A proposed plan to redevelop Mary Burlie park has been met with mixed reaction in the inner city. Situated in the southern part of Chinatown— just north of the former CN overpass on 97 Street—the park was developed to honour the long-time Boyle Street social worker who passed away in 1996. Often the site of illegal drug use and alcohol consumption, the park is currently also home to the Vision of Hope monument, commissioned to commemorate the victims of the Montréal Massacre and unveiled on the 10th anniversary of the shooting.
The Chinatown and Little Italy Business Association, concerned that residents and visitors to the area are afraid to use the park—which has been the site of at least one homicide—have proposed that the park be closed in order to develop a Chinese heritage centre and garden project. The concept proposes that the site be enclosed to create an area for quiet contemplation and that an admission fee be charged to enter the park.
Like her mother did, Burlie's daughter Stephanie works at the Boyle Street Co-op. Stephanie says she felt a real sense of loss when she read about the plan in the Edmonton Journal last week "My mother didn't seek out honours or accolades; however, when the city decided to honour her by building the park, we were quite honoured," she said in an interview. "News that they would take that honour away causes me and my family to feel a real sense of loss."
Ratan Lawrence, the association's executive director, said she was taken aback by Stephanie's comments. "To have such a memorial there where people are afraid to go is not an honour to Mary Burlie," she said. Lawrence says she has been working with merchants and property owners in the area for a number of years developing the proposal, but acknowledges a better job could have been done in reaching out to Mary’s family and the community.
The community seems receptive. Thim Choy is president of the Boyle Street Community League and was a friend of Mary Burlie for over 40 years. He would like to see the park moved to Boyle Street. "Mary worked with the people on 96 Street. We need to honour her legacy and if that means finding a more suitable location for her park, then that's what we need to do, and I would be honoured to welcome it to the new Boyle Street Community League site," he said. Choy says relocation discussions continue as the community league has to be moved to make way for the new YMCA.
Richard Sanders, pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church and Mary’s son-in-law, agrees with Choy. "My first initial thought was that this was not good," he explained, adding that he is having second thoughts. "Mary spent a great number of years working with the impoverished in our community. It is hard for me to accept that it is suitable to honour her and the victims of the Polytechnique massacre in a park like that."
Sanders said he is now warming to the idea of moving the park as part of the downtown revitalization project. He agrees that perhaps the greatest legacy to Mary might be that the community finds a way to compromise on the issue while continuing to honour his mother-in-law.
Stephanie Burlie hopes the community will show up to remind City Council of Mary's impact when the matter is brought before them. The proposal will be presented to council's executive committee on January 26 at 9:30 am. V