Creating Thunderhead Monument’s Interpretive Content

In 2023, the LGBT Purge Fund developed the interpretative content for the 2SLGBTQI+ National Monument. This content includes the words, quotes, images and captions that will tell the story of 2SLGBTQI+ discrimination in Canada, including the colonial roots of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and the cruelty of the Canadian government during the LGBT Purge. It also tells stories of community resistance and resilience and urges vigilance in the face of ongoing hate.

Key messages will be communicated within the monument’s site on an entry panel and on a long interpretive wall. Two on-site freestanding panels will also describe the design of the Monument and how it connects to the overall project.

The Monument site will include entry panels (at bottom left), freestanding panels describing the Monument’s design (in the middle right) and a long interpretive wall (on the right).


Although the Thunderhead Monument is a collaboration with Canadian Heritage and the National Capital Commission, it is funded completely by the LGBT Purge Fund through the class action settlement. The Monument is about community experience and, as such, it was essential that the Fund hold the pen through the development of the interpretive content.

In 2023, our legal agreement with the government was revised to affirm that the Fund will write, and have final approval over, the Monument’s interpretive content. Our collaborators at the government agreed: this is our story to tell.


The interpretive content is rooted in the Monument’s vision, which was created with the input of hundreds of community members in 2019 and 2020. This vision has guided all aspects of this project, including proposals from design teams.

The vision was first drafted in collaboration with members of the Monument Advisory Committee and the Monument’s Indigenous Circle. Subsequently, hundreds had a say on the vision through online discussion groups and a national e-survey. This included scores of LGBT Purge survivors.

In 2019, our Monument Advisory Committee and Indigenous Circle met to draft the first Vision for the Monument.

The vision found here, outlines the Monument’s objectives to educate, memorialize, celebrate and inspire and presents its principles of inclusion, Indigeneity, visibility and timelessness.


The Fund set out to create the Monument’s interpretive content armed with the vision and also with the expert guidance of members of the Monument’s Education and Interpretation Committee (EIC). These members first met in 2022 to craft a set of guidelines for the interpretive content.

Following their expert advice, the Fund committed to an approach to interpretation that would:

  • avoid chronologies and/or a story of heroes (the more we focus on particular events or people we more we leave out);
  • write from a community not an institutional perspective;
  • use personal narratives to convey experience and emotion;
  • allow for community contributions;
  • show intersectional experiences of exclusion;
  • highlight the depth of Two-Spirit experience and the impact of colonization;
  • challenge visitors to think about history in new ways;
  • highlight sex as important to community history and experience;
  • not shy away from being political; and
  • use engaging, emotional, yet accessible language.

Members of the EIC brought expertise in Two-Spirit history, community activism, curation, community history, story-telling, archive management, public education, and more.

With the guidance of the EIC, we also committed to using what we call a “promiscuous approach to language.” This means, for example, that we don’t use only one acronym to describe our diverse communities, but use “queer,” SOGIE language, and different acronyms. In this way, we reflect and respect the diverse ways that folks describe themselves. Through this approach, we also hope to avoid the interpretive content feeling stuck in time.

Finally, with expert guidance, we also worked towards the notion of universality. Instead of particular people or events, for example, we focused on shared themes of experience. This approach also meant that we didn’t pin down images with dates or places in their captions and used first names only in quote attributions. We want everyone to see themselves in this content.


Guided by this approach, the Fund drew from countless sources, including Survivor Stories, documentaries, oral and written histories, academic sources and more. We worked with many archives to identify the images and other visual material, and we collected quotes from generous community members to help tell stories in people’s own words.

Drafting the content was a process of distillation, engagement and refinement. It was not done in isolation.

The interpretive content drew from many experts and on the support of many archives, including the Two-Spirit Archives, the Quebec Gay Archives, and The ArQuives, pictured here.

Ultimately 34 expert stakeholders reviewed every word, quote and image of the content. These individuals included experts in public education, curation, Two-Spirit history and advocacy, archival management, community activism and community history, to name a few. Of course, they also included Purge survivors, as well as members of the Board, the Indigenous Circle, the Monument Advisory Committee and the Education and Interpretation Committee.

The response was overwhelmingly positive and constructive. Over many months, revisions were made throughout the engagement process. Each comment was carefully considered. And slowly a complete text began to emerge.


Ultimately, a number of themes drove the content, and we worked to ensure the content of each section answered a key question. You’ll have to wait to see the Monument for the final text, but we’re pleased to share the titles of the eight sections on the main wall and the question answered in each section:

  • The LGBT Purge
    Answers: What was the LGBT Purge and how did it end?
  • Power and Oppression
    Answers: How has the State been involved in oppression?
  • 2SLGBTQI+ Discrimination in Canada
    Answers: Beside the LGBT Purge, in what other ways have 2SLGBTQI+ people suffered discrimination in Canada?
  • The Human Toll
    Answers: What are the impacts of discrimination on 2SLGBTQI+ people?
  • Queer Activism in Canada
    Answers: What are the origins of the Queer Movement?
  • Community Resistance and Change
    Answers: How has community resistance changed the course of history?
  • Indigiqueer Experience and Colonialism
    Answers: How are homophobia and colonialism connected? How has colonialism impacted Indigiqueer people?
  • Diverse Communities, Diverse Experience
    Answers: What is the interaction between 2SLGBTQI+ discrimination and other oppressions? Why be vigilant?

The interpretive content includes images and captions that describe a diverse range of community history and experience.

As well as interpretive text, each of the key questions above will be answered using images with captions. Quotes will also be used along with a prompt for community participation that links back to the Monument website with an opportunity for visitors to share their own stories online.


Writing the interpretive content wasn’t easy. In fact, before we even began, some urged us to abandon the project. We were told that summing up community experience was so Herculean that it was virtually impossible. But we persisted.

The challenges, we found, were many. As well as reflecting a broad range of diverse community experience and being inclusive, we needed to be concise. We also needed to write for a very wide audience: survivors, educators, kids trying to find themselves, random dog-walkers…

The Fund remains open about the challenges of writing this story. We know it will never be perfect, but feel it’s still worth doing. We engaged as much expert help as possible through the process and, while acknowledging that this content will never be complete, will invite our diverse communities to help tell this story even after these panels are installed.

We each have a journey to share, and we each bring a unique perspective and experience. And, of course, the story of 2SLGBTQI+ justice is one that is still unfolding.

An Evolved National Monument

In March 2022, we announced that “Team Thunderhead,” led by Public City Architecture in Winnipeg, won the competition to design the 2SLGBTQI+ National Monument. The selection of the winning team was made by the Monument’s jury, which carefully considered feedback from our Indigenous Circle, our Monument Advisory Committee, the National Capital Commission and the public.

Over this last year, in response to feedback from these stakeholders and rightsholders, and from the LGBT Purge Fund, the design has been refined and enhanced. What was a winning concept has been developed into a full-fledged, detailed design. While some aspects of the design may still be adjusted, we are thrilled to share some renderings of the evolved design.

In response to feedback and safety concerns, the original bridge and ramp was removed, focusing attention on the central element of the column and Thunderhead within. The site has also been opened to increase access, a sense of space and visibility.

The central sculpture, reminiscent of a thunderhead cloud clad in mirrored tiles, now has larger openings and simplified forms. It continues to embody the strength, activism and hope of 2SLGBTQI+ communities.

The tribute area has been lowered and opened up to the rest of the site. It now centres on a sugar maple tree and includes seating. The major interpretative panel, seen on the right, provides ample space to host educational content about the LGBT Purge and wider discrimination against 2SLGBTQI+ people in Canada, including the insidious impacts of colonialism on Two-Spirit folks.

The Medicinal Garden remains an essential design feature, set within the system of winding paths.

The fire pit and healing circle and firepit has been enhanced with multi-level seating. The design still brings together stones hand-picked by Two-Spirit Elders from the 13 territories and provinces.

Overall, the site has been widened, and the new plan creates more buffers along the busy river-side path. Through additional trees, berming and interior paths, the monument’s landscape will have a greater sense of intimacy. Spaces for contemplation are found throughout the site and increase as visitors move from the entrance at the southwest towards the fruit orchard in the northeast.

The stage has been enlarged and further developed. It will include enhanced stage lighting, making the monument an incredible place to party. Inauguration in 2025 cannot come soon enough!

Our sincere thanks to the brilliant design team for their creative genius and problem-solving. That’s: Public City’s Liz Wreford, Peter Sampson, Taylor LaRocque and Maggie Bonnetta; artists Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan; and Two-Spirit subject-matter expert and advisor Albert McLeod. Thanks as well to our collaborators at Canadian Heritage and the National Capital Commission for moving this project forward with grace and speed.