A group of We Wai Kum First Nation members are frustrated that the installation of a fence between their properties and the adjacent Walmart has reduced their access to the surrounding area.
Before the construction of the fence, residents could use a pathway on the west edge of the reserve to make a quick shopping trip or walk to the Campbell River estuary, explained resident Louella Serhan.
But now they are forced to travel through the reserve back to 16 Avenue, then go west past Nunns Creek Park to reach the store. This has increased the distance of the trip from less than 200 metres to about a kilometre.
“It feels like we’re locked in,” said Serhan.
Serhan, who uses a walker and is recovering from cancer surgery, says the added distance is difficult for her because of her reduced mobility and that she is concerned for her safety while walking past Nunns Creek Park.
“I’m scared when I’m on my own, because (of the) people that are homeless,” she said. “We also used to walk to the estuary to sit on the rocks and watch for fish, but that’s hard now.”
Serhan is not alone in her frustration.
“I loved when we could just walk over casually with the children and enjoy the walk just to go over there,” said Mona Drake, another senior We Wai Kum resident. “But when you have to get in the car and go all the way around, it takes longer.”
“I feel bad for people that are using walkers or are limited with their mobility, because now they either can’t go because it’s too far, they have to go somewhere else or they get someone else to go for them,” said resident Frances Roberts.
Roberts is also concerned for her 14-year-old grandson, who lives with her and was recently assaulted in the area.
“I don’t want him walking all the way around,” she said. “I just wouldn’t feel that’s safe, especially at night.”
Serhan has organized a petition about the fence, which she says has around two dozen signatures.
“It’s signed by all the elders that are really wanting that gate opened to walk to Walmart with their grandchildren,” she said.
Resident Sheryl Thompson said a number of residents have requested access through the fence, but there has been no indication one will be installed.
“We said, ‘please, put in a gate for us’ — find a way that we can use a number code, key fob or cards to get through,” she said. “They should have made it easy for us people to get through.”
“I don’t see why they couldn’t have a gate that is locked, say, half an hour an hour after the store closes — that’s going to curtail any night traffic of people who are wandering around,” said Roberts.
We Wai Kum management or leadership could not be reached for comment about the fence or the possibility for installing a gate.