For Louis Thomas, the train whistle has been a painful reminder of the need to keep working towards the creation of a trail to safely connect the Secwepemc people with their Salmon Arm neighbours to the east.
Estimates of the number of First Nations killed near Salmon Arm by the train over the years reach as high as 40. Three of those losses are particularly excruciating for Thomas.
Tears well when he recounts that his father, his son and, more recently, his nephew, were all killed on the train tracks west of Salmon Arm.
“A lot of times I hear that reminder of the horn blowing – and I think that’s what keeps me going. The people who have passed away. They kind of remind me, ‘Keep trucking, Louis, remember us.’”
He says many deaths have been alcohol related, but sometimes it’s just difficult to hear the train if it’s coasting.
He recounts how one woman who was hearing-impaired was fishing off the bridge when she felt tremors. She scrambled off in the nick of time, but not without the train taking her backpack right off her back.
Thanks to Thomas’ more than 40 years of advocating for a trail and the Shuswap Trail Alliance’s embracing of his dream 15 years ago, along with support from members of the West Bay Trail Working Group, on Friday, Jan. 31, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed at Pierre’s Point by representatives of the City of Salmon Arm and the Adams Lake and Neskonlith bands.
The signatories have agreed to work collaboratively to construct the West Bay Connector Trail, a walkway that will begin at Salmon Arm Bay and stretch to Tappen.
Cstélnec Kukpi7 (Adams Lake Chief) Cliff Arnouse said the MOU means a lot.
“It will save lives, it will do good for the planet… It will also bring all these communities together. Connecting communities is what it’s all about.”
Mayor Alan Harrison said he and Arnouse spoke about how they could not make this happen individually but together they can. He acknowledged that city councillors Sylvia Lindgren, Tim Lavery and Debbie Cannon were in attendance and emphasized the city is fully behind the MOU.
MLA Greg Kyllo and MP Mel Arnold came to offer their congratulations, thanks and support for the plan. Kyllo noted the contribution of Phil McIntyre-Paul, the executive director of the Shuswap Trail Alliance, who helped to hold everyone together.
Adams Lake councillor Gina Johnny was recognized with an enthusiastic round of applause for all the work she’s done leading up to the signing of the MOU.
Johnny said she sees the MOU as the start of a team that will be working together and connecting, not just on the trail, but for years to come.
Following the MOU signing, Louis Thomas said he was in a bit of shock.
“It’s been ongoing for so long now, it seemed like it was never going to be done. Now I think with the support of all the people it will be a dream that might come true, finally.”