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  • Writer's pictureItsik Romano

A local school's tribute to the 215 children found in Kamloops

Image courtesy of Laura Sulano and Lori Timmons

A West Island school has found a meaningful way to not only express their creativity but also to celebrate their accomplishments and even pay tribute to the children who were tragically found at the Kamloops residential school in BC.

The grade 6 daycare students at St. John Fisher Senior Elementary School in Pointe-Claire celebrated their upcoming graduation with a Dream Weaver mural which highlighted the students' hopes and aspirations as they head towards high school and the rest of their lives.

The project, which was led by one of the school’s daycare educators Lori Timmons, began merely as an annual tradition but quickly evolved into so much more.

“I guess I had been listening to ‘Dream Weaver’ by Gary Wright, and the song had been stuck in my head. I was just sort of doodling ideas one afternoon and I thought – that might make an interesting end-of-year piece.”

Timmons proposed the idea to her students, and they were eager to get started.

Lori Timmons is a graphic designer by trade, who studied at Dawson College in Montreal, but later went back to school to get her teaching degree with a specialization in art. Overseeing the daycare program not only allowed Timmons to pursue her passion for children, but to also have the flexibility for her own kids and be around home while they grew up.

Image courtesy of Laura Sulano

Due to her love of and background in art, Lori tries to incorporate creativity and expression wherever possible, especially over the course of this past year.

"The pandemic has forced so much to shut down and has stopped us from being able to do so much of what we used to. Having a creative outlet has been doubly necessary this year for our students."
- Laura Sulano, Lunch & Daycare Coordinator, St. John Fisher Senior

The school, which under normal circumstances holds art galas, vernissages, and exhibits for family and friends had to find new ways to share their art with the world this year. Projects that would have typically been presented in school were instead sent to the Lakeshore General Hospital in Pointe-Claire and were put on display on the COVID floor.

St. John Fisher also has a long-standing relationship with the Saint-Anne’s Veteran Hospital and took every opportunity to send artwork their way throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collaboration was so successful that the hospital kept requesting more pieces. Of course, the students at St. John Fisher Senior were happy to oblige.

Image courtesy of Laura Sulano and Lori Timmons

Like every high-quality educator, Timmons uses these opportunities not only to be creative but also to spark a dialogue amongst her students about topics that are relevant in the world. The donation to the COVID floor was an opportunity to talk about the importance of our nurses and healthcare workers and abiding by guidelines put in place by healthcare experts. The donation to the Veteran’s Hospital brought with it the chance to talk about Canada’s history, how our veterans have served our country, and the reasons we commemorate them each year on Remembrance Day.

That is why, when the sudden and horrific news uncovered at the Kamloops Residential School in BC came to light, Lori Timmons took the opportunity to connect with her students and have hard conversations about the uglier parts of Canada’s history.

“What began as an innocent project highlighting my students' hopes and dreams for the future, suddenly felt like cultural appropriation, which was, of course, the furthest thing from my goal.”
- Lori Timmons

Thankfully, Timmons knew just what to do. When she proposed the concept of paying tribute to the 215 children who were found in her Grade 6 class, the students were thrilled. They were excited to commemorate the legacy of children who were likely no older than them when they tragically lost their lives.

The mural features the number 215 to represent the 215 bodies that were found buried on the property of a formal residential school in BC. The number, encircled by a heart, is painted onto orange cardstock, a color that has come to symbolize allyship to and remembrance of those lost in Canada’s residential schools.

Phyllis Jack Webstad, a survivor of the Canadian Residential School system famously recounts the day she was brought to a residential school for the first time and stripped of all her belongings and clothing, which included an orange shirt she had been gifted by her grandmother. Of course, she never saw that shirt again after that day.

In light of recent events, Canada has officially recognized “Orange Shirt Day” as a statutory holiday. It aims to encourage awareness and reconciliation between the nation and its Indigenous communities. The holiday takes place on September 30th.

Image courtesy of Laura Sulano and Lori Timmons

The mural, which features a different daycare class every month is reserved as a tradition for the graduating grade 6 students at the end of the year. The Dream Weaver piece quite literally weaves together the dreams of each student as they leave elementary school.

With aspirations like "get into Harvard" and "own a world-renowned body-positive clothing brand", it's safe to say the students at St. John Fisher Senior Elementary have bright futures ahead of them.

Timmons is also an avid collector. She does her best to keep as many of the projects as she can, in the hopes that she can re-use them in creative ways for future pieces. As a matter of fact, the colorful lettering used for the "Dream Weavers" mural is actually upcycled cuttings from a previous grad creation (pictured below).

And the hoops used to create those vibrant dream catchers? Recycled hula hoops from the daycare program's gym equipment.

Image courtesy of Lori Timmons

This past year has shown Canadians time and time again that in spite of loss and grief, there is hope. In moments of isolation, we found ways to feel connected. We got creative, we learned how to adapt, and make the most out of a far from ideal situation. The students at St. John Fisher Senior elementary are no different. In the face of tragedy and loss, they were able to create something beautiful.

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