Community gathers to walk for Taylor Van Diest

In memory of Taylor, and to honour her life, a “spirit walk” on Halloween night, Thursday, starts at the museum parking lot at 6 p.m.

Dorianne kohl

Special to The Morning Star

For many people in Armstrong, Oct. 3l will be a time of adorning costumes, wearing extreme makeup, taking on the character of witch, ghoul, pirate, ghost…or assisting children to dress up and gather their goodie bags to go trick-or-treating.

However, for the family of Taylor Van Diest, this date marks an unimaginable tragedy. On Oct. 3l, 2011 Taylor Van Diest, who had recently graduated from Pleasant Valley secondary school, was found brutally beaten near the railroad tracks on Pleasant Valley Road. She died hours later in Kelowna General Hospital from her injuries. The individual who was arrested and charged with her murder, several months later, has yet to be brought to trial.

For Taylor’s family, a constant outpouring of love, support and grief took the form of a memorial “shrine” on a telephone pole on Rosedale Avenue, close to where the crime was committed, and has been continually adorned with photographs of Taylor, flowers, plants, Teddy bears, art work and loving messages ever since.

A grieving mother, Marie Van Diest, together with Taylor’s twin sister Kirstie, had another vision: to create a trail in honour of Taylor, so that not only would the community be reminded of Taylor, but that women could continue to walk through the same area safely and without fear.

The focused, powerful and definitive energy Marie poured into this project, was a force to behold! Any block which came between her and her dream was overturned; any resistance to her vision was made inconsequential. She forged ahead with a quiet dignity, her daughter at her side, providing strength, reassurance and vision, too.

Marie’s brother Paul, deeply shaken by the tragedy and the enormity of the task, also engaged in the commitment to be a co-creator of the vision of the trail, and forged ahead, step by step.

Marie obtained permission from CN Rail, to allow the trail to be created alongside the tracks. She inspired contractors, local business people, fencers, pavers and carvers to donate materials, time and effort to help translate the vision into a reality.

Work parties formed, materials and funds were donated, illustrating a community which wanted to somehow help to heal the tragedy by offering hands and hearts which gave generously. A special tribute board was created of wood, which now adorns the pathway and featuring a collage of photographs of Taylor, along with a beautifully carved wooden bench, engraved with all the names of those businesses who donated their materials towards the creation of the trail.

Elegant signage exists at both ends of the trail, identifying its origins. This month, solar lights were erected; and in a quiet but meaningful ceremony with the Van Diest family and friends present, the trail was finished and the dream became a reality. Angels adorn the pathway, along with other sculptures, and flowers, placed there by family and members of the community.

I have been in awe of the dedication, drive, passion and focus which has been at the helm of bringing this amazing path to fruition. It is an illustration of the capacity of the human spirit to resurrect, to believe in a dream, to keep focused on that dream. To accept nothing less than the creation of that dream…to forge ahead with a spirit of grace. That is the spirit of Marie Van Diest.

In memory of Taylor, and to honour her life, we will have a “spirit walk” on Halloween night, Thursday. We invite the public to meet at 6 p.m. at the museum parking lot. We will have a short ceremony, followed by a walk along Pleasant Valley Road to Rosedale, and then to the trail. We will continue along the trail, and back to PV Road.  Everyone is asked to bring a candle, to light the way, as a symbol of bringing the “light” back to the night.