Sadness Past and Present
Searching for Hope Through Gardens and Memorials.
I learned about the passing of Betty Nordin several days after the CEASE Annual August Memorial. This year, for the first time since the first Memorial was held August 14th, 2000, we had to move the date to August 17th. The Community Garden and Hall generously provided by the Alberta Avenue Community Centre were not available on the 14th. Betty died on August 14th. Somehow, it seems fitting that this year, the 14th was a day to remember her alone.
Betty attended the memorials in the early 2000s. In 2003, she proposed to CEASE (then known as PAAFE) that we should create a garden in memory of the women who were murdered and missing. The horrific news of the women murdered by Picton in B.C., coupled with the number of women disappearing from Edmonton streets, was heavy on our minds.
We approached e4c and were welcomed by then CEO Martin Garber-Conrad to create the Memorial Garden on the Alex Taylor Grounds. In 2004, Ken Bregenser and his team from Zocalo designed the garden. We gathered there for many years, until one year the hall wasn’t available on August 14th. Alberta Avenue welcomed us to gather in their community garden space and the Annual Memorial has been held there ever since. The folks at e4c continue to tend the little garden at the Alex Taylor site.
Each year, the names of those whose lives were lost to murder, suicide, overdose, or illness are read. Prayers, poems, and honour songs are offered. The common thread is sexual exploitation and trauma. The number of lives lost to murder has declined – thankfully – but the number of lives lost to overdose and illness has increased.
In July, several women dropped into the CEASE office, feeling trapped in the net of opioid use disorder. Our team feels as helpless as they do. There are death-dealing drugs, theft, and threats from others in the street life, and few safe spaces to rest or to live. Who would rent to a person active in opioid use? Residents in Boyle Street and McCauley are all too familiar with seeing people hunched over, lying down, or suffering other drug-induced reactions. Many calls are made to 911 and 211. Neighbours of drug houses live in fear. It feels overwhelming.
It’s true, there are now more detox beds at Spady and Poundmaker’s. There is easier access to naloxone kits, and soon nasal spray kits will be available at more sites. There are street outreach teams working to reach people and prevent deaths. There are frequent headlines calling for more strategic and coordinated action on the opioid crisis as the deaths mount.
In the meantime, we can offer kindness, water on a hot day, and naloxone kits. We can gather at annual memorials, remember and honour lives lost, and continue to advocate for short-term responses and long-term solutions.
I wonder what poem Betty would write now?
Kate is the Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).