We dedicate the new mural on the Squamish Overdose Prevention Site to all those who have been lost and to those who continue to struggle.
The mural has been over a year in the making.
BC declared drug toxicity deaths a public health emergency in 2016. Now, over 6 years into this emergency, more than 10,000 people have died due to toxic drugs. The crisis is taking it’s toll on so many more as well, from those who use substances to front line workers and health care workers, to friends and family members.
Over a year ago, members of the Sea to Sky Community Action Team (CAT) wanted to find a way to both honour those who have been lost to the toxic drug crisis, those who are still struggling, and to help build community connections and a sense of place. The team decided on creating a piece of public art.
Engaging people with lived experience along the way was a key element of the process. We wanted to hear from people about how they have been affected by the overdose crisis and what they would like to see incorporated into this piece of art.
Local artist Gabriela Lech worked with the CAT team and community members to take time to talk to people and listen to their thoughts. This included engaging with people who use the Overdose Prevention Site.
“What we’ve gathered from these conversations is that, overall, people want to see an image of healing. This concept of healing came up over and over again.” says Gabriela.
"When asked what healing means for people, all sorts of imagery came up:"
Birds- to represent loved ones that have passed flying over us.
“An eagle. I read a poem about eagles at my daughter’s funeral, who I lost to an overdose."
“A sunrise, to symbolize hope for tomorrow.”
“Something spiritual, bigger than ourselves, but not religious.”
“Poppy - for both opium and remembrance. And that these plants aren’t innately evil, yet have been demonized through our failing systems.”
“Indigenous medicinal plants to our area that have been been healing our people for ages.”
“Mountains - they make me feel peaceful.”
"Family - we must stick together in the hard times. Gotta have community."
Gabriela and the CAT team reached out to folks in the area, especially those that use the Overdose Prevention Site, to talk about the mural design. Community outreach was an integral part of the process. We wanted to hear input from people with lived experience to see how we can honour those who have been lost and those still struggling from the opioid crisis.
Gabriela teamed up with artist Louis Sobel to create the design. "We took note of the imagery and designed the mural you see today."
Recognizing that illicit drug use is a symptom rather than punishing, criminalizing, and stigmatizing is an important step in safe supply and harm reduction. The OPS is a distribution centre for harm reduction supplies, including nalaxone, drug checking, and trained staff members that provide rapid response when necessary. It is a safe and hygienic environment that helps reduce health, social, and economic risks associated with substance use.
"Thank you to Under One Roof and the incredible Community Action Team for your support and for providing this opportunity of a lifetime. I am forever grateful. Thank you to every person that vulnerably opened up to me, shared their story, and offered feedback for the mural design. My heart broke and was pieced back together many times over."
Gabriela Lech is a Squamish artist inspired by nature. About Gabriela
Louis Sobol is an artist recently moved to BC from Anishinaabe territory. About Louis
The idea for this mural was inspired by Sea to Sky Community Action Team member Sarah Jane Thompson, 1994-2020. Sarah was a friend and fierce advocate who imagined a world full of hope and free from stigma.
The mural is dedicated to all those in our community whom we have lost to the toxic drug crisis and to those who are struggling. We continue to fight against stigma and to foster healing.
Squamish Helping Hands would like to thank artists Gabriela Lech and Louis Sobel as well as the volunteers who came to paint, lend equipment and tools, running errands, help with scaffolding, as well as coffee and donut deliveries.
We are grateful to our sponsors BC Housing and the Community Action Initiative.
We also wish to thank the District of Squamish for permission to paint the mural on the Overdose Prevention Site and Squamish Arts for their support and guidance.
Want to help?
Listen. Learn. Break Stigma. Attend Naloxone Training. Vote for policy that supports harm reduction.
Photos courtesy of Squamish photographer Casey Dubois