Protest is not new in Ashcroft. Far from it.
As anyone knows who has lived in these villages for 30 years or longer, issues have arisen that have resulted in protest. One might say, without exaggeration, widespread protest.
The Hat Creek coal development plan in the early 1980s comes first to mind. BC Hydro wished to mine the soft coal in the hills of Upper Hat Creek. The mine would have been established on and around First Nations land. The energy from the burning of soft coal would have greatly altered the land, water, and air quality across a wide stretch of territory. The building of a railroad across First Nations and ranch land, the drying up of creeks and lakes, and the threat to agricultural production seemed imminent. Protests were organized by farmers, First Nations, and ranchers. Hydro was drilling the hills for core samples, and many millions of dollars were being spent on land preparation. Hundreds were gathering on or near the sites, as Hydro began buying up prime ranch land. Then the deal fell through. The protest, which resulted in mounting legal costs, might well have been a factor, but even then, environmental issues were beginning to emerge.
In the late 1980s, another proposal brought another wave of protest. The search was on for a site for a toxic waste incinerator. People were overwhelmingly against the idea, and began to organize. At least 400 persons came out to stand on Railway Avenue to hear speeches. Information was sought about toxic waste incinerators, and all advice proved negative indeed. Groups were organized to learn civil defence mechanisms. It was an amazing show of resilience and willingness to fight, and the proposal eventually came to a mysterious and surprising end.
The next issue that arose that caused a great deal of protest was the proposal for a garbage landfill in Cache Creek. The garbage would come from Greater Vancouver, and would be trucked up through the Fraser Canyon to the tune of many truckloads a week.
The landfill, we were assured, would be “state of the art”. Liners to protect run-off that would affect ground water would be installed. Every precaution would be taken, and they were. The trouble was, the burning-off of the methane gas for decades added to global warming.
I recall that the gymnasium at Cache Creek Elementary School was filled to capacity, with not even standing room, when proponents of the landfill arrived and spoke to the crowd. A hand vote was taken on the spot: those not in favour, put up your hands. Just about every arm in the gym went up. However, then-NDP Opposition leader Mike Harcourt told me later, the project was already a fait accompli. The decisions had been made without protocols or agreements from the people. Democracy seemed to be a system that had outgrown its time.
The other protest that comes to mind was the diseased chicken fiasco. Lower Mainland chicken farmers had a serious problem, with chickens dying of some disease by the thousands. The proposal was to ship them to that convenient landfill in Cache Creek.
Now, everyone knows that bears, eagles, and many other animals feed off the landfill. Protest resulted. People camped at the entrances to insure no trucks carrying the chickens got through, and stood along the highway with signs. In the end, the diseased chickens were disposed of in the Lower Mainland.
These are just a few of the protests that have occurred in Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and at Hat Creek in my 40-odd years in this community. Protest isn’t new in Ashcroft, or anywhere else. Let’s face it: sometimes decisions are made by the people we vote for to administer our affairs that are not always based on adequate information. Anybody who serves on our municipal councils and other governments soon realizes that there is much more to the job than attending meetings and public speaking.
Esther Darlington MacDonald