Lunenburgers Dedicate New Back Harbour Trail “Happy To Chat” Bench In Memory Of Classmate



Warning: This article includes references to suicide. Reader discretion advised.

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(Photo Contributed)

On Friday, June 14, the Lunenburg High School Class of 1986 unveiled and dedicated a “Happy to Chat” bench on Lunenburg’s Back Harbour trail. 

The bench is in honour of a former classmate, Jamie Almeda, who tragically died by suicide in January of 2020.  

The idea for this tribute came from classmate Debbie Dauphinee, who was walking the trail and came across a spot looking out over Lunenburg Academy where she and Mr. Almeda attended school.

She had recently read about “Happy to Chat” benches, which typically have signage indicating that the purpose of the space is to encourage conversation and community interaction.

The sign lets people know that anyone sitting there is happy to talk or would like to talk.  Thinking that this would be a fitting tribute to her friend, she approached her former classmates with the idea of sponsoring a bench at this site in Mr. Almeda’s memory.  

The class members unanimously embraced the idea and, as well as setting up a bench in that location, the class has created a memorial forget-me-not garden for all to enjoy.

Many classmates were in attendance for the dedication, including Lunenburg Fire Chief Darren Romkey and Bridgewater Town Councillor Michael Conklin. 

Mr. Conklin, who was also Student Council President at the time of their graduation, as well as a university roommate of Mr. Almeda’s, shared some touching and humorous anecdotes about his friend, and expressed his desire to see more of these benches in other towns.  

The class was also  joined by Jamie’s father Frank Almeda, sister Terri Lynn Almeda (Class of 1984), several other family members and friends, and members of the community, including Rachel Bailey (Class of 1980), former Mayor of Lunenburg and President of the Lunenburg Academy Foundation.

(L-R: Jamie Myra, Frank Almeda, Michael Conklin. Photo contributed)

The Honourable Susan Corkum-Greek (Class of 1987), Minister of Economic Development and MLA for Lunenburg, gave a very moving address recounting her own experience of trying to assist a loved one suffering from mental illness, and encouraged those present to remember the importance of mental health and to access available resources when needed.

Ms. Erin Christie, representing the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, provided educational materials and spoke of the increasing need for community connection.  She commented on how people are seemingly more connected by the online experience, but are actually less connected in the face-to-face world.  

As well as Chief Romkey, the Town of Lunenburg was represented by Deputy Mayor Stephen Ernst, and His Worship Mayor Jamie Myra (Class of 1987). 

Mr. Myra is married to a member of the Class of 1986, and was also a close friend of Mr. Almeda’s. 

In addition to himself sharing some amusing and heartwarming anecdotes, he also emphasised the importance of mental health awareness.

“Mental health affects every aspect of our lives, from our relationships to our ability to contribute to the community […] We must continue to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues and encourage open and compassionate conversations […] This bench, dedicated to Jamie, symbolizes more than just a place to sit.  It represents a safe space for reflection, a spot where individuals can find solace, and a reminder of the importance of mental health.  It is a tribute to Jamie’s legacy and a commitment from all of us to support one another through life’s challenges…Our community is known for its strength and resilience.  Let this bench serve as a reminder that no one is alone in their struggles.  We must continue to build a supportive environment where everyone feels valued and heard.”

After the ribbon-cutting by Mr. Almeda’s father Frank Almeda, participants made their way to The Knot pub where toasts were made to Mr. Almeda and more memories were shared.  Local musician Jane Chiasson performed a poignant version of the Celtic ballad “The Parting Glass” in Mr. Almeda’s honour.

The class would like to thank all who attended the dedication and unveiling of the Happy to Chat bench.  A very special thank you to Town of Lunenburg Recreation Manager Kelly Cunningham and her staff, who were of great assistance in facilitating this project.  

Further information about mental health resources, including phone numbers for the Provincial Mental Health Crisis Line and the Suicide Crisis Helpline can be found at https://novascotia.cmha.ca/ 


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