The Vigil on Parliament Hill

By Margaret Dyment

On Sunday, May 5, 1985 a steady cold rain was falling. Since an Order-in-Council made camping on Parliament Hill illegal, Youth Survival Conspiracy had been on the Hill showing solidarity with the Peace Camp. There had been more than 30 arrests. They had now had a full week without shelter. Everyone was sick and spaced out from lack of sleep. In the night there was a decision that the young people should get warm and dry for a few hours and Eibie Weizfeld, the one remaining peace camper, would stay on the Hill.

Sunday afternoon: Helen Durie is conducting a civil disobedience workshop with four Quakers. During the past week, the remaining four peace-campers have maintained an illegal literature table on the Hill. The police have arrested Michael Ostroff of the Ottawa Disarmament Coalition for staffing it. Some of the Quakers had felt that they should try to staff the table, risking arrest. The Quaker Meeting as a whole had not been able to "come to unity" about civil disobedience on the Hill. "If it were a vigil...." they had said.

was seventeen, had been up most of the night and was now soaked to the skin again. He was coming to say that Eibie had decided that the Peace Camp would be over at 6 p.m. It was now about 3. The Peace Camp had lasted 2 years and 17 days. Some 100 people had passed through the Camp during its two years, enduring every sort of weather on the exposed Hill. They had stayed through some bitterly cold nights, some bitterly difficult relationships and stress, and constant harassment. They had talked to thousands of visitors to the Hill, handing out information, arguing in particular against testing the cruise. But the cruise had been tested, the tent was gone, and it was time to go home.

"The peace presence must continue on the Hill. It will be a vigil," he said.

The people at the workshop hit the phones.

When the Peace Camp came to its end at 6 p.m. and the last camper folded up the table, balanced it on his bike and rode away in the rain with the CBC cameras grinding, two people were starting around the Hill with a hand-made sign reading "Vigil for Peace." It was the first shift of the Vigil and a symbol of what was to come: Susanne Hill, Quaker, mother of two grown sons, and Dan LaRocque, worn out, going on nerve, both determined to keep this thing alive. Dan was back to take the 2 a.m. shift, with Murray Thomson, peace worker for 25 years.

By the third day, we had decided to stick to daytime, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 2 people at a time, bring your own sign. Heather Hamilton and I spent most of the summer on the phone. We asked people to come on the vigil only once a month. Keep it broad, we all agreed. Let individuals state their own concerns. We made a simple handout including the basic words: "non-violent approaches to disarmament." Dave Anderson, a graphic designer, donated a stunning design with a dove like a rainbow, with lots of white space to write in your own message.

This vigil has been going on now for two years. You didn't read about it in the media because it is legal. We haven't burned anything. Babies go, pushed in carriages by their mothers, and gray-haired church people walk about, talking earnestly. Young people organize their friends to carry signs on the Hill. Altogether more than 450 people have kept vigil on Parliament Hill since the Peace Camp ended. Hundreds have talked with us and accepted fact sheets from us.

to explain what we were doing. They were received politely. "Don't think," said the sergeant, "that just because we're in uniform we're opposed to what you people stand for. I've got kids too and I only hope that when it happens that I'm on the Hill, and that it's a direct hit."

Last summer, the Vigil sponsored four rallies on the Hill, responding to Hiroshima Day, the Peal for Peace (the Carillon participated), the First Earth Run, and Disarmament Week -- this one followed by a 100-hour non-stop vigil with candles in the night.

By November, numbers were down. We cut back to groups that met Wednesdays and Sundays all winter, keeping each other warm with laughter and good friendship. These groups now have a life of their own, and form the nucleus of the vigil in the summer of 1987.

On May 5, 1987, at 6 p.m., the Vigil for Peace on Parliament Hill was two years old, and planning a celebration for Mother's Day, May 10. Perhaps there will be a new burst of energy and concern that will see it on a daily basis again this summer. We'll see. Come and visit us.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1987

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1987, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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