A National Memorial to End Violence Against Women
Marker of Change -The Women's Monument
In the fall of 1990 three women studying at Capilano College supported by several faculty and staff, came together to propose that a permanent national memorial to the fourteen women murdered at Ècole Polytechnique in Montréal (the Montréal Massacre), and all women who have been killed by men, be built in Vancouver.
Those three students: Jeannine Carscadden, Chris McDowell, and myself, went on to form the Women's Monument Committee, a project sponsored by Capilano College, now Capilano University.
As feminists, it was our contention that violence against women is embedded in patriarchal culture as a systemic means of oppressing women, that its relegation to the realm of the domestic serves to obscure its occurrence across all levels of society, and this in turn serves to minimize male violence as an incidental, private matter.
We believed that the building of a permanent national memorial to the women who have been victimized by male violence would accomplish several tasks. First, it would act as a visible public reminder of the seriousness of this problem, an ongoing challenge to legislators and the public. Second, it would serve to honour the women we have lost, and not the men who commit these acts. Finally, it would provide a public place for women and our supporters to gather to speak our truth.
We could not have known that the initial excitement of that commitment would lead us on an amazing journey through seven years of meetings, lobbying, media appearances, fundraising, national campaigning, occasional death threats, working with civic staff and Park Board members, conducting a national design competition, and on to build the memorial.
From the start we decided that the project would proceed on feminist principles of equality and inclusion: all committee decisions were made by consensus on which every committee member had to agree. Many were the times when I arrived at a meeting with my mind made up, only to have it changed by the views of my sisters around the circle. By instituting a system of speaking in rounds we ensured that every voice was heard.
By the time the Women's Monument was unveiled we had obtained a dedicated site in Thornton Park on the edge of the Downtown Eastside, a design by Beth Alber, gifts in kind, and three hundred thousand dollars raised from individuals, labour unions, and companies across Canada. Following the names of the women killed on December 6, 1989, Alber's circle of fourteen Québec granite benches is inscribed in seven languages with this dedication:
We their sisters and brothers, remember, and work for a better world. In memory and in grief, for all the women who have been murdered by men. For women of all countries, all classes, all ages, all colours.
In spite of our achievement I am weeping as I write this because we later learned that a few blocks from the Marker of Change, dozens of women in the Downtown Eastside had been murdered in those same years by a serial killer as the police looked the other way.
On the banks of North Vancouver's Lynn Creek where it crashes though the damn at Lynn Headwaters trailhead, a delightful path follows the creek southward to Lynn Canyon Park. The trail, named after Group of Seven painter Fred Varley, had its inception in a community campaign to save the park from a proposed housing development.
In the spring of 1988 it was discovered that the District of North Vancouver had plans to turn cherished Lynn Canyon Park into a housing development. Alarmed, a small group of citizens organized the Save Lynn Canyon Park Association. In the following months we marshalled a massive campaign to reverse the District's plans that included demonstrations outside City Hall, membership drives, and huge public hearings.
Meanwhile I discovered that Frederick Varley, member of the Group of Seven and a teacher at the Vancouver School of Applied and Decorative Arts (later Emily Carr University), had lived and painted right in the area the District planned to develop. Many of Canada's most iconic paintings from the 1930's had been created in the wilderness park slated to become condos.
In tandem with the Save Lynn Canyon Park Association I spearheaded a fundraising campaign to preserve the artist's memory through various initiatives, including The Varley Trail. The proposal (and preservation of the park), received enthusiastic support from many senior members of Canada's art community including the Director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Molly Lamb Bobak, the Curators of Canadian Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Eventually our campaign to save the park prevailed. With a new District Council in place we secured provincial legislation to preserve the park in perpetuity for the people of North Vancouver. Subsequently a group of local citizens constructed The Varley Trail.