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Saying goodbye

The art-making party for Elmaks was wonderful and fitting, and the service the next day was lovely.

I don’t usually say funerals are lovely, but this one was. His art decorated the room, and several pieces from the art-making party the night before were there too. (Not mine. I’m still working on mine.)

There was a memorial video of photographs of Elmaks from the beginning to the end of his life. There were pictures of his art and some of his swap boxes. Even the pictures of him with Duncan and Oboe were included.

During the service, people were invited to get up and say a few words, and many of his close friends did so. I loved the stories. There was much laughter and many tears. Elmaks had so many good friends who knew him well and cherished him; he obviously didn’t suffer from a lack of love.

My friendship with Elmaks was mostly online. We’d only met in person four or five times, so there was much I didn’t know about him.

I knew he adored kittens and babies and birds and art, and that he cared about people and politics and the kind of cities and world we are collectively creating. I knew he was smart and creative and unique. I knew he loved puns.

But I didn’t know he loved to cook, and that he spent many, many volunteer hours at the Garden Spot, cooking and feeding people. I didn’t know that he used to be a Page in the Ontario Legislature. I didn’t know of his fondness for pirates, piracy and parrots. I didn’t know he adored cats so much he was incapable of leaving them alone, and therefore he became unusually adept at handling pissed-off cats. I didn’t know he once brought his friend Jadis a dead fish wrapped in newspaper and said “Look, it’s the mayor!” (Apparently it had a cigar in its mouth and it looked remarkably like mayoral candidate Terry Kilrea.)

I still don’t know why he killed himself. It seems important somehow to try to understand. I did learn that he had known for some time he was going to do this, and he didn’t want to be stopped. That knowledge provides some comfort, though I still wish I knew why he didn’t want to live any longer. He had so much potential and so much love in his life.

5 comments to Saying goodbye

  • Kathleen

    Elmaks, sounded like a wonderful, caring, human being. I wish that I had known him. Thanks for posting this Zoom. My heart to goes out to all his friends and family. May he rest in peace.

  • I’m really sorry I couldn’t make either of the memorial events. Merci, Jadis, pour l’organiser.

    I remember my first interaction with ElMaks. Back when he was still very much anonymous, I remember seeing one of his Swap Boxes (one of the first? It was on Elgin) and I immediately got it. It was one of those moments like the proverbial cavemen living their lives staring at shadows on a wall, then being turned around and realizing there was so much more to the world. The ‘turning’ moment was that public space wasn’t just a private space owned by the state, but that it really does belong to the public and we can interact with it. It was always there, it just took someone to notice.

    Since I never met him in person, I’d say that I only knew ElMaks through the internet, but I feel there is more than that. We have interacted indirectly though his swap boxes, and I felt a kinship to him every time I repaired one of the boxes he made that got vandalized. With his are ElMaks was able to take the indirect interactivity of the internet and bring it into the real world: his installations were real-world tactile blog posts, and his swap boxes were the comments.

    Despite gaining all this from his life, I have missed out by not knowing him in person. I am happy that we had him for the time we did, but I don’t feel sad about his loss, For one, his parting words when he left Ottawa for Montreal apply just as much now that he’s gone for good: a vibrant, social public space can’t come from the actions of one person alone; we all need to step forward and build it ourselves.

    Another reason I am not fraught with sorrow at his loss is because he has created something new that anyone can make themselves now that someone has turned around in the cave and shown us all how to do it. That is something we will never lose.

    But where I do feel sad is that I only knew him by his past achievements. It’s not easy to really conceive of what you lose in the future by something not happening. Had I known him better, I wouldn’t be so ignorant of just how much potential he must have had to go on to imagine other new things nobody thought of. which now nobody might think of at all.

    – RG>

  • Grouchy, thank you for leaving such insightful and interesting comments. Jadis said that she and Elmaks spent a lot of time over the years exploring the city. Back alleys and rooftops and so on. Interacting with the more hidden parts of the public spaces. I see this fitting too with what you said about the public spaces belonging to the public. Most of us stick to the city’s facade, the places we’re “supposed” to be, or “allowed” to be. But there’s so much more city to be discovered and explored.

    As for what Elmaks would have given us in the future, we can only guess. But by taking what he *did* give us, and following it through, maybe we will come up with those new ideas. Maybe that’s what he left us for the future…

  • AC


    My friend, Shona, was Max’s cousin. Her father and Max’s mother did not get along and Shona’s family only learned about Elmak’s passing recently. Shona couldn’t find any info to contact Max’s brother Stuart since their families don’t keep in communication, so I told her I would search around and see what I could find. If you knew any leads that I could pass on to Shona to get in touch with Max’s brother I would appreciate it.

    Thank you.