Messages supporting residential school survivors make up 'Healing Forest'

Hearts that were made by hand with messages of support for residential school survivors are now part of Edmonton's new "Healing Forest."

More than 1,000 hearts line River Valley Road Trail in project marking reconciliation

Miranda Jimmy (left) and Sara Komarnisky (right) hang hearts in Edmonton's "Healing Forest." (Phil Laplante Jr./CBC)

Handmade hearts containing messages of hope and love transformed a popular river valley trail into the city's first "Healing Forest."

More than 1,000 hearts line the trail in honour of those affected by the legacy of residential schools in Alberta and across the country.

"I want to put a face to reconciliation," said Miranda Jimmy, co-founder of Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, or RISE. "I want people to understand this is a present day issue. It's not an issue of our past."

Jimmy attributes many of the difficult times in her life to the impact of residential schools on family members.

Healing Forest gives a place for reflection

5 years ago
More than 1,000 handmade hearts with messages of support for residential school survivors were placed in Edmonton's river valley over the weekend. 0:49

In 2008, Stephen Harper, then prime minister, apologized to former students and their families for the neglect and abuse they suffered.

Now several years later, Jimmy is hoping the colourful hearts lining the River Valley Road Trail between Groat Road and the High Level Bridge will catch people's attention and lead to better understanding.

"I hope it causes people to pause and reflect and I hope it sparks action and calls people to do something more," said Jimmy who welcomed Edmontonians to make their own hearts and add them to the installation.

More than 200 people helped make the hearts using a range of materials including wood, paper and cardboard. Some were even crocheted.

Volunteers decorated the trees with the hearts Saturday.

The messages on the hearts express hope for the future as well as regret about the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

One simply reads "Sorry." Another, "I hope to heal."  

More than 1,000 hearts line the River Valley Road Trail between Groat Road and the High Level Bridge. (Phil Laplante Jr./CBC)

They were originally made in 2015 by children as young as three to seniors in their 90s as part of a heart garden following a call to action by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The hearts are now featured in what Jimmy and other organizers hope will be a permanent memorial in Edmonton.

"The hearts will stay here hopefully for as long as nature allows," said Sara Komarnisky, a member of RISE.

The group has been working with the City of Edmonton's CityLab, a department that looks for new ways of using public spaces.
People are invited to add their own heart to the forest or on social media using #YEGhealing. (Phil Laplante Jr./CBC)

While initially made to acknowledge residential school survivors, the idea is for the Healing Forest to be a place of reflection for missing and murdered Indigenous women as well as for children taken from their homes by the child welfare system.

"There's something about the setting here along the river just encountering something so poignant or beautiful or sad or hopeful. I think a lot of people will connect with this healing forest," said Komarnisky.

A sign on the trail directs people to social media sites where they can learn more about the project.

The group RISE is hoping to add commemorative plaques and benches to the trail in the future.