British Columbia

Brightly painted memorial bench removed from Vancouver park to 'shock' of artist

A memorial park bench painted by a grieving woman in honour of her partner has been removed by the Vancouver Park Board after a yearlong fight to preserve it. Park staff replaced it with a plain bench on Monday.

Julia Goudkova painted the bench in memory of her partner, but it fell foul of the park board's rules

Julia Goudkova sits on the memorial bench last year. She says she was in 'disbelief' when the bench was replaced Aug. 31. She hopes it can be returned to give people a spot of colour in gloomy times. (CBC/Andrea Ross)

A memorial park bench painted by a grieving woman in honour of her partner has been removed by the Vancouver Park Board.

Julia Goudkova had been fighting for more than a year to preserve the bench that she painted in swirls of white, teal, orange and gold, in memory of her 10-year partner Colin Mackay, a New Westminster elementary school teacher who died in a motorcycle crash in the Kamloops area in 2015.

She decorated the bench in Kitsilano Beach Park a year ago after she noticed it was getting shabby.

But her actions didn't comply with the park board's memorial bench program, which does not allow alterations or decorations. 

On Monday, park staff removed and replaced the bench with a plain one, with the same memorial plaque affixed at no cost to the donor. 

The bench was replaced by a plain version on Aug. 31. (Julia Goudkova)

"On Sunday I was sitting at the bench and by Monday it was gone," said Goudkova, who learned about its bare replacement on social media.

She believes her artwork was more than vandalism or graffiti.

"I am just in shock and deeply saddened and in disbelief," Goudkova said Thursday.

"I really feel like it deserves to brighten our days, especially in such gloomy and unpredictable times that we are living in today."

Julia Goudkova and Colin Mackay. Mackay died in a motorcycle crash in 2015. (Julia Goudkova)

More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition in support of her bid to save the bench.

A memorial bench costs $5,000 for 10 years. This particular one had been purchased by the deceased man's brother, Angus Mackay, who told CBC News last year that he had "no bones" about Goudkova painting it.

The park board voted in July 2019 to allow it to stay until the end of the year, and promised to alert Goudkova if it was to be removed.

Goudkova said she did get a phone message last Friday, but added there was nothing specific about the bench removal being imminent.

Julia Goudkova painting the memorial bench last year. (CBC/Andrea Ross)

In a statement, the park board said its manager of fundraising and development had "multiple conversations with both the donor and the individual who painted the bench to seek a sensitive and compassionate path forward while in compliance with the board policy."

For now, the painted bench remains in storage.

A woman runs past the painted memorial bench at Kitsilano Beach Park in Vancouver last year. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca

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