Labradorians come together to honour Loretta
© Derek Montague
Loretta Saunders’ longtime friend, Christine Saunders, holds a photo collage she recently framed in honour of her late companion.
As soon as Loretta Saunders was pronounced a victim of murder, shockwaves were felt across the country, especially in her hometown of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.
Since Feb.17, when she was reported missing, the central Labrador community held out hope that Saunders and her unborn child would be found safely. But news that Loretta’s body was found near a highway in New Brunswick, on Feb.26, shattered that hope.
Through their grief, the people of Labrador quickly began thinking of a way to honour the memory of Loretta in a meaningful fashion.
Yesterday, Feb.27, Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s town council came up with an idea that would both honour Saunders and send a message about the consequences of violence. The council wanted everyone to wake up on the morning of Feb. 28 and put on something purple.
“It’s a bit of a hopeless feeling because you want too do something, and not really knowing what to do,” said Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook.
“And the deputy mayor actually suggested that (since) Friday was the last day of the month we should encourage people to wear purple, not only in Loretta’s honour, but too continue to spread awareness . . .”
February is violence prevention month in Newfoundland and Labrador. One initiative encouraged by the provincial government during this month is for NL residents to wear purple to bring attention to the issue.
Since Saunders’ life tragically ended in violence, wearing purple was a fitting way to honour the beloved woman’s memory.
The town council had just a single day to prepare. But thanks to social media, which was already filled with talk about the young woman’s passing, word got out very quickly about the purple clothing idea.
“It was a great feeling as yesterday afternoon and evening went on, too see that so many other people in town agreed and are wearing purple now today,” said Snook.
It seemed like all of central Labrador got into the spirit of the day. In Sheshatshiu, North West River, and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, everyone from office workers, to schoolchildren, to stay at home moms dawned something purple for Loretta.
At the offices of Air Labrador, nearly all the employees wore Purple today. Philip Earle, the company’s president and CEO, said that, for many at the company Loretta’s tragic death hit close to home.
“It’s a big loss, and the young lady had some immediate family who worked for our company. So we wanted to do it as a show of support for those individuals who work for us,” said Earle.
“This is a great community, and Labrador is a great place and when there’s hurt, we all feel the hurt . . .”
Some of those who are hurting the most today have also put on purple. Christine Saunders (no relation) was friends with Loretta for the past decade.
Several years ago, Christine even lived with Loretta and her family. When Christine moved out, she remained in the same neighbourhood as Loretta, and the two friends remained close.
“She was always smiling. Everyone has good days and bad days, but even during her bad days she was always smiling,” recalls Christine.
That smile, and Loretta’s positive energy, is what sticks out most in Christine’s mind. Loretta’s fun-loving attitude has given her memories that offer some comfort, and even laughter.
“She could make anything fun. Whenever her sisters or brothers didn’t want to sweep, she would clean and she would have music on and she would dance with the broom,” recalls Christine with a chuckle.
Upon hearing the news of Loretta’s death on Feb. 26, Christine had to turn off her phone and shutout the world for a while. She didn’t want to break down in front of her four young daughters.
“I couldn’t emotionally keep it together, without my little ones wondering ‘why is mom so sad,” said Christine while trying to hold back her tears.
This morning, in honour of her special friend, Christine put on a purple shirt and she was delighted too see that her children insisted on wearing purple too.
“My kids were excited, saying ‘today is purple day,” said Christine.
“They didn’t want to wear just one thing purple, they had to wear purple pants and purple socks and purple shirt.”
The community-wide tribute didn’t end with purple clothes. On several high snow banks throughout Happy Valley-Goose Bay are spray-painted messages of love and support for Loretta. The largest of the snow signs contains a call for the courts to do their part in honouring the murder victim.
It reads: “Justice 4 Loretta.”