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Mike’s blog: The Ottawa Women’s Monument

2012 April 12
by Mike Nellis

Womens Monument OttawaIn Minto Park, at the corner of Gilmour and Elgin streets in downtown Ottawa there is a monument to women who have been murdered by men, and dedicated to victims of female violence more generally. It was placed there in 1992, the year after a series of woman killings in Ottawa. The event which specifically catalysed the monument’s creation was the broad daylight murder near Minto Park of an Ottawa-based lawyer, Patricia Allen, by her husband, using a crossbow. At a vigil to commemorate and protest her death the Women’s Urgent Action Committee (WUAC) – a coalition of women’s groups in Ottawa and Quebec – decided that a lasting memorial was needed to all murdered women.

The City Council and the University Women’s Club were drawn in to help create the monument. Landscape architects and sculptors c. j. fleury and Mary Faught were invited to design it, drawing on guidelines devised by WUAC. It was intended not only to represent anger and mourning, but to inspire those still working against violence to women, in the certain, sombre knowledge that there would be more victims. Something distinctively, memorably feminine was required. Various designs were considered. The one adopted comprised a smoothed block of granite, seven feet high, engraved with a vulva shape to express femininity, foregrounded by a cluster of smaller, differently-sized, milestone-shaped markers, each one etched with the name of a murdered woman or girl. New markers were to be added whenever another woman was killed in the Ottawa–Carleton area, although, as the dedication engraved on the face of the main stone (in French and English) makes clear, it was all the fallen in the global “war against women” who were being commemorated:

A la memoire de toutes les femmes qui ont subi jusqua la mort la violence  des hommes. Imaginons un monde ou les femmes liberees de lemprise de la violence sepanouissent dans le respect et la femme.

To honour and to grieve all women abused and murdered by men. Envision a world without violence where women  are respected and free.

Inscription Womens Monument OttawaThe monument, then called Enclave – more recently it is simply designated as The Women’s Monument – was unveiled on a cold December 8th 1992 at a ceremony involving over a hundred people, including relatives and friends of the murdered women named on the stones. As each of their names was called out, roses and candles were placed on their marker. City councillors made speeches. People circled the stone, and sang. c.j. fleury and Mary Faught, who had devised the dedication, read it out.

Enclave is not the only monument to women, or even murdered women in Canada – there are several to the 14 women students shot dead by a lone, feminist-hating, gunman in Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique on December 6th 1989, including one in Vancouver which, like Enclave itself, bears witness to wider global concerns about “gendercide”. Some commentators have apparently found the Minto Park monument controversial because it singles out women as specific victims of violence, rather than commemorating all victims of violence, which seems to miss the crucial point about the distinct vulnerabilities of women to being killed by male friends and partners. Over the years, as stones have been added, the monument has hosted other vigils and occasional art installations, including one in 2009 to Kelly Morrisseau (1979-2006), a pregnant Native Canadian woman whose murder remained unsolved two and a half years later.

Stones womens monument ottawaAlongside public art, Canada has a number of memorial days which recall and challenge instances of male violence, some of which have subsequently been connected to the Ottawa monument. In recent years an annual Take Back the Night rally and march – an event which started in Canada in 1978 to protest the fear of violence with which women live – begins at the Minto Park monument.

These places and events may not in themselves stop violence against women but as spaces of commemoration and inspiration for both older and newer generations, they are integral to the “cultural politics” of criminal justice reform. More than a transient news headline, they mark out in public consciousness what matters in a city and a society – what (and who) should not be forgotten and what should be implacably opposed, until it has been uprooted – and Scotland, sadly no stranger to domestic violence, should consider something similar for itself.

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