Twenty-five years ago I was a second-year student at Glendon College, the bilingual campus of York University. Located at Bayview and Lawrence, we were an island unto ourselves, with our own culture, our own mannerisms, and our own quirks, in two languages, in comparison to the grey, industrial wasteland that York University was at that time.
December is always a busy time at university. People are full of anxiety. It’s exam and essay time along with being Xmas Party time and getting ready to go home for the holidays time. It’s nerve-wracking for a young twentysomething. You just try to make it through every day until you’re finally done and can go down to the bus/train station to take the journey home.
December 6, 1989 started off for us as another one of those days. Getting stuff done, stumbling to exams loaded on caffeine and whatnot, looking like zombies, the omnipresent colds from living in residence causing our noses to drip. There was a lot of snow that year for Toronto as well. It was overcast, I remember that.
Back in those days, we had no social media. We just had media – newspapers, radio, television – and word of mouth.
I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Montreal. It was one of those times where the news came at me from about 15 different people. Maybe I first heard about it in the Pub where I could almost always be found. Maybe it was walking back to my room in residence (dorms for you non-Canadian readers). When I walked in back home on my floor in residence, the Francophone girls from Quebec were shaking, bawling. Our Don (our floor leader) was one of them. The TV was on. Somewhere in between all of this I learned about everything that had happened in Montreal earlier that day.
The news was unbelievable. To this day, I can hardly believe that this atrocity happened in Montreal, in Canada. A lone gunman walks into a university campus, targeting dozens of women, eventually killing 14 of them. Girls like us. Just going to school. Trying to get through exam time and essay time to go home for the holidays.
Maybe the media weren’t reporting this as a crime against women on that very date, but all the girls on my residence floor, and all the girls on campus I would say, knew. We knew. We were targeted. We were the victims on that day as much as the 14 girls were. We knew Marc Lapine wanted women gone, just because we wanted to educate ourselves, be equal, be able to take care of our future selves. And we were angry, sick, saddened, and in some cases, frightened.
Word spread fast (remember in 1989 there were no cell phones, no internet, no social media) that there would be a “gathering” for women only in the Quad between both residences. We grabbed our candles and went outside.
It was very dark out – I think it may have even been 7pm. There was a group of about 40 – 50 of us who felt the need to be there. We stood in a circle, holding our flickering candles, the hot wax dripping on our cold skin. Our boots started to sink a little in the snow, which I remember being a bit crunchy, and very white against the outside walkway lights. It was cool but not bitterly cold. A good winter evening for being outside. As if the weather knew.
An Afro-Fracophone young woman from Montreal named Karine led the vigil. The floor was opened to anyone who wanted to say something, anything, about what had happened earlier that day. Some women just cried and yelled about how disgusted, frightened, and angry they were, in both English and French. Some women sang. Others led us in prayer. Some women read verses. But we all needed to be there. We needed to be with each other. It wasn’t that we were excluding men from our vigil. They just knew to stay away on that night.
We hugged. We cried. It was as though the whole thing had taken place at our campus. And it did. It happened at our university campus and every university campus across Canada where women studied to make themselves, their lives, and their future, better.
When the vigil was over, I remember feeling dead inside. Helpless. Angry. Still in shock. I am still in shock while I write this.
Twenty-five years is a long time to try to remember something. I remember the important details, the way I felt that day, the way we all felt. It’s hard to convey in this day and age.
I made breakfast for my son this morning. It’s overcast today. No snow on the ground. A pleasant day to be outside. I gave him a big hug when he came downstairs.
“What’s that for?” he said with a giggle.
“It’s because I love you. I’m hugging you because I can, and for all of those who can’t.”
I could have posted and retweeted links, but not this time. This was personal when it happened. We knew we would be lucky to graduate. We could continue our careers, our lives. We would open our mouths. We were not going to let this happen in our city, our province, our country, ever again.
RIP les femmes. Nous nous souvenons toujours.