‘These are our family members.’ Planning for a permanent residential school memorial underway in Calgary

CALGARY — A makeshift memorial on the steps of city hall for the victims of Canada’s residential schools will stay for now, but planning is underway for a more permanent way to remember.

The memorial has grown significantly since May, when 215 pairs of shoes were placed on the stairs after remains were found at the former site of a residential school in Kamloops.

“These are our family members. These are all of our community from all tribal areas across Turtle Island and it affects all of us,” said Yvonne Henderson, a member of the Calgary Bear Clan Patrol.

“I like where it is right now because it’s central. People are reminded that, yes, this is something that isn’t taught in school and when they drive by, they’re reminded that a lot of our community members didn’t come home,” she said.

The city will now work with Indigenous groups to determine what a memorial should look like and where it should go.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there is no firm timeline for when the hundreds of shoes, signs and stuffed animals will be moved, but it will likely happen when Calgary’s cooler, wet weather arrives.

“I believe a beautiful tribute would be, like, an art installation of some sort to pay tribute to our Indian residential school survivors but also those that never made it home,” said Autumn EagleSpeaker, who took part in the discussion and ceremony to bless the memorial on Thursday morning.

“As far as what it could look like, there’s so many different options at this time,” she said.

The memorial has been the target of vandalism several times. Ashes and burn marks are still visible where someone tried to light some of the shoes on fire.

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“We know that this can’t be here forever, in particular when winter comes, but it’s a really important opportunity for us to remind all Canadians,” said Nenshi.

“We hope to have a permanent memorial in a meaningful location to make sure that we never, ever forget.”

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