When Walter Roos was planning for the ceremony over Zoom where he would become a Canadian citizen, he expected to attend in business attire while at home in Popkum, B.C., east of Chilliwack.
Instead, after coming to Canada from the Netherlands 18 years ago, Roos was made a Canadian in the back of a firefighting vehicle Monday, dressed in the red uniform of firefighters doing battle with the province’s devastating wildfires.
Chief of Popkum Fire Rescue, Roos has been fighting fires for more than 15 years and is one of the more than 500 called in to tackle the devastating 120-square-kilometre McDougall Creek fire in West Kelowna.
He said when his task force leader found out that he was supposed to attend the ceremony over Zoom, he made sure to plan around it.
“He had the rest of the task force going to different spots and we picked a spot close to the city so that we could have cell reception properly,” Roos said in an interview.
He would become a citizen while parked near Bear Creek.
Roos said he has been planning for years to become a citizen and the decision during the COVID-19 pandemic to move the process online made things simpler.
“The older you get, the more you feel that you’re tied to your community, your system, and you feel the importance of being part of it,” he said.
Roos’ story was shared by West Kelowna fire Chief Jason Brolund on Monday and federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller later posted a photo on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter.
“People are asking me where he’s from and I don’t know,” Brolund said.
“What I do know is he’s going to be from Canada and that, it just gives me goosebumps to tell that story.”
Roos said he recognizes people’s desire for happier news in the midst of struggles, but he doesn’t want his story to overtake the tragedy of the situation.
More than 27,000 people have been forced from their homes by wildfires burning in the province.
Brolund has said as many as 90 structures in West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation have been destroyed. There is no word yet on when it will be safe for people to go home.
“You’re fighting a fire, you’re doing your best to try to stop more fires from starting,” Roos said.
“But in the meantime, you see really clearly who all lost their everything — their memories, their passions, their everything. It’s intimidating.”
— by Ashley Joannou in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2023.