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Shoes a part of B.C. memorial for residential school victims disappear before removal

VANCOUVER — Most of the shoes on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery that were a part of a memorial dedicated to children who never returned from residential schools disappeared hours before a scheduled ceremony to remove them.

A spokesperson for the City of Vancouver said Friday the city had an agreement with the artist and volunteers guarding the memorial to have a ceremony to remove the shoes before the weekend.

However, when city staff arrived Friday morning to begin work, Michelle Bryant-Gravelle said they found the shoes had mostly disappeared, with staff members saying the volunteers had admitted to removing them.

Volunteers on-site at the memorial said on Saturday they did not know where the shoes went, declining further comment.

Bryant-Gravelle said the shoes’ removal puts the city in a “difficult” and “highly sensitive” situation that it “hasn’t been in before,” because the original plans for removal were formed with guidance from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — and follow the cultural protocols of those three nations.

Bryant-Gravelle also said the city remains committed to finding a permanent site for a memorial dedicated to victims of residential schools and is doing its best to bring the current memorial to a close “in a good way.”

No specific next steps have yet been announced.

The city says it hopes to “respectfully bring… to a close” the memorial by May 28 — the two-year anniversary of its establishment.

The city said the memorial was installed in response to the profound need for grieving and healing spaces, but the continuation of the memorial does not aligned with the spiritual practices of the three area First Nations.

A statement from the city said the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations believe that “as long as the memorial remains, the spirits of the children will remain tethered to the items placed on the steps and cannot move on.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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