Leslie L'Heureux, the owner of Hadley and Asher's Candy Emporium in Whitecourt, lived in Lillooet, British Columbia. Her parents moved to the community when she was just under a year, and she remained there until she was 17. "It's very mountainous and dry. In Lillooet, we have cactuses that grow there. They aren't big like Arizona, but they are cactuses, and it's not uncommon to see a tumbleweed rolling down the road either. I remember as a kid that it was 40 degrees in the shade. It is extremely hot there. Usually, Lillooet and Lytton are typically the hottest places in Canada," explained L'Heureux.
By now, most know Lytton, BC, following the devasting fire on June 30 that flattened 90 percent of the small town. "Lillooet is about 50km away. Lytton was our closest little town. It is pretty close to home for me," she explained.
"Lytton is a very isolated community and is on the highway. We would drive through the area if we were going to Vancouver. The roads are different there than they are here. When you say that something is only 45 kilometres away, it will take you about an hour to get there versus here, where 45 clicks is a shorter drive. There you are in the mountains," said L'Heureux.
The moment she heard about the fire, she knew she had to do something. "I was quite astonished because usually when a fire hits a town, it does not take out the town. Maybe it takes out part of the town or some of the buildings, but this just wiped it out. I've seen an aerial photo of it, and it's just levelled. My girlfriend used to live in Lytton, and she is living in Alberta now. She said she couldn't believe that everything is gone. It's very shocking, and I feel so sorry for those people because there is nothing to go back to. It is devastating," explained L'Heureux.
"What I've heard is that people seen smoke and then fifteen minutes later the town was gone. It was very fortunate that almost everybody got out. That was a rapid evacuation." At the time of this writing, there were two reported fatalities in Lytton's fire. Roughly 1000 people were evacuated from the town and surrounding area with hardly any notice.
Not being a large corporation, L'Heureux knew that she couldn't make as much of a donation independently, so she decided to do it through sales. "I'm personally donating one dollar from every cone that sells from now until July 16." She said that people have been very generous with some giving money to cover many cones, knowing that one dollar from each cone order would get donated. "One lady from High Prairie paid it forward with a $50 donation for people to enjoy cones, and Strike Group did the same thing with $300. It is amazing. People have been coming in and adding things to the donation fund. These are really, really, really good people that want to help."
L'Heureux said that her old community has taken in lots of evacuees due to proximity. "Right now, we are in the summer months, so it's easier, but winter is coming. Nothing is probably going to be rebuilt before winter, so they will be displaced for a long time. Some people didn't even get out with their wallets. We deal with a small-town bank, so they know who you are, and it's easier when there's a problem. Well, now they don't have a bank. It is gone. They might not have access to a bank card right now and might not even have ID either. When you lose everything, you need help."
L'Heureux decided to donate to the Fraser Valley Tourism Association and the Boston Bar First Nation/Tuckkwiowhum Village. "I figured it was the best-suited place to donate." The trio of groups is working together to provide gift cards for gas and groceries through donations, including an official GoFundMe page (Lytton Relief Fund). As of Thursday, July 7, the GoFundMe was at $130,534 and growing.
"Lytton didn't have an industry. We have mills and stuff here, but they are small and didn't have that. A lot of businesses fired up for white water rafting as tourism-related, but it's the question of, will they rebuild or won't they? There is nothing there. Is the grocery store going to rebuild? If not, then where would you get groceries? Generations of family have lived there. It's a huge Indigenous community. People have lived there all their lives; their parents lived there, their grandparents lived there, and so on. It's all they've known," said L'Heureux.
L'Heureux said she would post the total raised on her Facebook page. "The people in our community have been awesome. It might not be a huge amount, but every little bit counts right now." L'Heureux has ten ice cream flavours at the store, like cookie dough and bubble gum, and things often change, sometimes daily. Hadley and Asher's Candy Emporium will be holding the Lytton fundraiser until the end of the day on July 16.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press