From January to July of this year alone, 235 people have died in the Island Health jurisdiction and Greater Victoria is one of the top three BC municipalities with the highest number of unregulated drug deaths in 2023.
In light of the worldwide toxic drug problem, August 31st has been dubbed International Overdose Awareness Day — a day to remember those who have lost their lives to the tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives in BC and the millions who have died around the world.
This day is being recognized just a few days after the province announced that for the 13th consecutive month, over 190 people have died in BC due to drug poisoning.
In Victoria and in several other municipalities on Vancouver Island, there are several ways to honour those who have passed in this crisis or to actively engage in conversation about what challenges people who use drugs face.
Tanya Bub’s Wind Phone
Tanya Bub is a prolific and philanthropic driftwood artist who calls Victoria home and recently dedicated an entire exhibition to helping Victoria’s unhoused population who are disproportionately impacted by the toxic drug crisis.
One piece she created, which is on display just outside the Gage Gallery in Bastion Square, is the Wind Phone she made.
The concept of a ‘wind phone’ began in Japan. It is a telephone, usually outside, that isn’t connected to any active phone line.
Many people use these phones as a way to reach beyond the land of the living and say goodbye to their loved ones they’ve lost.
In the case of Bub’s Wind Phone she meant for it to be a way for the unhoused population of Victoria to be able to say goodbye to their community members who have died by drug poisoning.
- ‘No signs of abating’: Nearly 200 British Columbians die of toxic drug crisis in July
- 15 shots of renowned local driftwood artist’s latest exhibition in Bastion Square (PHOTOS)
Following her exhibition’s conclusion at Gage Gallery on September 10th, she told Victoria Buzz she will be donating the Wind Phone piece to Our Place Society as a permanent fixture for those who are grieving a loss.
Victoria’s city hall
The Victoria city hall has once again lit up its exterior with purple hued lights — a colour that’s been adopted by the overdose awareness movement.
The city’s stance on the issue is that they want to reduce the stigma of drug use and drug-related deaths.
They also recognize the importance of acknowledging the grief felt by those who have lost a loved one to drugs.
City Hall will light up purple tonight to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. #IOAD (Aug 31) is a global event to raise awareness of overdoses, reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths and acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends. #IOAD2023 pic.twitter.com/9whQg9RrgN
— City of Victoria (@CityOfVictoria) August 31, 2023
Digital memory wall
The province and Island Health are doing installations throughout Vancouver Island to give a chance to those who have lost a loved one to drugs to remember them in a meaningful way while also visually displaying just how many real, loved people this crisis has impacted.
A digital memory wall has been created for anyone on Vancouver Island to share memories, special words and photos in the spirit of remembrance.
The memory wall will be live, online, until September 30th.
“While the toxic drug crisis is relentless, it’s important to take time to celebrate the lives of each and every one of the people lost, to honour them, and, to help support each other,” said Dr. Réka Gustafson, Vice President of Population and Public Health.
“Our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered loss from unregulated substances and to the tireless healthcare and community workers who continue to support, educate and treat hundreds of people every month.”
In addition to the digital memory wall, there will be in-person events held throughout Vancouver Island for people to gather together and share stories of lost loved ones in person.
The locations of the in-person gatherings will be held in:
- Victoria – First Metropolitan United Church, 932 Balmoral Road from 7 to 9 p.m
- Campbell River – Spirit Square 3 to 5 p.m. with education stations, speakers and a candlelight vigil from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Courtenay – Comox Valley Simms Millennium Park from noon to 4 p.m.
- Crofton – Crofton Park at 7 p.m. a public event held by an individual will take place called ‘A Walk for J’
- Duncan – Cowichan Tribes Si’em’ Lelum Gymnasium soccer field from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be dancers, drummers, BBQ, art, naloxone training and Kona Ice
- Ladysmith – Ladysmith Shelter (behind Rialto Apartments) at 11 a.m. There will be info, resources, naloxone info, snacks. Hosted by Ladysmith Shelter
- Nanaimo – Maffeo Sutton Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be meal sharing, speakers and a grief-loss art therapy vigil.
- Parksville – Parksville Community Centre from 1 to 5 p.m. There will be a candlelight vigil at Community Park picnic shelter at 7 p.m.
- Port Alberni – Echo Centre from noon to 6 p.m. There will be a Q&A and keynote with Guy Felicella from 3 to 6 p.m.
- Salt Spring Island – Centennial Park from 2 to 5 p.m. Participants are encouraged to bring a loved one’s photo.
- Sooke – Evergreen Mall in town centre from 5 to 9 p.m. There will be live music, naloxone training, speakers and a candlelight memorial.
“Stories are important. They help us remember the people, places and moments that mean the most to us and allow people to share those memories with others,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
“While we continue to work together to save lives to turn the tide of the toxic drug crisis, we also need to honour the people, families and front line workers affected by it,” she added.
People will undoubtedly continue to lose their lives to drugs in the coming years. The only way anything will change is if advocacy, awareness and action continue to spread and stigma is reduced when it comes to drug-use.
If there are any other ways to remember those who have lost their lives to drug poisoning in Victoria or on Vancouver Island, let us know in the comments.