Sunday, July 8, 2012


Shrine at Edmonton General Hospital
Several years ago a friend of mine published a guidebook to Canadian shrines. It was quite comprehensive, including the big, well-known shrines like Ste Anne de Beaupré, and small road-side shrines that had been set up by who knows whom in devotion to the Mother of God or the Sacred Heart of Jesus or some saint or other.

But there's another kind of shrine that we're increasingly aware of in Western culture. I'm referring to the popular sort of shrine that usually appears spontaneously to mark either the location of a tragedy or devotion to someone famous who has died. Under the rubric of popular shrines I would include the candles and flowers and sympathy cards at Kensington Palace after Princess Diana died, or similar displays after the Montreal Massacre, or when any public figure dies. It's interesting, in passing, that in our secular age so many people seem to discover quickly where to find the votive candles that are so often part of these popular shrines.

Then there are the smaller version of popular shrines, the little clusters of bouquets, or perhaps a small wooden cross, which mark the spot of a road accident. These are definitely visible along the highways in Alberta as they are anywhere in North America. Driving on the highway I can't help but wonder about whether certain locations are particularly dangerous, given the presence of several memorials.

Edmonton also has what I like to call municipal shrines. These are locations marked by city road signs as places where someone has died in a traffic accident. In the case of the one shown here, it was mixed with a popular shrine, as someone had carefully taped a photo of the deceased and some plastic flowers to the pole beneath the municipal sign.

I guess the message of these municipal shrines is not so much to honour the accident victim as to remind drivers that they bear responsibility for the life and safety of pedestrians, and that taking that responsibility too lightly results in someone's fatality.

Be careful out there. And, oh yes, may the victims of traffic accidents rest in peace.