Garden designed for grieving parents

Little Spirits Garden acknowledges heartbreak of infant loss

Lindsay McCray sits with husband Jamie Elmhirst, three-year-old daughter Lauren, who holds a Spirit House, and 15-month-old son Colin in Little Spirits Garden, a new memorial for miscarried and stillborn babies.

Lindsay McCray sits with husband Jamie Elmhirst, three-year-old daughter Lauren, who holds a Spirit House, and 15-month-old son Colin in Little Spirits Garden, a new memorial for miscarried and stillborn babies.

When Lindsay McCray first told friends and family she’d had a miscarriage, most people didn’t know how to react.

McCray and her husband, Jamie Elmhirst, had been quick to spread excitement about their new pregnancy, so when she noticed spotting at eight weeks their cheer turned to devastation.

“So many of my loved ones were great, but a lot of people think you’ve done something wrong, or some well-meaning friends will say ‘well, you can always try for another,’ or some just don’t know how to respond at all,” says McCray. “Miscarriage is just not discussed that often, and there is no formal place for it in our society.”

That lack of support lead McCray and the team at the Saanich Legacy Foundation to disturb the often-silent grieving process and create a memorial that marks one of the first of its kind in North America — Little Spirits Garden, a dedicated public space at Royal Oak Burial Park where families can grieve the death of a baby and the community can openly acknowledge pregnancy and infant loss.

“Most parents tell me they wish for a place where their baby can be with others who know what it is like to be in this situation,” says Jill Davoren, maternity services social worker at Victoria General Hospital. “It does not matter if parents lost their baby 50 years or five hours ago — the grief for the loss of a baby before birth is often lifelong.”

The Board of Cemetery Trustees of Greater Victoria contributed $50,000 to developing the plan for the garden, and dedicated land within the park for the project that is now under construction. For the project to be completed, however, the board, McCray and the Saanich Legacy Foundation will have to raise the remaining $295,000 needed. The group is asking for help from the government, community members, foundation supporters and sponsors.

Joe Daly has been hired as the lead design consultant on the project. Daly and his colleagues at Daly Landscape Architecture wanted to create a space that spoke to the “contemplative nature” of the memorial, but was also open enough so that visitors would not feel isolated.

“We wanted to find a way to communicate these losses as a communal expression, as well as give families the opportunity to personalize the spaces,” says Daly. “Not every child will have had a name at this point, so we had to find a way to honour that.”

The solution came under a knoll of arbutus trees, in the form of small cement “Spirit Houses,” which can be decorated, filled with mementos or personalized. McCray hopes fundraising efforts will allow these tiny markers to be kept free or affordable for families. Due to the trees in the location, there will be no spots for in-ground burials, but Daly designed the area to host 3,000 small houses, along with benches that can be marked with bronze plaques, area-specific foliage, a ceremonial pavilion memorial installation, an ossuary and communal garden for scattering ashes, and suspended cedar flags or “wind notes” for messages.

“When you look around North America, there is no precedent for this,” says Daly. “We needed to create something more than a plaque wall — we needed a place where people could come and feel good about this.”

Daly has his own personal connection to the project as well: he is the father of three children, with one miscarried. Though the project was proposed to Daly two years ago, he says he and his wife are just now thinking about partaking in the memorial.

“It is surprisingly hard to get people to speak about this issue, and a lot of women used to be expected to just grieve in silence or move on, because people didn’t understand that loss,” says McCray. “It’s very hard on the dads, too. My husband felt helpless … But our loss wound up being a blessing in disguise: the more I talked to other people, the more I heard how common this was, and how much we were lacking space to honour these losses.”

Dr. Konia Trouton of the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic estimates that, in Victoria, there are at least 450 miscarriages a year where women experience this loss in the first half of pregnancy. Meanwhile, Vital Statistics reported 457 stillbirths in B.C. in 2010, with at least 50 in the Greater Victoria area.

“It is difficult to get an exact number for miscarriage, as many are not reported in the systematic way that births are tracked,” says Trouton, who adds that approximately 15 to 20 per cent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. “Miscarriage, and even stillbirth, is more prevalent in our society than most people realize.”

Because McCray already had her now three-year-old daughter, Lauren, in an uncomplicated pregnancy, she and Elmhirst expected the best. When their worst fears were realized on that day two years ago, McCray had no memorial, ceremony or physical reminders to commemorate the loss. The family has now happily expanded to include 15-month-old Colin, though McCray says, “our baby in heaven will always be in our hearts.”

“My heart still hurts, but my experience and my grief has come full circle,” she says. “I’ve been able to talk to other people about this and turn it into something that, I hope, will help a lot of other families.” M

To contribute to Little Spirits Garden, visit, or call 250-477-3806. On Oct. 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, a candlelight ceremony will be held at 7pm at Royal Oak’s Garden Chapel.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vancouver Island Symphony conductor Pierre Simard is releasing his new synthwave album ‘Plandemic’ on March 5. (Photo courtesy Olivia Simard)
Vancouver Island Symphony conductor releasing side-project EP of electronic music

Pierre Simard, recording as Plan Omega, presents ‘Plandemic’

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
Vancouver Island children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
B.C. musician records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s close connection to director led to rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre stands in as the Quimper Regional Hospital on Feb. 23 for filming Maid, a 10-part Netflix series. (Greg Sutton/District of Saanich)
Netflix transforms Saanich recreation centre into hospital for filming

Facility was closed to public Feb. 23 for filming of Maid

This image released by SYFY shows Meredith Garretson, left, and Alan Tudyk in the new series "Resident Alien." (James Dittinger/SYFY via AP)
B.C.-shot ‘Resident Alien’ invader gets lift-off with viewers

New Syfy series catching on, proving TV doesn’t have to come from premium cable

Steve Bick is coming out of his COVID cocoon with a curated compilation of original tracks by West Coast musicians. (Submitted photo)
Curated album showcases West Coast musicians

‘Locals Only – Volume One’ features an eclectic mix of tunes from musicians living on the Pacific Rim

WILDLIFE TREE: Tofino Poet Laureate Christine Lowther stands next to a giant cedar tree on District Lot 114, the site of Tofino’s controversial affordable housing project. The tree was pinned with an official Ministry of Forests yellow wildlife tree sign to educate fallers that the tree needs to be left standing for food, shelter and nesting. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Tofino author Christine Lowther calling for poetry about trees

“I’m thrilled to be of service to trees through poetry.”

West Coast-themed metal art by Nanaimo artists Hayley Willoughby (pictured), her father Jack and partner Blair LeFebvre is on display in the window of Lululemon at Woodgrove Centre from now until March 13 as part of the store’s monthly local artist program. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Metal artists present cross-generational show at Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre

Work by Hayley Willoughby, her partner and father on display in Lululemon window

Vancouver Island Symphony principal violinist and concertmaster Calvin Dyck is among the musicians performing in the upcoming Salmon and Trout concert. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Vancouver Island Symphony will make a splash with fish-themed quintets concert

Performance was to take place in November but was rescheduled due to COVID-19

Nico Rhodes, Lucas Smart, James McRae and Kosma Busheikin (from left) recorded their set for the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival’s online video series at the Harbour City Theatre in December. (Photo courtesy François Savard)
Music starts next week at online Nanaimo International Jazz Festival

Ten free, virtual performances to occur over three weeks in March

The original artwork created by local artist Emily Thiessen, is featured as the Commercial Alley’s eighth installation. (City of Victoria)
 The original artwork created by local artist Emily Thiessen, is featured as the Commercial Alley’s eighth installation. (City of Victoria)
Victoria calls for artists to fill Commercial Alley gallery

Competition open to artists in the Capital Regional District

Cowichan Valley author Teresa Schapansky’s books for young readers have become a phenomenon on Amazon. (Submitted)
Cowichan author tops Amazon charts

Award-winning author Teresa Schapansky learned of a need for low-level readers in the classroom

Nadia Rieger restocks some of the art supplies at the Crows Nest Artist Collective. Their move to stocking more art supplies over the course of the pandemic was a response to increased demand, which she thinks shows people have been turning to creating art to cope with mental health struggles due to lockdowns and restrictions on other activities. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Vancouver Islanders using art to conquer COVID blues

It seems people have been turning to their creative sides to stay mentally and emotionally healthy

Most Read