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Bold plan to house Lytton wildfire evacuees proposed by Kanaka Bar band

Proposal includes multipurpose buildings and housing units at Kanaka Bar, 15km from Lytton

The Kanaka Bar Indian Band has proposed a bold plan to address the housing needs of some of the people evacuated from Lytton as a result of the fire on June 30 that destroyed 90 per cent of the town.

Kanaka Bar Chief Patrick Michell is one of the people who lost his home, and is among what he calls “the twelve hundred”; a reference to the estimated 1,200 Lytton and area residents who are currently displaced and scattered, some as far away as Alberta. Many people lost their homes, while others whose houses remain face a community with no infrastructure or services.

Within a week of the disaster, Kanaka Bar met to discuss a possible solution for housing and immediate needs, and on July 16 they presented their proposal via a Zoom meeting.

Michell said that Kanaka Bar is okay, and the question now is what can they do to help others. “On July 7 we showed you an outline,” he said. “Today we’re going to show you precisely what we’re going to do. We’re here to present our temporary solution to bring our friends and families home.”

The band has identified several sites within the community where buildings could be situated, including one on Highway 1 (the former Kanaka Café site), with the focus on expediting construction, aligning with long-term plans, and being as cost-effective as possible. Kanaka Bar is approximately 15 kilometres south of Lytton on Highway 1.

John Kenney of Urban Systems outlined the plan, which identifies a large community recovery centre as the first thing needed. It would provide a temporary service hub for the region, and could include a large community resource building with meeting space, a kitchen, dining space, and multi-purpose rooms for things such as daycare. Two additional multipurpose buildings could be customized to meet needs that are specific to the Lytton fire recovery effort, including essential services such as first aid and RCMP, and options such as a small store and fuel services. These buildings are proposed for the Highway 1 site.

Kenny said that Kanaka has reached out to various suppliers they have worked with in the past to see what is available. He noted that the buildings can be configured in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit what is needed.

A residential area is planned for a site known as Lot 4. It would provide a temporary safe, secure, and pleasant living environment for those who have lost their homes, and would include two buildings of up to 19 bedrooms each, with shared kitchen and common areas. There would also be space for longer-term RV/trailer use or additional modular housing units.

In the long-term, another 50 bedrooms will be added as part of “The Crossing Place”, a 24-unit shovel-ready, affordable housing project being built in conjunction with BC Housing that is part of Kanaka’s housing strategy.

The cost estimate for the buildings at the Highway 1 site — including electricity, water, sewer, site work, the buildings themselves, and a 10 per cent contingency — is $1,670,900. The cost estimate for the housing at Lot 4, including all of the above, is $2,296,700. A third lot could also be used for modular or RV sites. The anticipated operational costs are approximately $1 million per year, which includes janitorial services, security, management, and more.

A proposed timeline stated that if funding was approved on July 16, the order for the buildings could be placed the same day. Site works would be ongoing from July 19 to Aug. 1, the buildings would arrive on Aug. 2, and installation and commissioning would take place from Aug. 9 to 20.

Kenney said that when he first started speaking to Michell about the proposal, he thought “Wow; that’s a big endeavour to take on. But it comes from a place of generosity, kindness, and community. It’s quite remarkable.”

The proposal notes that although Kanaka Bar has been impacted indirectly by recent wildfires, the community is safe from current fires, is a FireSmart community and recognized as a leader in that regard, has operating infrastructure (water, power, telecommunications), and is ready to advance projects that support friends and family at this tough time.

Michell said that in order to have a resilient and workable plan it is necessary to use traditional knowledge, then bring in science and technology and have accurate data. Aaron Coelho of Urban Systems spoke about temperatures, wind speeds, precipitation, air quality, and water supply in the area, and noted that the band has been proactive in fuel management to stop the spread of wildfires. He also said that the Kanaka Bar band has, for many years, been ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with climate change.

Kenny said that the project will take a lot of collaboration and coordination. “This is the goal in terms of what is possible. We think we could get this in place and mobilized in a few weeks.” The next steps include securing provincial and federal emergency funding.

“The reason we’re Lyttonites is because we live in Lytton,” said Michell. “Now we’re spread. People are devastated. We need to bring people home. When we said that Kanaka Bar cares and is willing to help we meant it.

“Kanaka is advancing these projects. The order for the buildings has been issued. The machinery is showing up on Monday. But Kanaka Bar is not doing this alone. I need the Village of Lytton. I need Siska. I need Skuppah. I need Boothroyd and Boston Bar and Spuzzum. We’re the Fraser Canyon, and together we can do something.”

Michell added that after consulting with lawyers about the best way to advance the project, the advice was to set up the Fraser Canyon Emergency Services Society. He explained that this entity — not Kanaka Bar — would deliver the programs and services Kenny outlined. “It is an arm’s length relationship and entity. They will do the legwork, and they will take over from Kanaka as soon as it’s formalized.”

The planned project would go beyond fire response and allowing people to come home; it was stressed that it would also provide increased resiliency and capacity for the Fraser Canyon, as well as employment opportunities to keep people busy.

Michell said that Kanaka Bar has never operated in a silo, and since colonization has learned to work together with others. “What we care about is our friends and family. If evacuees choose, they can come to Kanaka Bar. When the last Lytton evacuee is home, we can tear down. We are leading the way by offering a temporary solution. Build it and they will come.

“Keep an eye on Kanaka Bar. Share this story. We need to be able to show to British Columbia and Canada and to the world that in a crisis, British Columbians and Canadians can come together. For too long we’ve been working apart. It irritates me that a catastrophe like Lytton may be the catalyst that kick-starts us into resilient and proactive investments. We are in this together. Let’s do this together.”

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