Saskatchewan family travelling to B.C. to spread parents' ashes alerts community ahead of arrival
Family worried about negative reaction to out-of-province licence plates
The Switzer sisters want residents of Prince Rupert, B.C., to know they are driving to B.C. from Alberta and Saskatchewan this week to spread their parents' ashes.
Their mother died a few years ago, and her father passed away this past January. Dallas and Shirley wanted to visit the city to spread ashes in March, but they put those plans on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
After hearing stories about British Columbians vandalizing vehicles and leaving nasty notes on windshields of cars with out-of-province licence plates, the sisters became increasingly concerned about their presence in B.C. So, in preparation for the trip, they shared their travel plans with residents on a community Facebook page for their parents' hometown.
"Just to let y'all know I'm from Saskatchewan I will be there in less than a week," Dallas Switzer's post said. It went on to explain she would be with her family of nine with out-of province licence plates, that they have been tested for COVID-19, and that they would wear masks in public areas.
Since the pandemic began, Albertan visitors, and even British Columbia residents who have out-of-province licence plates, have returned to their parked vehicles in B.C. towns to find messages telling them they're not welcome.
B.C.'s provincial health officer has reminded residents multiple times to be kind to everyone, regardless of what their licence plates indicate, because there's no way to know why they're in B.C..
Some Albertans feel singled out
But even with reminders from provincial leaders, some Albertans still feel singled out.
Debi Bert has just gone home to Edmonton after a stay at her sister's condo in Kelowna. She says she tried to keep a low profile during her time there. On one of the few occasions she ventured out in her car, which has an Alberta licence plate, she received a note on her windshield telling her to go home.
"I was grateful that our car wasn't keyed or something like that," she said.
She too had heard of the animosity Albertans had faced in B.C. before her visit.
Bert was disappointed to see other people in Kelowna not observing physical distancing guidelines or wearing non-medical face masks, which she said has become commonplace in Alberta.
"I'm happy to be going home because I think I think [Albertans] are taking it more seriously," she said.
"I don't mean to bash B.C., because I'm telling you, it is a beautiful province, but I just hope that they can somehow manage to pull it together and knock it off and get through this together and strong and not see their numbers continue to go up."
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C. have been climbing steadily, and leaders have been raising concerns about large gatherings.
During a Thursday press briefing, B.C. Premier John Horgan specifically pointed to parties in Kelowna that has resulted in a cluster of confirmed COVID-19 cases and a drum circle in Vancouver that drew criticism online.
"Come on. You're better than that. We need bigger spaces and fewer faces," he said.
WATCH | B.C. Premier John Horgan addresses rising COVID-19 numbers:
Notes of support for Switzer family
When Switzer posted her family's plans on Facebook, she received several responses, all very supportive.
"I kind of was [surprised] considering the other posts I'd seen about out of towners, like they weren't necessarily mean or using swear words, but they were not happy," she said.
"Condolences and thank you so much for thinking of [people's] safety," wrote one commenter.
"Very sweet of you to update rupert and also our condolences to your family from ours," wrote another.
Dallas Switzer is not sure what the reception will be like when they arrive in town, but she said they're well-stocked with non-medical face masks and hand sanitizer to keep their family — and the community — safe.
With files from Nicole Oud, Matt Allen and Daybreak North