A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
Hiraeth explores the themes of grief and community, while documenting the life stories of seven individuals – Akia, Jeff, John, Janice, Heather, Grizz, and Greg – who have been impacted by preventable systemic failures, which includes a toxic drug supply. What bonds their life stories together, is love.
"Sometimes there is so much grief that it feels like we will drown and sometimes we do. Living with grief is like living without steady breath, we choke on the loss, the devastation, the loneliness and the heartache. Grasping for breath where we can, in those moments we swear to be strong and to live for the souls that we’ve loved so fiercely. A community under siege by a preventable crisis and known remedies. It is excruciating knowing that there are antidotes for what is poisoning our community right in front of us.
When you lose someone that you love, it can change you, it can change everything. Often one death, one loss can change the meaning and texture of your entire world. Now take that and multiply that again and again. Our community members are our friends, our lovers, our family and our light. We see each other. Love is the connection. It is like returning home, to yourself. Housing stripped of us, the pandemic be upon us and yet we still see each other. And while death is crushing us, we walk together, because we see each other."
The above statement was collectively written by the people photographed for this exhibit.
"When I was 24 or 25, I left north western Ontario.
I sold all my possessions, my motor bikes, dogs, everything, just to come to Toronto, I quickly got a job and advanced to another position that was in Hamilton. Unfortunately, I got in trouble with the law and did some time. When I got out, I didn’t have the right support to help me transition back into the community so I got into a bit more trouble but eventually I got on a better path.
My relationship with substances is ever changing. I don’t like to drink. I sometimes take opiates for back pain but it is not a regular thing. I have friends that use opiates and I worry for them. It’s very dangerous but then again, everything is cut these days. Even cocaine has fentanyl in it. I try to avoid it. Nothing is safe.
This past year I lost an ex to drinking. She spent time in rehab but the shame and stigma that she felt from being seen as an alcoholic, she started to try and hide her use. She started drinking hand sanitizer because she thought she could hide it that way. Shame and stigma destroyed her. But I remember her as a happy person. She always had a great story to tell. She was full of life but her life was just too short.
I dream of going home again. I want to go back up north but I am not sure how that will happen just yet. I know that my drug of choice is not available up north, but my life has changed so much. I am a lot calmer and happier. I want to die in my bed as an old man, maybe 95, just happy and safe in bed."
Greg's Story, as told by his loved ones
"Where does this story start? Well it is different for all of us. The story starts at an after party. No, wait, the story starts at The Sanctuary, which always led to an afterparty so both are correct.
We love Greg and we miss him. He needs to be memorialized. He was our family and our friend, through thick and thin. Greg was an important staple to the Toronto alternative scene. He was a psytrance DJ and party promoter. Sometimes he would book his friends favorite dj’s, just to surprise them. He was always thinking of others. He loved animals, movies, and cooking for his friends.
My Uncle Greg always played with me. Christmas spent with Greg was the best. He brought games and was always smiling. We played Uno a lot. Uncle Greg was a clown and he had lots of clown tattoos.
Being friends with Greg was hard sometimes. He was always there to help others, always putting on a smile but he had a hard time helping himself. Greg was a generous friend. He always made you feel safe and welcomed.
Final words to Greg? I love you and I’ll miss you. But love for him wasn’t an option. It just was.
Love is Love."
"My Name is Griz, everyone knows me. I moved out to Vancouver in 1978. I met my daughters’ mother there. Rose and I were together for 7 years. I had two daughters. Believe me, It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.
Last year at the start of the pandemic, I was evicted from my daughter Pearl’s apartment when she was still in the hospital. She died there. It was all I had left. The police tased and arrested me. Can you imagine losing your daughter, the only person you had left and then being forcefully removed from her home, what little you had left of your loved one and then forced to further separate through physical violence, shame and fear. That’s why I live here now.
We had a PowWow for my daughter and I found out that I actually have a grandson. I lost and gained but it doesn’t equal out. But I have lost so much. I have lost both of my daughters and their mother. Their mother was murdered. She was pushed out of a hotel window in Vancouver. She was naked from the waist down. She fought back. There was a trial and the guy spent about a month in jail.
I feel empty. Fathers day? Empty. Their birthdays? Empty. I feel it in my heart and my head. It never goes away. I cry daily for them. I raised two kids. You don’t get over that. There is a grey jay that comes and visits me daily. I say that it is Pearl’s spirit.
I am very grateful for the Parkdale community. I thank them for all their help and support. It’s all love, it is just experienced differently. It’s what keeps us going."
"Where do I start? I’ve been working, I’ve been homeless. I've been a consumer and a provider. I’ve lived all over the place. I grew up in Scarborough but moved out to Vancouver in the 90’s. I moved back to Toronto in 1999 and returned to my job at Courage My Love. This was an incredibly humbling experience. When I returned to Toronto, all my family thought they knew was that I was wired on heroin and they wanted nothing to do with me. That was devastating. I spent time in the shelter system but eventually went back to school and started working in the field. It was difficult because the question was always the same, would the drugs rule my life or would my life prevail?
In the last 6 months, I have received the best health care that I have ever received in my whole life. The medical system is actually listening to what we need. Safe supply is humane. I have never experienced this type of treatment before. It’s nice to see progress. I think more drug users need to be listened to. We know what we want and need.
If there was anything that I could change it would be to take back all the BS that I have ever shared about others or organizations. At the time I blamed everyone else. I now realize that everything is a lot larger than me. We are all moving towards the same goal.
One day I would like to be able to take care of my parents. They are stubborn people but I would love to give back."
My Name is Akia. I use They/Them pronouns and I am Black with a capital B. I am a harm reduction blactivist and worker. When I was 10, my mother and siblings came to Canada from the states. We were fleeing abuse and needed to move fast. Those were really hard times.
Substances first made an appearance in my life when I was diagnosed with ADHD. I question if my life would have been the same had I not experienced so much violence early on. I have experienced racism and discrimination. I am openly poly and queer.
Harm reduction is not shameful or hateful. When was I first introduced to harm reduction? Hmmm...Brooklyn. My friend Brooklyn, she was radically harm reduction, she made it “click” for me. We assisted with Eva’s harm reduction program, which really started my journey. We hosted Brooklyn’s memorial there too. I learned so much there.
I am a poly substance user. I am a lot kinder than I thought. I can pick myself up. I am a softie. There is toughness but I know I am soft. Opiate use does not need to be about death. I don’t want to talk about opiate use. It is not my identity, it’s just what we do.
I want to know that I did what I could. People need to know that they are Loved.
How do I want to end my story? With a hug.
"My story is hard to tell. My little sister and I were put in foster care when we were really young. We experienced a lot of violence and my parents drank a lot. My foster parents were not much better. I don’t really want to talk about it too much, it is just too painful. There is too many losses to count.
My Mother and I had a better relationship now. We live together and I have my dog Sandy. She is always with me and looking out for me. Sandy is pure love.
I have crohn's disease and other issues. I needed to take opiates for pain management. I don’t want to be using them but my disease is painful. Man, life is painful.
What gets me through? I love art. Funny thing is, the only thing my father ever gave me was a single crappy coloring book that my sister and I had to share on Christmas, but I still love drawing and design. I dream about going back to school one day, maybe for art or interior design."
Life is A Test
I am Blessed
I was Obsessed and Stressed
Trying to figure everything out on my own. Afraid to Ask for help Afraid of being rejected.
I had to reach out Or Die
Almost did My Organs were shutting down, was bleeding out
My Liver was Failing
I was Dying Physically, Emotionally and Spiritually.
The Drumming was Calling Me
I feel it.
I am 2-spirited
My Spirit Animals are Real
I was finally connecting to my Spirituality
Being on a Spiritual Journey not Religious
I've came to realize
Through help in the Anishnawbe Community.......
Community is Everything
Helps me heal from Trauma Loss
Grief and Grieving.
Being there for you in so many ways
For this is am Thankful
Live in the Moment
I Live One Day At A Time
Living Through this COVID Lockdown
I've realized a lot....
Life is Meant to Live
Now Living the Dream
We All Dreamt of more Downtime and NOW WE HAVE IT
Been Abused Used Confused and Reused
Now I Choose
Seen and Been Good Bad And
Ugly. I have Choice
I'm making a Good Choice not Satan's Choice.
I'm not alright....
I'm partially Left, Right.
Live Love Laugh Lots
Cause Life is Precious
We're Born to Live To Die
So Love and Respect Yourself and Others
I Am Wo Man
Here Me Roar LoL
Keep on, Keeping on