A Red Deer woman says she was deeply saddened after hearing about how the remains of 200-plus children were discovered at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia.
“When my husband told me about the mass grave being found, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’ It’s been weighing on me for a few days and it kept popping up on my Facebook. I really wished I could do something,” Amanda McEwen said on Sunday, whose husband is Indigenous.
McEwen’s sister-in-law, who lives in Manitoba, shared a story about someone who started leaving shoes on a walking path as a memorial to the children whose remains were discovered in Kamloops, B.C. An art gallery in Vancouver had a similar memorial as well.
McEwen decided to set up this type of memorial in front of Red Deer City Hall Sunday.
“I felt like I needed to do something. I couldn’t sit idly by and wait for someone to start something,” said McEwen.
“This was something I thought would be pretty easy. At my house we have shoes that don’t fit our kids anymore … and I thought what better way to depict the kids that this happened to, by putting out some kids’ shoes.
“I thought it would be a nice little memorial to remember those kids, as well as the kids who haven’t been found at this point.”
McEwen and her husband have a daughter together – additionally her husband has two other children. She thought this would be a learning experience for the three children.
“This is part of their history, part of their past. Their grandfather and great-grandfather have gone through all of this,” she said.
Hopefully more Red Deerians participate in this memorial, McEwen said.
“I just feel like this is something people shouldn’t forget. If we forget our history, it tends to repeat itself,” she said, adding she believes the City of Red Deer should lower its flags at half-mast in honour of the children who died.
“I feel like this is kind of a big deal. It would show some respect and show that these people do really matter too, even now all of these years later.”
On Monday, the staff of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society gathered at City Hall Park to lay stuffed animals in honour of the children whose bodies were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The City of Red Deer, Red Deer Public Schools, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools and Red Deer College all announced their flags were flown at half-mast Monday.
The residential school in Kamloops operated between 1890 and 1969. The federal government took over the facility’s operation from the Catholic Church and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.
—With files from The Canadian Press