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Lytton, B.C.'s rebirth needs purpose and innovation
Five surprising observations, two years after fire destroyed the village
Beyond Hope, lies Lytton…a village in desperate need of forward thinking, more than two years after a wildfire destroyed 90 per cent of the buildings. It’s a damn shame. The area is perfect for innovative thinking and the June 30th, 2021 Lytton Creek Wildfire provides an opportunity to ‘phoenix-up from the ashes’ and reimagine how residents can prosper (financially and otherwise). This is the traditional territory of those who lived in the Indigenous Village of Kumsheen. They thrived on an abundance of fish, fertile land, water and natural resources, long before 1881 when the area was divided into 56 reservations.
But that takes leadership and commitment.
It also takes money and creative thinking.
All of that is missing now.
Over the course of my adult life, I’ve visited Lytton many times and for many reasons. As a UBC student, I came on a field study with Dr. Cole Harris who penned numerous insights on the Historical Geography of British Columbia. As a reporter, I covered several nearby fires and interviewed many people who lived in the area - some who spent their summers fighting wildfires. And as a camper and occasional river rafter, I spent weekends enjoying the area through the lens of a complete outsider. To be sure - I noticed changes over the years as I drove through the Fraser Canyon. Too many restaurants, service stations, attractions and motels died out and remain boarded up. It’s a fickle economic reality that became increasingly more challenging with the removal of tolls on the Coquihalla Highway and the downward dive of B.C.’s Interior forest industry.
Yet, one would think that business leaders could see potential in new opportunities - vineyards, agri-tech, solar power and eco-tourism. Perhaps senior governments could lead with major investments in research facilities, an expanded wildfire centre or prisons and addiction treatment centres. Bring back the now defunct Lytton RCMP detachment or Environment Canada’s weather station.
But instead, we have a collective wait-and-see approach at best. Forget about it at worst.
Meanwhile, I offer these strange observations from this year’s trip to Lytton - two years after the massive fire.
We’re here for you. That’s what the writing says on the side of the Scotiabank - Lytton’s only bank branch that operates on the site of the Kumsheen Rafting Resort. Yes, it’s a converted freight container. Yes, the toilets are in a trailer outside the branch. And yes, the window has photos of two young people missing from the community in one of the few places where posting such pictures makes any sense. Good on Scotiabank for at least having a real presence but I suppose someone at HQ can always pull the plug on the venue and load it back onto the flatbed truck, destined for the next troubled community.
Lytton’s downtown core is mostly comprised of cleared commercial lots that are fenced-in and ready to be redeveloped. Before the fire, the area had an historic hotel/restaurant, financial institution, grocery store and many small boutiques. There are crews in the area but construction is very limited as the community waits on a consultant’s report.
God loves the Anglicans - or at least their church. St. Barnabas still stands after being spared the Hell fire despite being right in the destruction zone. By the way, the Anglicans have been in the area since the mid to late 1800s.
Being on the other side of the bridge, helps. The Canco is now the only place to get gas and some groceries in Lytton. One would imagine those living in the area ravel to Hope, Lillooet or Cache Creek/Ashcroft to shop. It’s a long trek. This road side stop seems more ideal for those driving through.
You can’t shop or eat at Jade Springs. Two years after the fire, there’s no visible indication the (former?) proprietors of the long standing grocery store and Chinese restaurant have any intention of rebuilding. As for selling the land - like many others, the wait continues to see what will become of Lytton. Will it be rebuilt or fall off the map entirely?
Bruce Claggett is a 35 year veteran in the news media, having worked as a reporter, newscaster, producer/editor, senior editor, news director, journalism instructor and media consultant. He holds a BA (political science/geography) from UBC, B.Ed. (secondary education) from UBC and a Dipl. T. (broadcast journalism) from BCIT. He continues to work as a guest host on 980/CKNW, media trainer and communications advisor.
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