Residential school memorial in downtown Vancouver closed after Indigenous ceremony

Downtown memorial closed

The City of Vancouver says it has closed a residential school temporary memorial but will continue working with area First Nations to find a permanent space to honour victims and survivors.

A statement from the city says a private burning ceremony was held Sunday before the memorial at Robson Square, in the city's downtown core, was respectfully closed.

The city says staff and volunteers have removed remaining items and structures at the Robson Square plaza and it will be returned to public use, including Indigenous weekend markets, this summer.

The memorial, on the steps of the Vancouver Art Galley, included many pairs of children's shoes, but a large number of the shoes were unexpectedly removed last week before the burning ceremony could be held.

The statement says most of the missing items were located, cleaned and blanketed in time for the ceremony, which was led by members of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

The memorial was created on May 28, 2021, days after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation revealed ground penetrating radar had identified the possible remains of as many as 215 children forced to attend the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The Kamloops announcement led to similar discoveries at former residential schools in B.C. and other parts of Canada, prompting widespread demands for accountability and reconciliation from political and religious leaders.

Vancouver "acknowledges the atrocities and continued impacts of residential schools and recognizes that there is a need for spaces of recognition, honouring and healing for all those affected by residential schools," the city says in its statement.

Officials said earlier that the artist who created the temporary memorial, as well as the volunteers guarding it, support Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh beliefs 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."

The City has pledged to continue work with the First Nations toward finding an appropriate permanent space to reflect on and honour residential school victims and survivors.

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