The YMCA of Owen Sound Grey Bruce honoured two local individuals and committees with the Peace Medal this year after their Peace Medal Committee reviewed several impressive nominations. Susan Staves and the Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Project Committee, and Aly Boltman and the Potter’s Field Monument Volunteer Steering Committee were both selected for making significant contributions toward peace-building in our community. They were honoured at a private Peace Medal ceremony on November 18th at the YMCA’s Health, Fitness & Aquatics facility.
The medal is awarded annually to a nominated individual or group who, without any special resources, demonstrate a commitment to the values of PEACE through contributions made within their local, national or global community. As we navigate through 2021, the urgent calls for action for diversity, social inclusion, and equity are challenging us, as individuals, as communities, and as a country, to reconsider where we’ve been
and where we want to go.
Along with the Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Committee, Susan Staves was individually nominated for being a driving force, founding member, and committee chair of the committee. It was established in 2010 to recognize and celebrate Indigenous peoples in Grey and Bruce, as well as local Indigenous history through the creation of a gathering place for Indigenous, Métis and non-Indigenous people on the traditional settlement site of the Nawash and Saugeen First Nations peoples in this area. With its educational, historical and interpretive components, and its beauty, the Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden provides a place for Indigenous healing from the devastating effects of the colonization of First Nations peoples and their experiences in Canada’s Residential School System.
The project, in itself, is a demonstration of the resilience of Indigenous peoples and the renaissance and continuation of cultural knowledge and belonging in this place — especially important for coming generations. The sculpted sturgeon brings connection to the seven traditional dodem teachings, while the native plantings and Grandmother and Grandfather stones reclaim the original ecology of this place.
Co-recipient of this year’s Peace Medal is Aly Boltman and the Potter’s Field Monument Volunteer Steering Committee. Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound is home to Potter’s Field, where approximately 1,300 people lie in their final resting place, with no marker to honour a life lived or to note their individual histories. Hundreds of newborns/stillborn/toddlers, orphans, seniors, Indigenous people, the working poor, the incarcerated and the homeless are buried there. Many people from Owen Sound’s historic Black community, including many who escaped on the Underground Railroad and their descendants, share this overlooked resting place, at this northern terminus of the Railroad. It is estimated that about half of those interred were Black citizens who faced systemic racism, often resulting in deep poverty.
In early 2018, a cemetery tour, entitled Six at Six, took place at Greenwood Cemetery led by Aly Boltman. The reading of the names and stark circumstances that caused these citizens to be interred in Potter’s Field led one couple to join the Potter’s Field Monument Volunteer Steering Committee, with an offer to fund a monument to honour these individuals who died as underdogs. John and Shirley Reaburn of Georgian Bluffs worked alongside Aly and the Potter’s Field Monument Volunteer Steering Committee to finalize this project in 2021.
The nominee’s volunteers are made up of a number of local people who came together for a cause that has brought dignity and closure to many people, all residents of Grey Bruce that found themselves and their families, unable to afford a proper burial. Their descendants can now visit them at Greenwood Cemetery and know their ancestors are respected for who they were and their contributions to family and community. The members of this committee have given a priceless gift to these families in the form of a monument which reflects on the historic connections of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) to Owen Sound.
Twenty-three people and 14 groups, including our 2021 recipients, have been awarded Peace Medals by the YMCA of Owen Sound Grey Bruce. The award recognizes those who have shown a demonstrated commitment to the values of PEACE: Participation, Empathy, Advocacy, Community and Empowerment. We are very happy to present this award to Susan Staves and the Gitche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Project Committee, and Aly Boltman and the Potter’s Field Monument Volunteer Steering Committee; very worthy recipients.