'Please remember,' says volunteer behind a white ribbon tribute to victims of Polytechnique massacre

Erin Hogg, a retired nurse, has volunteered her time to prepare and distribute hundreds of white ribbons every Dec. 6, asking people to remember the 14 women killed 28 years ago in the Montreal massacre.

83-year-old retired nurse will be among those handing out ribbons at MUHC locations today

Since she retired in 2003, Erin Hogg has prepared 1000 white ribbons every year to distribute at the Royal Victoria Hospital December 6th. This year the MUHC takes over organizing the event and Hogg will keep handing out ribbons and raising awareness. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Erin Hogg, now 83 years old and a retired nurse, says the shooting Dec. 6, 1989, that killed 14 women at École Polytechnique opened her eyes to the reality of violence against women.

"It was shocking, really shocking. It really hit home. So many young people [died]," said Hogg.

As a nurse working at the Royal Victoria Hospital's birthing centre, Hogg helped distribute white ribbons at the hospital every year to mark the anniversary. 

When she retired in 2003, efforts to organize the annual ribbon distribution at the hospital were petering out, so she stepped in as a volunteer, she said.

1,000 white ribbons

Since then she has prepared 1,000 white ribbons each year to distribute, after buying the spools of ribbon and the pins herself. 

"One thing that really bothers me is for the sixth of December we remember his name, but we don't remember the girls' names," Hogg said.

So every Dec. 6, she approaches hundreds of people at the hospital to offer a pin and encourage people to remember the women who died:

  • Geneviève Bergeron, civil engineering student.
  • Hélène Colgan, mechanical engineering student.
  • Nathalie Croteau, mechanical engineering student.
  • Barbara Daigneault, mechanical engineering student.
  • Anne-Marie Edward, chemical engineering student.
  • Maud Haviernick, materials engineering student.
  • Maryse Laganière, budget clerk.
  • Maryse Leclair, materials engineering student.
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, mechanical engineering student.
  • Sonia Pelletier, mechanical engineering student.
  • Michèle Richard, materials engineering student.
  • Annie St-Arneault, mechanical engineering student.
  • Annie Turcotte, materials engineering student.
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, nursing student.

Hogg also wants to make sure people learn more about violence against women, so about eight years ago she contacted Women Aware, a Montreal organization that offers support to people living with violence and can help people in their efforts to leave a violent relationship.

That's when June Michell, founder of Women Aware, started distributing white ribbons at the Royal Victoria Hospital alongside Hogg, while also providing information about resources available in Montreal.

Retired nurse Erin Hogg volunteering with June Michell, founder of Women Aware, handing out white ribbons at the Royal Victoria Hospital December 6, 2012. Today she'll distribute ribbons at the Glen site and Michell will distribute ribbons at Lachine Hospital. (Submitted by June Michell)

"[Erin] is a powerhouse. She would not leave the hospital until everybody had a ribbon," said Michell, who is a survivor of relationship violence. 

That's why it was so heartbreaking to learn that Hogg decided she cannot organize the event this year, Michell added.

After keeping the event going for the last 15 years, Hogg says she realizes at 83, she needs to slow down.

"My blood pressure not doing what it's supposed to do, so I rather back off before I have to," she said.

Determined to continue

But Hogg was determined to see the white ribbon event continue, so she approached the McGill University Health Centre. The communications department agreed to take over the responsibility of organizing it.

This year, 2,000 white ribbons will be distributed at the MUHC's four main sites: the Glen, the Montreal General Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital and Lachine Hospital, where Michell will be set up this year.

"I want to say 'well done.' She really did, in her small way, and still does continue to make a difference," Michell said. 

Hogg is thrilled the event will continue, and expand, this year and she will be at the Glen site today, handing out white ribbons from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

"It feels wonderful not to be doing all this organizing but I certainly still want to be there, be part of it." 

Daybreak's Shari Okeke speaks to 83-year-old Erin Hogg, who has been handing out white ribbons every year on the anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre. 9:58

About the Author

Shari Okeke

Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, a CBC original podcast. She was born and raised in Montreal.