News / Ottawa

Prayer ribbons removed by Public Works keep coming back

On Monday morning a rainbow of colourful scraps of fabric were blowing in the breeze along the Chaudière bridge – but by Monday afternoon, they were gone.

The Chaudière Bridge or Union Bridge – connecting Chaudière Island and Gatineau – was covered is bright strips of fabric on Monday morning. The display was later removed by Public Works.

Haley Ritchie/Metro

The Chaudière Bridge or Union Bridge – connecting Chaudière Island and Gatineau – was covered is bright strips of fabric on Monday morning. The display was later removed by Public Works.

A rainbow of colourful scraps of fabric fluttered in the breeze along the Chaudière bridge on Monday morning – but by that afternoon, they were gone.

It’s a pattern that has been repeating itself for three weeks – groups of people tie on the ribbons and every Monday staff from the federal Public Works department cut them off.

“It’s disappointing that they’re taking them down, but I guess they’re doing their job and not understanding,” said Lynn Gehl, a local Algonquin woman and author who is part of a group that wants to see the surrounding islands and waterfall preserved as a cultural heritage site.

The Windmill Development Group – which did not ask that the ribbons be cut down and says the group is free to express itself – is planning a mixed-use community on Chaudière and Albert islands. The project has support from some Algonquin groups but is opposed by others, who say the falls are sacred and the dam should be removed.

Gehl said the “strawberry moon ribbons” are prayers for the future of the site.

“It’s more spiritual than it is associated with an advocacy group,” said Gehl. “A lot of people think believing in the sacred is trivial. Sacred beliefs are really important, inside them there’s a moral code.”

Ghel said the ribbons represent the Algonquin story of Wenonah, the first woman and her four sons. One of her sons, named Pukawiss, gave the people the gift of dance, drama and colour – represented by the colourful pieces of fabric.

Pierre-Alain Bujold, a Public Works spokesperson, said the ribbons have been continually taken down because the department requires any organization to get permission as a matter of “health, safety and stewardship.”

Bujold said groups should contact the Public Works bridges facility manager to obtain permission to hang any type of banners, flags or objects.

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