It’s been 19 years since Matilda Wilson, 63, last saw her daughter Ramona Lisa Wilson.
June 11, 1994, Ramona, 16, set off for graduation parties around Smithers, but never returned home.
Ramona’s body was found near the Smithers airport in a wooded lot near Yelich Road April 10, 1995.
“It was very devastating, but we were glad they found Ramona,” Matilda said, saying it allowed for closure and began the process of healing.
Saturday, June 15, surrounded by about 40 relatives and friends, Matilda walked along Highway 16 to Yelich Road from Lake Kathlyn school for the annual Ramona Lisa Wilson Memorial Walk.
The memorial walk, Matilda said, serves to honour the memory of her daughter and to bring awareness to the tragedy of Highway 16, otherwise known as the Highway of Tears.
“It has brought a lot of media attention to hitchhiking and the dangers on the highways with the girls disappearing over the years,” Matilda said.
“We hope the attention keeps up.”
Newspaper accounts as well as RCMP reports referred to Ramona as a young aboriginal woman, but Matilda remembers the person.
“She was so bubbly, a very happy girl,” Matilda said of her daughter.
“She made plans to go to university when she graduated from high school.
“She wanted to be a psychologist and her dreams were snuffed out.”
However, after 19 years of organizing the memorial walk, Matilda said this was likely the last one she would organize and would hand off the responsibility to one of her family members.
“I won’t be stepping down completely, I will still be involved in the governing of the Highway of Tears organization in Prince George, so I’ll still be around.”
Although time heals all, Matilda said, for her, it depends on the day.
“Sometimes it feels like just yesterday,” she said.
“It’s been 19 years, but when I start thinking about her it feels like 19 days or 19 minutes ago.”
Just before the walk began Matilda said she wanted to thank all those who had participated over the years.
“From the bottom of my heart I really thank everyone,” she said.
“It makes a difference when there are people supporting you.”
Matilda also gave thanks to the local communities, the RCMP and the Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George.
“We’ve received a lot of support,” Matilda said.
On hand for the walk, as in years previous, was Doug Donaldson, NDP MLA for Stikine.
Donaldson was recently appointed the opposition critic for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation in the B.C. legislature.
“This walk keeps a focus on the issue, which is important because it [The Highway of Tears] needs a lot more attention,” Donaldson said.
“A lot of commitments have been made, but it seems not a lot gets accomplished.”
As an example, Donaldson pointed to the report tabled by Wally Opal, commissioner of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry highlighting, among others, the need for public transportation between communities along Highway 16, a recommendation that has yet to be implemented.
“How many more women have to disappear?” Donaldson asked.
As for advice to young women wanting to hitchhike along Highway 16, Matilda was blunt.
“It’s very dangerous out there, a killer or killers have never been found,” she said.
“They could be walking amongst us.”