'Wind phone' for grief helps restaurant owner whose husband died of COVID-19

A "wind phone" located behind L'Orée du Bois restaurant in Chelsea, Que., was opened to the public last month to help people process their grief through speaking into an unconnected phone, an idea that originated in Japan.

Josée Chartrand says talking through the unconnected phone helps her, as well as family and staff

The ‘wind phone’ is situated at the edge of Gatineau park in Old Chelsea, Que., close to hiking trails and accessible by wheelchair. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

The wooded area behind L'Orée du Bois restaurant in Chelsea, Que., was an oasis for its late chef Jean-Claude Chartrand.

Less than a year after he died from COVID-19, his widow Josée Chartrand turned the area into a place for her, her family, her staff and the public to process grief.

Chartrand says she was speechless when she was first approached to build a "wind phone" booth in the space, where there was so much meaning for her husband.

"For him, it meant beauty; it meant freedom; it meant peace," Chartrand said in an interview with CBC Radio's All In a Day.

Le fil du vent Chelsea Wind Phone was opened to the public last month thanks to contributions from local organizations and residents and the work of Chartrand, local volunteers, and Donna Troop, the Bereaved Families of Ontario volunteer who came to Chartrand with the idea.

Josée Chartrand says her late husband Jean-Claude would have supported the 'wind phone' project in a space that used to be his oasis, just behind the L'Orée du Bois restaurant. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

The wind phone concept is essentially a private area featuring an unconnected phone that originated in Otsuchi, Japan, said Troop.

Designer Itaru Sasaki built the first wind phone as a place to grieve after his cousin died of an illness, Troop said. The "Phone of the Wind" was opened to the public in 2011 after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami for locals to grieve their lost loved ones. 

Troop said she was inspired by a story about another wind phone that was set up by Crossroads Hospice Society at Pioneer Memorial Park in Port Moody, B.C.

"Literally, it was like a light bulb went off," she said. "Every community needs one of these."

In her research, Donna Troop came across these words, written by Millet Israeli, which can be seen in the entrance to Chelsea’s wind phone. (Submitted by Donna Troop)

Permission to grieve 'where you are'

Although her organization wasn't directly involved with the project, Troop said her work supporting grief groups through the organization's Ottawa chapter informed her understanding of its value.

Troop said the wind phone offers its visitors "permission to be exactly where you are with your grief," away from societal pressures to move on. She said people who come to the phone experience the "whole gamut of feelings" that come with loss.

"You come here and you can have the freedom to express all of that and to be in that moment with what's present to you," Troop said.

"It's really allowing, I think, for us to touch into our heart and to know that this relationship lives on."

The booth has been open to the public for about a month and Troop said its guestbook is already almost full with messages and poems from visitors to their lost loved ones. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Chartrand said she says things at the wind phone she wouldn't say elsewhere.

"The grief, the pain, the anger — all of the above, I've said it here," she said. "Quietly, alone, not feeling judged … and I came out relieved and less heavy on my shoulders."

The wind phone is open to everyone, Chartrand said. "Just drop by and you can make out your own opinion."

Listen to the full interview here:

It's part art installation, part imaginary phone booth. A place to express your grief -- and talk to a loved one who's passed away. We visit the new "wind phone" at the edge of Gatineau Park, and hear the story behind it.


Simon Smith

News Reporter

Simon Smith is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at, on Twitter as @SimonR_Smith

With files from CBC Radio's All In a Day and Jessa Runciman