Oct. 13, 2021

Permanent memorial unveiled for those who died while experiencing homelessness

Place of remembrance based in part on research by UCalgary Faculty of Social Work prof Jessica Shaw
Portrait of UCalgary professor Jessica Shaw
UCalgary Faculty of Social professor Jessica Shaw Faculty of Social Work

Though they passed away without a permanent address, Calgarians who died experiencing homelessness will forever be remembered as a new memorial is unveiled in their honour Wednesday, Oct. 13.

The development of the memorial, located at 107-13 Ave., SE, is based in part on research by UCalgary Faculty of Social Work professor Dr. Jessica Shaw, PhD. In examining end-of-life care for people experiencing homelessness, Shaw’s research showed the critical need for such a space. Historically, the city’s unhoused had been buried in an unmarked grave in Union Ceremony. Today, unclaimed remains are interred in individual plots at Queens Park Cemetery, but the grave sites remain unmarked.

“The permanent memorial site is not only a place for people — housed and unhoused — to honour those who have died,” says Shaw. “It is also a reminder to all of us of the need to restore dignity to our neighbours and friends who live and die on our streets.

Community collaboration is what saw the creation of the memorial site, and ongoing community collaboration is what will move us towards ending homelessness in Calgary.

Shaw first pitched the idea of the memorial in 2018 at a town hall of more than 65 social service providers involved in providing end-of-life care and support for those experiencing homelessness. She also connected with Calgary Homeless Foundation’s (CHF) Client Action Committee, with whom she spearheaded fundraising for the project. Outgoing Ward 8 Councillor Evan Wooley, meanwhile, came on board to help find space for the memorial.

Community partnerships blossomed with many more individuals and groups rallying around the project, including the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Beltline Community Investment Fund, Canadian Artists Against Poverty and other homeless-serving agencies. A GoFundMe campaign also motivated 113 people to make individual donations to help demonstrate that the project has the support of the community, and to help realize the project.

The concept and design for the public art space was created and designed by a collective who have experienced homelessness. The installation will include a bronze sculpture, cast by Studio West Bronze Foundry, a wooden bench handcrafted by Dale Keith, a member of the FUSE33 maker’s collective on International Avenue, and two pillars of a mural designed and painted by Canadian Artists Against Poverty artist Day Pajarillo Manuel.

"Dignity should not be tied to a set of keys,” says Nigel Kirk of CHF’s Client Action Committee. “Unfortunately, for many of our siblings, it is too late. This space is not only a place where the unhoused can honour and reflect their lost brethren. It's also a unique place in Calgary — a place for those on the streets to find sanctuary. This memorial was designed to be welcoming, with every step being approved by people with lived experience of homelessness, and I thank everyone for their work to have it completed."

You can watch the unveiling of the memorial at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday Oct 13 by tuning it to this livestream.