Valentine's Day memorial walk offers support to families, friends

Offering support was a large motivation for many who took part in this year's Valentine's Day memorial walk held in Thunder Bay for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

8th annual memorial walk in Thunder Bay honours missing, murdred Indigenous women and girls

Anita Thompson took part in Sunday's memorial walk with a poster of two women who were killed in 1966. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Offering support was a large motivation for many who took part in this year's installment of an annual Valentine's Day memorial walk held in Thunder Bay for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The walk is organized by Sharon Johnson. In 1992, her 18 year-old sister, Sandra Kaye Johnson, was found dead on the frozen Neebing-McIntyre floodway in Thunder Bay's east end. Her murder hasn't been solved.

On Sunday at city hall — the event's starting point — Johnson spoke to a room full of people who were there to offer support to families and friends, or to walk in memory, about why the walks aren't easy to organize.

Sandra Johnson, the sister of memorial walk organizer Sharon Johnson (centre), was killed in 1992.

"It's important for me to do this in memory of my sister who I lost — who we lost — in 1992, so 24 years ago," she told CBC News.

"It's a good feeling to know that we do find the strength in healing."

For Sharon, the memory she holds of her sister is Sandra's love of fancy shawl dancing. "She just loved it," she said. "From the day she learned how to walk 'til the day she died, she was a fancy shawl dancer."

Patrick Sabourin also took part in the walk, carrying a poster of Sandra Johnson. He said he knew Sandra as a teen. Sabourin is one of many who wants to see more attention drawn to the issue, and more done to ensure that the cases involving missing and murdered women get solved.

Patrick Sabourin, who took part in Sunday's walk, says he has three daughters who he worries about. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

"I have three daughters too and I fear for their well-being when they go out and come back at night," he said. "There's a little part of me that freaks out, but another little part of me has to trust that they'll be OK."

'I was a runaway from home'

Anita Thompson also took part in Sunday's walk, a poster with two victims' faces on it hanging in front of her.

In addition to walking for the women, Doreen Hardy and Jane Bernard, who were killed in Port Arthur in 1966, Thompson said she has both witnessed, and been a victim of, violence and abuse.

"I've survived a lot of — many, many abusive times," she said. "I was a runaway from home." Thompson said she left home when she was 12, and was then on the street.

Anita Thompson says in addition to walking for Doreen Hardy and Jane Bernard, she, too, has witnessed and been a victim of abuse.

Thompson said she hopes the attention drawn by events like the Valentine's Day walk will lead to the arrests and convictions of perpetrators of violence against women, as well as healing for victims' families.