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Monument breaks ground

Courtesy Albert McLeod

A new monument honouring LGBTQ2S+ people is set to be erected in Ottawa, featuring stone from across Turtle Island – including Kahnawake.

“It’s something that will last hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Harvey Michele, who is Ojibwe, and was tasked with collecting stone from Quebec for the monument. “It’s exciting.”

The project, which broke ground at the end of May, is being paid for with government funds paid as part of the “LGBT Purge” class-action settlement, which was approved in 2018. That settlement concerned members of the LGBTQ2S+ community who had been discriminated against while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or as civil servants of the Government of Canada. 

Many LGBTQ2S+ members of those workforces were subject to special investigations concerning their gender identities and sexual orientations, as queer members of staff were “purged” from their departments between the 1950s and mid-1990s. 

The final settlement agreement provided up to $145 million in total, including money reserved for individual compensation and $15 million for recognition and memorialization exhibits and monuments. 

The LGBT Purge Fund, a non-profit corporation set up to manage the settlement funds, initiated the creation of the monument, which will be called the Thunderhead National Monument. The name refers to “dynamic clouds of unstoppable energy,” reflecting the strength of queer ancestors who have fought for LGBTQ2S+ rights.

The main structure of the monument will be curved with abstract, cloud-like cutouts, so that light can refract through it, giving the impression of a disco ball to mark a celebration of queer identity. 

The centre will be hollow, so that those visiting can physically stand within the monument, and so that performances and ceremonies can take place. Tiered steps are also added on the back, which flank onto a fire pit with the 13 ceremonial stones collected from each province and territory across Canada.

As the person responsible for sourcing the stone from Quebec, Michele decided that Mount Royal would be a good place to look. He sought permission from Kahnawake, as the nearest Indigenous community to Montreal, and will be collecting the stone from the mountain with elder Sedalia Kawennotas Fazio.

“I chose the mountain because it’s been here for thousands, for millions of years,” Michele said. “We have to follow cultural protocol to get the stones, and then we take them and they become part of the monument.”

The monument was designed by a group of creators, including Two-Spirit advocate Albert McLeod, who is Cree and Metis. 

“It’s a very welcoming space, it’s a kind of venue as well where we could have Pride events,” McLeod said. “We wanted it to be a public acknowledgement of those who went through these experiences, where many people suffered in silence.”

A garden for traditional medicine plants will also be maintained right next to the monument. McLeod said that having these plants, as well as stone from every part of the country, is a nod to the diversity of LGBTQ2S+ people across Turtle Island.

“A stone is very indicative of an ecosystem, of a landscape that people can recognize and be proud of. Whether it’s a stone from Nunavut or from Alberta, it all has a legacy and a history behind it,” McLeod said. 

“It tells the story of community history and the relationship with Indigenous peoples.”

It’s expected that the Thunderhead monument will be ready for visitors in Ottawa in summer 2025.

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on June 21 in issue 33.25 of The Eastern Door.

Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.