Local man creates unique memorial for children lost at B.C. residential school
Doug Havell is used to bringing joy to people with his driveway displays of stuffed bears.
But, when he heard the news out of Kamloops, where the bodies of nearly 215 Indigenous children were found in an unmarked grave near a former residential school, he felt like he could help with the healing.
He sprung into action, creating a new display to honour those who were lost, with nearly 200 bears spread out on his driveway and front lawn.
“It all hit home when I watch these interviews and the people crying, you can’t help but have tears in your own eyes, to realize what’s going on here, the way we’ve treated Indigenous people,” said Havell, who lives in Mustang Acres in the northwest end of Red Deer.
It’s a small gesture, but one he felt was necessary to help create awareness about the tragedies of residential schools.
“I think we knew it was there, we accepted it but we didn’t acknowledge it,” he added.
Havell said he knows unmarked burial sites have been found in Red Deer in the past, which made the news out of Kamloops hit even closer to home.
Nineteen burial sites were identified on the grounds of the former Red Deer residential school by a 2008 engineering study done for a potential development. But members of the Remembering the Children Society believe at least 69 children died at Red Deer’s Indian Industrial School.
The 353-student Red Deer Indian Industrial School, which operated from 1893-1919 under Methodist Church (now The United Church of Canada) and federal government auspices, had one of the highest death rates of all Indian residential schools in Canada.
Havell has made displays for a number of holidays, including Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick’s day in the past and they usually elicit a happy and playful response from those who drive by to see it.
He’s hoping this time around the display can be a bit more thought-provoking.
“It’s just a little memorial for more recognition,” he said.