Tofino and Ahousaht received significant admiration and accolades on Friday as B.C.’s premier awarded both communities with Medals of Good Citizenship for their heroic efforts in the aftermath of last year’s Leviathan II disaster.
The roughly 20-metre whale watching vessel capsized near Plover Reef on Oct. 25. Six of the vessel’s 27 passengers were killed in the tragedy.
The Medal of Good Citizenship award was launched by Christy Clark’s B.C. government in 2015 and aims to recognize British Columbians who have made outstanding contributions to their communities.
“The medal reflects their generosity, service, acts of selflessness and contributions to community life,” according to the province’s website.
Tofino and Ahousaht are the first communities to receive the award, which is traditionally bestowed upon individual achievers.
“The People of Ahousaht First Nation Community are being recognized for their brave assistance of victims during this unfortunate incident,” according to a Government of B.C. media release.
“After Clarence Smith and deckhand Kenny Brown spotted an emergency flare while out on the water, without delay they set their boat’s course in the direction of the distress signal. Their immediate reaction and further support from Ahousaht members who arrived on the scene with a number of boats to assist undoubtedly saved numerous lives.”
Tofino was honoured for rallying around those impacted by the tragedy and covering them with local love.
“The District of Tofino is being recognized for the manner in which the community selflessly banded together to help the survivors and their families, the victims’ families and all those involved in the rescue and recovery effort,” according to the release.
“Despite the incident leaving the community shocked and in mourning, residents opened their houses to strangers, shared food and blankets, and stood in solidarity beside the victims’ families during the candlelight vigil organized by the community to honour and remember those who perished.”
Clark presented both awards in person during a visit to Ahousaht’s Lone Cone Campground on August 12.
“It was this community who rushed into peril to save others’ lives,” Clark said at the event. “People who have known this coast for millennia, people who know it best and people who made sure that as many lives as possible were saved.”
She noted the provincial government dished out a $50,000 grant to increase Ahousaht’s emergency response capabilities and is lobbying the federal government to offer support as well.
“Recognizing that we always need to be prepared, we’ve been advocating to make sure that, with the federal government, First Nations begin to play a much more integral role in the coast guard in our province,” she said.
Ahousaht’s chief councillor Greg Louie accepted the award on the First Nation’s behalf and said it was well deserved by the community.
“This is for you Ahousaht. This is what we do all the time without second thought. Without second thought, we help our visitors in our chief’s territory, our chief’s Hahoulthlee,” he said. “Our members jump into their boat risk their own lives to save your lives.”
Acting mayor Greg Blanchette accepted the award on behalf of Tofino. Blanchette did not speak during the ceremony but expressed pride in his hometown through the province’s media release.
“The Leviathan II incident was a sudden tragedy that deeply affected everyone involved, and shocked the entire community of Tofino,” he said. “My fellow citizens rose to the occasion with compassion, dignity and effectiveness, and I am very proud to to accept this award on their behalf.”