Telling life stories in Montreal

Montreal Life Stories calendar

Image credit: Montreal Life Stories

This week I’m visiting the beautiful city of Montreal for the first time. I’ve been invited to be part of a round table discussion at the Montreal Life Stories (MLS) Conference, Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence. Our presentation is called Survivorship for the Subhuman: Testimony, Narrative, and Memory in the Context of Canadian Eugenics. My team members, Rob Wilson, Moyra Lang, Nicola Fairbrother, Kathryn Harvey and Anne Pasek, will be there. I’m a little anxious and scared at the same time!

> Montreal Life Stories conference details

Meeting Jenny, the actress who will be playing me

A few weeks ago, I was so happy to meet Jenny McKillop for the first time. This talented young Edmonton actress played Beatrice in Maa & Paa Theatre’s production of Firing Lines: Journalist Beatrice Nasmyth Covers the First World War. Jenny will play me in a one-hour production based on my life. The play is scheduled to premiere at the 2012 Fringe Theatre festival in Edmonton. I’m very excited about it.

A wonderful friend retires

On February 9th, I was honoured to give a tribute to lawyer Sandra Anderson at her retirement party. Sandra is a true and dear friend. She’s passionate in her beliefs, and always worked very, very hard. I remember her staying up so many nights, preparing for my sterilization trial. People say she likes a good fight and likes to win. And boy, did she ever fight hard for me! Thank you, Sandra.

January 25, 1996: 16 years later

Reading this news release brings back emotions I felt 16 years ago to this day. That morning, I left the hotel to meet my lawyers, Sandra Anderson and Jon Faulds, at the Field Law offices in Edmonton. We were told the day before we’d hear the judge’s decision at 8:30 am, before the news release went out at 10:30 am. The press conference was scheduled for 12:30 pm. Oh my gosh, we laughed and cried when we heard! I remember making the sign of the cross and thinking, Jesus thank you, it’s over.

“What they did was wrong. They were playing God with the lives of thousands of people… This decision should make it easier for others who were treated like I was to come forward now and begin their own healing… I hope my fight is over now, and I can get on with my life.”

> Field Law News Release, January 25, 1996 — page 1 & page 2

CBC Interview with Anna Maria Tremonti

When Gillian Rutherford, a CBC Radio producer in Edmonton, heard I’d be giving a reading on October 23, 2011, she set up an interview for The Current’s Project Game Changer. A few weeks later, I spoke on-air with Anna Maria Tremonti. She asked me what it felt like to be left by my family at the Provincial Training School at the age of ten, and other questions. I’m thankful to Anna Maria and Gillian for producing this wonderful interview that aired on November 14, 2011.

Listen to the CBC interview here.

My first reading from my book

Leilani O'Malley

Credit: University of Alberta Extension

This news story from the St. Albert Gazette talks about the opening of an art exhibit called The Collective Memory Project: Responses to Eugenics in Alberta. The exhibit was part of Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week 2011. To help celebrate the opening of the show on October 23, 2011, I gave my first public reading from my biography. I was so proud of Anne Pasek, the bright young student intern who curated the art show. She did a wonderful job!

> Read the Gazette article
> See photos of the event


Crossing the bridge with Kay Burns

Back in October 2011 I attended events for Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week, hosted by the Living Archives project. One event was very close to my heart. It was a talk called “Perambulate” given by Kay Burns on October 22nd at Enterprise Square. Kay is an artist whose work has been shown across the world. She was an art curator at the Muttart Gallery in Calgary, and taught at the University of Calgary and Alberta College of Art and Design. Today Kate lives in Lewisporte, Newfoundland.

Last summer, Kay presented a “participational performance walk” called Perambulate: Louise McKinney Park, for the Works Art and Design Festival in Edmonton. On the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council website, Kay says why she chose to focus on Louise McKinney. At each end of the footbridge, Kay attached a brass plaque engraved with the words Leilani Muir Footbridge. During the walk, she led a group of people from one end of the bridge to the other, stopping to look at the plaques.

Crossing together
One day, about a month after the art walk took place, I heard from a friend that there was a footbridge named after me in the river valley! I was very surprised, and wanted to find out more. I learned that the bridge was dedicated to me in an unofficial way as part of Kay’s performance. I never imagined I’d have a chance to walk across the footbridge with the artist herself. But I did just that on the day of her lecture in Enterprise Square. After the talk, a group of university students, researchers and friends piled into cars and drove with me to Louise McKinney Park.

It was a beautiful, warm fall day. We often have snow on the ground in Edmonton at the end of October, but not that day. My friends Judy and I each stopped to admire the roses in the park, on our walk down to the river. We finally reached the others, who were waiting at the opposite end of the bridge. Someone took out a piece of paper, and Kay made a pencil rubbing of the brass plaque. We laughed and talked together, and shared a very special moment. I came a long way to cross that bridge, and was so grateful to make it to the other side.