Ottawa

Friends rattled as city begins removing roadside memorials

Friends of an Ottawa woman killed three years ago while riding her bike home from a tennis lesson say they would have appreciated some notice before a roadside memorial they lovingly maintained in her honour was removed.

Policy approved last fall gave ghost bikes, other memorials 6 months' grace

Kathy Riley (left) and Tina Belanger (right) say they would have appreciated a heads-up before the ghost bike honouring their friend, Meg Dussault, was removed. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Friends of an Ottawa woman killed three years ago while riding her bike home from a tennis lesson say they would have appreciated some notice before a roadside memorial they lovingly maintained in her honour was removed.

The white-painted ghost bike appeared at the corner of Bank Street and Riverside Drive in the summer of 2013, shortly after 56-year-old Meg Dussault was struck and killed there by a cement truck on July 30.
Friends of Meg Dussault maintained and decorate this ghost bike in her memory at the corner of Bank Street and Riverside Drive, where she was struck and killed by a cement truck on July 30, 2013. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Family and friends visited the memorial regularly, keeping it tidy and decorating it for holidays. Kathy Riley was one of them.

"I came Wednesday morning before work to water the plants, only to turn the corner and see that the bike and everything was gone," said Riley, who was later told by a city staff member that a crew removed the memorial sometime on Tuesday. 

"My heart just sank, my stomach was sick and there was just such an emptiness."

6-month limit

In November 2015, the City of Ottawa imposed a six-month limit on ghost bikes, crosses and other roadside memorials, after which time the markers would be removed if anyone complained about them. 

While the policy specifies no notice of imminent removal will be issued, Riley believes someone from either the city or the office of the councillor for the area, David Chernushenko, should have given Dussault's friends a heads-up.

"I think that we all just assumed that, so we would have been given the opportunity to come one last time and remove the personal items," Riley said

Riley has been told by the city that the bike, a framed photo of Dussault, a rosary and other decorations are being stored in a city warehouse and can be collected by friends and family for the next 30 days.

'Unfortunate,' but policy clear: councillor

Chernushenko said he appreciates Riley's concerns and called the situation "unfortunate," but pointed out the difficulty involved in reaching people associated with the memorials.

"There is a real challenge, which is none of these [memorials] are registered," said Chernushenko. "There is no one at the city, including a councillor, who knows who put it up." 

Besides, said Chernushenko, the policy is straightforward: "Council made it clear that at six months it would be removed, and therefore whoever puts them up has up to six months to remove them. If not the city would do so."

In the end, Riley is hoping the story of how she learned of the memorial's removal can serve as a lesson for future removals.

"I really think this hopefully will be a heads-up to the city, to take the time just to inform the family. There are a lot families with roadside memorials out there, and a lot of people who are still grieving."