While many people debated whether celebrating Canada Day was appropriate given the discoveries of children’s remains on residential school properties, two Niagara-on-the-Lake youth created a memorial for the children on the steps of the old hospital on July 1.
“When we heard the news, we knew it wasn’t right. We wanted to do something about it,” Ruby Elltoft, 12, told The Lake Report.
Ruby and classmate Leila Ridesic, 12, wanted to set up a shoe memorial to ensure awareness about the Indigenous and Canadian history of residential schools did not escape their community.
They both attend Royal Oak School, which is now located in the old hospital. And they knew it was the perfect setting for a memorial.
“Lots of people come by this place because it’s really important, so we did it here so lots of people could get involved,” Leila said.
The young pair of activists credited Royal Oak for teaching them about residential schools.
“Our school has always taught us about how bad residential schools were and how Indigenous people were treated,” she said
.“Our principal made sure to send out lots of emails” asking for people to donate children’s shoes for the memorial, Leila added.
“Next year they are going to teach even more about residential schools.”
Their friend, Eliana McManus, 12, arrived to help with the memorial and brought along homemade signs to hang on the pillars at the front of the school.
The signs, in black marker on orange Bristol board, read, “Every Child Matters” and “In honour of all the residential school victims.”
The girls had their own take on the use of children’s shoes in the memorial.
“Kids shoes show everybody the personality (of the children), so we decided to gather everyone’s shoes,” Ruby said.
Each pair of shoes had a unique personality attached to it. This helped to individualize the missing children. All around them were various pairs of Crocs, running shoes, rubber boots and an authentic pair of children’s moccasins that one supporter dropped off.
“Our hope is that this will get people to think about it and spread awareness,” Leila said.
“That way if people are walking by with their little kids, and the kids don’t know about it, they can ask their parents. But we also want anyone to think about it.”
The memorial will be up indefinitely, and the duo plans on donating the shoes if they are in a suitable condition sometime in the future. People are encouraged to pay their respects and donate a pair of shoes at the memorial.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report