Say Their Names

We need to say the names, to light candles, to remember

Some years ago, I was at the Banff Centre on December 6th.  During breakfast, women in different corners of the dining room, artists in residence, began to stand one by one and say the names.  It was the twentieth anniversary  of the Montreal massacre. Today, December 6, 2021 is the thirty-fourth anniversary of the Montreal massacre.

Recently someone told me that “the shoes on the cover” had drawn her in, kept her turning pages. She was talking about The Boy which was written out of an obsession with a long ago murder that is infamous in central Alberta– the Robert Raymond Cook case. Why the photo of the shoes rather than a photo of “the boy” or “the house”?  Infamy gives the name of the perpetrator a place in history. It was the victims of the crime I wanted to lift up out of the story.  Daisy, Gerry, Patty, Chrissy, Linda, Cathy, and Ray.  On one of my trips to Stettler to dig deeper into story of the Cook family murders, I was affirmed in my decision to finish the book.  I would light the candles by remembering their names and making the photo of the empty shoes the cover art for the book.

It was still rush hour at 9:00 AM, and traffic on the Deerfoot Trail came to a full stop so many times I was able to pour coffee and glance through my notes. Finally, beyond Airdrie the highway opened up. As the landscape flattened, a stiff wind whipped up from the ditches and threw a veil of white over the icy stretches. After a few miles, I relaxed. I am a good driver, and I enjoy the road.

I began to pay attention to the radio, to Shelagh Rogers on “Sounds Like Canada.”  It was the eve of the eighteenth anniversary of the Montreal massacre of fourteen young women at the École Polytechnic. Shelagh was interviewing two women involved in establishing monuments to the slain students in their respective cities. Both of them had faced fierce opposition and even personal threats. Ironic, considering their efforts were meant to honour the lives of women lost to violence. So much attention had been paid to Marc LePine, the man with the gun who’d killed himself in the end, one of the women said, that eighteen years later, everyone knew his name. But the names of the victims were lost. I turned off the radio.

Victims.  Robert Raymond Cook’s name was part of Alberta lore, and his father’s by association, but many of the people I’d interviewed had forgotten Daisy’s name and no one but the man who’d been Gerry Cook’s best friend remembered those of the children.”

— from The Boy (Oolichan Books 2011) 


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