By Mickey Conlon
In early February Denise and Joshua Grimard were making one of their infrequent visits to Telegraph Creek, B.C. It was where the lay pastoral workers for the Diocese of Whitehorse called home until they were driven out, along with all the other inhabitants, by the forest fires that devastated northern B.C. last summer.
Life in the remote town in B.C.’s northwestern interior is slowly getting back to normal after the fire destroyed some 30 homes and forced everyone to flee to safer confines as fire crews battled to contain the blaze. Many have returned to their homes, at least those whose houses still stand.
But, not for the Grimards. Their home was attached to St. Theresa’s Mission, and it too fell victim to the raging fire. It burned to the ground, and all that remains is a bulldozed field where the church and the rectory once stood.
Since then the Grimards, who relocated to nearby Dease Lake along with many from Telegraph Creek, have fielded many inquiries about the future of the mission. On their most recent visit, the questions were constant: The first, said Denise, was, “When are you coming back?” It was followed by: “When will you be rebuilding? When is this happening?”
The good news is the diocese always planned to rebuild the mission and has been moving quickly on making it happen. Whitehorse Bishop Hector Vila and diocesan staff have been going through the laborious planning process and jumping through the hoops needed to breathe life back into the mission church. An architect has been chosen, and preliminary plans have been drawn up, consultations are ongoing with the local Tahltan First Nation and Chief Rick McLean. It’s been a long process, but Vila knows they are very close. Early spring is the plan for getting shovels in the ground.
In these consultations, the overriding question is what will the new St. Theresa’s look like. As the Grimards found, most people are not looking for a change, they want the St. Theresa’s they knew. “They just want a sense of normalcy,” said Denise.
Vila has heard the message, and it is guiding the rebuild plans. “The notion that we have is to build something very similar to what we had before, just make the minimum adaptations,” said Vila.
Joshua always knew St. Theresa’s would rise from the ashes, but couldn’t help wonder when. When they returned from this most recent visit to Telegraph Creek, they received a copy of the preliminary plans and with it the realization this is happening.
“Now that plans are drawn, we’re thinking, this could happen this year” he said.
Some issues remain, however, especially funding, said Vila. The original fundraising campaign brought in $100,000, and there will be some insurance money, though not as much as hoped for, said Vila. He didn’t want to say how much more money is needed but conceded, “We know we’re going to still fundraise for that.”
Offers of help have come in, with a group of carpenters offering their time and talent. But as is reality in a remote northern community, getting the building materials to Telegraph Creek could prove to be a daunting expense. They hope to find savings by shipping material in conjunction with building supplies to the Tahltan First Nation for rebuilding the homes that were destroyed. One way or another, Vila knows the community will be taken care of.
“We are grateful to God, and I don’t think that there will be a lack (of resources). God will provide in one way or another,” he said. All these efforts let the Grimards know that the faith is still strong in Telegraph Creek.
“It’s a reminder that it’s not just us,” said Denise. “This is a team effort from the building committee, the bishop to the local people. I think it’s really going to bring people together.” Meantime, the spiritual needs of the community still need to be looked after, and that has been difficult.
“As people come back to their homes we are trying to do as much as we can to serve them,” said Vila. That includes the periodic visits by the Grimards. Mass with a priest—which is not an every-Sunday reality in such outposts—was held on Christmas Eve in the rec centre and it drew a small congregation. And they have tried to stay in contact with the people, by phone and through their visits, to maintain the community’s connection with the Church.
The Grimard’s current situation sees them living in Dease Lake, about 90 km from Telegraph Creek, with their six children at the newly built St. Mary Magdalene Church where their pastoral work continues.
“Nobody was going to be living in the mission here, so it was a bit providential that this is where we ended up, to support the community with the new church,” said Denise. “There hasn’t been a presence in Dease Lake for a few years, so we’re just reconnecting. People really miss having somebody at the church.
Both say they have enjoyed Dease Lake, raising and homeschooling their children and meeting people in a new community. They are leading communion services and have begun a faith study group, and though it has so far only drawn one woman and her two young girls (who then enjoy play time with the Grimard children), they are building relationships.
“We tried to see where the needs are,” said Joshua.
Inevitably, they know they will return to Telegraph Creek soon and build upon the four years they have called it home.
“It’s interesting where home is,” said Denise. “You realize when you’ve kind of given your life over to God you’re like, ‘You know, we can make home wherever You want us to be as long as we’re together as a family.’” Vila is pleased that St. Theresa’s has not been forgotten by the community.
“I’m very thankful to the people who have collaborated… I think the people have been wonderful. Just by asking how things are going there, that says the people are praying for us, are supporting us in many ways, so that is encouraging.”