Mystery mosaic: An artwork created by first responders commemorating the events of 2017 is being kept under wraps until Sept. 22. Photo: Barbara Roden

Local first responders create mosaic to show they’re ‘Stronger Together’ after events of 2017

Community members invited to the public unveiling in Ashcroft on Sept. 22

Almost two years ago, an Ashcroft RCMP member had an idea: a glass mosaic artwork commemorating the tragic events of 2017 in the region,.

Rather than dwell on tragedy, however, the idea was for the mosaic to illustrate how first responders—and area communities—came together and became stronger in the aftermath of a series of events that left the area reeling. It would be designed and created by first responders themselves, with the guidance and assistance of mosaic glass artist Marina Papais and her husband Daniel Collett.

“One of our members approached Marina and Daniel about doing a mosaic with the first responders,” says Ashcroft RCMP detachment commander Kathleen Fitzgerald. “Marina approached me, and I approached Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) Chief Josh White, who delegated it to Capt. Nancy Duchaine.

“Then we fanned out and brought in all the other first responder groups to support, back, and participate in the project, and we got buy-in from everyone.”

Members of the AVFD, Cache Creek Volunteer Fire Department (CCVFD), Ashcroft RCMP, BC Emergency Health Services, and Emergency Social Support all came on board. Papais and Collett approached the Village of Ashcroft for funding support in the amount of $3,020 to cover the cost of materials and studio rental, explaining that while the costs to produce the mosaic would be much higher, they would donate their labour, as well as the cost of framing and installation.

Council approved the funding, and a location was decided on: the exterior of the Ashcroft Fire Hall directly facing 3rd Street. It was some time before work on the design and creation of the piece began, largely because of the many demands on Papais and Collett’s time; the pair have been instrumental in designing and creating dozens of glass mosaic pieces in Ashcroft over the past five years.

When the mosaic was initially proposed, the focus was on the 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire. Soon, however, it was “Not about one event; it was about all the events of 2017, and how we as first responders integrate with our communities and become one,” says Fitzgerald.

In 2017 the area was rocked by several tragedies, including the death of a family of four in Venables Valley from carbon monoxide poisoning; flooding in Cache Creek that claimed the life of CCVFD Chief Clayton Cassidy; and then the Elephant Hill wildfire.

“All these events culminated in all our [first responder] groups becoming stronger together, and our communities becoming stronger together,” says Fitzgerald. “Through a series of tragedies, we as first responders came out the other side as a more cohesive, bonded group, and so did our communities.”

Thus was born the title of the mosaic artwork—“Stronger Together”—and Fitzgerald says that the first responders involved came up with an idea of what they wanted to see. The final work incorporates the individual crests of the organizations involved, which Fitzgerald says speaks volumes, and goes back to the piece’s name.

“We came up with the idea of what we wanted to see, and took many photographs as models. The mosaic also includes earth, wind, fire, and water, which are all elements that we first responders deal with daily.

“We worked very closely with Marina and Daniel about design. They taught us how to create mosaics, let us use their studio, and then let us utilize their home to do the framing. They helped us through the whole process.”

Active first responders and a few family members worked on the project, with times on three days each week when people could drop by the studio at the Ashcroft HUB and work on the mosaic. “The number of people working at a time changed, depending on the time of day,” says Fitzgerald.

She adds that allowing those involved with the events of 2017 to have a place where they could work through some of the emotions they experienced was good.

“That process has been cathartic in many ways, and on different levels. We talked about 2017 and other experiences we’ve dealt with through our careers, or as volunteers with other organizations. We didn’t always talk about 2017, but that’s where the conversation started. It was a therapeutic area where other things could be talked about.”

Fitzgerald says that she has never done anything like this before.

“I loved every minute of it. All of a sudden, the two hours would be gone. It’s an amazing process to go through, from photos to design to creation to completion, and then grouting and framing. It was an amazing experience.”

The mosaic will be unveiled at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22, and community members are invited to participate in, and witness, the unveiling.

Fitzgerald hopes that most of the people involved in creating the mosaic will be there, and that community members will also be there to speak with some of the people involved with creating the mosaic.

“They’re involved as well,” says Fitzgerald simply.

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