In 2017, Irene Paterson lost her only son, Roger Wong, to fentanyl poisoning. Roger had been in recovery for six months and then a very close friend of his died. Roger couldn’t get over it, and relapsed one time. It killed him.
In 2020, Ontario recorded 2,426 opioid-related deaths. As the Toronto Star says, this is Canada’s other epidemic.
After Roger’s death, Irene was traumatised. She joined online group Moms Stop the Harm and learned about a Western Canada initiative called Flags of Hope. In 2018, she held a workshop at Toronto’s Trinity Church in which participants wrote and coloured on white cloth flags in memory of friends and loved ones who had died of opioid overdoses. The flags were displayed in Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall on Opioid Awareness Day in August, 2018.
Late last year, Irene, working with the charity Sistering, thought about the AIDS quilts of the late 1900s and decided to try to have the original flags turned into quilts. YHQG member Mical Pearlman suggested approaching YHQG for help.
Bev S., Jacintha B., and Wendy D. worked with representatives from Sistering to develop a prototype quilt to display the original flags, bordering all quilts in a consistent purple fabric to reflect the Flags of Hope signature colour. The original flags—intended to be hung on a line, not included in quilts—had to be carefully trimmed and stabilized in order to produce neat blocks for quilting purposes. Ornamental items, such as feathers and other ornaments, had to be carefully removed before the quilting process and then, just as carefully, reattached to their original blocks. Irene Paterson produced a central “Flags of Hope” block for insertion in the centre of each quilt top.
Talented quilter/designer Bev Stevens prepared every quilt top for quilting using different colours for the interior sashing of each quilt all edged by purple borders. Several very experienced, talented quilters, Jacintha B., Wendy D., Irena H., and Ann S., completed the sandwiching, quilting, and binding of each quilt and added sleeves to the top and bottom of each quilt so they could hang properly.
It was a labour of love, especially for Bev S., who lost her beloved nephew to an opioid overdose shortly after this quilting project began.The YHQG quilts, together with a beautiful quilt prepared by Sistering clients with individual embroidered squares, was displayed on August 31, 2021 at Nathan Phillips Square, City Hall, Toronto, as the Opioid Awareness Flag was raised at 11:00. At 8:00, in Roundhouse Park, 255 Bremner Boulevard, the CN Tower was illuminated purple in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day.
York Heritage members are proud to have been a part of this project.