Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 2, 2008
Multi-symboled mosaic honours anonymous dead
Contractor crafts porcelain sculpture titled Ascending
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Wayne Ashley crafted Ascending to honour the forgotten souls.
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Two years ago during his uncle’s funeral, Wayne Ashley noticed several unmarked graves at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. Bothered by the thought of forgotten souls, he made a promise to God to do something to memorialize the anonymous dead.
He fulfilled his promise May 23 when he completed a huge monument for the dead he titled Ascending.
The porcelain mosaic stands 10 feet tall and 14 feet wide among flowers and gravestones on the south side of Holy Cross Cemetery at 14611 Mark Messier Trail.
It mixes Aboriginal and Christian symbols of life and death. A tepee represents the home where we base our life and a turtle on the tepee represents the wisdom and intelligence we acquire as we grow up. Coming out of the tepee are two spirits — a man and a woman — who are being taken back to the creator by angels. Also featured in the mosaic are the tree of life and the elements that keep us alive as human species: fire, wind, water and earth
The meaning of life
“It (reflects) the way the natives pray; it is the meaning of life,” says Ashley, a Cree who was born and raised in Edmonton.
The back of the monument features a cross etched in porcelain Ashley salvaged from leftover material used to build billionaire Daryl Katz’s house.
The idea for the memorial came to Ashley, 41, during the burial of his uncle Kenny Ashley at Holy Cross Cemetery some two years ago. His grandfather William is also buried there. As he walked through the graveyard, he noticed several unmarked graves with just a number on them.
“It’s upsetting to me that some people can’t even get their name on the gravestone after they die,” he said. “That makes for a lot of restless souls.”
There are many unmarked graves across the country, including graves of Aboriginal people who left home because of drugs and alcohol and lost track of their relatives, Ashley said.
“(Their relatives) don’t even realize they passed away years ago and they are buried in some different cities. They don’t even know they are dead and that their souls must be tormented because (their graves) are not marked.”
Ashley spoke to Oblate Father Jim Holland of Sacred Heart Parish about his idea of a monument to honour the anonymous dead and the priest gave him his blessing and support, helping him to design the mosaic. Cemetery staff also helped him out, building the foundation.
Ashley, who donated his time and materials, was so serious about fulfilling his promise to God he quit his day job as a contractor to dedicate the bulk of his time to producing the mosaic.
“I decided that I was going to keep at least one of my promises that I made to God because I have broken a few,” he laughed.
“I’m very impressed; I find the imagery very sophisticated,” said Holy Cross manager Ann Glas. “It is more complex than we ever thought and more simple than we ever thought.”
Glas said Ashley brought to life an idea that the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish had had for years.
“Father Holland had said for many years that he liked to do something that would celebrate the Aboriginal culture in a Catholic way because so many of his parishioners who are buried here have no markers,” she said.
“We talked about it for many years but nothing happened until Ashley came up with his project. Basically (the monument) is here and is part of the cemetery but the spirit of this whole monument is the native parish, the Aboriginal people who are buried here.”
The monument will be dedicated some time in June.