There can be few things more comforting, friendly, and warming than a homemade quilt; and over the course of last summer, several dedicated quilters—aided by friends, family, and businesses—created 84 quilts (and accompanying pillowcases) to distribute to all the residents of the Ashcroft Reserve and the Boston Flats trailer park following last summer’s wildfire.
The project was the brainchild of Spences Bridge resident Judy Draney, who has been quilting for some 40 years. Every week she and two friends—Verna Miller and Norma Collins—meet at the Cook’s Ferry Band office in Spences Bridge to quilt together; and the day after the Elephant Hill wildfire exploded, and she heard about the devastation, Draney brought up the idea of making quilts for everyone affected.
“They said ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ and we got started,” says Draney. “So we started work on them right away.”
She got in touch with quilt shops and other people who quilt, including her sisters Edith Thomson and Karen Williams in Kelowna. Draney, Miller, and Collins stepped up their meetings to twice a week and quilted in their spare time, working all hours from July to early November. They also spread the word, bringing others on board.
Draney’s sisters made quilts, as did Joyce Deering (who also donated fabric). Joslyn Dunstan and her mother Florrie Walkem made a quilt. Linda Nicols and Jean Burgess donated towards the quilts; Oliva Watson donated quilt blocks; and Shirley Holowchuck donated fabric. Businesses such as Heather’s Fabric Shelf (Heather and Bill Fagervik), Quiltabilities in Ashcroft (Anita Starbuck), and Noeline Kerr and Trend Tex Fabrics also helped out. The Cook’s Ferry Band staff provided support and lunches, and another 47 quilts were donated by quilt guilds in Alberta.
By November 5 the local quilters had produced 84 quilts and pillowcases, with Draney creating 40 quilts herself. “We worked in our spare time,” says Draney. “We were busy all summer. By the end of it we were exhausted.”
The quilters were free to create any design they wanted, and quilts of any size, ranging from lap-sized to a quilt that would cover a king-size bed. On November 5, an event called “Quilt Hug” was held at the Ashcroft Community Hall (with the hall donated by the Village of Ashcroft, and lunch provided by the Cook’s Ferry Band). The quilters were able to meet with residents of the Ashcroft Reserve and Boston Flats, share lunch, celebrate, and distribute the quilts and pillowcases.
“There were lots of tears, lots of hugging,” says Draney. “It got quite emotional at times. People were very happy with them. And that’s what we do as quilters.”
This is not the first time that Draney has had a hand in providing quilts to people after a disaster. In 2015, when devastating floods hit Cache Creek, she was part of the Cactus Strippers quilting guild, teaching quilting to students at Cache Creek Elementary School. The guild members created quilts for all those in Cache Creek who lost their homes.
Draney says that all 84 of the local quilts, and 25 of the Alberta ones, were donated locally. The remaining quilts are being donated to the Royal Inland Hospital and the hospice in Kamloops.
Ashcroft Reserve resident Angie Thorne, who lost her home on July 7 and saw 11 members of her family directly impacted by the fire, was one of the quilt recipients. Although Draney had tried to keep the project quiet, Thorne—who works at the Cook’s Ferry Band office in Spences Bridge—knew about it, although she did not learn until September what the quilts were for.
“They meet at the Band office every Thursday,” she says of the quilters. “I knew they were making a bunch of quilts; but it wasn’t until September that they asked me for a list of all the elders, male and female, all the children, boys and girls; all 82 people living on the reserve.
“There were quite a few tears [at Quilt Hug]. My father shared a story from a long time ago, about how when we had hardship people would give blankets and pillows, and how this was a reminder of that time.”
On the program for the Quilt Hug lunch, Thorne wrote “I just want to say how heartwarming it is to be a part of this wonderful and thoughtful idea. All of our community members have been impacted by this tragedy in ways only they can explain. Each one has lost a home, their belongings, pets, treasured keepsakes, for many their neighbours.
“We all experienced this together, and together we will stand and continue to support one another. And this Quilt Hug will surely help us along our way. Kukstemc from Angie and members of ‘Stalsh’ Ashcroft.”
A quilt with a fire design that Draney made several years ago, and which she had been keeping for the right moment, was donated to the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department. AVFD captain Jonah Anstett accepted the quilt on behalf of the department, and says it was an awesome feeling.
“It was comforting, in a sense, after everything that happened. It was a crappy year. For people to do that was very moving. It’s awesome how people can come together after all that happened. People went out of their way to do what they did. They put so much of their own time and money into it.
“We’re blessed to be part of that, and it was nice to see that people who were hurting weren’t forgotten. It’s always hard to see other people hurt.” Anstett adds that the quilt is being framed, and will be hung in the Ashcroft fire hall.
Draney says that she, Collins, and Miller are still meeting once a week to quilt. “The only time we don’t meet is if we’re snowed in.” In the past she has taught quilting to children and adults, and will be starting a new quilting class based out of the Cook’s Ferry office this year. Anyone interested in taking part can call the office at (250) 458-2224 to leave their name and phone number.