The Air India memorial was installed in Stanley Park on July 27, 2007, twenty-two years after the disaster. I was vaguely aware that the installation had occurred. You scan a newspaper article or catch a few words on the local radio news and mentally auto-file some skeleton version of the information, so it was not entirely a surprise to come upon it on our Saturday morning walk.
The stone memorial is in the shape of an arc, calculated to represent the trajectory of the flight. The names of the dead — all 331 of them — are etched, one after the other in alphabetical order, in rows. There is a stone from Ireland inset in the wall at the upper end of the arc. The words:
Suns rise and shadows fall
Let it pass by
Love reigns forever over all
on the front of the arc are the same words found on the sundial in the Toronto memorial and the Ahakista memorial in Ireland. The words are said to have come from a Latin inscription found by the sculptor who created the Ahakista memorial.
It’s moving and beautiful and the weight of names makes you angry that so many people died and the investigation was mishandled in such a way that the perpetrators were never even brought to our watered-down version of justice. Kim Bolan’s book Loss of Faith details the painfully slow and problem-ridden process.
After the initial emotional reaction, I found myself wondering about the whole process of designing and creating the memorial. Maybe this is just another example of how humans manage and compartmentalize the unthinkable: we turn to practical aspects. We start planning a funeral service and concentrate on the details; we draw up lists; we create a website; we become advocates for a cause.
We think about design and how to create something generally acceptable but not trite. We select materials and think about the logistics of layout. How would you choose the typeface: one that would be simple and classic and legible and would make best use of space? Fitting all of the names neatly into the area available must take careful calculation. The site must be dignified but also appealing and accessible, so that visitors to the park are drawn to it. It is next to a children’s playground that is intentionally an integral part of the site, as many children died in the tragedy.
I think it would be a challenging assignment, but one that would create a sense of accomplishment. You would be performing a service to the victims and the bereaved families by using your talents to create something permanent that stands to remind us of past wrongs. Not many of us have such meaningful work.
The memorial was created by Lees & Associates, landscape architects.