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Whistler helping Bella Bella

Whistler grocery store operator collecting materials for coastal town's burned library


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The remote coastal town of Bella Bella may be a long way from the bustling resort of Whistler. But that isn't stopping one local businessman from reaching out to help after the First Nations village lost the building housing its library, café, and grocery store to arson.

Bob Adams, president of Bevendale Enterprises Inc. (The Grocery Store, the Upper Village Market, the Pemberton Valley Supermarket and Delish Catering and Café), decided to organize a book drive to help replace the cherished books that were lost in the July 12 fire.

"I was just thinking about these poor people up there and I knew we couldn't help with groceries," said Adams as he visited the Whistler Public Library to leave some drop boxes for donated books Tuesday morning.

"I thought, 'what else could we do?' This just popped into my mind because I think the library up there is really a significant part of the culture."

Adams has come to know the operator of the Bella Bella grocery store through industry gatherings over the years so news of the fire hit home. Both Adam's businesses and the Bella Bella store are supplied by Buy-Low Foods, which has also agreed to help out by shipping the books by barge to the coastal town — the largest community to be found on the Central Coast north of Queen Charlotte Strait.

For the next two weeks people with books they don't want any more are encouraged to drop them off at one of a number of donation points arranged by Adams. Books are being accepted at The Grocery Store in the Whistler village, Nesters Market, the Upper Village Market, Pemberton Valley Supermarket and Armchair Books in addition to the Whistler Public Library.

According to Adams, the campaign to send books to Bella Bella is off to a strong start with a significant amount of support and interest.

"One of the people I talked to said we might end up with thousands of books," said Adams with a nervous laugh.

Bella Bella's librarian, Jessie Housty, said between 3,500 and 4,000 library books were destroyed in the fire. She created the library in 2007 based on a book donation program.

"We never really had any income to purchase books," she said of the first effort to create a library in Bella Bella. "My advice to people then, and the advice I've been giving to people now, is donate books that speak to you — you never know who else they'll inspire.

"My first priority is definitely going to be to rebuild the children's literature because I just think that it's really important to have that as a resource here."

While the emphasis in the early rebuilding is going to be on books for kids Housty said every type of book is being accepted. She's been amazed at which books interest the people of her community.

"We had a very diverse collection and a very diverse group of patrons," she said.

Whistler is not alone in its efforts. According to Housty, Kitimat has also launched a community-wide collection program for the Bella Bella library, Britco has reportedly offered a trailer to house the books and the Sunset Rotary Club in Richmond has offered to install shelving in the new trailer.

"We're very blessed to already have a lead on space," said Housty. "Housing for a project like this is definitely at a premium in a community like Bella Bella. It's a huge help having that kind of infrastructure on its way to being in place."

London Drugs is also donating two computers to the new library for public use, she said.

Meanwhile the youth summer camps run out of the library have also been put on hold.

While Housty is working to get the library back up and running the community's more immediate need for a grocery store has been addressed in the short term.

Pat Housty, Jessie Housty's aunt, has set up a small grocery store in a local church thanks to help from Buy-Low Foods and others.

The hope now is to get refrigeration units to Bella Bella as soon as possible so she can expand the inventory being offered at the temporary location.

According to RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk, three girls were arrested in connection with the blaze. He said the girls are aged 13, 15 and 16. The fire started somewhere between 2 and 4 a.m.

The torched building was constructed 35 years ago. Bella Bella RCMP evacuated the local hospital and some homes in the area as well as there were gas and diesel tanks located near the store.

Bella Bella is on Campbell Island on Lama Passage in the Great Bear Rainforest. It has no road access to the mainland. Described as the Gateway to the Rainforest, the community has a BC Ferries terminal and an airport with regular flights to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island and YVR's south terminal.

The fire also impacted all those who worked in the building, which also housed the town's only liquor store and post office — about 40 people altogether.


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