Many residents of Lytton and the surrounding area are feeling forgotten by politicians, given that the town looks much as it did the day after a fire destroyed most of it on June 30, with few signs of clean-up, let alone rebuilding. Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t help matters when he referred to Lytton in the past tense during the COP26 climate conference in November.
Santa, however, has not forgotten Lytton, and with the assistance of a lot of dedicated and generous local volunteers and organizations, he’ll be paying a visit to the town on Dec. 23, as the culmination of more than a week of of celebration, giving, and festivities.
It all started on Monday, Dec. 13, when 80 volunteers gathered to pack 500 Christmas hampers for Lytton and area residents. Nonie McCann, one of the organizers of “Santa Comes to Lytton”, says the hamper event began when David Choi, owner of Lytton AG Foods — the town’s grocery store, which was destroyed in the fire — contacted her in October.
“David said he had a wish to bring Christmas gifts for the people of Lytton, so we talked back and forth. This was before the highway closures, and we hoped we could actually transport the hampers to places where we had people.”
While many of Lytton’s 250 or so residents are scattered around the province, the area is home to several thousand people, and McCann began reaching out, asking how many there were in each of the communities around Lytton. The planning committee had representatives from all the local bands, and soon five different organizations, as well as the food bank, had added $30,000 to supplement what Choi was donating.
McCann says they initially wanted to include a turkey with each of the 500 hampers, but that soon proved difficult, given the turkey shortage caused by the recent flooding.
“We called suppliers in the Lower Mainland, and they said turkeys were $14 per kilo, which would have used up all the money. So instead of doing turkeys, everyone will get a meat package with ham, bacon, and chicken breasts.”
Everything just went from there, says McCann.
“Groups in the area normally do their own hampers, but this year we’re all taking part in one big thing that includes everyone in every area within a 30-mile radius. It’s amazing; the best thing we’ve been involved in.”
The area has been hugely impacted by the destruction on Highway 1 to the north and south, and the community of Nicomen is completely cut off by road. McCann says that hampers will be delivered there by Helicopters Without Borders.
Once the hamper project was underway, McCann says people started chatting about all the other things they used to do at Christmas, and wondered what else they could do this year; which is why, on Dec. 14, Christmas lights and decorations will be going up. The village’s usual lights and decorations were all destroyed in the fire, but longtime Lytton resident Denise O’Connor — who was staying in Quesnel during the summer — happened to be in the Canadian Tire store there.
“She mentioned where she was from and said that all the lights were burned, so someone at Canadian Tire went and filled a shopping cart with lights and decorations and said ‘You can have these.’ Denise told them she couldn’t give a receipt, and they said that was fine.”
O’Connor’s daughter went to the Quesnel Rotary group, and they pitched in with even more lights.
“People want so much to help, and people out there find a way,” says McCann. “We can’t put them where we normally do, because there’s no power in town, so we’re putting them around the forestry base on the way into town from the south entrance, where there is power.”
On Dec. 20 there will be a Santa parade, and on Dec. 21 and 22 there will be a craft fair/farmers’ market at the resiliency centre at Kumsheen ShchEma-meet School, which is still open despite the school having been closed due to the highway flooding. McCann says they’re also trying to arrange a family event at the Stein Valley school or hall on Dec. 22 .
Then, on Dec. 23, the Two Rivers Community Service Society will be putting up a Christmas tree and hosting Santa Claus himself at Kumsheen Rafting Resort just north of town.
“The Lytton Volunteer Fire Department will bring Santa there on a fire engine, so that children can visit him. There’ll be a fire pit and hot dogs, and we’re trying to line up a photographer so they can have pictures; we’re also hoping to have a choir from Lillooet.”
Multiple people and organizations have come together to ensure all the events happen, including Nlha-7kamx Child and Family Services, Lytton First Nation, Nlaka’pamux Health, Stein Valley Nlakapamux School, and the Lytton Food Bank.
McCann says it shows that Santa hasn’t forgotten the area, adding that it’s been a “phenomenal” experience to work with everyone and see such kindness, gratitude, and caring after months of dealing with one catastrophe after another.
“It’s so nice to do something around here that’s positive. Things are so depressing, and it’s how I keep moving, working with people to do things together. We avoid the bureaucrats with rules and get stuff done.”