Winnipeg team channels two-spirit resilience for LGBTQ2+ National Monument in Ottawa

A Winnipeg group inspired by the rich history of two-spirit teachings are the winning designers of a new monument in Ottawa to honour victims of Canada’s LGBTQ2+ purge.

Team Wreford was chosen out of five groups for thier design of a plant-filled park with a gleaming thunderhead sculpture at its centre to honour those who lived through the purge.

The lead on the team, Liz Wreford from Architects Public City, says their monument will capture both the sombre past and hope for a better future.

“We’re honoured to be chosen to design this monument. It’s such an important one and you know it’s a responsibility that we aren’t going to take lightly,” she said.

The LGBTQ2+ National Monument is a partnership between the federal government and the LGBT Purge Fund, which was created from the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the government.

That lawsuit was born from the so-called gay purge, during which several thousand Canadian public servants, police and military members were investigated, sanctioned and sometimes fired between 1955 and 1996.

Winnipeg-based Team Wreford pitched the thunderhead as a symbol of a community rising up to demand change. (Team Wreford/Government of Canada)

Team Wreford is tied to Winnipeg: Architects Public City Inc. are based there, as are visual artists Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. Advisor Albert McLeod also lives in the city, and has family history in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Norway House Métis community, in the north of the province.

Wreford said team member and performance artist Lorri Millan started exploring the concept of a thundercloud for the monument, and it just fit.

“A thundercloud can be really destructive but it can also heal. And it can create lightning and fire but it also provides rain and regrowth and regeneration so it ended up being the perfect symbol that we needed,” Wreford said.

The monument will feature a mirrored thunderhead cloud inside a large column, with a stage outside for performances and protests, and space inside the thunderhead for more intimate events.

In addition to the sculpture, the winning design has a path tracing LGBTQ2+ history and a healing circle made of stones chosen by two-spirit Indigenous elders.

Besides the central thunderhead sculpture, the winning design has a path tracing LGBTQ2+ history and a healing circle made of stones chosen by two-spirit Indigenous elders. (Team Wreford/Government of Canada)

The thunderhead concept captures the trauma, but also the resilience of the queer community, says McLeod, a Cree elder who identifies as two-spirit.

“The wind comes, these storms come, and they set things right,” he said on CBC Manitoba’s Up to Speed on Thursday.

“That to me is what the thunderhead represents, it is that strength and power to endure, but also to set things right.”

The monument is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

Wreford hopes it will start conversations, serve as a place to celebrate and protest, and last for generations. 

“The conversations that we’ve already started having because of this monument are so important. And I hope it allows a lot more people to have really important conversations with their families.”