Wow. What a year it has been. I’m sure most of us can agree that we’ve never seen anything like it in our lifetimes thus far. For me, it feels as if February this year was last week and ten years ago all at once- a feeling that increased as I looked out my window this morning to see a winter wonderland; a scene reminiscent of the weather in March when many of us retreated to isolate and delay the spread of the pandemic.
However, despite uncertainty, sadness, and a yearning to return to the familiar, many beautiful things took root and bloomed this year. The Everyone Rides Initiative was able to connect with riders, old and new, in ways we could not have dreamed of a year ago. Relationships strengthened, programs adapted, and bike share in Hamilton persevered through it all.
So without further ado, we’d like to present a visual snapshot of a few moments that made us feel incredible warmth this year: and make sure to keep an eye out for our more extensive Year in Review feature in the coming weeks. We couldn’t have gotten through 2020 without you- and we are so glad to know you as cyclists, community members, and friends.
Hugs and Hot Chocolate Ride- February 2020
Ah, February. Chilly, casual, and full of in person connections- especially between the ERI and our community partners. The ERI’s partner organizations Good Shepherd Steps to Health program and the 541 Eatery and Exchange teamed up to host a “Hugs and Hot Chocolate Ride”: over 12 Good Shepherd Steps to Health riders, along with Steps to Health coordinators Josh and Kereena who were ready with their ERI Group Ride pass, joined the ERI team at Delaware and Myrtle hub to amplify their weekly group ride experience.
Cyclists rolled down Delaware Street’s bike lane before turning onto Sanford, and then navigated past Barton street to meet at the 541 Eatery and Exchange. When the chilly cyclists arrived at the 541, decadent hot chocolate, homemade chili, and warm cookies awaited them in the 541’s private meeting room. Riders laughed and took photos with one another as the ERI team, Good Shepherd staff, and 541 management celebrated the value of community partnerships as we watched Good Shepherd riders hug each other goodbye.
ERI Magnolia Map
When warmer weather swept over Hamilton in April, many people were quietly sheltering in place to the best of their ability, hoping to slow the COVID spread. The ERI team decided to add some levity to a slowed-down activity month, and so ERI Executive Director Chelsea Cox initiated a Magnolia Map, to which community members and cyclists were encouraged to contribute.
This fun, scavenger hunt-inspired activity shows the locations of magnolia trees all around Hamilton’s lower city, within our bike share service area. ERI riders and other Hamilton cyclists could email the ERI team to add tree locations they came across, as well. In total, 96 trees were added to the map, and cyclists were able to ride around and hunt down the magnolias to enjoy a visual feast, as the hardy trees went into full bloom starting in late April. This was a cherished initiative that pulled us together to share in an activity while also keeping safely distanced. We look forward to our now Annual Magnolia Map and Ride in 2021!
When the ERI team started to work from home, our face to face connections with riders sharply decreased with each hour we logged online. To counter the barrier of riders no longer being able to visit our office to receive new cards, and get signed up, we developed a plan- why not bring the cards to our riders, instead?
ERI Program Manager Thea quickly developed a card delivery volunteer system, and our riders were able to receive cards delivered to their mailbox or apartment by kind, efficient ERI volunteer cyclists.The ERI team also delivers cards to riders without a permanent address, and altogether, we have seen more of our city and our wonderful riders than we ever expected given the circumstances this year.
Distanced Group Rides
Indwell Homes knew they wanted to enjoy the benefits of an ERI Group Ride pass- but they didn’t quite know how to get started. ERI Equity Coordinator Theron joined Indwell’s staff and riders for a beautiful ride around the Corktown and Stinson neighbourhoods, and each rider was thrilled to have easy access to bike share.
Due to COVID, riders wore masks, and numbers had to be limited- but the ride itself was a success, and Indwell held several more of their own afterwards in high spirits.
Speaking of rides, we also gave private adaptive bike lessons this summer and fall! Adaptive bikes are bicycles that are created to allow people who can’t ride 2-wheeled traditional bikes for physical or developmental reasons to ride. Our ERI trike we launched in 2019 is now joined by a Nihola front bucket cargo bike, a Muskoka trike, and an EVO step through 2-wheeled bike.
The ERI team is always excited to see riders get out and enjoy the benefits of exercise and movement via a safe, physically distanced form of transit- subsidized bike share passes. If you’d like to sign up for a subsidized pass giving you 3 free hours a day to ride, please visit our form here.
Keep riding, and enjoy the sunshine on the snow!
ERI Equity Coordinator
When the Everyone Rides team started working from home as COVID swept through Canada in March, we knew this year would be unusual. What we didn’t know then was exactly how many moments of connection, warmth, and solidarity we would find in our beautiful city.
The ERI team felt an extraordinary sense of gratitude as Hamiltonians rallied to save bike share during our emergency call for support in May. We watched with pride in July as the blue bikes took over Hamilton’s streets once more throughout summer’s eve and fall, rain or shine. And we had even more to celebrate in 2020 when we learned a few days ago that the Hamilton Public Works Committee unanimously approved Hamilton Bike Share’s recommendations for the bike share system. Stay tuned for more information to come.
To read more about the City and Hamilton Bike Share’s agreement, please visit Cycle Hamilton’s post here. Side Note- you can sign up for free to be a Cycle Hamilton Buddy to learn more about their great opportunities for cycling education and community.
Supporting equitable, fun, and affordable transportation is a great look for you, Hamilton. We’re happy to be here for more years to come.
The Everyone Rides Team
The ERI’s Pride Ride, June 2019
Keeping Six, a Hamilton harm reduction organization aiding people who use drugs, responded to criticism from advocates on October 21 after tent encampments downtown were forcibly removed by Hamilton Police in the pouring rain. The organization, alongside doctors, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC), and Ross and McBride LLP, won an injunction in late July preventing police from displacing homeless Hamiltonians living in tents during COVID-19.
Photo credit: Teviah Moro, Hamilton Spectator
By September, Hamilton Police were growing impatient, and some city counsellors were criticizing the encampments' effects on their residents. The police moved aggressively to legally strike down the ban on displacing people from their tents and thus removing downtown access to local services. Keeping Six, the HCLC, and Ross and McBride LLP workers protested this plan, and on October 1, an agreement with the police was created.
Police were now required to assess residents living in tents individually, granting them permission to stay where they were if their camps had no more than 5 tents total, were not closer than 50 metres away from a play area, and most importantly, had nowhere else to go. Residents living in tents were to have full agency over their belongings and receive support in finding housing; as well as time to move into indoor shelters and temporary housing. In addition, people experiencing severe mental health distress were to have compassion and leniency with their living arrangements, and extra support from police and the city despite the ban on displacement being lifted.
Photo credit: Teviah Moro, Hamilton Spectator
Instead, Hamiltonians living in encampments on Ferguson street and FirstOntario plaza found themselves woken up and forcibly displaced by police with no notice or accommodation into the pouring rain on October 15 and 16. Garbage workers tossed tents into trucks up and down the avenue. On October 23, a man came to his tent in Beasley Park after visiting the Wesley Center only to find his belongings on the back of a city truck. Only after many hours of arguing with the police and receiving support from harm reduction intermediaries did residents living in tents in Beasley Park receive their belongings back. Hamilton Police never admitted that their actions were not in line with the dignity and respect built into the removal of housing agreement they had signed.
Photo credit: Teviah Moro, Hamilton Spectator
Keeping Six has responded to the events of harm from police against the homeless, saying, “the process of forcing people from their homes into further uncertainty, in the driving rain no less, was utterly inhumane. Many have questioned and criticized us for being party to it. We hear and accept your criticism, and are committed to reflecting on it.” The harm reduction organization has called for a greater understanding of what it means to be homeless on Indigenous land, and provided resources for support and understanding on their site.
As the weather turns colder and the days grow darker, it is crucial to understand, in line with Keeping Six’s statement, that homelessness is so much more complex than simply being an individual choice. Systemic inequities, including underfunding of resources that should be accessible to everyone, such as mental health care and affordable housing; in addition to shelters often being crowded and unsafe, lead people without housing to take care of their needs the best they could in tents close to the resources they require. Hamiltonians without housing in the city are still Hamiltonians deserving of respect and dignity; care that is often absent from police and city official interactions with them.
To support Hamilton’s tent residents and see actions you can personally do to help, including writing counsellors, please scroll down to the bottom of the page to Keeping Six’s resources, here.
In solidarity, the Everyone Rides Team
When Justin Larrivee and Adrian Alphonso first brought up the idea of an Indigenous- centered trail ride in Winnipeg, Manitoba, they were unsure of the response they would receive.
They didn’t have to wonder for long: the duo’s first ride, centered around Winnipeg’s historical murals, monuments, and trails, drew over 20 people on the very first Traditional Trails ride in 2018. Cyclists looked on attentively as Alphonso and Larrivee stopped at each location to tell the group of the place’s Indigenous significance.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ventura, CBC News
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission report, finalized in 2015, set forward numerous actions needing to be taken by Canada’s government and non-Indigenous people to ensure safety reparations for Indigenous communities- also named “Calls to Action”. One of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report’s many Calls to Action is centered around physical activity, and calls for the Canadian government to make physical fitness and sports opportunities equally accessible to Indigenous people.
Alphonso and Larrivee are keenly aware of the physical Call to Action, and think that their own tours can help bridge the gap between affordable and engaging physical activities. "Being able to kind of combine a traditional culture with something like cycling is really important for actually reaching that call to action," said Larrivee.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ventura, CBC News
Traditional Trails has since gone on to hold many educational rides since its launch in summer 2018; and its organizers have been busy spreading the word about their work: Alphonso had planned to attend the Ontario Bike Summit’s 2020 conference as a keynote speaker and ride leader in Hamilton, before the conference was postponed due to the pandemic.
While COVID laid some roadblocks for a busy summer tour season, Traditional Trails endures, and riders last met in August. Larrivee and Alphonso hope that their work inspires settler Canadians to examine the Indigenous histories of the land they’re on, and begin Indigenous centered rides in their own communities.
"We feel like cycling, Indigenous cycling, is something that is going to grow and it's something that must grow," said Larrivee.
Keep an eye out for future information on the OBS Traditional Trails’ special edition Hamilton ride, to be offered in the future pending COVID restrictions. Keep following the Everyone Rides Initiative’s newsletter to stay informed.
To read more about Traditional Trails, click here.
For more information on Healing Trails, a Winnipeg Indigenous-led association designed to re-think transportation through policy work, education, and real-life projects, click here.
To read about Hamilton’s own Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (an ERI partner) and their resources, including free food banks for all, click here.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Thea (Manager at the Everyone Rides Initiative), asking if I would be interested in volunteering- I’d be taking over Thea’s share of card deliveries during their much deserved vacation. During the pandemic I have been responsible, adhering to physical distancing, wearing my mask, and limiting my immediate circle. All this to say, I’ve been going a bit stir crazy without human interaction, even though I have been out on my bike almost every day. I jumped at the opportunity, and said yes. After Thea dropped off the cards and rider toolkits and explained my instructions, I was ready to go!
My first delivery took me on a scenic trip to Dundas. On the way, I stopped at York and Dundurn waiting for the light to turn and had a conversation with a gentleman about the Everyone Rides Initiative and Hamilton Bike Share. He was new to Hamilton and didn’t understand how the bike share system worked. Educating him on how to get riding was a great opportunity that I would repeat over the following two weeks. Going between Hamilton and Dundas to deliver cards afforded me time to do some route planning, and I made sure to include the Cootes Drive Trail in my ride. The Trail has plenty of turtles and deer at different times in the day, so make sure to keep an eye out! On the way back from Dundas, I noticed menacing clouds, and hoped I would get home before the rain hit. Later that day, I decided I would do the next 2 deliveries and waited out the rain. Once it had stopped, I set out-- but I had just gotten to the first address when the thunderstorm hit. I sought out some shelter under a building’s awning, and watched the intense storm. I guess the number one lesson for me that day was to make sure in future I took a couple of extra Rider Toolkits and cards with me, just so I didn’t have to run home during a thunderstorm.
In that first week I did have a couple of hiccups and missed connections, where I had to go back to try delivering a rider’s card again. After those times, I had a catch-up phone call with Theron (Equity Coordinator at the Everyone Rides Initiative) and got some instructions about how I could leave the ERI Rider Toolkits and cards someplace safe and describe where I left them to the person I missed. Thea also suggested that I block my number when I call riders (as a way to protect my privacy), which had its own set of challenges due to a lot of people not answering unknown name phone calls. I remember that one person in West Hamilton mistakenly gave us his father’s phone number instead of his, which is easy to do because who remembers their own phone number, right? To sum up, as someone who loves riding my bike and exploring the city, I really didn't mind doing return trips. And because I was challenged in August to complete the Great Cycle Challenge to fundraise for children’s cancer research, the extra kilometres helped me reach my goal! I definitely posted to social media a couple of times when I was out wearing my Everyone Rides t-shirt- it’s a great advertisement for the program.
The second week of volunteering got off to a slow start, and I was frequently checking my Google sheet (yes, I learned how to check and edit a Google sheet!) for new deliveries to bring excitement. However, despite the low number of card deliveries, an opportunity to talk about the Everyone Rides program was always just around the corner, it seemed. Quite a few of my deliveries that week were within minutes of where I live, so they were quick and easy. One was in an apartment building, and right outside the building was the Hunter Street bike lane, where a landscaping company vehicle was blocking the lane. I had an unfruitful conversation with the operator of the vehicle about moving, but that led to a conversation with another gentleman nearby about Everyone Rides, Hamilton Bike Share, and bike lanes; before I delivered a Toolkit and card to the person requesting it in the building.
On Thursday of my second week volunteering, I made a post to the Hamilton Caremongering Facebook group about the Everyone Rides Initiative (I think it got the most likes and shares I have ever received on a Facebook post!) and on Saturday, I posted a similar callout to my Twitter- you know, just to get the word out.
On the weekend I thought I’d do some deliveries (7, actually) and figured I could get them all done late in the day as most were in the same area. Two were unreachable and I didn’t see any place to securely leave the card- by the time I had reached the last address on my list, I made contact with the first 2 people and chose to drop them off the next morning- remember the part where I said I love to be out on my bike every day? On Sunday I set out to deliver to the 2 riders I missed on Saturday, and the second rider was a wonderful older lady who had a few questions: about adaptive bikes, how to carry her cane on a SoBi, and how grateful she was that Hamilton Bike Share and the Everyone Rides Initiative was up and running.We talked about quite a few things- mostly current issues in the city- and before I knew it, we had talked for over 2 hours! Only with the threat of heavy rain and a few drops already falling on us did we part ways.
To summarize, here’s a couple of things I’ve noticed over the last few weeks: a lot of people in Hamilton need and appreciate Bike Share, and they need programs like the Everyone Rides Initiative. The age range of people I connected with on my deliveries was 16 to 70+. This pandemic has been hard on people of all ages, and folks are craving a human connection: someone to talk to, listen to, and just be there.
So if you are looking for a great, healthy, and fun way to volunteer and connect with people, give the Everyone Rides Initiative a call or email, and give it a try. Seeing the joy on people’s faces when they receive a safe, affordable way to get around the city was incredible for me. I am sure that if you volunteer, your help will be appreciated by many.
Meet Midhat: McMaster University and DeGroote School of Business Alumni, and one of the directors on Hamilton Bike Share's board.
In her role as director, Midhat holds the office of the secretary, keeping our documentation organized and up to date.
Midhat is passionate about equitable access to bikes for all, and loves creating opportunities for people to experience the joys of cycling in their daily lives. She has found that Bike Share allows riders access to the freedom and flexibility to get to their destination by finding their own way, and riding their route of choice. SoBis also allow riders to take one-way trips, which allows additional flexibility when exploring the City.
Having access to bikes via Hamilton Bike Share let Midhat truly discover the City of Hamilton, and fall in love with its hidden gems. Below are her top 5 must see destinations, and the routes she suggests to get there. Each route below begins at the Sterling and Forsyth Hub at the edge of McMaster University Campus.
1. McMaster to Pier 8 Skating Rink (Route) – 7.5 KM // 25 Min
Ride downhill on Longwood Road North along the Waterfront Trail, passing Bayfront Park and ending at Pier 8. Grab a pair of rental roller skates and a scoop of ice cream- this trip is a guaranteed good time.
2. McMaster to Chedoke Radial Trail and Waterfalls (Route) – 4 KM // 20 Min
This route ends at the Chedoke Stairs hub, where you can walk (or run) up the stairs, hike the Bruce Trail and find your way to Chedoke Waterfalls.
3. McMaster to Hamilton Farmer’s Market (Route) – 4 KM // 18 Min
Hop on a bike to get to the Farmer's Market, drop by the Art Crawl (second Friday each month), or stop in for a delicious bite at one of the restaurants along James Street.
4. McMaster to Gage Park (Route) – 10 KM // 37 Min
This route travels along the Rail Trail through many quiet neighbourhood streets, and ends at the lovely Gage Park. Visit the Greenhouse, walk through the flower garden, or watch a performance at the Bandshell. Nearby Ottawa Street is a great place to explore as well.
5. McMaster to Locke St (Route) – 4 KM // 15 Min
The most direct route to Locke takes you east down King Street West. After turning right onto Dundurn Street and continuing south, you end at the Charlton and Locke Hub beside Donut Monster. Locke Street has some great boutiques, cafes, and benches for people-watching.
Although Midhat doesn’t live in Hamilton at the moment, she still grabs a SoBi bike anytime she visits. As an out of town visitor, she uses her Pay As You Go membership to zip to meetings downtown from the Hamilton Go Centre or West Harbour station hubs- or for lectures or events at McMaster from the Main at Paisley GO bus stop.
We hope Midhat's bike share story inspires you to get out and ride! Remember, you can sign up here for a subsidized Pedal Pass.
***This article is part of an Everyone Rides Initiative series that showcases where we ride in our beautiful City. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest delivered right to your inbox***
Ryerson’s Legacy: Truth and Reconciliation
On July 18th dozens of protesters in downtown Toronto called for an end to Canada’s glorification of racist policymakers from the past. The protest centered around a symbolic act: dousing Ryerson University’s statue of its founder in red paint, to represent blood shed by Canada’s Indigenous residential schools. Prior to the July 18th protest, Ryerson University students had been petitioning for the removal of Ryerson’s statue for over 5 years, arguing that it celebrates a man whose policies killed thousands.
Credit: Ted Fraser, Toronto Star
Established in 1948, Ryerson University was named after Egerton Ryerson, a theorist and educator who is considered by many historians to be a key architect in shaping Canada’s educational systems. However, the most prolific educational system Ryerson was contracted to develop was the Canadian Indian residential school system: a Catholic and Anglican clergy-led, abusive institution that stole thousands of Indigenous children from their families, and whose primary goal was to “kill the Indian in the child” in order to assimilate them into a colonial settler society.
Credit: United Church Archives, Toronto.
When asked about his primary goals for Canada’s residential schools, Ryserson once stated, “I think that the great object of industrial schools should be to fit the [uncivilized] pupils for becoming working farmers and agricultural labourers, fortified of course by Christian principles, feelings, and habits”. Ryerson’s vision of a hyper-religious school system designed to erase Indigenous languages and cultures became reality; and by 1931, 80 residential schools were in operation. As decades passed, reports from Indigenous children forced to attend the schools surfaced, describing horrors buried beneath Ryerson’s promise of “civilizing” subsequent Indigenous generations. Tens of thousands of children were severely abused by priests, several thousand went missing, and many of the latter were later discovered buried within mass graves. Canada’s last residential school was closed in 1996, but the traumatizing effects of forcibly eradicating cultural norms and sacred knowledge for over 170 years still prominently resonate within Indigenous communities today.
Credit: Sean Kilpatrick, CBC News 2015
Although Prime Minister Stephan Harper apologized in 2008 for the harm residential schools wreaked upon already vulnerable communities for generations, Indigenous elders argue that little else has been done to offer long-term support to Indigenous communities and survivors who were cut away from their ancestors’ histories and cultures. The Truth and Reconconcilation Commission, founded 9 days prior to Harper’s apology, interviewed over 7000 survivors of residential schools, only to come to a unanimous conclusion in 2015: the schools perpetrated cultural genocide.
At the Toronto July 18th protest against Ryerson’s tribute statue, three protesters were arrested during the peaceful gathering. Protestors gathered at the Toronto Police’s 52 Division to demand their release, which was granted after a 5 hour wait and 3 charges of mischief. A student-led petition also began, demanding that the university change its name in order to separate Egerton Ryerson’s genocidal legacy from a school of higher education.
As settler Canada resists in responding to necessary calls for accountability and justice for Indigenous peoples, more and more protesters are creating new calls to action. You can keep up to date with many acts of resilience here, and learn about Indigenous-led bike ride tours in Winnipeg here.
The Everyone Rides Initiative’s community partners, the Hamilton Regional Indian Center and the Aboriginal Health Centre, are two of many resources for Indigenous Hamiltonians to access, found here.
We encourage everyone to read the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and apply the directives to your own workplaces and everyday lives.
Written by Elise Desjardins, Hamilton cycling advocate (July 2020)
Image credit: Elise selfie, June 2020.
I started cycling in Hamilton in 2016 and became a bike share member in 2017. At the time, I was working a few kilometres from my home and cycling seemed to be the healthiest, fastest, and most affordable way to get to and from work. Up until that point most of my cycling had been in my hometown as a child so I was experiencing Hamilton’s streets for the first time by bicycle. What started as a practical decision has slowly, but completely, shaped my lifestyle. In no time at all, cycling became a natural way for me to travel and my default choice. The freedom of mobility was new to me. I enjoyed new neighbourhoods by taking different routes to and from home. I loved how I could pass by a local business and decide to spontaneously stop and visit. I cherished the times I passed someone I knew cycling and could stop to say hello and chat. As I learned to cycle in our city, my connection to Hamilton and sense of belonging deepened. Now, I look forward everyday to cycling because I get to experience our city up close – it’s a special way to get to know any city intimately. I look forward to my cycling commute everyday and some of my best experiences and memories in Hamilton have been by bicycle.
During the pandemic, nearly all of my trips have been with bike share. Before the lockdown began in March, I had been using bike share regularly almost every day to commute. It’s much easier and convenient in the winter since I don’t have to trek my personal bike in and out of my apartment (or up the stairs) or worry about maintenance. Hamilton Bike Share helped me become a year-round cyclist. When I transitioned to studying and working from home, it surprised me how much I immediately missed my cycling commute. I had always looked forward to them but hadn’t realized how much they were a fundamental part of my life until they abruptly stopped. With fewer places that I needed to go or needed to be, not being able to cycle my regular trips made me feel disconnected from my community. Although the weather was warmer, and in a normal year I would have started using my own bike more, I felt drawn to continue using the bike share system. The bike share hub at the end of my street became a source of comfort and joy at a time when many things were uncertain and difficult. With so many services and destinations closed, the blue and white bicycles became one of my strongest connections to our city.
I adjusted my cycling and my bike share trips turned into daily recreational rides. My cycling trips are now slower and shorter (mainly in my neighbourhood) but they have anchored me. Despite all of the things that seem to change daily or that are uncertain, cycling has been one of the constants. By bike share, I’ve been able to slow down, notice my neighbourhood, and explore streets that I had never travelled. I’m enjoying the intentional act of getting to know my immediate surroundings more intimately by bicycle, similar to my first experiences back in 2016-17. The other noticeable change in my cycling because of the pandemic is the social aspect. The streets in my neighbourhood are quieter and I often don’t see a single car on my evening bike rides. The extra space has allowed me to cycle side by side with my boyfriend. We can now enjoy the social experience of cycling – something that isn’t possible when we have to ride single file on the road or in a bike lane. With the sound of traffic all but gone, we can talk and laugh as we cycle. It has reminded me of my time in Amsterdam a few years ago where I always saw people cycling in pairs or in groups. In Amsterdam they recognize that cycling is something to experience with others, and their city is designed to support social riding. Cycling side-by-side is one of the unexpected joys that I have found during the lockdown, and one that I hope I will not have to miss after the city “re-opens”. It would truly be wonderful if the social aspect of cycling was celebrated and accommodated because it helps to strengthen connections between people and our environment.
Being able to rely on the bike share system throughout the pandemic has reinforced its value to me and to our community. I am deeply thankful that bike share staff maintained the system for Hamiltonians to continue cycling. Hamilton Bike Share is needed now more than ever for people like me to be physically active and make essential trips. I might not be able to return to my longer commute trips for a while, but I’ve managed to hold on tight to my sense of belonging in Hamilton because of bike share. I didn’t know the immense benefits that I would gain from cycling when I bought a bicycle back in 2016, but the practical decision I made years ago to cycle has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Elise Desjardins is a Master of Public Health graduate student at McMaster University. Her research focuses on understanding how the built environment in Hamilton influences cycling and where cyclists travel. Elise helped to plan and coordinate Bike to Work Day in 2018 and 2019, and is also involved with Cycle Hamilton and the Bike Buddies initiative.
As Hamilton spent July 1st in lockdown without fireworks or in-person Canada Day festivities, hundreds of people gathered in an afternoon vigil to honour Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in an ongoing, centuries-old national genocide. The “No More Stolen Sisters” event, held at the Claremont access on July 1st, featured storytelling and calls to action against anti-Indigenous cultural and systemic violence, racism, and misogyny in the colonial state of Canada.
Image credit: Nicole O’Reilly, July 1st 2020, Hamilton Spectator
A particularly powerful testimony came from an Indigenous woman who narrowly escaped death several years ago in Hamilton. “I’m one of the very, very, very lucky ones - I got to make it home to my family. I feel that it’s my job to speak up and tell my story”. The woman was adamant about sharing how many Indigenous women face systemic and police discrimination for having a drug dependency, on top of the discrimination they already face as Indigenous people and women: “It’s got to change [in Hamilton], people have to get rid of the [taking drugs equals deserving of harm] mentality”.
The No More Stolen Sisters vigil attendees also brought dozens of red dresses to hang from trees, an homage to Métis artist Jaime Black’s REDress Project. Years ago, as Black listened to a conference presenter in Germany speak about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, she experienced a vivid flash of imagery: dozens of dresses, hanging from stark branches and dancing in the wind. The dresses in Black’s vision were uniformly red: “red to represent women of the red nation, red for life blood - women’s ability to give life”.
Image Credit: Katherine Fogden, REDress Project, Washington DC, NMAI
By the time Black’s goal of 500 red dresses became fulfilled through donations in 2011, her project had gained national recognition. As of the present day, Black’s exhibit has been shown in numerous cities across Turtle Island; from Edmonton, Alberta to Washington, DC. The REDress project took on new life, as Indigenous vigils and protests began displaying red dresses in remembrance of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, such as the dresses displayed two week ago at Hamilton’s No More Stolen Sisters event.
Image credit: Nicole O’Reilly, July 1st 2020, Hamilton Spectator
Regardless of the dresses’ location, passersby watching the garments twisting in the wind are often brought to tears; as the empty red dresses powerfully symbolize the absence of the bodies that should fill them. In Black’s gallery exhibits, dresses have blood-red petals beneath them, arranged in a perfect circle - a reminder of blood shed by women whose lives and deaths were never given justice. And at Hamilton’s No More Stolen Sisters vigil, several small, red dresses were brightly adorned with intricate stitching - dresses clearly made for children, meant to honour the Indigenous girls stolen from their families and murdered by Canadian “forced adoptions” and residential schools. Through the imagery of the red dresses hanging in the trees around them in the Claremont access park, vigil attendees were reminded of Canada’s colonial state and settler apathy to Indigenous deaths; alongside local, systemic violence and acts of racism inflicted against Indigenous people in Hamilton.
Jaime Black’s friend once told her that red is the only colour spirits can see; and thus her red dresses call the women they honour home to rest. The attendees of the July 1st vigil in Hamilton for Indigenous women and girls felt similarly as they sat listening to the stories of resilient, powerful Indigenous women who are still here; living their lives in bold defiance of Canadian state violence meant to erase them from history. Jessica Bonilla-Damptey, member of the Sisters in Spirit Committee and representing Hamilton's Sexual Assault Centre (SACHA) at the No More Stolen Sisters vigil articulated this vigil-wide solidarity best: “seeing those red dresses [and how they were] flowing in the wind was really impactful, just knowing that those sisters were there in spirit".
Resources and Links:
To read more about the Cancel Canada Day project, click here.
To learn more about Jaime Black’s work, click here.
To access the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre’s services, or to make a donation, click here.
To learn more about the No More Stolen Sisters Project, click here.
Written by Thea Jones, ERI Program Manager (May 7, 2020)
Image: Rebecca Belmore, The Named and the Unnamed, 2002, video installation, Vancouver BC.
May 5th was Red Dress Day. On this day Canadians were encouraged to wear red as a way to draw attention to missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
The REDress Project was created by Metis artist Jamie Black, as a call to Canadians to remember. Black is a part of a history of female Canadian artists working to ensure we do not forget the missing and murdered indigenous women. Rebecca Belmore is one such artist. Belmore is internationally recognized multidisciplinary artist and a member of the Lac Seul First Nation (Anishinaabe).
On June 23, 2002 on the corner of Gore St and Cordova St in Vancouver BC, Belmore wore a red dress and conducted a performance she calls Vigil. Throughout this performance Belmore marks her body with the names of indigenous women who went missing from that intersection (Gore and Cordova) in Vancouver and then screams those names aloud - these screams are spaced with silence for the names of women we not know. Belmore hammers nails into her red dress, attaching herself to the corner, and attempts to rip her dress away, a seemingly impossible tasks that she works endlessly at. She lights candles. All of this work, this labour, was Belmore's way to call attention to the women we must not forget.
Image: Jamie Black with her REDress project (credit: Sean Leslie, Global News)
Jamie Black, pictured above with her REDress Project, uses an empty red dress to depict the missing woman from the dress. Both Black and Belmore use the visual and performative power of art to help us grasp the magnitude of the loss and grapple with the injustice.
The ERI team would like to thank these women for ensuring we remember their pain, and honour their present day resilience.