Notes from a conversation between artist Rose-Marie Goulet, designer of A Nave for Fourteen Queens, and artist Beth Alber and Chris McDowell, Montreal, June, 2003.


After the Montreal massacre, peoples' pain and fear was acute, and there was confusion as to how to react to what had happened. In Montreal, some said 'the massacre was the work of a crazy man,' others said 'no, he wasn't crazy; it was the symptom of a deeper social problem.' As a result of people's disagreement over what had happened, the City of Montreal was not able to consider the creation of a public memorial at that time. The fourteen families endorsed the creation of memorials elsewhere throughout the country, but a local one was different. In response to the murders of their loved ones, those family members who became social activists put their time into gun control.

Ten years later gun control was firmly on the national agenda. The City of Montreal was finally ready to endorse a memorial project. A local competition with clear guidelines was sponsored by the City, available to artists in Quebec. The City chose the memorial site. It is across from Montreal's oldest cemetery, and located just outside one of the entrances to the University of Montreal. The Ecole Polytechnique, where the fourteen women were killed, is one of the first buildings down the road.

The first stage of Montreal's design competition focused on selecting an artistic team based on portfolios and reputation. From there a handful of applicants were invited to submit design ideas. In the end, visual artist Rose-Marie Goulet, with the assistance of Marie-Claude Robert, consultant in landscape architecture, and Nicolet Chartrand Knoll, consulting engineers, were entrusted with the task of realizing the final design of the memorial.

Rose-Marie Goulet met with a few family members, thinking that gaining a greater understanding of their experiences would assist her in imagining the design. One of these meetings - a heartbreaking session with one of the mothers - led her to change directions. She decided at that point that the families had suffered enough, and she needed to look to herself and her sense of what had happened December 6th for further inspiration.

'I was like a sponge as I related to the site, and to other people in Montreal. Everyone remembered exactly what they were doing at the time of the tragedy, and this gave me the idea of shockwaves. I also found that ten years later people knew the murderer's name, but not one woman's name. Struck by this, I decided to name each woman individually.'

A large walkway cuts through the centre of the small rectangular park that Rose-Marie was given as a site. In her design this walkway becomes the centre aisle of a church. The nave of a church is the largest section inside the church, the main seating area. The seats, or pews, are the people's place within the church.

Goulet used steel forms framed by black granite to name each woman on either side of the walkway. An upright form at the beginning of the name is the shape of the first letter of the womans first name. The steel forms are the width of a womans shoulders; Rose-Marie used herself to ascertain exact dimensions.

'I intuited people's response to the negative and positive space in the letters I created for the names. People have wondered what the letters are. Are they Chinese? Later, they understand, and can see that they are the 14 womens names, in ordinary Roman alphabet.'

If the steel forms naming the women are pews within the nave of a church, the pews lead immediately to symbolic burial mounds, as mounds gradually rise up at the end of the steel forms. 'The forms have concrete footings but are laid out like a burial mound, and I shovelled by hand the dirt that covers them.' The spacing and the curve of the steel forms echo the pattern of shockwaves. The steel forms are placed ever wider apart, the way a shockwave spreads out ever wider from the epicenter of a catastrophe. In this case the physical epicenter of December 6th, L'Ecole Polytechnique, is just down the street.

Jean-Pierre Latour, an artist and writer in Quebec, describes Rose-Marie's artistic accomplishment on a plaque at the monument site:

'The way in which the names are written forces us to stop. Our reading is necessarily prolonged, slowed down by the use of alternating positive and negative spaces in the construction of the letters. Consequently, the eye must adapt to each letter and, in order to read it, must re-establish an appropriate relationship between the figure and ground. Before it can be recognized, the name must be spelled out, and patiently recalled. In this way, it is symbolically wrested from oblivion&'

'In this landscaped work, the artist has produced a commemorative monument that does not cast memory into the anonymity of an event. The piece vigorously resists the forgetting of names, reminding us that, above and beyond the important collective dimension of the historical event, we are dealing here with the tragic fate of each of these young women.'

Rose-Marie offers this insight into her work:

'A Nave for Fourteen Queens is anti-monumental. A process is required of you to engage with it, you have to walk through the event to understand it. The artwork is close to ordinary people; the scale for the piece came out of the body.'

'You can walk through it many times, and then, after weeks or months, suddenly 'get it.' People have to work at it. That is part of the whole story of December 6, 1989, is that people have to work to solve violence.'