Memorial unveiled in honour of three Ottawa Valley women murdered in 2015

By Bruce McIntyre

Thursday, Sept. 22 marked seven years that three local Ottawa Valley women, 66-year-old Carol Culleton, 36-year-old Anastasia Kuzyk and 48-year-old Nathalie Warmerdam who were brutally murdered in 2015 by Basil Borutski, who was later sentenced to life in prison. 

The memory of those women were honoured at the Watertower Park in Barry’s Bay with the unveiling of the fifth Ottawa Valley mosaic made of pebbles and this monument will stand as a reminder of that terrible tragedy.

It will also drive home one of the 86 recommendations stemming from a recent Coroner’s Inquest on the murders, and the desire by organizers and millions of Ontarians that the murder of women as a result of domestic abuse is an epidemic. Many across the province are hopeful that Premier Ford will take the lead and declare that femicide (murder of a woman by a partner of spouse) is in fact an epidemic.

The unveiling of the stone mosaic in Barry’s Bay (the others are in Eganville, Pembroke, Killaloe and Pikwakanagan) was organized by the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County and a grassroots organization known as End Violence Against Women (EVA).

The ceremony in Barry’s Bay was part of the first-time appearance of the annual 'Take Back The Night' march that is normally held in Eganville, Petawawa and other Ottawa Valley communities in support of murdered and abused women.  

For the 150 visitors who made their way out on a very cold, wet evening, they were caught off guard with the unannounced arrival of Ontario Attorney General Doug Downie, Charmaine Williams, Minister of Women's Social and Economic Opportunities, and local member of provincial parliament (MPP) and former Minister of the Crown, John Yakabuski. 

All three were there to help unveil a unique tribute to not only those three lives lost, but to all women whose lives are destroyed by domestic abuse.

Roberta Della-Picca, a well-known women’s rights activist and speaker who is seldom seen at any event without her Indigenous drum, was the emcee for the evening. The Lake Clear resident did not disappoint when she opened the evening with her rendition of 'Strong Women’s Drum.'

Della-Picca said the organizers and the art committee tasked with creating the stone mosaic did not want an evening filled with sadness.

“That was something we all talked about and we agreed we did not want an entirely sombre affair, but we also did not want it to be a light-hearted celebration that ignores the terror those three angels had to endure seven years ago,” she said. “But we also wanted to respect the family and friends of Carol, Anastasia and Nathalie and make sure the evening acknowledged their short lives along with the survivors of domestic violence who themselves victims.”

Art brings community together 

She said the design and installation of the memorial was a true community effort with workshops held in various locations that allowed anyone to come and join the artists in the making of the mosaic work.

“The mosaic depicts a hill, a large tree and three chickadees,” she said. “The desire from community members was to reflect both the isolation of the region and the trauma of the experience. We were so fortunate that once again Anna Camilleri, the artist and designer behind all the Valley monuments encouraged all residents to take part in the creation of the artwork.”

She said Camilleri, who worked alongside her team at ReDefine Arts, spoke to community members about what they'd like to see represented in the artwork. That duality of the land — the isolation and the spirituality many draw from nature — are elements Camilleri hoped to layer into the work. In addition to the Ottawa Valley five monuments, there are 10 monuments located throughout Ontario.  

JoAnne Brooks, who recently retired as the longtime Director of the Sexual Assault Centre and one of the founders of the EVA, said her group wanted art to be a major component of any type of memorial dedicated to the memory of both survivors and deceased victims of domestic abuse.  

“We realized that with the inquest upon us in June of 2022, we couldn't just have that,” Brooks said. “We needed to have an art component and today we see just how significant that is.”

When she addressed the crowd, she reminded them of the importance of the evening.

“It has been seven years today and Sept. 22, 2015 is why we're here,” she told the crowd. “We are remembering Anastasia, remembering Natalie, and remembering Carol. We light the first candle in remembrance; we light the second candle in love, and we light the third candle in hope.”

Cabinet members honour victims and volunteers 

MPP Yakabuski said his government is working on recommendations made by the June Inquest.

“On a personal and collective basis, we will do everything we can to end the scourge of intimate partner violence,” he said. “We can't bring back Natalie, Carol or Anastasia, but we can honour them today by ensuring that we follow through with that commitment to do everything we can so that no one else suffers the same fate as them.”

He had the privilege of introducing Doug Downie, attorney general, who echoed Yakabuski’s pledge to carry out the recommendations put forth by the local residents who made up the five-person jury.

“I also want to thank those who served on the jury and all the participants who gave witness — bore witness — to those three women for taking part in a difficult inquest,” he said. “Each doing our part makes a positive difference, no matter how small.”

Charmaine Williams, the provincial minister of Women's Social and Economic opportunities, praised the bravery of Ottawa Valley residents who had to live through the events of that day.

“I do feel so honoured and am just in awe of how you have come together as a community to shine a light on gender-based violence. This gathering is a show of strength as well as an opportunity for healing, mutual support and conversation.”           

One of the surprises of the evening took place when the three provincial members presented specially designed medals of appreciation to the EVA members who have devoted countless hours over decades to help women in distress

Along with Brooks and other local EVA members, a medal was awarded to Kirsten Mercer, a women’s rights lawyer and advocate who was commissioned by the EVA to lead community workshops leading up to the inquest as well as being the official EVA representative to actively participate throughout the inquest that was held in Pembroke.

One of the EVA members to receive a medal from the Ontario Attorney General was Kirsten Mercer, the lawyer hired by EVA to represent Renfrew County women at the June inquest. She reminded those in attendance that 34 Ontario women died as a result of femicide since the inquest wrapped up less than three months ago.

Ms. Mercer not only acknowledged the 34 Ontario women who have been lost to femicide since the inquest first started in June of this year, but she said support is needed for thousands of women, who live day-to-day in fear throughout Ontario, including many in Renfrew County.

“I think there's only one thing I want to say, and that is the status quo in not okay,” she said. “The day the inquest recommendations were being read, three women were attacked, and two women were murdered. We need to hear a response from their elected leaders. We'll keep waiting. We hoped we'd have a response today, but we will keep waiting.”

When the formal part of the dedication was complete, the mosaic monument was unveiled to the sound of guests gasping at the intricate artwork and a round of applause to all those who worked on the project.

Prior to the actual 'Take Back The Night' march, Ms. Della-Picca played another drumming song, but this time she was accompanied by a Taiko drumming group from Toronto. For many in attendance it was their first time hearing a live performance and the sounds echoed throughout the village and Della-Picca was thrilled with the result.

“The power of those drums were such a fitting tribute to the strength and power of women who choose to leave a violent relationship and it was a great way to honour our three sisters who are the spirit behind this monument.”

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