Residential school memorial removed from Robson Plaza overnight (PHOTOS)

May 19 2023, 4:13 pm

The shoes that were part of a residential school memorial were removed from the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery overnight.

The City of Vancouver said it had planned to start closing the memorial today (May 19) following talks with the organizers involved, but that workers arrived early in the morning to find that the majority of memorial items had already been removed.

Volunteers at the site told Daily Hive Urbanized they were woken up between 5 and 6 am by City workers putting up fences and that the shoes were already gone. They didn’t know who took them.

The City, however, staff witnessed the items being packed in bags by volunteers and then walked them offsite to an undisclosed location.

“Given this unexpected development, we are working on next steps with our partners at [the local First Nations] to bring this work to closure in a good way,” the City said.

Robson Square is now barricaded, and City workers locked a gate to the square just before 8 am. Signs posted by the City indicate it will be temporarily closed.

residential school memorial

Regina Ng/Daily Hive

plaza closed

Regina Ng/Daily Hive


The development comes after tense talks between the City of Vancouver and Desiree Simeon, the head of “vigil keepers” at the memorial. Simeon wanted the memorial to stay up until its two-year anniversary on May 28, 2023, before being taken down.

Simeon told Daily Hive that the City had offered to allow a weekly Indigenous Market at Robson Plaza and had offered her housing — but claimed she was told those would be taken away if she didn’t adhere to the City’s timeline.

“At the end, I’m getting nothing. They said we’ll get the name of a park … At the end, they said they’re giving us housing the very first thing, they said they’re giving us a market … none of this is going to happen.”

Residential school memorial

Regina Ng/Daily Hive

The installation was first put up by Haida artist Tamara Bell as a site of healing for the community. The memorial was erected following the discovery of hundreds of children’s remains at a former Kamloops, BC, residential school.

The City of Vancouver has said the memorial is not in keeping with the traditions of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam people, who are Indigenous to what is now known as Greater Vancouver. Their teachings say the spirits of the children will remain tethered to the items on the steps and cannot move on.

There was supposed to be a burning ceremony in West Vancouver for the items and food donations for the children who didn’t make it home from residential school. That’s still set to go ahead May 21, but it’s not clear how the items will be burned their whereabouts aren’t known.

The City said it would work with the three local First Nations and urban Indigenous communities to create a more permanent and culturally appropriate memorial.

With files from Daily Hive’s Regina Ng 

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