Former Target employee Sara McDonald flings her employee T-shirt onto a fire during a gathering that drew more than 50 people to the beach at Willow Point Monday.

Former Target employees burn their shirts

For the former employees of Campbell River’s Target store, a memorial gathering on the beach was much more a wake than it was a funeral

For the former employees of Campbell River’s Target store, a memorial gathering on the beach Monday evening was much more a wake than it was a funeral.

But they still had their pyre.

More than 50 people, including 40-plus former employees, came together around a Willow Point bonfire to enjoy a spot of food and drink, and to reminisce about their time together at the local store before it was shuttered in a chain-wide Canadian closure March 16.

They also came to toss their distinctive red Target uniform T-shirts into the flames.

“In native cultures, burning is a healing,” said Jacquie Creaser, a former Target manager who helped organize the gathering. “It’s closure; there’s no bitterness or anger.”

Generally, it was a cheerful and upbeat gathering, with participants ranging from gleeful to somber as they fed their shirts to the flames.

The employees lost their jobs when Target Canada, a subsidiary of the giant U.S. retailer, failed to grab the loyalty of Canadian shoppers after purchasing the bulk of HBC company’s Zeller’s outlets and eventually opening more than 130 Target stores north of the border.

Less than two years after the first stores were opened in March of 2013, Target Canada on Jan. 15 filed for bankruptcy and announced the impending closure of all locations — and left thousands out of work. Justin Fecteau, who began working at the local store even before it opened, said he gave notice one week before he would have been eligible for a two-month severance package.

“But I got a good job at Marine Harvest, so everything worked out in the end.”

Others in the crowd at the beach Monday have also found work while some remain unemployed. Among the latter, some have not yet begun job-seeking in earnest, like Creaser, who remained with Target two weeks after the store closed to help with liquidation and demolition.

Another sub-group was marking its second layoff from the same location, having worked at Zellers before its purchase by Target Canada. Rather than being retained, they had to apply for jobs in the new store.

Together, Creaser said, the Target employees made up a unique team. One she wanted to gather for one more huddle.

“I planned this so we would have a remembrance,” she said of the bonfire. “The burning is just a side effect, a cleansing.

“We’re not bitter. We’re grieving; we wish we were still working there. I’ve been in management for 15 years and never had a better job.”