Vancouver temporarily closing Robson Plaza, the site of the residential school memorial

May 19 2023, 1:47 am

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected regarding the March 31 press release from the City of Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver has posted a sign it will be temporarily closing the Robson Plaza which is the site of a residential school memorial. 

The steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery have been the site of a temporary memorial since the remains of 215 children were found at the site of a residential school in the spring of 2021.

The head of “vigil keepers,” Desiree Simeon, told Daily Hive she is in “shock,” suggesting the City will be moving forward with removing the memorial without the volunteer’s approval. 

“They want to take the items at 7 am in the morning [Friday],” she said. 

Courtesy Desiree Simeon

In a statement to Daily Hive Thursday, the City said, “The City acknowledges that there is still a need for mourning and healing spaces.

“While the temporary memorial cannot remain at Robson Square, the City is committed to continuing to work with xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ Nations and Urban Indigenous communities to create spaces in the public realm for this purpose.”

However, Simeon said the talks had not gone smoothly.

She said the memorial was installed on May 28 two years ago, and she had wanted the City to host the ceremony on the anniversary.

She said the City negotiated to have the installation taken down on May 21; however, “Now you want to take away May 21? Move it to just tomorrow?”

“You’re disregarding everything that I have done here and disrespecting me,” Simeon added.

According to the signage, the plaza will be closed from May 19 to 21.

Tamara Bell, the Haida artist behind the installation, explained that the memorial was a “healing moment for the community.”

The findings had a profound impact on Indigenous communities, bringing attention and urgency to the need for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

However, Bell said, actions from the City have since put a target on the target and thrown “vigil keepers” and her “under the bus.”

In a letter, she claimed the City released a press release about taking down the memorial, and claimed it listed her name and “effectively issued a summons to individuals fuelled by extreme hatred and racism and thereby placed Ms. Bell in extreme danger.”

However, Daily Hive has confirmed that the March 31 release sent to our newsroom did not name her, but the city did name the artist in a previous statement.

She is calling on the City to formally apologize, which she said would not be enough but “is a start.”

The City added in an email statement that it “unconditionally denounces racism and harassment directed towards the artist and volunteers involved with the temporary Residential School Memorial; racism generally, and Anti-Indigenous racism specifically, is unacceptable and disgraceful.”

Daily Hive has reached out to the City of Vancouver for additional information regarding the temporary closure of Robson Plaza but it said, “we will be providing a full update on the matter early tomorrow morning.”

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