About Us

Hello Everyone

My name is Julie.  I wanted to take this first entry to explain what this site is about and why I set it up (okay, I asked my lovely husband to set it up for me) .  Like most Canadians, I was living my life, raising my 2 daughters, Hannah and Grace, driving them to school, dance, music, theatre rehearsals.  All of the normal day to day things that we all do each and every day.   Until the evening of October 21, 2010.  Then our world exploded in a violent and brutal crash.  Grace and I were t-boned by a Drunk Driver (I choose not to use Impaired, but I will explain that another day).  5 days later, I woke up from a coma to be told that my daughter Grace would not wake up from her injuries.  My daughter was going to die from her injuries and nothing could be done.  Grace was a fun loving, bright 11 year old.

I have been trying to figure out how to make people realize how bad it really is and just how many people are victims of this violent crime (and frankly of the court system – but again- another blog, another day) .  The truth of the matter is that it is not just those of us that were hit by the Drunk Drivers that are the victims but every single person that loved/loves the physical victim.  My daughter, Hannah is a victim of this crime. My husband (Grace’s father ) is a victim of this crime.  Gracie’s four grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, school friends, dance friends, theatre buddies, school teachers, dance teachers, friends’ parents, community members are all victims of this crime.  For each physical victim, there are hundreds of others that are victims of this crime.

I want to give us all a voice. I was trying to think of some way to make an impact, like the AIDS quilt.  I remember when they started to unfold that big quilt to show how many victims there were.  I finally realized what it should be when I was going through Gracie’s room last year.  In Grade 5, her friends had decorated her shoes – kind of like signing a year book.  A simple pair of white canvas shoes decorated in markers with drawings and names.  A pair of shoes that no one will ever wear again.  A pair of empty shoes that sits on her shelf in her room.

My plan is to collect one pair of shoes to represent each victim of an Impaired Driver in Canada this year.  That means that I need to collect 1825-2190 pairs of shoes (between 5-6 innocent victims each day).  20% of those are thought to be children under the age of 16 years old (World Health Organization statistic).  In order to collect 2190 pairs of shoes, I need your help.  I need people to look in their closets for any footwear that they want to clean out and donate to The Empty Shoes Project.  I am accepting any footwear…men’s, women’s, children’s shoes, skates, slippers, workboots, flip flops, running shoes, stilettos (you get the picture), in any condition.  I will be re-donating any shoes which are in good enough conditions after they are displayed (in Ottawa and Kitchener).  If they are not in good enough condition to be re-donated, I will dispose of them.

I am currently waiting on a Protest Permit for Parliament Hill in Ottawa for October 21, 2014.  That will be the 4th anniversary of the day that an Impaired Driver CHOSE to drive home in his truck and crashed into our car and exposed me to the extent of this crime in Canada.

I am hoping that Members of Parliament will get a very clear picture of the statistics when there are over 2000 pairs of shoes in front of them that should have people in them.  I am hoping that this will encourage them to get serious about changing the laws surrounding Impaired Driving Causing Death/Bodily Harm so that more than 22% of cases will be prosecuted and so that the sentencing will be more consistent and hopefully longer than 3 years for multiple deaths.  Canada is one of the last countries in the world to take this crime seriously even though it Impaired Drivers kill 3-4 times more Canadians than all other forms of Homicide combined.

I am hoping to stop this crime before anyone else has to find out the devastation that it leaves in its’ wake the same way that my family did.

Thank you all for being so patient.  I have a shipping address ( Thank you Lori).  My sister volunteered to accept them at her office – she was away and I didn’t want to post it without voluntelling her first (yes, volunteering – although she offered when I mentioned it).  The address is:

The Empty Shoes Project

c/o The Storage Place

381 Clyde Road

Cambridge, ON

N1R 5S7


Please do not send anything sentimental that you would want back.  I can’t guarantee that I can do that and I don’t want to be one more person to disappoint you.

Thank you again for all of your support.  Now, please send me shoes. (I don’t know of a symbol for a person on their knees begging or else I’d use it here). I would appreciate it if you could have the shoes to me by October 15th just to give me time to get organized and if you could let me know how many are coming.  Maybe even pictures.  I am trying to figure out how to get them on the website.

25 Responses to About Us

  1. Lovely, fitting tribute to those we have lost in such a senseless way. Please keep me informed. And thank you for your inspiration.

    • Hi Kathy. Thank you for your support. I am sorry for your loss (you didn’t mention anyone specifically but it sounds like you have been in our shoes – another reason for the empty shoes campaign). I will absolutely keep you informed. I hope that you will pass this along to your friends and family. I am assuming that I might be expecting a pair of shoes from you. If so, then definitely pass this along. The mother part of me really wants to bury Parliament Hill in shoes. I think that may be what it takes to make a point.

  2. I support your decision and cannot even bare the thought if how you feel!!

    • Hi Tina. Thank you for your support. Please pass the website address along to everyone that you know. Unfortunately, like cancer, we all know someone that has lost a loved one to a Drunk Driver. They just haven’t mentioned it to you because it’s not “polite” to talk about. It makes others uncomfortable. I know that you have at least one friend that was affected by this, so consider it doing them a favour to let them know that they are not alone. I am shocked each day when I run into yet another Mom, Dad, Sister, or Brother of a Drunk Driver Victim.

  3. Hi Julie. I lost my mother on April 28th, 1992 in an alcohol related crash. The young driver struck her at approximately 11:30 in the evening as she was walking home following a fundraiser at her Church.

    Although it has been 21 years the loss is still difficult, and the way she died still causes us great pain and sadness. I have volunteered with MADD for almost 15 years now and find it so frustrating that we are still seeing such carnage on our highways.

    I am very interested in your Empty Shoe project and think I would like to be a part of this. Where do I send the shoes and what is the time-frame?

    I live in St. John’s , Newfoundland.

    This is a wonderful idea.


  4. Thank you Julie for acknowledging that the victims of drunk drivers include the whole family. We are neighbors just down the road in Elmira. My husband was hit by a drunk driver earlier the same year a you lost Grace. I remember my husband crying as he read about your accident and wondering what will it take to get people to stop. Our family is so grateful he survived but life changed, his injuries were extensive and walking and day to day functioning is more difficult. Drunk driving is never an accident it is a choice that leaves “empty shoes and changed paths”. Thanks for speaking out. Thinking of you and your family.

    • Hi Diane

      I am sorry that it has taken me so long to reply. I am so sorry to hear about your husband. I can understand how he feels and what he is going through. I would love it if your family and friends would send me shoes for him. I am not just collecting for victims, I am also collecting for survivors. It is extremely difficult for others to comprehend the kinds of injuries that we are now surviving. We are no longer talking about whiplash or minor breaks. Some of us are surviving with spinal injuries, pelvic injuries, amputations and severe brain injuries that leave us in a lot of pain and debilitated. Please consider sending shoes for him. I would love them from each of you representing what he means to each of you. I would like to make one big “quilt” out of individual “quilts” of shoes for each victim/survivor. I hope to hear from you soon.

  5. Hi Julie:

    I just read your story in The Record and was moved by it. What a super idea for helping to symbolize the enormous loss that so many of us suffer and live with. I agree with Diane Reid’s comment that drunk driving is never an accident, but a choice.

    I would like to send a pair of hockey skates to Parliament Hill to represent my brother who lost his life in a drunk driving crash. Twenty-seven years have since passed, and not one single day has elapsed without us missing him and wishing he could have fulfilled more of his dreams.

  6. Hi Julie, I realize this isn’t necessarily a comment but I don’t know how else to reach you other than by leaving a post to this site. If this message is posted, all I ask is that my contact information is removed and kept for your own purposes.

    I admire what you’re trying to do and recognize the struggle behind it. I have two young children myself and can’t imagine a day without them. I am so sorry for your loss. I’m a WRPS patrol officer and see too often impaired drivers. I don’t know what information I can pass, but would like to try nevertheless. Please feel free to contact me; I’d like to meet or at least discuss this project more.
    [contact info redacted]

    Reid Pridham

  7. I think this is a wonderful tribute while sending a strong and very clear message. Although I have not experienced loss in this way, I lost my younger brother to a motor vehicle accident when I was 16. I trust that others who have lost a loved one because of someone else’s bad choice will send shoes. We vacationed in Ottawa this summer and as I write this, I imagine each step lined with shoes – what an impact. I wish you the best in your collection, display and healing.
    Best regards,

  8. I by the grace of God am still wearing my shoes. I was hit by a drunk driver in 1989, it’s been a long hard road of recovery for myself & my family. I will always suffer from pain & everyday challenges. All caused by stupidity & wrong choices. Sadly, most repeat. They get to walk away, they don’t deal with our everyday loss/struggles –they hire a lawyer. I could go on & on. I feel some of your pain but to lose a child …..I can’t imagine your loss. Best wishes on your campaign.

  9. Hi I am loving your idea re empty shoes and am glad you want shoes from injured victims too. I was hit by a drunk driver Jan 4, 2007 and still suffer chronic constant 24/7 pain and I so want to send you a pair of my shoes. It will represent what I am no longer able to do.

    • Hi Natalie. I am so sorry to hear that. It’s hard to get others to understand what that does to you when the pain just doesn’t end. So you know, although I’m not sure that it always helps, but you’re not alone.

      I’d also like to thank you Natalie. If any of your friends and family want to also join you, I am trying to get politicians to recognize that this doesn’t just affect the person hit. It affects the victim/survivor’s whole community of friends, family and neighbours. I look forward to seeing your shoes and I will start showing pictures of the shoes soon (once my – sorry for the expression- “crash course” in how to post pictures on the sight is finished. I’m thinking of hiring that job out to some 5 year olds that I know since they will probably be more adept at it than I.)

      If there is anything that you need to know for the shoes, please let me know. And, if it’s not a problem would it be possible for you to send the website address to 25 people that you know and ask them to do the same and so on. It seems that word of mouth has been best so far and I want everyone that wants to be included to know about it.

  10. I don’t think that I will ever forget what I was doing at approximately 9:10 pm on Oct. 21, 2010. I had just finished tucking in our horses and was heading up to the house when I heard and saw the emergency/rescue units from Maryhill pass by our farm. I thought to myself “oh no, another accident or fire.” I went inside to hug/kiss/say goodnight to our 11 year old son, our 3 year old daughter was already fast asleep, he was wondering what the sirens were all about. Little did I know at that time, that at an intersection that we can see from our home, that our childrens friend Grace and her mom Julie were the ones in the accident. The next morning, I dropped our daughter off at the local nursery school. I had not heard any news on the radio as of yet. Parents at the nursery school were talking about the accident near Maryhill and that it involved an 11 year old girl and her mom from Conestogo. I knew that it had to be someone that we knew. Another parent arrived to drop off her daughter and she pulled me aside to tell me that the accident involved Grace and Julie and that both had been airlifted to Hamilton and that there had been head injuries. My concerns immediately went to the Wynens but also to the kids in the grade 6 class at Conestogo P.S. and my kids. I pass through the intersection where the accident happened, numerous times daily. On my way home that day, all that I could do was cry as I headed closer to the scene of the accident. In the days that followed, there would be trickles of information as to how the Wynen family was doing. Then on Oct 31, 2010, yes Halloween, Grace’s favourite time of the year, as we were preparing to head out trick or treating, we had heard that the Wynens’ had made a very difficult decision and that Grace maybe passing away on this evening. As a family we discussed this and again as we passed through the intersection on our way to Conestogo for Halloween, tears and thoughts for the Wynen family flowed again. My son and his best friend hung close together that night and were very sombre and supported each other. On November 1st, councillors and support staff were present at the school and I had to explain to our 3 year that she would never play with or hug her friend Grace as she had passed away and her spirit was now up in heaven. Grace’s spirit lives on in all of us and we can feel her presence at the strangest of times and will be reminded of her love for life.
    While many can say that time has passed, I will still find myself passing through this intersection and will feel tears on my cheeks. When our daughter wears a crazy hat on her head or does something fun loving, my husband will stand back and say “boy does she remind me of Grace” and when our son says that he just needs to go over and visit with the Wynens, I realize just how much one life when lost so tragically can impact so many.

  11. Calico Dawn Riley

    I have empty shoes…
    almost a year…

    just woke up to scream..

    I have a big road ahead…I will use those empty Shoes to help me travel it. Thank you for sharing your journey, I have just begun to share mine.

    Mother of Krystal Dawn Owchar..
    Victim of a drunk driver .

    • Hi Cali

      I am so sorry to hear about Krystal. It’s a large a growing club that we belong to that none of us wanted or asked to join. I wish that I had some great advise to give you to make you feel better, to take away a little of your pain but the truth is, I haven’t figured that out for myself yet. This project isn’t about taking away my pain, it’s about doing something to keep me busy enough that I “just keep moving” fast enough to give myself a moment or two to not feel anything because my brain is too busy with something else. Remember to breathe is about the only advise that I have.
      I am very glad that you contacted me and you have found this site. My hope is for more people to comment so that we can find each other. It is a very isolating crime because other people don’t know what to do with us. They think that the system works the way that it’s supposed to so when nothing happens, they automatically think that it was because of something that the victim did. If that happens, please have faith that isn’t the case. Many of us know better, so reach out if you need to.
      I am also going to ask you to get together with some family and friends of Krystal, find some old shoes (nothing sentimental) and make a day of decorating those shoes. (my sisters-in-law forced me to make a scrapbook with them for Grace and at the time they planned it, I didn’t want anything to do with it but oddly getting together and telling stories, laughing and a lot of crying later, I was glad I did it). I heard stories about Gracie that I never knew before.
      Then please send me those shoes and let Krystal Dawn Owchar be counted. I want to honour each one of the victims/survivors of this horrible crime. I want the rest of Canada to see what they have lost in your daughter as much as you know they’ve lost. Please help me to do that.

      Let me know if you decide to send shoes and how many. Also, let me know if you need anything, even just to vent. Heaven knows, I do that often enough.

      Take care of yourself and know that you are not alone.

      Julie Wynen

  12. Hi Julie,
    I was one of Grace’s dance teachers for two years and I would love to send a pair of shoes in for this. I am also going to talk to my residence don and try to get it going here. If I am successful would I be able to just drop off the shoes instead of mailing them?

    • Absolutely, Thanks Irene. If you are speaking with the Residence Don and they approve it, ask around the residence if anyone else has lost someone that they would like to send for. You would be surprised how many of them will have also lost someone. You can also drop them off here. Let me know when you are ready and I’ll make sure that I’m around to get them. I am also accepting shoes for survivors of crashes if anyone asks you.

  13. Hello Julie,
    I am writing to you from St. Jon’s, NL. I am so sorry about Gracie and your own trauma, in all it’s forms.
    My family lost our grandmother in 1992. It was 2 days before her and our Poppies 50th wedding anniversary. The driver was never charged as he was under the limit when they did the breathalyzer.
    I will send you shoes, and I will forward this along to others.
    We just had our MADD Avalon walk this past weekend.
    Thank you for doing this.
    Could you please email me directly as I would like to talk to you about an initiative I am starting that I wonder if you may be able to help with.
    Thank you,

  14. Julie, sorry for the loss of your sweet Gracie. Your Empty Shoes Project is an amazing tribute to her as well as everyone else who are victims of this horrendous crime. You are a true inspiration. What a wonderful idea!

    I lost my brother, Roger Linehan, on Boxing Day 2008. He was so full of life. It still hurts to talk and think about that terrible day. I mailed a pair of my brother’s shoes to you today. I know he would want to be part of this important event.

    Thank-you for all you are doing.
    Edith Linehan

  15. Dear Julie,

    My heart goes out to you and your family for the loss of Gracie and I admire and support your response. While my son and I were involved in a serious accident in 2007, I am forever grateful that he was not physically harmed and I honestly don’t know how I would have managed were he not still here.
    You have undertaken an important and noble project and I wish you great success in raising the awareness that is needed about drunk driving.
    I have a large bag of shoes to be donated to the empty shoes campaign and will do my best to deliver them soon.

    Best of luck and much love to you and your family.


  16. Our 17 year old son was killed by a drunk driver December 24, 1992. I still recall the horror that struck me that day. We were on our first family vacation with our three sons (now only two) in Cuba. The experience of getting his body back to London Ontario was a dreadful experience, words can not be found to describe it. I am so sorry your daughter was killed by a drunk driver. No parents deserve the life sentence of sorrow when your child is killed in such a senseless act of selfishness. God Bless. Martha

  17. Hi Julie,

    I just missed your pick up of shoes from Breathe Into Motion this evening. I’ve got four large bags full – are you still accepting donations? Is the Clyde Road address still accepting for you or is there a better place to drop off to you? I’d really love to get these to you if possible! Thanks!


  18. Hi Julie:
    I’m hoping you can contact me regarding the possibility of borrowing some of the shoes from your project for an upcoming museum exhibit we are currently working on. My contact information is on the museum’s website under “Contact Us” in the lower left corner.

    Many thanks,

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