Residents of Chelsea now have someplace to send their grief.
Nestled in the forest behind L’Orée du Bois restaurant stands Chelsea's first wind phone, with its Japanese inspired cedar roof, fused glass, and black vintage rotary telephone that sits inside the attractive phone booth-like structure.
The wind phone, like many others around the world, was inspired by the original wind phone built in Otsuchi, Japan in 2010. The unconnected phone was created by designer Itaru Sasaki in 2010 to help him cope with his cousin’s death. The phone was later opened to the public after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which killed over 15,000 people.
“Our hope is that people will use this as a place to express their grief in whatever way is right for them,” said the driving force behind the project, Donna Troop. “To stay connected to the person we have lost through voicing whatever on this telephone. Things that you forgot to say. Things that you wish you could do together. It can provide an ongoing release and connection and that is a healthy thing.”
Because the phone is unconnected, “it doesn’t involve anyone else which allows people to be a little freer with their grief,” she added.
Troop, a volunteer with the Bereaved Families of Ottawa, acknowledged that the grieving process isn’t always fast and said that society often expects mourners to move on from a loss quickly. She added that it’s important for those who have lost loved ones to take the time and space they need to truly grieve properly.
“There is the need for people to express authentically what is happening to them when they are grieving,” said Troop. She added that uncertainty around COVID was a big factor when deciding on the project. “We didn’t really know what was going to happen, and we still don’t. Having a private refuge for the community for whatever kind of grief comes up whether it be related to COVID or not is important,” said Troop. “A lot of people have lost friends and family related to COVID so yes, it’s timely.”
The Wind Phone is an actual phone, in this case an old black rotary phone, on a platform in a wooden phone booth. The phone is in a secluded and yet accessible spot behind the restaurant which Troop felt was an important aspect of the project.
After considering a variety of sites for the project, Troop approached L’Orée du Bois owner Josée Chartrand about her land behind the restaurant. Chartrand’s partner and renowned chef Jean Claude Chartrand died of COVID at the age of 52 in March 2021. Troop said she had never met Josée, but when they talked in the restaurant parking lot about her idea everything came together.”
“We stood in the rain. We talked and she cried and we cried. Another person might have said, ‘no I don’t want anything to do with this.’ But it resonated with her. It has been magical.”
Troop acknowledged that, at first, a wind phone can sound like a bit of a strange idea, but, “the more you explain it the less weird it sounds,” she said laughing. In the winter Troop and a core group of supporters put together proposals and went to the municipality of Chelsea for help. The municipality contributed $3,000 and the remaining funding came from local businesses and individuals who are acknowledged on a plaque inside the phone booth. The project was completed for about $12,000.
“At first we were setting our sights quite high with artistic pieces and even the possibility of making a movie, but in the end we decided to keep it to the basics,” explained Troop.
The public is invited to use the wind phone anytime they may need it.