With tears, flowers, and a song for a friend who can no longer be found, Calgarians gathered on a cold morning on October 13, 2021 for a reflective ceremony marking the installation of the city’s first and only permanent homeless memorial.
“We have monuments all over the city to the rich and powerful. I’m really pleased we now have a memorial to those who are most marginalized and who have lost their lives being marginalized,” said Counsellor Evan Woolley in an emotional tribute to those who have lost their lives while experiencing homelessness in Calgary.
The memorial, located at 107 13 Ave SE, is the culmination of a three-year collaboration between the Client Action Committee, Calgary Homeless Foundation, University of Calgary, and the City of Calgary, with the support of Canadian Artists Against Poverty, and homeless-serving agencies in the city. It was created after Calgarians experiencing homelessness expressed a need for a permanent place to remember their family and friends who lost their lives while not having a home.
In the ceremony’s introduction, Patricia Jones, President and CEO of Calgary Homeless Foundation, noted the humanity of those who had lost their lives. “It is important to remember that the people honoured today are more than a ‘number’: they were mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and friends of someone who loved them,” she said.
Calgary Homeless Foundation’s Client Action Committee (CAC)—a group composed of people with lived or living experience of homelessness—recognized the need for a permanent memorial site through their coordination of the annual Longest Night of the Year city-wide homeless memorial service.
In 2018, the CAC approached Dr. Jessica Shaw, who was researching end-of-life care for people experiencing homelessness at the University of Calgary. Together, they started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds. Calgary Homeless Foundation assisted as a funder and Councillor Evan Woolley, a former Board Member with Calgary Homeless Foundation, championed the memorial with the City of Calgary, securing the site.
Three years later, in September 2021, the memorial was installed. The memorial, designed and constructed by artists who have lived or living experiences of homelessness or poverty, has three features, notably a bronze backpack on a pillar, etched with the words: “In this space, we remember and honour our neighbours, family, and friends—known and unknown—who have lived and died because of the traumas of homelessness. In past, present, and future—may they rest in power.”
The memorial also has a bench free of barriers for someone to lay down and two pillars painted with a mural embedded with phone chargers. All parts of the monument had input from people with connections to Calgary’s homeless community.
By the end of the morning, the bronze backpack, modelled after one that was carried by a member of Calgary’s homeless community for over a decade, was blanketed in fresh flowers. On the ground around the statue, messages had been left in chalk: “For Max,” “More than a number,” and “for all those who deserve more.”
“I want to one day bring my child here and tell her that it exists because we used to lose someone every three days in Calgary [to homelessness],” said Dr. Shaw.
Until then, the memorial serves as a quiet place for reflection, and as a reminder, said Patricia Jones, that the fight against homelessness is worth all of us getting in the ring for.
View the program here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du70jQ7tJDs.
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