Lillooet, B.C., Friendship Centre opens its doors to travellers stranded by road closures

·3 min read
Carol Camille, executive director of Lillooet's Friendship Centre, with stranded motorist Terra Posyluzny, who was travelling to Whistler, B.C. The centre is sheltering dozens of travellers stuck in Lillooet by road closures. (Bobby Mahnger - image credit)
Carol Camille, executive director of Lillooet's Friendship Centre, with stranded motorist Terra Posyluzny, who was travelling to Whistler, B.C. The centre is sheltering dozens of travellers stuck in Lillooet by road closures. (Bobby Mahnger - image credit)

The Friendship Centre in Lillooet, B.C., opened its doors this week to travellers stranded in the community by road closures, carrying on a long tradition of helping people in need.

"It is definitely challenging for us," said Carol Camille, executive director of the Lillooet Friendship Centre Society.

"But you know, that's a part of what Friendship Centres do in communities, right? We step up when the need is there and we do what we can to make sure that our community is well supported with what needs to happen, especially during a crisis."

Since Monday, the Friendship Centre has been accommodating dozens of travellers stuck in the community 180 kilometres northeast of Vancouver because of highway closures due to catastrophic rain. The Coquihalla highway, as well as Highways 1, 3, and 99, which are routes in and out of Lillooet, were closed due to landslides and washouts.

Camille said all of the local hotels and bed and breakfasts are full.

"The people that are staying with us, they're just so grateful to have … a roof over their heads so they're not sleeping in their cars," said Camille.

There are over 100 Friendship Centres in cities and towns across the country. The Friendship Centre movement started in the 1950s to offer services and be a welcoming place for First Nations people in urban centres across Canada.

Camille, who is Secwépemc from Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, said travellers are being offered a cot, three meals a day and access to services like showers and laundry.

"It's at this point that some of them are stepping up and helping, volunteering to cook," said Camille.

"And while we're trying to do our regular jobs here, some of them are coming in and supporting, you know, they grab a broom and start sweeping."

One of those volunteers is Anna Goldsbury, who is Tsilhqotʼin and lives in Port McNeill, B.C.

Goldsbury has been staying in a nearby hotel with five relatives since Monday, and originally went to the Friendship Centre for information.

"Some of the kids were panic-stricken and wanted to go home and yet they're witnessing all this beauty around them, like the open arms of the Friendship Centre here, and they're allowing people to come in and even volunteer, like today I cooked lunch," said Goldsbury.

"I just feel like I'm a part of a very amazing bunch of people. To me, I'm calling this whole situation a blessing."

On Friday, there were still 35 travellers staying at the centre, and others were also accessing meals and program services like mental health counselling.

An eye-opener for some guests

Camille said the opportunity to host people from all different backgrounds has been an eye-opener for many guests.

"A lot of our non-Indigenous people that are stranded here, they're like, 'Oh my God, I didn't know you guys did all this,'" said Camille.

"They get to see a little bit of our culture as we're doing our work here. Definitely, I think that this is a little piece of, you know, restoring relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous."

Terra Posyluzny, who was driving from Edmonton to Whistler with her husband, said her experience at the Friendship Centre has been amazing despite the circumstances.

"The Friendship Centre is totally the right word for it." - Terra Posyluzny

"I wasn't sure — because I wasn't First Nations — that the facility would be open to me," said Posyluzny.

"They have been just amazing and welcoming. The Friendship Centre is totally the right word for it."

Camille said that most of the people staying at the centre will likely be there until at least Sunday, as that is when they expect Highway 99 may reopen.

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