Each heart carefully staked into the soil is a sign of remembrance and a promise never to forget.
The colourful creations now lining the flowerbeds around the Brock campus each represent the memory of a child lost to the residential school system, while also offering a commitment to reconciliation.
More than 600 hearts were planted Wednesday evening by students in Sherri Vansickle’s Introduction to Indigenous Studies class as part of the national Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams project.
The initiative is one of many set to mark June as Aboriginal Month at Brock.
The month-long celebration, endorsed by President Tom Traves and senior administration, will culminate with National Aboriginal Day on June 21 with eye-catching displays on campus and online education promoted through Brock’s website.
This marks the second time in three years Vansickle’s students have planted heart gardens on campus.
When passersby see the creations, the lecturer with Brock’s Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education hopes they will stop and reflect on the need for continued reconciliation.
“We need to keep it at the forefront of our minds and continue to work towards it,” Vansickle said, calling it an “ongoing process” meant to help survivors and their families heal.
Each heart is made to look unique, representing the individual children and their different joys and scars. They are covered with stickers of trucks, dinosaurs, princesses and other traditional childhood staples.
“Our residential school survivors didn’t get to play with those things,” Vansickle said. “They didn’t have a stash of toys. They were barely fed. Your chances of dying in a residential school as a child were greater than dying as an adult in the Second World War.”
The eight students who contributed to the project brought on board family members and friends to help craft boxes upon boxes of hearts that will stand tall for the next two weeks.
Third-year sociology student Nancy Kumar was so inspired by the project that she hopes to introduce a garden at her workplace in Toronto.
She would like to see other organizations, businesses and residents taking the initiative to help share the history and help others become informed.
“There are so many young people who never learned about residential schools. It means a lot to see people stopping, reading and commenting,” she said.
“You also never know who’s walking around on campus — they could be a survivor and when they see the gardens they know that people haven’t forgotten.”
Fifth-year English and creative writing student Krista Ogilvie hopes the project, which includes signage explaining the meaning of the hearts, will prompt people to take pause and begin asking questions about Canada’s history.
“It’s important that people find out the effects of that history, which are still felt today.”
In 2016 more than 6,500 hearts were planted in gardens across Canada as part of the Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams initiative.
For more information, visit the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society website.