The newly-restored Church of St. John at the Latin Gate on the Ashcroft Reserve. The Band has several projects on the go, including new ball diamonds, hay fields, houses, a campground, elders’ housing, and more. Photo: Barbara Roden.

The newly-restored Church of St. John at the Latin Gate on the Ashcroft Reserve. The Band has several projects on the go, including new ball diamonds, hay fields, houses, a campground, elders’ housing, and more. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Ashcroft Band working on wide variety of projects

Ball diamonds, an Elders' residence, a healing space, hayfields, and more are planned or in progress.

Eleven fruit trees were recently planted on the Ashcroft Reserve, the latest in a series of projects taking place throughout the site, and which will mean more amenities, new buildings, renovations, and landscaping on the reserve.

The tree-planting initiative was courtesy of Tree Canada, which launched its #Operation ReLeaf BC Fires initiative at the Ashcroft Reserve on May 23. It was the first community tree planting under the program, which will help homeowners, private landowners, municipalities, and Indigenous communities throughout the province who lost trees in the 2017 wildfires.

“The grant for $5,000 was for trees around the reserve,” says band administrator Jodene Blain, in a wide-ranging talk about various Band initiatives. “Tree Canada contacted the Band and asked for a meeting. We explained the importance of trees, and that people lost their homes or landscaping in the fire. We took them through and showed them the need.” The trees supplied by Tree Canada join some 60 trees donated by Art Knapp, which have been placed throughout the reserve to provide shade and landscaping.

New ball diamonds, funded under Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), are nearing completion, across Cornwall Road from the Band office. Blain says that the project was due to be finished last year, but the fire interrupted those plans, and INAC extended the construction deadline.

“We worked with [Ashcroft CAO] Michelle [Allen] and purposely picked ball fields, to complement what Ashcroft already has,” says Blain. A building that was originally constructed with bathrooms and showers for a campground has been repurposed, and will serve as a washroom and concession facility for the ball fields. The Band is also looking for funding for dugouts and bleachers.

A trail that extends for two kilometres will surround the ball diamonds and provide a level walking surface for anyone who wants to take a stroll. The Band hopes to secure funding to plant more trees and put benches along the trail, and Blain says that there is room for a soccer field at the site in the future.

She stresses that the facilities are for the use of everyone, and that Ashcroft residents are welcome to make use of the ball diamonds and walking trail. “You don’t have to show a status card to use them!” she says with a laugh.

A 12-site campground with a playground and picnic area is planned for the other side of the washroom/concession building. “The design is done and the project is shovel-ready,” says Blain. “Now we’re looking for funds. This council is very progressive on economic development.”

One of these economic development initiatives is a new hayfield that has recently been planted on reserve land, and last week a five-pivot industrial sprinkler system—funded by a $390,000 grant from the provincial Rural Dividend program—was installed on the site. The land is being leased from the Band by Bradner Farms, and Blain says that the hayfield will not only provide a revenue stream for the Band, but also afford protection in the event of another fire.

“It will be a steady stream of income that can be reinvested in different economic activities,” says Blain. She adds that they are working to get a water licence for the Thompson River so that a second hayfield can be planted on the lower plateau to the east and south of the reserve, which will provide a fire barrier for that side of the site.

Rebuilding of the houses destroyed by last year’s fire has started, with two houses currently at the framing stage and another two foundations in place, and work starting soon on the remaining homes. Blain praises the work of resiliency manager Cheryl Wigemyr, who has been instrumental in keeping displaced residents part of the community.

“I have to give it to her,” says Blain. “We’ve been having barbecues and luncheons, crafts and cooking, and Cheryl has been using the van to pick people up and keep them part of the community. She’ll take them to Kamloops for appointments—it’s like a taxi service on steroids—and she did photo albums for people who have lost their memories.”

Work will soon start on an Elder’s residence that will feature six self-contained living units, each with kitchen, bedroom, living/dining-room, bathroom, and laundry. A firepit has been put in place near the site, and $100,000 in funding from the Rural Dividend program will enable construction of a community training/healing centre that will overlook Cornwall Creek.

“It will be a community and recovery space that we can use for meetings and gatherings,” says Blain, noting that the downstairs space of the Band office, previously used for meetings, is now being used for storage following the fire.

The community facility will, she says, be a new and fresh place for people to meet. “There will be a kitchen and washrooms, and it will be very open and very clean. We’ll be able to bring in speakers and have sessions there.”

The nearby Church of St. John at the Latin Gate, built more than 130 years ago and given to the Band by the Cornwall brothers, has been undergoing renovations that are almost complete; all that is left is the application of a fresh coat of paint on the upper part of the church’s exterior. A new wooden fence has been constructed around the church, with a lychgate giving access to a path to the door, and turf laid around the building. The simple interior, which contains the original pews, is largely unchanged.

A short distance away, the historic cemetery was extensively damaged during the fire. The fencing, which was badly burned, has been removed, and many of the wooden markers have been destroyed or damaged. Blain says they hope to be able restore the site.

“We’re working with a consultant. A lot of the graves are sunken in, so it’s dangerous. We want lots of community involvement, and are bringing in professionals to work with the community so they can tell us how they want to move forward.”

Blain says that all of the planned additions and enhancements to the site are designed to tie together aesthetically. “It will all tie in, and it’s very community-based. This place will look very different in six months’ time.”

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