‘I came to remember’: Overdose victims memorialized along Temiskaming Shores beach


Eric Taschner | CTVNorthernOntario.ca Videojournalist



Thursday marked International Overdose Awareness Day with communities commemorating loved ones are remembering those lost to drug poisoning.

Along Beach Boulevard near Lake Timiskaming, a number of circles of painted rocks can be found around a tree.

These rocks are placed down by people who have m lost their loved ones to overdoses.


“I came to remember him,” said Caitlin Willard, before she placed her rock at the base of the tree.

Willard painted her rock purple with the words ‘Nate 2021’ on it in white paint.

She told CTV News it was in memory of her best friend, who died from an opioid overdose in February 2021.

“Nathan was super funny and he could make anybody laugh,” she said.

“We were living together actually when he died.”

Caitlin Willard painted a rock purple with the words ‘Nate 2021’ on it in white paint in memory of a dear friend. She place the rock at the memorial tree in Temiskaming Shores on Thursday as part of International Overdose Awareness Day. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)Willard’s heartache isn’t unique and she’s not alone. There are countless people who’ve lost friends and family to drug overdoses.

A few years ago, the Pavilion Women’s Centre recognized it needed a place to anchor difficult conversations about overdoses. In working with the City of Temiskaming Shores, a memorial tree was planted to remember all who have died from substance use.

“It’s pretty universal now,” said the centre’s executive director Melanie Ducharme.

“There aren’t people who aren’t touched by substance use and overdose.”

The centre was the lead host of the International Overdose Awareness Day event joined by Timiskaming Health Unit, Timiskaming Drug and Alcohol Strategy, the Salvation Army, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the District of Timiskaming Social Services Administration Board.

“What we see a lot is an overlap between substance use and what women are experiencing,” said Ducharme.

“Sometimes the substance use is first and sometimes it’s used as a coping mechanism and sometimes it substitutes as part of the abuse.”

Purple ribbons are affixed to the memorial tree’s trunk and branches as a lasting memory of those lost. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)The remembrance tree art project allowed both the individuals and service providers an opportunity to remember loved ones. Purple ribbons are also tied to the bark of the tree and its branches as a lasting memory.

There were information kits and resources about opioids and the dangers certain drugs pose to the user on site at the event.

“It’s okay to have an addiction and it’s also okay to reach out for support if you’re a family member of an addict or if you’re an addict,” said Kaitline Stewart, who brought her young son Desmond to commemorate the day.

Staff were also offering 10-minute naloxone kits to the community.

There were resources, information kits about opioids and the dangers certain drugs pose to the user and 10-minute naloxone kits on-site at the event. (Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)Health officials said that unfortunately the life-saving medicine does not work on all drugs and the health unit is seeing several different types of drugs being added to the drug supply.

Health unit statistics show over 150 doses of naloxone were been administered in the first three months of the year in the district.

In 2022, there were seven opioid-related deaths within the district, up from four in 2021. It was recorded from 2017-2020, deaths from opioid incidents increased in the Timiskaming District, however this increase was not too significant.

Staff from the health unit told CTV News they believe a harm reduction approach is the best way to help people struggling addicts.

“We really want to reduce the harms of substance use,” said the health unit’s public health promoter Kim Peters.

“The numbers are high across the northeast. Collectively across the northeast with all the health units we are seeing an increase. Harm reduction does not encourage substance use or force people to stop using.”

From January-March, three people have died from suspected drug overdoses. In 2022, there were 14 suspected drug-related deaths.

Willard said she believes more agencies need to be established to regulate laced drug supply.

“There’s way too many people lost to overdose,” she said.