Bergeron, who fought tenaciously for tougher gun laws after her sister was killed.

Story continues below advertisement

"I see her like sunshine. She was a beautiful blond, with blue eyes, always smiling."

Genevieve was 21 when she and 13 other women were killed during Marc Lepine's hate-fuelled rampage at Montreal's École Polytechnique engineering school on Dec. 6, 1989.

Mr. Lepine, only a few years older than most of his victims, proclaimed he was getting even because feminists had ruined his life when he opened fire at the school 15 years ago Monday.

Genevieve was in her second year of studies in civil engineering when she died. She had proudly gained admittance on a scholarship because of her high grades in junior college but lost it the second year because the crushing workload caused her grades to slip.

"We were laughing about that because Genevieve was the kind of student who got 100 per cent in high school and junior college," Catherine recalled.

"It tells you how hard it is to go through Polytechnique and how hard you have to work."

Genevieve could easily have become a musician instead of an engineer, her sister said. A gifted clarinet player, she also sang in a professional choir.

Story continues below advertisement

"She loved Mozart."

In the end, Genevieve, who looked at things with a level head, weighed the career prospects of music and engineering carefully.

"We discussed it," said Catherine, who is now a lawyer. "She didn't know if she could have a nice living with music. It's harder. So she decided to go into engineering and have a more sure career.

"She was still singing in a choir while studying engineering," Catherine said, with a touch of sisterly pride in her voice. "She could do both."

Bubbling energy seemed to power Genevieve.

"She was a very happy person and a very sensible person too. I remember her crying easily, a very emotive person," Catherine said with a fond chuckle.

Story continues below advertisement

"She was like energy."

Laughter came as easily as tears.

"She was the type of person you liked to have as an audience because she laughed at everything. She was a giggler."

One of the most widely seen pictures of Genevieve shows her with her head thrown back, apparently laughing loudly at some joke or incident, her eyes squeezed into a mischievous squint by her big smile.

Genevieve was a cherished mentor to Catherine, but not the type to always be offering advice. Just when it counted.

"She was always there when I needed her," she said. "Always there."

Story continues below advertisement

On the last day of her life, Genevieve had gone to the school to work on a project with her friends.

"I think it was a computer project," Catherine recalled. "I remember she was in the computer room and she went down to the cafeteria with her friend when Marc Lepine just came in and started to shoot."

Ms. Bergeron was with Ms. Edward, who had just been named to the university ski team.

The cafeteria was decked out for the holidays with festive red and white balloons, while free wine was also being offered to celebrate the end of term.

Late-day meals were being chosen when people rushed into the cafeteria and began pushing others into the facility's small kitchen, slamming the door behind them.

Ms. Bergeron and Ms. Edward were among those who didn't make it.

They made a run for it. Lepine apparently caught a glimpse of their long, flying blond hair as they dashed for cover.

Ms. Edward's mother Suzanne, who like Ms. Bergeron's mom Therese Daviau became a leading gun-control advocate, said later the two young women were holding each other tightly in their arms when Mr. Lepine calmly strode over to their hiding place and raised his rifle once again.

The effects of that day would unleash the efforts of survivors and relatives of the victims of Mr. Lepine's rampage to tighten Canada's gun laws, legislation that still faces challenges in the form of the controversial gun registry.

Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control, said the families of the victims never shrink from fighting to preserve the law and the registry.

"Many of them consider the legislation a monument to the young women who were killed that day and it's ironic they have to work so hard to preserve it," she said.

Catherine Bergeron acknowledges the gun law is part of her sister's legacy but it's not the only way she wants her to be remembered.

"I would like Canadians to remember her and the other 13 women, not to be sad but to go on in life in a better way," she said.

"Think more about other human beings and be more open. More tolerant too."

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter