One hundred and sixty-seven flags grace the Dogwood garden beside Port Alberni’s city hall this week, a stark remembrance of the number of people in British Columbia who have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Five of the flags represent people from Vancouver Island, Salvation Army Capt. Michael Ramsay said during a ceremony on Friday, June 12. One of those flags represents a man from Port Alberni who succumbed to the COVID-19 disease. His family has not publicly identified him.
John Edmondson came up with the idea to put up a memorial. He lost a cousin from Richmond, B.C. to COVID-19 in mid-April. “I felt we needed to do something to acknowledge it but not some big event,” he said.
The memorial was put up a week ago but the ceremony was delayed to allow space for anti-racism protests.
Edmondson left heart stickers at the Salvation Army reception desk for anyone wanting to add one to a flag to remember someone they lost to COVID-19.
“I hope we fill these flags up with hearts.”
Ramsay said the memorial will stay up for a little while longer. “We’ll leave (the flags) up as long as they’re a valuable remembrance for people.”
Harry Lucas, an elder with Hupacasath First Nation, greeted the small gathering on the sidewalk in front of the memorial. He voiced his concerns for the increasing amount of out-of-town traffic he sees in the Alberni Valley.
“We want to show our respect to all the losses that we have with the strange sickness that is around,” Lucas said. “We are very concerned as tribe members because we see different licence plates from all over the United States and Canada here in Port Alberni.”
Other communities on Vancouver Island haven’t opened as widely as the Alberni Valley, he said. “We should be more careful.”
Lucas said he would like to see people who live in Port Alberni cooperate with Nuu-chah-nulth nations “and set guidelines for our territory.”
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on June 9 voiced opposition to the opening of the Canada-U.S. border “for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and until Nuu-chah-nulth leaders advise otherwise.” They also passed a resolution restricting access to their Hahuuli (territory) for recreation or tourism until testing is available, and that remote and Indigenous communities should be given priority for testing.
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