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Jack Knox: Ten-plaque bench is a celebration, not a memorial

Most commemorative benches, picnic tables and other pieces of public furniture are dedicated to people only after they’re gone. Most are in loving memory of the dearly departed, not the happily here.
The outdoor bench at Cattle Point with 10 plaques mounted on it. All are dedicated to Harry and/or Beryl Borris, who were married for 78 years before he died a couple of years ago. She is still going at age 100. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

This is a love story, one that goes back to 1942 when Harry and Beryl Borris got married in Winnipeg.

He was in the air force then, but once the war was over they moved to B.C., bouncing around the province for a decade before alighting in Victoria in 1955.

There was no shifting them after that. Why would they leave? Their house was just a couple of blocks from Willows Beach, which became a favourite family destination.

“It was just a magical place for us,” daughter Cheryl says of growing up on that stretch of waterfront.

That’s why, when Harry and Beryl celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1992, their children — Cheryl, Daphne, Kenneth — figured it would be appropriate to install a commemorative bench, complete with metal dedication plaque, on the southern edge of the park by Cattle Point. It offered a nice view across the bay to Willows Beach and all those fond memories.

But then, 10 years later, came a question: How to mark the couple’s 60th anniversary? Their three children decided to add another plaque to the bench. “We’re still here!” it read.

After that, in 2007, came a plaque to celebrate their 65th. “Still standing,” it said. “Still here!”

Which, of course, meant they had to add yet another one when Harry and Beryl marked 70 years of wedded bliss in 2012: “An inspiration to us all.”

By that point the plaque-makers were getting a little tuckered. “How many of these are there going to be?” they asked Daphne.

As it turns out, there was one more for the couple’s diamond anniversary in December 2017.

By that point there were also plaques dedicated to birthdays: Harry’s 90thin 2011, Beryl’s 90th in 2012, plus 95thmarkers for both him (“Still going strong!”) and her. Another plaque — the tenth in total — was attached when she turned 100 this July: “Beryl Amy Borris, celebrating a century!” It was a TikTok post by Yukari Oyama Peerless that brought all this to my attention.

There were no more anniversary signs, though. Harry died Oct. 28, 2020, just six months shy of 100 and a few weeks before the couple’s 78th anniversary. Imagine that, 78 years, and they were still crazy for each other. FYI, the longest marriage recognized by Guinness World Records lasted 86.

Here’s the thing, though: After Harry died, his children, who had collaborated on this project all along, decided not to mark his passing with another plaque at Cattle Point. No, they said, that bench is for toasting feel-good milestones, not recording loss. Instead, there’s a memorial plaque to Harry on another bench at the memorial garden at St. Mary’s Anglican church in Oak Bay, where he was active.

That leads to an interesting point: most commemorative benches, picnic tables and other pieces of public furniture are dedicated to people only after they’re gone. Most are in loving memory of the dearly departed, not the happily here.

Sometimes we even focus not on where our loved ones lived well, but where they died badly; if you were struck by a meteor, would you rather your memorial be placed at the site of your greatest achievement, or by the smoking crater in the road?

Why wait until the people we care about are gone? Why not celebrate them when they’re around to get the message?

Or why not use benches to have a bit of fun? In Britain, Monty Python’s Terry Jones and Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley blessed a canalside bench honouring a columnist friend who, prior to his death, wrote that he would like to be remembered via a plaque inscribed “In fond memory of Miles Kington, who hated this spot because there was never anywhere to sit down and enjoy it from.”

There’s also an English city where a plaque reads, “This bench is dedicated to the men who lost the will to live while following their partners around the shoe shops of Chester.”

Also note that in Atherton, England, a bench was dedicated this fall “in loathing memory” of just-bounced British prime minister Boris Johnson. “Forgotten but not gone,” it sniffed.

But I digress. We’re supposed to be talking about the Borris bench, not the Boris bench.

The three children are obviously proud of, and grateful for, their parents. At 100, Beryl still lives in the same house near Willows Beach, aging in place with the help of those who care about her. She still gardens, cooks and reads both the Guardian and the Times Colonist. And she has a place to perch where her children have let it be known, 10 times, how much they care.