Honks of support, cheers and smiles accompanied Patricia Ballantyne’s arrival in Timmins today.
Ballantyne is a residential school survivor who embarked on a healing journey from Prince Albert, Sask. to Ottawa on June 5, making stops in some communities along the way.
After spending a few days in Cochrane, Ballantyne and her group of other survivors and supporters arrived in Timmins Sunday afternoon.
Dozens of people waited for Ballantyne at the parking lot off Hwy 655 before joining the procession to Hollinger Park.
Mushkegowuk Council Deputy Grand Chief Rebecca Friday, who’s also a residential school survivor, was among those waiting for Ballantyne at the parking lot.
“We’re in the 21st century now. I feel so emotional that it just hits my body. And I have to take care of that body, of that little girl who was once very fragile in the school system,“ she said. ”It’s something I need the whole of Canada to really get to know the first people of this land.“
Friday, who attended Bishop Horden Hall in Moose Factory for two years, said she started her own healing 30 years ago.
“You can still learn your history and grow from it because that’s the way Canada will change,” she said.
Without stopping at the parking lot, the Walk of Sorrow procession continued on to Hollinger Park where a welcoming ceremony with remarks from Friday, Mayor George Pirie, MPP Gilles Bisson, NAN Deputy Grand Chief Walter Naveau, Mattagami First Nation’s former chief Lawrence Naveau and Coun. Cory Robin was held.
The welcoming ceremony also included dancing, singing and dancing.
At the end of the ceremony, Timmins resident Vanessa Génier, who started a project sending quilts to residential school survivors across Canada, presented handmade quilts to Ballantyne.
Originally from Deschambault Lake, Sask., Ballantyne was taken to a Prince Albert Residential School when she was four and a half years old. She spent 10 years there and suffered emotional and physical abuse.
After the remains of 251 children were found in graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C., Ballantyne decided to do a Walk of Sorrow.
Initially, she wanted to do it for herself.
“I started off to do it for my own healing. I didn’t realize how much support I’d get along the way,” Ballantyne told the crowd gathered at Hollinger Park Sunday.
As her journey garnered attention and support from across the country, it has become a healing journey not only for herself but also for all the other survivors and families that lost their loved ones in residential schools.
The day Ballantyne decided to do the walk was also the day she had her last drink. She has been sober for two months now.
“When I continued on, I knew was on the right path. I knew this is what I was meant to do, I shouldn’t give up,” she said.
Ballantyne walks up to 40-50 kilometres a day.
With the walk, she said she hopes to pass the message of healing and educate people on the impact residential schools have had on Indigenous peoples.
“My hope is we can start healing our families, our elders. So many elders don’t know how to start healing because of the hurt they’ve gone through,” she said. “Our elders are number one in our communities. How else are we supposed to reach out to youth if we don’t use our elders?”
Updates on Ballantyne’s walk can be found in the Walk of Sorrow Facebook group.
A 24-hour residential school crisis line offering support to former students and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.