The Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade joined the Tofino Voulunteer Fire Department to put out a blaze that destroyed an Esowista home on Friday. (Westerly file photo)

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation rallies around beloved Elder after fire destroys Esowista home

“It was such a painful thing for our family.”

A fire destroyed the home of a revered Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elder on Friday night.

Tofino’s Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the Esowista residence to battle the blaze and quickly called the Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade for support. Ucluelet Fire Chief Rick Geddes said the house was engulfed when he arrived around 10 p.m. and that the fire took several hours to put out.

“It was fully involved. There were flames coming through the roof,” Geddes told the Westerly News.

The home belonged to a beloved Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elder affectionally known as Grandma Precious, who was inside with her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren when the fire began.

“I’m really, really, glad to say everyone got out totally healthy and well, which is the most important thing,” her grandnephew Hjalmer Wenstob of Ty-Histanis told the Westerly News. “But, the house is completely destroyed…It was such a painful thing for our family.”

Wenstob explained that the Tla-o-qui-aht communities of Esowista and Ty-Histanis worked through the night and into the early morning hours of Saturday to furnish a Ty-Histanis home that the displaced family was moved into.

“They lost everything,” he said. “People were bringing pots and pans and cutlery and anything to get the household starting to really feel like a home.”

He added that Grandma Precious is 93 and “the matriarch of our community.”

“She is one of our last old knowledge keepers of our community and she’s really a grandma to everyone. She’s such an important part of our whole community of Tla-o-qui-aht and so many communities on the West Coast know Grandma Precious for the good that she does,” he said. “She is our connection to the past, to our ancestors, to that traditional way and she really is so important to our community. She does so much for all of us and this is our chance to give a little back to her.”

Wenstob owns Cedar House Gallery in Ucluelet and immediately put a raffle together with pieces from his gallery in an effort to raise funds for the family, though with the current coronavirus pandemic creating economic hardships across the Coast, he was not sure how much generosity was available.

“At this point in time, with COVID-19 going on, it’s pretty tough to be able to give,” he said. “We put it online not knowing really what to expect and, within an hour, there was about $1,500 worth of donations all from local communities…To see that support just warmed our hearts and the fact that communities stand up at a time like this is so amazing. It really is a heartwarming thing to see.”

He added that the raffle quickly spread, with ticket sales spanning as far as Newfoundland and the fundraiser had reached $4,000 by Sunday evening.

Tickets for the raffle cost $10 each and can be purchased through e-transfer to art@cedarhousegallery.com. The draw will be held on Monday night.

“All the funds will go to the family to help them get back up on their feet again,” Wenstob said.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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