Small Memorials

Content warning: Death, suicide, domestic violence.

Our cities are filled with memorials. Hospitals are named after donors and philanthropists. We have statues in our parks of famous historical figures – many of which we’re now reconsidering honouring as our values change and our view of these people changes.

I thought of this as I was cycling through the park last night. As I went under the Leaside Bridge, 140 feet above me, a tiny reflection caught my eye in the bushes. I turned back, stepped gingerly through the mud at the edge of the path and came to a small shrine.

“Martin William Patrick McMullen –
Passed away suddenly in Toronto on Tuesday, November 8, 2005, in his 20th year. Beloved son of Pat and Marilyn McMullan. Cherished and much missed brother of Francis and Daniel. May his friends and loving family keep him always in their hearts. “

I was struck by how young he was, even younger than my own son. I was further struck by the fact that even over fifteen years after he died, there are clearly people coming by and remembering him. A search revealed that he tragically jumped from the bridge above in 2005 – an unimaginable tragedy for a parent. I also saw that this memorial has been here for a long time and even strangers like myself stop by and pay their respects. I am sad he is gone but glad he is remembered.

A year later, on a run on an abandoned stretch of road in the port lands, a mostly industrial area of Toronto, I came across this.

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal. In Loving Memory of Leanne Freeman (1988-2011) Loving Mother, daughter, sister and the best friend one could ask for

According to this article, she struggled with addiction and had, off and on, lived on the streets. She was found murdered near this spot in 2011. The men who killed her were both convicted and are currently serving life sentences.

I’m struck by the power and persistence of their memories. Unlike the historical figures being honoured (and sometimes now dishonoured) for things they did in positions of power they were given, these are ordinary people who were loved so much that they were moved to create a space not just to be remembered by family but for others to remember them as well. To me this is far more meaningful than statues of most so-called historical figures. As people argue about whether or not a historical figure is worthy of having a public statue, let’s imagine what might happen if a city honoured significant (but everyday) people who don’t have the privilege and power afforded them by their position in government or the military:

In 2015 I was cycling near the lake and came across a park, “Jennifer Kateryna Koval’s’kyj Park” a plaque reveals the reason for its naming:

Articles published around the time show that she was trying to save her grandmother from her mentally unstable father by getting between them. As you look at the beautiful view of the skyline, consider the love, bravery and sacrifice of a six year old girl. In 1998, “Polson Street Park” was renamed after Jennifer Kateryna Koval’s’kyj, giving us a whole lot to think about as we look out across the water at the city.

View from Jennifer Kateryna Koval’s’kyj Park

Do you have small hand-made memorials like this near where you live? Do you stop and look at them? Who are they for?

6 thoughts on “Small Memorials

  1. A small way of your tribute to them through this post. Hospitals named after donors and philanthropists and statues of historical figures is way better than what we have in India. Roads, hospitals, etc. named after politicians!

    1. Ha! We have that also – but not so many recent ones. But here in Canada we’re seeing a pushback and, in my opinion, an overdue questioning of who we’re honouring with our statues and road names. We’re asking why colonialists, racists, supporters of slavery or those who trampled the rights of Indigenous people (but maybe helped win a war or held an office 100 years ago) are still being honoured. It’s an important dialogue. I’m happy to see this. I still remember being taught in school about how great Columbus was for “discovering America” as we celebrated Columbus Day. Now, looking back, having read some history including Columbus’ and his family’s own diaries, I’m horrified that we gave him such reverence. I’m glad to see the narrative of this slowly changing on a lot of different fronts.

    1. @Elizabeth – I haven’t seen so many in the states – except on the sides of highways. Maybe it’s a rural/urban thing?

      @Rupali – Quite possibly the law, or maybe it’s cultural? I’ve heard that people in Scandinavia can be even more reserved and private than my own people in New England. (And we’re pretty reserved!)

  2. I have never came across similar signs or tributes but have seen in news a few, a temporary memorials after accidents. Family and friends pay tributes. I have noticed that names of unfortunate people are never mentioned except under special circumstances. The reason might be ” General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)” rule.

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