Vigil held to honour victims of violence

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer
abradbury@fortfrances.com

About 50 people gathered at Knox United Church to commemorate victims of violence against women. December 6 was declared the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women by parliament in 1991.

The day is marked on Dec. 6 each year because it is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, the day a gunman killed 14 women on the campus of École Polytechnique in Montreal. 2021 marks 32 years since the 1989 tragedy and 21 years of observance in Fort Frances.

Peggy Loyie is a program manager with Rainy River District Victim Services Program. She says the vigil started when two young women were murdered in the district.

“21 years ago we lost two young women in our community,” Loyie said. “Both were aged about 18 years old and they were murdered. So ever since then, I just felt like we had to do some sort of observation for these young women and then learned more about what was happening nationally and then more about regionally how many women we’ve lost to gender based violence.”

Loyie got a group of people together and gathered with them in front of the courthouse in Fort Frances for the first number of years; the annual event later moved into nearby Knox United Church.

“We just take some time each year on December 6, for the last 21 years or so, to observe that day. To remember those women from L’École Polytechnique,” Loyie said. “To remember the women in our district who suffer violence maybe on a daily basis. We remember the women in our region, we’ve had a number of women who’ve died as a result of violence, who’ve been murdered.”

The women murdered at ​​École Polytechnique were singled out for being women in what the gunman considered to be the primarily male field of engineering.

Attendees light candles for a moment of silence at a vigil commemorating victims of gender-based violence. -Allan Bradbury photo

At the event on Monday the Waabishkiibenesii Women Singers sang hand drum songs, including a strong woman song, and a song for the healing of men, who are often the perpetrators of violence against women.

Another hand drum song was sung by Ted and Alex Copenace from Naotkamegwanning First Nation. They performed an honour song for missing and murdered indigenous women, which Ted said was brought to him in a dream.

A candle-lit moment of silence was held. Four candles were lit; one to remember the women murdered at ​​École Polytechnique; a second to remember women and children who continue to live in unsafe situations; the third was lit to remember the families of victims; the fourth to remember the victims of violence in the local region. Each person in attendance received a candle to hold during the moment of silence.

The event ended with a slideshow commemorating women who have died as victims of violence in the Fort Frances area and Rainy River District.

Loyie says the commemorative slideshow can be quite profound because many people in the area do not realize just how many women have been lost to gender-based violence. For Loyie, one of the biggest things is helping the families of victims.

“I think it’s important that the families know that they’re supported,” Loyie said. “Their loved one isn’t just a stat. That loved one is acknowledged and we’re not going to let that memory go or fade.”

The Waabishkiibinesii Women Singers performed two songs at the ceremony commemorating the victims of gender-based violence. They performed traditional Strong Woman song as well as a song for the healing of men, as men are statistically the perpetrators of a lot of this violence. -Allan Bradbury photo