Dozens of pairs of shoes, toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 to honour the remains of 215 children found in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

Dozens of pairs of shoes, toys and teddy bears were placed on the Chilliwack Law Court steps on May 31, 2021 to honour the remains of 215 children found in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

TOP STORIES 2021: Grappling with shared loss after discovery of the 215

Ghostly pairs of shoes appeared on stairs at Chilliwack Law Courts, St. Mary’s Parish in Chilliwack

Ghostly pairs of children’s shoes appeared on stairs at the Chilliwack Law Courts and at St. Mary’s in Chilliwack.

Those displays were part of how the news resonated locally when 215 unmarked graves were discovered at the former Kamloops Residential School in late May 2021.

Something shifted deep inside the country’s collective unconscious. For many it was irrefutable evidence of something terribly amiss, possibly criminal, in terms of residential school operations, and the many children who simply never made it home.

In Chilliwack, with many neighbouring First Nations communities, there were candlelight vigils, gatherings and memorials held to hear testimonies, and show support for survivors and families. For some it changed how they celebrated Canada Day.

A pedestrian walks past ribbons spelling out “Every child matters” on the fence of Chilliwack middle school on Yale Road on Friday, June 4, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

A pedestrian walks past ribbons spelling out “Every child matters” on the fence of Chilliwack middle school on Yale Road on Friday, June 4, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

City of Chilliwack and Chilliwack School District lowered their flags to half-mast after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed there had been remains of at least 215 children located at the former residential institution.

The effort to employ ground-penetrating radar by the First Nation officials to find graves in Kamloops of children who never returned home, has led to a broader national sense of shared loss. It kicked off a series of cross-Canada school searches that led to hundreds more discoveries.

“We have always known about the lost children,” Wenona Hall, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“That is where the paradigm shift is taking place, now that Canadians have concrete evidence.”

It was a sea of orange shirts on July 1 for the Orange Shirt Gathering at Central Community Park as a surprisingly large crowd came together to remember, honour, and mourn residential school victims and their families.

Central Community Park was a sea of orange in Chilliwack with an Orange Shirt Gathering on July 1, 2021. (Elia Julian {Axwil Shla:li} photo)

Central Community Park was a sea of orange in Chilliwack with an Orange Shirt Gathering on July 1, 2021. (Elia Julian {Axwil Shla:li} photo)

“It was an emotional experience to see survivors speak, and to watch the children dance and play in the centre of the circle,” said Elia Julian, (Axwil Shla:li) a Skwah (Sqwá) First Nation councillor. “It helped people regain their strength as they went through a sea of emotion.”

One thought that resonated for her was how crucial it is for everyone to learn the full history of Canada, she said, including overlooked Indigenous perspectives.

The Orange Shirt Gathering on Canada Day 2021 drew more than 200 people in a circle to hear survivors’ voices, songs, dances and drumming over several hours.

Shawn E. Baginski sold 1,000 orange shirts he designed with all proceeds going to Orange Shirt Society. He is pictured here in Chilliwack on Sept. 28, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Shawn E. Baginski sold 1,000 orange shirts he designed with all proceeds going to Orange Shirt Society. He is pictured here in Chilliwack on Sept. 28, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

RELATED: Orange shirt gathering on Canada Day

RELATED: Chilliwack lowers flags

RELATED: Canada Day from Indigenous POV

2021 Year in ReviewCity of ChilliwackKamloops