Members of the public, local dignitaries, and many first responders gathered outside Ashcroft’s Fire Hall on Sunday, Sept. 22 to celebrate the unveiling of the first responders’ mosaic, titled, “Stronger Together.”
Captain Nancy Duchaine of the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) opened the event with a brief speech as a representative for the first responders who helped to create the mosaic.
“This mosaic represents members from the Ashcroft [Volunteer] Fire Department, the Cache-Creek [Volunteer] Fire Department (CCVFD), the Ashcroft RCMP, the BC Ambulance Service, and the local area Emergency Support Services,” she began.
Duchaine went on to thank the artists who helped make the mosaic possible.
“We would not be here today if it weren’t for the efforts of Marina Papais and Daniel Collett. Marina is a local artist who is internationally known for her work in glass art. Dan’s talent with architectural and structural elements is a perfect partnership as is evident by his work that holds Marina’s art.”
The couple’s mission, said Duchaine, is to help create an art environment within the township of Ashcroft, energizing the community with local art, so much so that the world is enticed to visit the village.
“They have not only done this and continue to [create mosaics], but more than that, they have allowed us as a community to express ourselves and capture a feeling of oneness. For that we are thankful.”
The idea for a first responders’ mosaic began when a local RCMP member expressed interest in creating a mosaic in honour of first responders, to reflect on the events of 2017.
Papais and Collett helped to secure funding for the project through the Village of Ashcroft, and on Sunday, both communities got to see the final result.
“2017 was a year that will not be forgotten any time soon, nor should it,” said Duchaine. “We have learned many important lessons from several events that took place that year. As first responders, these incidents brought us closer together, and from that, we have acknowledged that we are stronger together.”
Duchaine explained that the first responders involved in the mosaic project spent many hours working together and sharing stories, which inevitably helped them to build stronger relationships together.
The mosaic’s design was created through a collaborative process with all interested first responders and their families.
“This project provided a forum for many of us to take the time to talk and share on a different level. It was a cathartic experience. We are stronger together,” said Duchaine, garnering a large applause from the crowd.
Once the mosaic was unveiled, emotions stayed high as Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart took the microphone.
“I think there’s not a dry eye in the room,” she began. “It’s an honour to be here.”
Through tears, Tegart thanked the first responders who exhibited strength and resilience during back to back seasons of challenging wildfires, flooding, and mudslides in Ashcroft and Cache-Creek.
“2017 was an incredible year for us. 2018 wasn’t much better. We couldn’t do it without the strength of you and the community support” she said, addressing the group of local first responders directly. “I am absolutely honoured to be here to acknowledge how art can bring a community together.”
Ashcroft’s Mayor Barbara Roden spoke next, echoing Tegart’s sentiments.
“It was wonderful to see so many groups and people in the communities coming together, working together, [and] supporting each other,” she said.
Roden finished by thanking the first responders for all they do day in and out to ensure that the communities of Ashcroft and Cache-Creek are protected and can sleep soundly in their beds.
CCVFD chief Tom Moe thought the mosaic turned out amazingly well.
“I think it’s a good part of the healing process from 2017,” he said. “I couldn’t have been prouder. It just shows what a close-knit team we are, [we’re] stronger together.”
Collett said that work on the mosaic began back in April.
“It’s a long process but the ideas came fast and furious and then we kind of narrowed it down to what everybody would want.”
Collett explained that the first responders involved did not want to be recognized as individuals and preferred to be represented as a group. The mosaic itself includes a huddle of different first responders, but none of those pictured are singled out by name or number.
RCMP member Lee Taylor was not in the community during 2017, but got to model for the mosaic whilst wearing the RCMP’s general duty uniform.
“That’s why I’m there,” he explained. “Just to represent the RCMP. I’m proud to be part of that just because I know what they went through. I believe it means so much. All these unfortunate events that happen, they do bring communities together.”
CCVFD assistant chief Damian Couture said he was impressed to see how the challenging events of previous years have helped to bring the two communities together.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s been animosity between the organizations, but we never worked together a whole lot,” he explained. “It was kind of a professional relationship, but since then, it’s very fluid between the groups.”
Couture feels that most of the members in the two volunteer fire departments now view each other as different parts of the same whole. For him, that change is a result of the challenges that both communities have faced together.
“Now we see each other in the streets and we have little competitive games between each other,” he said with a smile. “We do lots of things together. It’s a very nice change. The area has really come together and it’s good. It was a lot at once, year after year after year.”