Etched in stone: Cape Breton woman creates permanent display to symbolize graves at residential schools


Buckets of shoes sit at the Membertou Heritage Park in Cape Breton.

They’re waiting to be placed in the communities’ truth and healing garden, to remember to lives lost from residential schools in this country.

Katie Hodder is the organizer behind a permanent display of respect and remembrance.

The situation hits close to home for her.

"I get emotional thinking about it. My kid is Indigenous, and it shouldn’t take my kid being Ingenious to feel that. I’m a mother and I guarantee you every parent out there that saw that has cried," says Hodder.

Like many places across the country people placed shoes on the steps of the Roman Catholic Church in Membertou, after the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C.

The church has now donated the shoes to Hodder and the Heritage Park, where they will soon have a permanent home, in a unique way.

“We’re dipping them in cement and letting them harden, so they’re permanent fixtures. We’re going to let families paint them and use them as a retaining wall for our garden," Hodder says.

Jeff Ward is the general manager of the Heritage Park, as well as the son of a residential school survivor.

"I’m the first generation in my mother’s family that was raised at home with loving parents,” Ward says.

The project has sparked a lot of emotions for Ward. It’s an idea he got behind right away.

"People will see these shoes and they’ll know what happened. People will see these flowers. What I love about these flowers are there are many different colours, like the many different nations out there,” Ward says.

"We have to recognize all the different nations, and all the different colours, and learn about one another."

Hodder's husband and child are from Membertou First Nation. She feels it’s important for everyone to come together at a time like this.

"I’m providing the paint and the paintbrushes. Families can paint a pair of shoes together and then we will use them here," Hodder says.

She is hoping to have the shoes placed and cemented by the end of the month, with a public event held at a later date.