Shoes a 'powerful image' of lives lost

Gary Grono knew exactly where to look.

The shoes were on the east side of the room, just to the left of the wreath.

"Here they are. Here's Tammy's," said the Kamloops man, as he crouched to touch a pair of honey-coloured leather flats onto which his sister's name was affixed.

"And here are the ones with my mom's name - Celicia."

Dozens of women's shoes, clipped together by zip ties and carefully arranged in lines fanning out across a wooden floor, became the symbol Monday of the women lost to violence in B.C.

More than 360 pairs of donated shoes, each with a name card, were placed on the floor of St. Andrews on the Square as part of the third annual Shoe Memorial commemorating National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

For Grono, the sight was overwhelming.

It's been 13 years since his sister and mother were murdered in Summerland by his sister's husband. The two pairs of shoes he held in his hands represented their lives lost because of violence.

"You know, when it first happens, you think you're the only one who has a story like this," said Grono as he looked at all the other shoes on the floor. "And then you realize you're not alone. Sadly, you're not alone."

Grono was a guest speaker at Monday's memorial, which was organized by Lynn Chasse, a Kamloops woman whose mother was murdered 10 years ago in Quesnel - shot eight times by an ex-boyfriend.

Chasse got the idea for the shoe memorial after attending a similar event in Vancouver four years ago.

"I thought this was something I had to do for this community," she said.

Among those in attendance Monday was Coun. Nancy Bepple, who spoke about the need for greater community services for women at risk.

"I think this is a really important event for us to reflect on not only why there's violence against women but also, I think, we need to think about what services we want in our community to support women and make sure that they have options," said Bepple.

She cited the case of Thelma Pete, a 43-year-old woman who was beaten to death in 2004. Pete had lost her housing just a few days before she was killed, said Bepple.

"Having safe and secure housing is something we should want for everybody in our community, because it's one of the things that makes women vulnerable to violence."

Athena Smith is a violence-prevention coordinator with the City.

She spoke about the importance of mentoring young women so they don't fall victim to abusive relationships.

"I think it's important for people to be aware of the fact that women still have lots of struggles around not being treated as 'less than,' " said Smith.

Smith shared some statistics. Among them: 51 per cent of Canadian women have experienced some form of violence or sexual assault.

Fellow speaker Michelle Walker, program co-ordinator of the YWCA Women's Shelter, said 360,000 Canadian children are exposed to domestic violence.

Particularly alarming, she said, are the statistics showing that First Nations women are five times more likely to die from violence than non-aboriginal women.

"I've been doing this work for a long time, and these statistics still stun me," she said.

As for the shoes on the floor, those will be donated to the women's shelter.

After serving as a visual reminder of the lives lost to violence, the shoes will now be worn by women lucky enough to have escaped violence.

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