New garden grows monument to sexual assault survivors

Eganville – On a day which resonates in the memory of Renfrew County, a group

Eganville – On a day which resonates in the memory of Renfrew County, a group gathered at the memorial to honour survivors of sexual violence and mark a new chapter with a garden planted adjacent to the pebble monument.

“We decided to grow the monument,” Joanne Brooks, the executive director of the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, explained to the small gathering. “It is a metaphor for the seeds.”

The monument, which graces the hill of Centennial Park along the Bonnechere River in a large pebble flower, has been the subject of vandalism several times and the response was to educate and try to create something beautiful instead of putting in security cameras, she explained.

“There have been four acts of vandalism that we know of,” she said.

This is upsetting on many levels, including the fact there are ashes under the glass domelike orb at the centre of the monument, and having a garden by the monument is being done to beautify and educate. Ms. Brooks pointed out this monument is akin to the one in Petawawa but vandals have never touched one.

However, instead of focusing on the vandalism, organizers decided to do something positive instead. Responding by planting flowers and bulbs, which will bloom in the spring, seemed the best response, she said. A stone will also be installed in the new garden and should be in place by Thanksgiving. The stone will read, “in honour of the strength, courage and reliance of survivors of sexual violence.”

The day chosen for the unveiling of a new garden was the anniversary of the day in 2015 when Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carole Culleton were killed. Family members were present for the memorial gathering and had a chance to lay one of the flowers on the memorial. Ms. Brooks said this was done to remember and honour these women. As the candles were lit in a circle around the memorial, she urged those present to “make a wish for yourself. Make a wish for all women who experience violence and for Nathalie, Anastasia and Carol and their families.”

Coming together is important and despite having to limit the turnout because of new physical distancing measures implemented by the province, it was important to gather, she said. Planting the bulbs, which were also given to participants to take home and plant in other places, was significant, especially since the bulbs will emerge in spring with purple flowers.

“Imagine next spring there will be purple bulbs all over Renfrew County to remember these women,” she said.

Tristan Whiston of Red Dress Productions, the artistic company behind the pebble monument, spoke of the idea of the seeds of this monument, which continue to spread. From the original monument in Eganville there are now three others in Renfrew County located in Killaloe, Pembroke and Pikwakanagan. As well, there are four more in Ontario built in North Bay, Carleton Place, Brantford and Peterborough.

“And another six are being built,” he said. “I’m imagining these monuments popping up across the province.”

Having these monuments in a public spot is important, he said.

“For a vision of a world without gender based violence,” he said. “That vision was planted five years ago.”

It was five years ago the Valley was shocked by the murders of the three women and the monument was unveiled a year later in Eganville.

Ms. Brooks said it is important to mark September 22 each year in the Ottawa Valley and there have been various events annually to do so.

“The family like it that it is being remembered,” she said. “They don’t want people to forget.”

She also said it was important to acknowledge how co-operative and supportive Bonnechere Valley council and staff have been on these initiatives.

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“Council has been so welcoming and accommodating,” she said, expressing her gratitude especially to Mayor Jennifer Murphy.

When the first request of the monument went to council there was no hesitation, she said. Now with the new garden council also was very co-operative, as well as staff.

“The village works department helped us with this,” she said.

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