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Removal of hearts a miscommunication the City of Edmonton ‘deeply regrets’

Click to play video 'City of Edmonton apologizes over taking down river valley installation' City of Edmonton apologizes over taking down river valley installation
WATCH ABOVE: For months, they were symbols of healing and reflection but just over a week ago, some hearts put up in Edmonton's river valley were abruptly taken down. As Shallima Maharaj explains, their removal was a mistake and the city says it's sorry.

The City of Edmonton has apologized after its workers abruptly removed a symbolic art installation along River Valley Road near Victoria Park.

More than 1,000 hearts had been strung up on trees along the riverbank in November. The “healing forest” was part of a national network of spaces dedicated to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It also served to stoke conversation about reconciliation.

“Many of these hearts have been made and put up elsewhere in the city as heart gardens with messages of support for residential school survivors,” said Sara Komarnisky with Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton (RISE).

“This was intended to be something a little bit different. A healing forest for people to come and reflect – to learn.”

According to RISE, the display also included ceremonial flags, medicine pouches and signs. One of them included contact information for the group.

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“Our sign was a couple of feet wide by a foot and a half high, and it was made of wood,” Komarnisky said. “It said ‘RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton’ on it. And it had our Facebook page and Twitter handle.”

The morning of Feb. 23, city workers were tidying up at the nearby park when they made the decision to take down the installation. They saw what appeared to be debris at the base of the trees.

“They just made the call at that point to do their best to clean up the site,” said Travis Kennedy, acting director for park operations in the northeast district.

“I take some responsibility for this,” he told Global News. “I need to communicate better down the line and out to the field the importance of this installation. I didn’t do that. So in the future, I need to communicate better with my leadership staff.”

Kennedy said workers should have contacted their direct supervisor to get the all-clear, but that didn’t happen in this case. He has spoken to the workers involved and said measures will be taken to ensure incidents like this do not happen going forward.

Juanita Spence, supervisor for river valley parks and facilities, first learned of the missing hearts when a RISE member contacted the city.

“They had received initial approval for a temporary installation and then we did extend the length while we were working through the process for having a permanent installation,” Spence said.

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Mayor Don Iveson was also asked about the misstep on Friday.

“There’s sincere regret. It was not done on purpose. It was an error and we deeply regret it,” he said. “Efforts were being made to find a permanent venue for that installation and so it was a miscommunication – which the city deeply regrets.”

The city attempted to retrieve the messages that were taken down but without success. They are likely in the landfill.

“I’d like to see things change at the level of the everyday city worker who’s tasked with something, who sees hearts hanging in trees and who knows maybe not to cut them down” Komarnisky said.

She said a meeting between the city and RISE is in the works. The city said it hopes to continue talks about a more longstanding, or permanent, symbolic installation.