A new, modern gas bar will greet motorists travelling Highway 20 west of Williams Lake early next year.
The Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Government broke ground early Monday afternoon on the $4.5 million facility adjacent from the highway and across the intersection where the current gas bar and store is located.
At approximately 3,000 square feet, the new Esso gas station and grocery store will not only be a remarkable improvement in size but offerings.
As well as a café serving Spirit Bear Coffee from Port Coquitlam and dishes possibly from Mr. Bannock based in Vancouver, it will also feature a cardlock, an RV campground and space for an area honoring Chief Anaham in which the community is named after.
“Chief Joe Alphonse stresses that we need to be paying tributes to our past leaders and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” said Tl’etinqox Councillor Ashton Harry.
“At one of our meetings he was saying it’s so important that we pay tribute to all these people that helped us get where we are and we all heard that loud and clear.”
Councillor Cecil Grinder helped lead song and prayer after community members, other councillors, friends and neighbours and two members of the Alexis Creek RCMP enjoyed some bannock and coffee served onsite by the founders of Mr. Bannock and Spirit Bear Coffee.
“It’s awesome to have a group get-together like this,” Grinder said, noting they were adhering to physical distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For me it’s important that we get together in a positive way and a good way so we can start things off as a relationship.”
Harry was in attendance with her mom Eleanor Cooper who is also a Tl’etinqox councillor, and said she remembered Alphonse saying the gas bar was supposed to be built during 2017 when wildfires hit and put the brake on projects that were supposed to commence.
“Chief Joe is a major driver of this project and a lot of the projects that we have here. He is always pushing INAC’s (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) buttons and he finally found the right one because now we’re getting a gas bar,” she added. “It’s so exciting.”
Alphonse wanted to attend the ceremony but was unable to as he is currently on sick leave, Grinder noted.
Harry recalled how their current gas bar and store that is in need of dire repair and expansion grew over the years to its current location from a small building that was expanded to trailers.
The 28-week project is designed by Dave Kitazaki of the Xaxli’p First Nation who owns and operates DK Architecture of North Vancouver.
Kitazaki had designed the community’s Health Services Sage Building some 12 year ago.
“It’s going to be a beautiful building,” he said, noting it will utilize similar materials of the health centre’s exterior such as heavy timber and stone.
“Inside the building it’s not going to look like a typical gas station-grocery store. It’s going to have a lot of wood elements in it, so it’s going to be quite nice.”
Parke Pacific from Kelowna that has worked with a number of First Nations across Western Canada building gas bars has been selected as contractor for the project.
“I’ve worked in Williams Lake a couple of times but I’ve never been up here and it’s gorgeous,” said Denton Elliot with Parke Pacific of the Chilcotin.
Chris Feeney with Red River Management assisted with putting together the convenience store and café store concept, and said it was a long road to get to this point.
“We all should be very appreciative of all the hard work of the team members and of chief and council,” he said. “We put together this project team that really wants to bring everyone together, remember tradition, culture, language and incorporate all of that into this project and we’re really excited to do that.”
The new gas bar and grocery store will be named Chilcotin River Trading and will open some time in January where a totem pole originally destined to be raised in Boitanio Park in Williams Lake, will stand in front of the gas bar to greet guests.
“Instead of putting the totem pole somewhere that it wasn’t wanted, we put it here and it’s going to be for us and it’s going to represent our trials and tribulations as a nation and as a community and the things that we’ve overcome,” Harry said of the totem pole, which was stopped from going into Boitanio Park by the Williams Lake First Nation.
“To have it raised here, it was a perfect fit—this is its home and this is where it’s going to be.”