“I don’t remember exactly where I was when it happened, I just remember it being so shocking,” said Patti MacAhonic, executive director of the Ann Davis Transition Society (ADTS), as she tried recalling where she was the moment she learned Marc Lépine had entered Montréal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women before committing suicide.
However, past ADTS president Kirsten Hauge-Browning remembers that day well because she was attending university in Montreal at the time.
“I was sharing (a place) with another young lady going to university (and) we were getting calls from across the country asking if we were okay, and we hadn’t even heard of it yet (because) we had just come home from school and were getting ready for dinner.
“So we quickly turned on the TV set and were shocked. And it kind of scared us in a way,” said Hague-Browning.
The date was December 6, 1989, and the massacre at École Polytechnique would become known as the worst mass shooting in Canadian history.
“It was then that (people) really began to look at (violence against women) and in 1991, Dec. 6 was declared National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.”
And starting the year after the shooting, the Chilliwack Ann Davis Transitional Society began hosting a memorial in honour of the women who’d lost their lives for simply being women.
And now, 28 years after the Montréal Massacre rocked the nation, the ADTS is still holding an annual memorial on Dec. 6.
“If you look at our mission and mandate, we work towards a community free of violence, and we do prevention and education in regards to violence against women, so (this memorial) aligns with our mission and what we do every day,” explained MacAhonic.
“Three years ago, I invited UFV to partner with us … and working together has raised the profile (of the event). Every year we have more and more people come out—it’s very well attended,” she continued.
On December 6, at 5 p.m., MacAhonic says the entire community of Chilliwack is invited to 5 Corners for this year’s Memorial, where there will be free cookies, hot chocolate, and speakers who will hopefully motivate change.
“Then we light candles and lay white roses in memory of each (woman murdered). It’s really touching and it’s a beautiful service,” continued MacAhonic.
“This (has become) a way to raise awareness for the public that there’s still violence going on every day against women across the country. Unfortunately, it’s not improving, but people are beginning to speak out more about it.”
And after the service people are welcomed to stay and congregate and ask questions, adds MacAhonic.
“We can talk about what violence against women looks like in our community and what we can do to help. We can also raise awareness for our available services (because) the Ann Davis Transition Society is really innovative in the province.”
“What I discovered over time is that women who are in (violent) situations don’t have the confidence to reach out—especially when it’s domestic violence—because there are so many barriers to speaking out,” said Hauge-Browning. Which is why highlighting the resources available, or even hosting events like this, is important because it might help a vulnerable woman access services she didn’t even know existed.
For more information about the ADTS, please visit their website at AnnDavis.org.