Members of the West Shore turned out to pay their final respects to Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas, who passed away suddenly last weekend.
Firefighters with the View Royal Fire Department and officers with the West Shore RCMP lined the intersection of Thomas and Admirals roads, as Thomas’ body was returned to the community Wednesday afternoon.
Const. Cole Brewer with the West Shore RCMP worked with Thomas for several years as police liaison to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
“The West Shore RCMP has a really good working relationship with Esquimalt Nation, specifically with Chief Thomas,” Brewer said. “Chief Thomas was a man about personal relationships and trust, that was very important to him. He had a fantastic sense of humour. He cared a lot about people, his community and his family.”
For 47 years, Chief Andy – as he was often referred to – led the people of the Esquimalt Nation, before he died suddenly at his home early on Saturday, April 7.
Born and raised on Esquimalt Nation lands, Thomas, 70, helped create the Assembly of First Nations and served on the executive of the First Nations of South Island Tribal Council. A tireless advocate for Indigenous rights, Thomas helped establish Salish Sea Industrial Services Ltd. to provide training and employment opportunities for his nation.
In 2007, he was honoured with the Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award from Royal Roads for his work to make Esquimalt Nation prosper.
View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst has known Thomas for the past 35 years.
“It’s a big loss for the Nation and the community as a whole. We’ve worked with Chief Thomas for many, many years,” said Hurst, who had lunch with Thomas last week.
“We had an honest relationship. One thing about Chief Thomas is he always spoke his mind and you knew where he stood. He didn’t pull any punches. That’s what I enjoyed about the relationship with Andy is we could talk quite candidly and express our own views and opinions on a series of things. He will be missed.”
Thomas is survived by his wife Mary Anne, their children, Maureen, Ed, Mike, Matthew, Louie, Andrew and Mary Anne Jr., as well as grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
— With files from Kristyn Anthony