In a fitting memorial to Sue Nesbitt-McNally - a longtime Acton resident who lost her life at the hands of her husband - Halton Women’s Place (HWP) has erected a purple bench in Prospect Park.
The bench was unveiled earlier this month, which Sue's family says holds extra meaning as each November also marks the anniversary of her death.
The bench is part of a larger project that serves a trio of purposes: To provide information on resources to victims, to memorialize victims of domestic violence and, appropriately for the Nesbitt family, to raise awareness.
Sue Nesbitt-McNally died eight years ago today, on Nov. 20, 2015. She was killed by her husband, Halton Hills firefighter Trevor McNally, who then took his own life by setting fire to the basement of their home. While it was originally widely believed that both their deaths were due to smoke inhalation, the Nesbitt family knew the truth. Frustrated by the narrative, they broke their silence in 2017.
"There were a lot of hard feelings," sister Kim Nesbitt said. "My mother died eight months after Sue literally of a broken heart. Her last wish was to have made public that she was not a fire victim."
Nesbitt spoke candidly about how her sister "was not in a good place in her marriage with Trevor and that it wasn't a happy couple that died in the fire. It was a murder and a suicide."
"She always put her husband first and stood by his side through his darkest times and alcoholism. When she finally decided to put herself first and leave the marriage she fought so hard to save, it cost her the ultimate price: her life."
She wants her sister to be remembered as "someone who always gave her best and loved beyond all measure."
Nesbitt remembers her sister's smile and laughter. One of the last memories she has of Sue was at her daughter's - Sue's niece's - Christmas pageant just days before her death.
"Breanna was dressed as an angel. Sue made me pause for a moment to take a picture of her and the angel. Who knew that she herself would be an angel in just five short days," Nesbitt said.
The concept of the purple benches started in Nova Scotia. In 1990, Barbara Baillie was killed by her husband. The first such bench was erected in 2015 at Long Lake Park by her daughter, giving them the official name of Barb’s Bench Project.
Aside from the purple colour and symbolism, what makes them special is the plaque affixed to them with information on how to get help.
A similar memorial was erected in Georgetown’s Dominion Gardens Park in 2021 to honour Darian Henderson-Bellman, who was shot and killed by her partner in 2020. Her family attended the unveiling of Sue's bench in Acton.
Though the benches are strongly associated with real individuals, their names will not be found on them. They are meant to honour anyone who has been touched by domestic violence.
“In partnership with the Halton Regional Police, we created an Intimate Partner Violence Memorial, which is located at headquarters,” Halton Women's Place Executive Director Laurie Hepburn said.
But at the time, the organization knew more needed to be done because, as Hepburn puts it, “it (the memorial) is not going to have the reach that we want.”
How they came to adopt the benches is a combination of like-minded thinking and serendipity. They had already been considering a purple bench project on their own. But as luck would have it, they discovered the Barb’s Bench Project while doing some research.
“Their vision was to see these benches all across Canada. And so we thought, ‘How wonderful. Let's join Barb's Bench initiative,” Hepburn added.
"It starts a conversation because lots of people are going to walk by that bench. And our goal is to make sure that people are talking about domestic violence."
Nesbitt said the bench's placement right next to the playground is “the perfect location.” Prospect Park was a special spot for Sue as she would frequent the greenspace to attend a fitness boot camp.
If you are, or know someone who is, experiencing domestic violence, Halton Women’s Place can be reached at 905-878-8555. More information can be found at HaltonWomensplace.com.