Carla Warrilow remembered with ghost bike memorial

Photos by Martin Reis

Story by Derek Chadbourne

On the morning of October 16, 2013 Carla Warrilow was riding her bike on Spadina near Dundas street in downtown Toronto.  How it happened is still unclear, but what is known is that she was  pinned under the wheels of a large truck and lay there for a half hour before she could be removed.  Her pelvis was crushed.  A week later she succumbed to her wounds in hospital.

As of this writing no charges have been laid, but police are still looking for witnesses.

Carla was born in Toronto, but grew up in California. She returned to live in Canada and continue her education.  Carla earned a BA in art history from McGill, and volunteered as a gallery guide at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  She started her publishing career in Montreal as an intern, and then moved onto other positions in Mississauga before finally settling in Toronto.  She had recently taken a job at Precedent magazine.

A former roommate spoke of Carla fondly, writing on the Facebook event page for her memorial ride, "Carla Warrilow was my roommate for three of the best years of my life. She was 25, just started a new job at a magazine, and she was the nicest and most easy-going person I've ever lived with (and I've been living in shared houses for the 10 years I've been in Toronto)."

On October 27, a week following the tragedy, family, friends and supporters gathered at Matt Cohen Park on the southeast corner of Spadina and Bloor for a memorial ride for Carla.  Organized by Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC), memorial rides start from Matt Cohen Park and make their way to the collision site.  There, a ghost bike is placed to commemorate the fallen cyclist.  A ghost bike is painted white and used to show where a cyclist has been killed.  Ghost bikes are only for the deceased, and in Toronto they are placed a week after the cyclist has died.

At 12:15pm, over one hundred cyclists slowly took over all southbound lanes of traffic on Spadina.  They followed a cargo bike transporting the ghost bike which would mark where Carla was pinned under a truck for a half hour.

The procession made its way straight down Spadina to Sullivan Street, just south of Dundas. Other family members and members of the press waited for the entourage's arrival.  As the ghost bike was raised from the cargo bike, ringing bike bells rose to greet it and continued as the ghost bike was locked to a large green pole.  The pole was already adorned with a lace banner to commemorate a life lived.  The cyclists stood their ground in the streets, stopping car traffic for the duration of the ceremony.

Attendees were asked to take off their hats and helmets for a minute of silence for Carla.   Family and friends spoke glowingly of Carla and the fantastic person she was and will continue to be in their hearts.

For that half hour, cyclists did what the city had failed to do: make Spadina (even if it was only between Dundas and Sullivan) safe for cyclists.  For once drivers had to wait, and wait they did.  Except for the occasional horn, all were respectful to the memory of Carla.

A 1992 NOW magazine article reported on the demands of cycling advocates to include bike lanes in the redesign of Spadina Avenue,  then scheduled for completion in 1995. Cyclists were hoping to influence the official street design, which had a streetcar right-of-way and two lanes of traffic on either side, but no designated space for bicycles.

Activists said that this flew in the face of a provincial objective which aimed to adequately address the safety needs of cyclists on Spadina and beyond. At the time, Ontario Environmental Minister Ruth Grier was calling for a Metro streetscape study that would "allow for the free flow of pedestrian and bicycles (that) contributes to the greening of the city and improvement in air quality."

In the same article, former Metro councillor Olivia Chow said "What it boils down to is, is the car or the bicycle more important on Spadina?"

Over 20 years later, and it is obvious the safety needs of cyclists on Spadina and throughout much of the city have not been properly addressed.

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