Vancouver Island resident paints happiness on fire hydrants after tough 2 years for rural community

Vivian Williams says a fatal logging train derailment two years ago has "paralyzed" her community of Woss on north Vancouver Island.

Over the past two years, the community of 200 people has faced a number of hardships. 

The accident caused 30 rail workers to lose their jobs. In addition, the local school closed down, nearby forest fires sprouted up during the summer and a number of families moved away.

Now, the Western Forest Productions strike is affecting a number of local employees.

"It's just totally changed," she explained. "You can feel a depression with people."

But then Williams had an idea. The retired resident picked up a paintbrush for the very first time.

Submitted by Vivian Williams

"Last year, I painted a fire hydrant. It's a little lighthouse. I loved it," she said. 

With permission from the fire chief, Williams has now spent every day over the last month painting all 26 fire hydrants in the community — adding life to a village that once had no public artwork. She's sanded the hydrants and purchased her own paint to create stories unique to each hydrant's location in the town.

"I [painted] a whole bunch of emojis at the kid's playground," she described. 

For one resident, she painted an anchor and a fish on a hydrant in front of his house.

"He takes care of a hatchery," she said, adding the resident approached her afterward to thank her for "really putting spirit back in town."

Williams said Clem Roti was one of the men who died in the train accident two years ago. Because he loved to play music, she painted the first few notes of the musical score for Randy Newman's You've Got a Friend in Me.

"He was one of those fellows you missed because every morning he would say, 'good morning' to you,'" she recalled.

Submitted by Vivian Williams

Al Kaube, a long-time Woss resident, said the past couple years have been difficult as a former railroad worker.

"It's just a lot of sadness," he said. 

He said the new hydrants "bring a smile to peoples' faces," as residents and tourists now often stop to take photos.

Kaube's wife, Laurie, said she's amazed to see such a vibrancy in the community. 

"[Williams] didn't expect anything from anyone. It's just so good to see how people are talking again."