A community on the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia is looking forward to a brighter 2019 after a difficult year that's been bookended by tragedy.

Five children, all under the age of eight, died in two separate incidents at the start and the end of the year in Yarmouth County, N.S., leaving waves of grief and shock in their close-knit communities.

"We suffered some significant personal tragedies that a number of families experienced in our community, including everyone's worst fear and nightmare come true — and that's the loss of children," said Zach Churchill, Nova Scotia's Education Minister and the MLA for Yarmouth.

"None of us love anything more than our kids, even ourselves. So any parent can understand the pain and suffering that that sort of loss can have."

In the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2018, a fast-moving house fire in the community of Pubnico Head killed four-month-old Winston Prouty, four-year-old Jayla Kennedy, seven-year-old Mya Prouty and seven-year-old Mason Grant, a cousin who was visiting for a sleepover.

In their obituaries, the children are remembered for their mischievous smiles, boundless senses of humour, love of the outdoors and happy giggles.

Then, in late November, four-year-old MaCali Cormier — remembered in her obituary as someone who loved helping people and an "awesome big sister" — died after falling under the wheels of a parade float during Yarmouth's annual Christmas parade.

But in the days and weeks that followed these incidents, Churchill said the community was quick to leap into action to support the affected families in any way they could.

"There's really only so much you can do. You can't dull the pain, you can't reduce the suffering that people are experiencing," he said.

"But ... it was inspiring to see everyone wrap their arms around those families that were impacted, be there for them in their moment of grief and suffering, and support them through that. I know the community will be there for those families to help them as their journey changes."

In the aftermath of the tragedies, fundraising campaigns for the families were launched, services and vigils were held, and in both cases, local funeral homes covered the costs of the children's funerals.

But more than that, the communities themselves grew closer, according to Pam Mood, mayor of Yarmouth.

"I think everyone understands when a tragedy happens, everybody, without exception, wants to do something," she said.

"I can feel it: we're that much kinder, that much gentler. I've had folks call me and say, 'I'm checking on my neighbours a little bit more, and I'm a little more aware of how fragile life is.'"

She said the relatively small size of the communities further cements the bond between the people within them. Just under 25,000 people lived in Yarmouth County as of 2016, while the town itself has a modest population of 6,500.

Despite the year's sad incidents, Mood said 2018 also brought some good to the town, which has experienced economic difficulties in recent years.

Although government funding for the Yarmouth ferry has been a long source of controversy in the province, Mood attributes the reinstatement of the vessel a few years back to a stronger tourism economy in the town and its surrounding areas.

"Yarmouth is just on the upswing. Lots of new businesses opened, we've got a main street that's come back to life," she said.

Still, though, she said the community continues to feel tremors from last year's tragedies.

"There's a lot of healing that's taken place, that's certainly not finished, that just doesn't go away," she said. "As time goes on, certainly, we're still in mourning over the deaths of some very young people in our community, and we just continue to move forward."

Churchill agreed that there were positives that came out of the year, saying the town's fishing industry — "the backbone of our economy" — is doing well, and local hotels are struggling to keep up with guest accommodations.

He added that the past year has proven to him how strong Yarmouth can be.

"Yarmouth is a very resilient community. We have a great history, and we have, I think, a great way of coming together and being there for one another," he said. "To live here and experience it, it's moving. And it makes you very proud to be from here, to live here and be part of this community."

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