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Quilts for Cariboo Chilcotin survivors an Orange Shirt Day team effort

Special project was a vision of Phyllis Westad’s, who gathered a team to bring it to life

Phyllis Webstad had the vision, Elaine Watt had the skills and Margaret-Anne Enders and Venta Rutkauskas gave the project “arms and legs.”

Webstad, the founder of Orange Shirt Day, had been a part of a ceremony providing quilts for residential school survivors in Timmons, Ontario.

She thought the initiative would be something the Williams Lake community could also do locally as part of Orange Shirt Day.

So she called up Elaine Watt one Saturday afternoon, who is a longtime quilter and member of Cariboo Piecemakers, the local quilting group.

“She told me about her vision and I said ‘I like it, I agree with it, and I’m with you,’” said Watt, who then began working with a number of groups including the Child Development Centre, the Anglican Church women, the Cariboo Piecemakers, and others to piece together quilts.

They were able to bring in Enders and Rutauskas to help with the organizing and promoting.

“We needed the energy and the organizational skills of those two,” said Watt.

Watt has about 15 completed, and 35 more in various stages of completion.

Webstad had said she would like 50 to have ready for this year’s Orange Shirt Day on September 30, which is a massive job, and quilting is labour-intensive work with the finishing being quite time-consuming.

“Now we’re extending that out with even more hands,” said Rutauskas, who along with Enders, is working to coordinate work-bees with volunteers who may or may not have any sewing skills.

Westad is also hoping businesses could donate staff to come help for a couple of hours as well.

“It’s going to go as long as it goes,” said Watt of the project, and if they end up with more than 50 quilts, even better.

“As long as people are interested, we’re going to do it.”

With many survivors of St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School still living in the region, it will take some time before there is a quilt for each one.

“This is aimed at our local people,” said Watt, noting the names of those who are given quilts will be shared with the Quilts for Survivors project in Timmins so there is no duplication and each locally-made quilt will be given away here.

On July 19, the group hosted their first work bee at their downtown office at 118 First Avenue in Williams Lake.

The work bee included a lunch, and they set up a number of work stations to do the binding for some of the quilts.

About 15 people were busily working away, trimming edging material, sewing corners and ironing material flat.

One of the volunteers, Deb Pickering, said she was just trying to do her part for reconciliation. While she had worked on the periphery for many years with restorative justice, this was an opportunity to support reconciliation efforts in a substantive and direct way.

During the tenth anniversary of Orange Shirt Day, the society is planning on putting on a theatre production as part of a week of Orange Shirt Day events. The hope is to give away 10 quilts a night for residential school and sixties scoop survivors at each of the four performances of the show. They are currently also searching for First Nations actors for the production.

To help out with the quilts, contact Margaret-Anne Enders via email at margaret-anne@awakenings-anti-racism.com or by phone at 778-267-9234.

READ MORE: Ceremony, food and horse racing all part of Orange Shirt Day in Williams Lake

READ MORE: Williams Lake storeowner raises over $234,000 for Orange Shirt Day Society



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Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

After moving back to Williams Lake, where I was born and graduated from school, I joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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