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Vancouver Memory March

by Christine McDowell and Lisa Schincariol | March 30, 2007

After a month of record rainfall, Vancouver was blessed by sunshine the day of the Memory March. The light and the wind picked up our spirits as we gathered by the Missing Women’s Memorial in Crab Park.

At the memorial, participants each wore a page with 30 names around our necks. Each page listed 30 women and girls, and their ages at the times of their deaths. Their names were in alphabetical order – by first name instead of last.

Organizer Gwynne Hunt chose March 25 for the Memory March because it did not relate to a specific event or historical memory. Gwynne wanted to mark a new day dedicated to the recognition of all women murdered in Canada.

She hopes the march will help wake people up to the senselessness of the carnage.

So many women murdered – young and old; at home and on the street; of all races, classes and ethnicities.

In an amazing example of synchronicity, feminists in France had held a march the day before:

In memory of women beaten, humiliated, hassled, raped, prostituted, married by force, stoned, burnt alive, victims of war, and victims of intimate femicide in France and in the entire world. To fight against patriarchal violence of another age, to say NO to cowardice, indifference and compromise for the complete equality between men and women in all sectors of society. For liberty, justice, peace and solidarity.

Standing in front of the Missing Women’s Memorial, we lit a pillar candle inscribed with flowers. It has previously burned on the court house steps in New Westminster, during the preliminary hearing of the man charged with the murder of 26 women missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Holding the candle with two hands, Squamish Nation elder Audrey Rivers began the ceremony with a prayer: remember all the many women who have been murdered or who are missing, and to hold a minute of silence in their memory.

Native women then stepped forward to stand beside her. One woman held a drum. Together, we sang the Women’s Warrior Song – we sang of empowerment, signifying that we each have the strength within us to effect change.

Then the march began.

It wasn’t long before we started talking as we went along Main Street. One woman lost two of her friends to murder. One friend’s throat was slit by a male co-worker. Another was raped and strangled by a stranger while walking home from a bus stop. This second woman had taken the bus home after the two friends enjoyed a wonderful time at a party.

“Why are you marching? They’re already dead. Two were killed over there. Do you want to know where they took their dates before they were killed? See that empty lot over there? There. And right here, this is where they were found.”

— A tall man in beige pants, speaking to a marcher

At Thornton Park, we walked into the circle of granite benches that form the memorial Marker of Change. Gwynne and others handed out tea candles. A strong wind blew through the open park. The candles refused to stay lit. We used our bodies as wind breaks, to see all the candles lit – one for every woman on the list of 2,625 names.

Finally, all the candles shone, if only for a brief time.

A passerby on a bike stopped while the candle lighting took place, asking what's going on. He's told about the march from Crab Park, and about the Femicide List - the names of murdered women and girls gathered since the massacre of the 14 women in Montreal, on December 6, 1989.

He asked about capital punishment. Then he had to go.

A Vancouver activist brought white rose-shaped candles to light in the centre of Marker of Change. Because of their shape, these candles burned throughout the remaining ceremony. We gathered round the small circle of light, joining our voices in a meditation to those who have suffered from violence.

A few of us started, and were immediately joined by everyone else. A chime sounded. We entered a two-minute silence.

In the gap between chimes we were left with our thoughts about the women and children we had come to remember. If they could return today and speak to us, what would they say?

The silence ended. People turned to one another and hugged.

Later, four of us returned to the circle of benches, scraping the dripped wax off the benches. A family from the Kootenays happened to be waiting for a bus. They ask about Marker of Change. We talked about the significance of each aspect of the circle, and were later struck by how familiar we felt with the family, as if we had already known them.

That’s exactly what the feminist Shirley Turcotte said visiting Marker of Change would be like, back when we were trying to raise funds to build it. The circle would be a place where visitors would recognize each other as kindred spirits.

A meditation for those living and dead who have suffered from violence
May all women who have been murdered be at peace,
      May you be safe and protected from harm,
      May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all women and children who have been murdered be at peace,
      May you be safe and protected from harm,
      May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all women, children and men who have been murdered be at peace,
      May you be safe and protected from harm,
      May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all those who are suffering from violence today
      Know that there are people who care and who are striving
      To create a better world.
May the world be at peace,
      May we be safe and protected from harm,
      May we be free from suffering and the causes of suffering,
      May we have happiness and the causes of happiness,
      May our hearts open to the beauty and wisdom of our spirits,
      May love light our way and may love lighten our load
      Through these difficult times.
      May we be at peace.

— Adapted from a Buddhist “Metta” Meditation by Chris McDowell and Leslie Timmins

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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