It has been over 17 years since the 2003 McLure Wildfire not only changed the lower North Thompson Valley, but also changed the futures of many businesses and residents within the area. Much has happened since that time, but the story of the McLure Wildfire, of what happened, and who came to help, will always be a part of valley history.
The McLure Wildfire Monument Society (MWMS) was formed in 2004. Their mission, to record and tell the story of the 2003 wildfire and the devastation it caused. Devastation that included the loss of 72 homes, nine businesses, and the area’s major employer, the Tolko mill. The story was to be told by the creation of an historic site where the heart of the wildfire devastation took place.
Those who came to help the residents of Louis Creek, Exlou, Barriere and the surrounding area would not be forgotten, and neither would the amazing outpouring of generosity and compassion from people who came from out of the area, and from all walks of life to help the impacted communities rebuild and move forward.
A lot on land that had been the former Tolko Industries mill site in Louis Creek was gifted to the MWMS, thanks to the work of Kevin Krueger, who at the time was MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson and chair of the North Thompson Economic Development Society. This lot was specifically designated as ‘park’ to become the home of the Wildfire Dragon Monument and Spirit Square.
After endless hours of hard work, fundraising and dedication by society members, volunteers and generous supporters, the site was officially opened with the unveiling of the Wildfire Dragon carving in July of 2008.
Since that time the site has seen a constant stream of visitors stop in to see the carving, read the story boards, enjoy a picnic in the shade, or give their legs a stretch as they travel through the area.
A number of music and cultural festivals were also hosted on the site over the years, and the site’s gardens were judged on two consecutive years as part of Barriere’s entry in the provincial Communities In Bloom competition, which resulted in helping garner awards for the municipality.
In the spring of 2014, the B.C. government officially transferred the land of the former Tolko Industries Ltd. mill in Louis Creek to the District of Barriere and the Simpcw First Nation.
In 2015 the MWMS signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the Thompson Nicola Regional District Area ‘O’ and the District of Barriere. The MOU was created to set up a long term plan for the upkeep and ongoing maintenance of the Wildfire Dragon Monument site.
In October of 2019 the MWMS officially gifted its property assets (valued at $60,000 – $70,000) situated on the Wildfire Dragon Monument site to the District of Barriere to be taken care of for the people of the North Thompson Valley, sighting, “The Society has achieved the goals and purposes for which it was created.”
Today, the Louis Creek Industrial Park has become an active development for the District of Barriere. Property that had previously sat for many years as a virtual ‘no man’s land’ after the fires, has now become a strong commercial and revenue generating entity that can greatly enhance the economic stability of this area as more and more new enterprises move in and become open for business.
In January of this year, founding members of the MWMS participated in a number of discussions with the District of Barriere in regards to the future of the Wildfire Dragon and Spirit Square, located on the small lot in the south west corner of the Industrial Park, directly across from the corner site where the Gaudreau Family Monument was officially placed on July 24, 2010.
A Public Hearing Notice was published in this newspaper on Feb. 25, 2021, advising Barriere residents that a virtual hearing will be held via Zoom Audio Conference on March 8, 2021, at 7 p.m. regarding an amendment to the District of Barriere Zoning Bylaw No. 111 Amendment Bylaw No. 195, and Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 85, Amendment Bylaw No. 197 Barriere, B.C., in relation to the Louis Creek Industrial Park.
If the proposed amendment is approved it will change the Wildfire Dragon Monument site property zoning from Dedicated Park to Industrial, and the lot can then me be sold. Additional information can be obtained by calling the District of Barriere at 250-672-9751.
The District of Barriere have advised MWMS that if the zoning is changed, their plan for the Wildfire Dragon Monument will be to move it directly south of where it currently sits to the green space boundary line of the industrial park, and slightly east of the area where the Gaudreau Family Monument is situated.
The dedication plaques with the carving, as well as story boards and information will continue to be provided. District staff have also commented that plans are in the works to create a public walking trail from where the Wildfire Monument would be moved to, with the trail traveling east along the southern boundary towards Louis Creek.
Perhaps an excerpt from the poem, Footprints of the Dragon, by Kevin Deckert of Avola, B.C., is a fitting tribute to the efforts and commitment of the McLure Wildfire Monument Society who marked a moment in time that should never be forgotten; “We will never know all their names, yet their footprints and their actions will be retold many a time in the days and years to come… to deeply thank those whose courage and selflessness faced a dragon. Such is the stuff of legend. Such is the page that history will mark as the summer of 2003.”
A plaque in front of the Wildfire Dragon Monument carving states: “This site has been established by the McLure Wildfire Monument Society. A group committed in the belief that the story of the McLure Wildfire of 2003 must be forever marked in the history of the North Thompson Valley. Marked not because of the devastation created by the wildfire, but to memorialize the determination, compassion, and generosity shown by those who came to fight the fires, to help in the aftermath, and to assist in rebuilding our communities; it is also for those who reside here, who picked up the pieces and created something beautiful – this site is your mark in time. We thank you all.” McLure Wildfire Monument Society, July 26, 2008.
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