British Columbia

B.C. woman discovers mother's murder online, lays down shoes at memorial every year

Annual shoe memorial draws attention to murder victims and violence against women

December 06, 2017

The shoes and list of names were placed in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Dec. 6 to draw attention to violence against women. (Jennifer Wilson/CBC)

Hundreds of pairs of shoes lined the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Wednesday, each pair representing a British Columbia woman killed by violence.

Melanie Kirkland has been attending the annual memorial event for several years, ever since she discovered her birth mother was murdered in 2004.


"Thelma Janice Pete is listed as one of the names here today," she said. "I lay shoes every year in memoriam of her."

Kirkland was adopted and met her birth mother briefly before losing touch.

She later found out about her death by searching her name online when she moved in Vancouver in 2015.  

"I did a Google search on Thelma's name and came across it listed with the shoe memorial," she said. "I came that year, my first year back, and it's kind of my only connection with Thelma."

Thelma is one of 984 names listed at the shoe memorial, honouring missing and murdered British Columbia women and girls.

"Hearing that my birth mother was murdered, or reading that, was the hardest thing that I could go through," Kirkland said. "But I'm talking about it with people because it's important that people know that this happens."

'Visual impact'

The event was first organized by Pat Kelln 15 years ago as way to draw attention to the issue of violence against women and remember the victims in a very visual way.

Kelln died in January of this year.

"As she put it, she was tired of going to a little candlelight vigil and talking to the same 10 people," said her husband John. "She wanted to do something different."

The idea behind the shoe memorial is in the attention it draws from passersby, explained Tima Dickerson who now helps run the event.  

"The shoes that you see laid out are a visual impact and kind of give you an idea of how many mothers and sisters and daughters no longer walk amongst us due to violence," Dickerson said.

The shoes, wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from the elements, are then donated to women in need after the event.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

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Annual shoe memorial draws attention to murder victims and violence against women.  6:05

With files from Melanie Green and On The Coast.

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