Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Highway 8 Memorial to Boys in Red is a Sacred Place

We hear that the Mayor of Bathurst, Stephen Brunet, wants people to stop going to the crash site on Highway 8 near Bathurst where a spontaneous memorial was erected by friends and family of the Boys in Red who were killed two years ago today on January 12, 2008.

He says the area is dangerous and he wants people to concentrate their efforts on building a memorial in downtown Bathurst with the funds that were raised from public donations in the aftermath of ours sons deaths.

While we agree that we need to complete the planned memorial in downtown Bathurst, and that Highway 8 is not the safest place, as evidenced by the death of our children there, we believe it would be pointless to try to stop people from visiting the memorial that has existed along Highway 8 for two years today.

Instead, why not make the memorial on Highway 8 a safer place for the people who will keep going there - no matter what anyone says - because it has become a "sacred site".

Since the day our sons were killed people have been stopping along Highway 8 at the very spot where the tragic collision took place. It is a remote place, surrounded by woods on both sides for miles, a broad swath of snow in the winter separates the two lanes from the forest and in the summer scruffy weeds and grass grow there.

To someone who doesn't know the significance of the place it looks like any other stretch of rural highway. But once they see that basketball net along the side of the road, the place takes on a completely different meaning.

It has, for all intents and purposes, become a "sacred site", no less than a cemetery or a cenotaph. It is the place where the tragedy that took our sons' lives happened. It cannot be erased from memory. It is what it is.

It is a memorial.

Until last summer, there were two basketball nets facing each other about fifty feet apart and strewn along the ground between the nets were dozens of basketballs, rugby balls, teddy bears, sport shirts, baseball caps, sports medals, hand written notes and photos of the boys. Those two nets stood there, like a sentinel along the side of the road for more than a year. Then last summer, the old nets came down, the area was cleared and the old memorial was replaced with another beautiful basketball memorial that was made by one of the fathers and his friends in honour of his son and the other Boys in Red.

Meantime, more and more people continue to stop at the site because it has become a "sacred place". We believe that even if the new memorial was removed, it will be impossible to stop friends and family from going there again and creating another one in memory of their sons.

So although the Mayor may be well-intentioned, fearing that an accident may occur, we want to say as the parents of the boys who were killed on January 12, 2008 that it will be impossible to stop people, including us, from going to the memorial to the Boys in Red on Highway 8 because it is a "sacred site", no less than the proposed memorial to the Boys in Red that is planned for downtown Bathurst.

There are hundreds and thousands of similar "sacred sites" scattered along roads and highways across Canada and the United States, where relatives and friends go to remember their loved ones who never made it home. You see them in every community, crosses with fresh and sometimes wilted bouqets of flowers, others with photographs of the man, woman or child who was killed, a teddy bear, a favourite object, a tender photo are there to remind the living that the person who died at that very spot was loved and is remembered forever.

So to the mayor we say: nobody can stop the survivors, family and friends from going to these places along the side of the road because they are sacred to them. A spiritual connection has been made and no Department of Transportation or City Council can make them stop. To try would be folly.

We believe the memorial on Highway 8 and the planned memorial in downtown Bathurst can co-exist. We suggest that the City of Bathurst and the Department of Transportaton work with the victims' families to build a second permanent memorial to the Boys in Red on Highway 8 in the form of a rest area where travellers can safely park their cars and pause for a moment to reflect on the significance of site. It would be a peaceful place, a place where passersby can stop safely to remember the lives of the children who lost theirs so tragically on January 12, 2008.