Arthur News School of Fish
Still from 'The Garden Collective' by Sara Wylie.

ReFrame Review: The Garden Collective

Written by
Aras Mommertz
January 27, 2021

Content warning: self-harm, suicide, violence on Indigenous bodies.

ReFrame Review: The Garden Collective
Still from 'The Garden Collective' by Sara Wylie.

The Garden Collective, is a film that follows the Prison for Women (P4W) Memorial Collective, a group that consists of formerly incarcerated women. This film, directed by Sara Wylie, a non-fiction filmmaker, producer and researcher from the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (otherwise known as Vancouver), this film explores themes of despair, suicide, and community through healing. The collective of formerly incarcerated women and local activists work to build a memorial on the grounds of the former P4W. Fighting for the memorial garden since the early 2000s, Ann Hansen and Fran Chaisson recall the many memories of the P4W. In the late 1980’s, regarded as a suicide cluster, seven inmates died by suicide at the prison. Fran Chaisson highlights that six out of seven women who passed were Indigenous.

Chiasson states, “These women were all loved at one time. They were sisters, mothers, aunties. They were, at one time, all important. They still are to me.” 

The film also highlights a number of incidents, LSD was administered to inmates, the prison riots of 1994, and the facilities treatment of prisoners was labeled as “cruel, inhumane and degrading”. In Ann Hansen’s book, Taking the Rap: Women Doing Time for Society’s Crimes, she recounts stories of many women were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, as well as the very obvious economic inequalities faced by the inmates. As Indigenous women existed as a large portion of the inmate population it was often reported that they experienced violent treatment from prison staff. As 30% of Canadian inmates are Indigenous, it is clear that the justice system has targeted and exploited Indigenous individuals and continues to do so. A particular jaw-dropping moment in the film was when it called attention to Queen’s University for performing research on inmates’ bodies that weren’t claimed. 

As these bodies didn’t have proper burial, every year on August 10th, Chaisson returns for the Prisoner’s Justice Day healing circle in hopes to give them the peace they deserve. Though the institution has been closed since 2000 the City of Kingston and Queen’s University have refused to recognize the abuses and subsequent suicides that took place. As of 2008, Queen’s University has property rights to the old P4W. As it is known today by many local Kingstonians, the historic tours go on their usual route through Queen’s University and pay a visit to the P4W grounds. Many concerns have been brought to attention as Kingston’s tours remain supporting the local economy and relay a similar lack of recognition. 

Chassion recalls the Kingston tour bus going by the prison while she was visiting, saying, “115 Canadas most violent women were here”. Once again, not acknowledging the human rights abuses that took place inside years ago. She continues with sentiments that these people (inmates), that place (P4W), and their families should be given something more than a memorial.

The film, only 22 minutes, is jam packed with information and raw emotion. There’s a scene where the collective sits around a table, sharing food and reflecting on old pictures of the inmates. Sharing memories and stories, it was like a reunion for both the living and dead. I was frozen in time watching this scene, both somber and reflective brushed with warmth as we see a sense of community many of us would dream of having. The sincerity, care, and oneness these women have showcases the collective fight to honour these “fallen ones”. This group, these women, and the continued fight for healing, peace and restoration makes The Garden Collective a must watch film.

The Garden Collective will be available from January 22 to January 29 through the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong ReFrame Film Festival.

For additional information of the film check out: Interview on The Garden Collective with director, Sara Wylie

Arthur News School of Fish
Arthur News School of Fish

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