Communities grieve together 

Hundreds attend Whistler memorial to victims of Sea to Sky Highway accident

Mourners from Whistler and Squamish came together this week to remember and celebrate the lives of seven people killed in a road accident on the Sea to Sky Highway Jan. 31.

Although all lived in Squamish each was connected to Whistler, the economic engine of the Sea to Sky corridor, by work.

"There are no words to express the grief and sense of loss felt by so many in the Sea to Sky Corridor today," Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly told more than 750 people at the memorial at the Telus Conference Centre in Whistler.

"(At) times like this we are reminded of our true priorities; family friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

Whistler's hotel community, and others, including Tourism Whistler, organized the memorial.

"We wanted to offer our support for the community," said Murray Kelsey general manager of the Tantalus Resort Lodge.

"The Squamish community has made Whistler what it is. And is important that we support them in their time of need because they have supported us for such a long time.

"It is just the right thing to do."

Five of those who died worked in Whistler hotels; Balwinder Dhanoa,30, Karmjit Dillon, 21, Balwinder Singh Gill, 29, Dilbagh Goraya,64, and Jasdeep Sandhu,19.

Al Barbour owned a maintenance company, which did work throughout the Sea to Sky corridor. He and his teenage son were both killed in the head-on collision.

"As closely interrelated communities we support and help each other in good times and bad," said O'Reilly.

"We saw this demonstrated only last fall during the floods and we see it today as the community of Whistler remembers our colleagues and friends.

"I know I speak for all of Whistler when I say our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost so much. Our heartfelt sympathies are extended to the community of Squamish and we share the sorrow of the friends and co-workers left behind."

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland said his community was still in shock.

"This has been an incredibly tough 11 days for everyone in Squamish and the Sea to Sky corridor and especially for the families of the seven people who were killed," he said.

"Our entire community is in shock. It is beyond our comprehension."

After the memorial he added: "To have seven people die all at one time in a town of 15,000 is devastating. Everyone had a connection to at least one of those people.

"That is tough for everyone to deal with.

"And the people involved were very popular in various circles and they knew a lot of people.

"And there is also the thought in the community; 'That could have been me.'"

Makhan Sanghera, president of the Gurdwara Baba Nanak Sahib Sikh Temple in Squamish, said the service and the number of people who turned out to grieve with them touched his community.

"Our hearts are full from it," he said. "But there are no more tears in us."

As he spoke following the memorial pockets of friends and families hugged and wiped away tears.

A memorial fund has also been set up to help the families left behind. Donations can be made to the Royal Bank in either Squamish or Whistler. The money will be divided amongst all the families through Sea to Sky Community Services.

"We want to say thanks to all the Whistler Hospitality Industry and the tourist industry, the management and the workers," said Avtar Gidda, secretary of the Squamish Sikh Temple.

"Thank-you for your prayers for the souls lost in the spur of the moment at the command of God.

"We are having a very sad time and our hearts are hurt. There are just no more tears left in our eyes."

The temple will also hold a three-day prayer session from March 11 until March 13 to support the families.

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