Hay River's kitchen crew – including Mayor Kandis Jameson, third from left – feeding first responders in August 2023. Photo: Town of Hay River/
Hay River’s mayor said governments, commerce groups and residents must do all they can to help the town’s businesses as they restart after five weeks away.
Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, Kandis Jameson encouraged residents to shop local. She called on local and territorial chambers of commerce to help, and said she would push the territorial and federal governments for more funding.
Earlier this month, the NWT’s Business Development and Investment Corporation launched a new grant program – dubbed Wildfire Assistance and Relief Measures, or Warm – for businesses affected by wildfire evacuations. Eligible businesses in evacuated communities, like Hay River, can apply for up to $5,000.
But businesses in Hay River are coping with the impact of years of disasters, and Jameson said those programs alone are not nearly enough.
“These businesses have supported our community groups, sports teams and residents for decades. Many now, after having been impacted by two evacuations this summer, need our support to bounce back,” she said.
“Five weeks of disruption is well beyond the intent of the financial support programs announced to date.”
Hay River endured an evacuation caused by a wildfire just east of the neighbouring Kátł’odeeche First Nation in May, then a second evacuation from August 13 till September 16 as a huge fire enveloped much of the South Slave. Those fires damaged populated areas west and south of Hay River and more than a dozen buildings on the First Nation’s reserve.
A year earlier, the town was badly damaged by flooding that caused an estimated $174 million in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure not covered by insurance.
Together, said Jameson, those disasters have created a situation in Hay River “like few other communities in Canada.”
The mayor said the town would meet with people who lost their homes in the coming days to discuss supports they need. Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer, said about eight properties had been lost.
“This has been extremely challenging for the community,” Jameson said of the past two years. “However, through these events, we have become increasingly stronger and more resilient.”
The mayor said the town now has a natural fire break – in the form of the vast burn area – that will protect it from wildfires in years to come, as will work completed by fire crews to protect Hay River this summer.
Smith said there are also plans for further climate change mitigation, like updating building standards, berm work in the West Point First Nation area, lifting roads, and developing housing in flood-resistant areas, but more federal funding is needed.
In the meantime, Jameson said, many community members are relieved to return home.
“As a community, we hope to bring people together,” she said.
“Let’s celebrate what makes this community great: our people.”