Amy Williams has been overwhelmed by the response that she’s received from members of the public wanting to purchase her illustration of the residential school memorial on the steps of Shingwauk Hall.
The local artist says she’s brought in an estimated $4,500 in donations for Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre in just under a week since launching her pay-what-you-can fundraiser, which has sold more than 400 prints thus far.
Williams used a reference photo to sketch the memorial in pencil, then proceeded to bring it to life with archival ink and watercolour. She says that sketching “all those little shoes” was the toughest part.
“I got the piece done, and then I thought okay, what am I going to do now?” said Williams. “I just posted it on social media, and a number of friends right away said, ‘can we buy this?’ At first I thought, no - there’s no way I’m going to try and make money off of this.”
“But then I thought, well I could, and then donate all of it.”
Her initial idea was to donate the proceeds to a national organization that works with residential school survivors. Williams eventually decided the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre – a research and education project of Algoma University that works with survivor groups, church entities, educators and First Nations – would be the best fit.
“But then after talking to some more people, and actually having the residential school centre itself reach out to me, I thought, oh my god – we had a residential school here,” she recalled. “This money needs to stay locally, and every single person that I’ve talked to has agreed that’s the best idea.”
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre now wants to incorporate Williams’ original piece into the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibit at Algoma University.
“I’m so flattered they want the original piece to hang there with some of the other things that they collected from the memorial. Isn’t that awesome?” said Williams. “I couldn’t be more touched, really.”
The impromptu memorial on the steps of Shingwauk Hall was brought on by a morbid discovery that led to an outpouring of emotion across the country, after Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation used ground-penetrating radar to detect what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the site of Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia.
Algoma University has recently committed to exploring the possibility of additional unmarked graves of former Shingwauk Residential School students.
“I think that the discovery in Kamloops is just the tip of the iceberg. I am almost 100 per cent sure that more of these mass graves, more undocumented deaths are going to found, and they’re going to start looking and they have to start looking,” said Williams. “I hope they look here, and I hope they look at every single site across Canada.”
Williams, who has a seven-year-old daughter and three five-year-old triplet boys, says the recent discovery in Kamloops has hit her hard as a mother.
“As a mother, it’s heartbreaking,” she said, fighting back emotion as she spoke. “It’s very upsetting, and I can’t do anything else, but I’m doing what I can.”
“Residential school hasn’t affected me directly, luckily. But there are thousands and thousands of people who it has, and the more that they uncover, the more discussions that are happening, we’re finding out the insurmountable hurt and trauma that so many Canadians have faced - that they are facing - and as a nation, we need to do more.”
Those looking to contribute to Williams’ fundraiser by purchasing a print can contact her directly on Facebook or Instagram or through her website. A minimum donation of $5 is required. A limited number of prints – around 50 – are also available for purchase at Outspoken Brewing on Queen Street East.