Wednesday was an emotional day for Tonya Alton after an emotional month and after an emotional year of missing her 21-year-old daughter, her best friend.
A candlelight memorial service was held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at McKinley Park in McKinley Landing for Shayla Rae Dawn Driver who drowned in McKinley Reservoir exactly one year ago on Dec. 12, 2011.
That service was one of three emotional moments for Alton who uncovered and cleaned off a granite monument on Wednesday morning. Later that day, immediate family members gathered for a private moment at the monument, located near the 10-metre-high embankment where Driver's car plunged into the icy water.
Alton spent the past month in Kelowna working with city officials and making the arrangements for the monument and memorial service. Thanks to the persistence of Alton, Coun. Mohini Singh and McKinley Landing residents, the city hired OK Excavating for $458,000 to widen the road, add a one-metre shoulder and concrete barriers.
Alton wanted an evening of song and her daughter's poetry to bring the community together and so she could express her thanks.
"Shayla was the one that brought change to McKinley and I thought that it was important for me to give back to the community who voted for option seven (road improvements) and who have thoroughly supported me. I'm so grateful," Alton said.
Alton found the perfect round granite stone for the monument at Burnco Landscaping in Langley and Surrey Monument etched it, both without charge as soon as they found out what it was for.
"I have sobbed on that rock from the day I hand-picked it. When I pulled the tarp off to unveil it Wednesday, it was very difficult. My daughter should be standing where that rock is," she said.
"We wanted to keep it very simple, natural. We didn't want to distract drivers, to cause an accident by somebody looking at it. That was the main thing. When there is a blanket of snow, nobody will even notice it there. But those who know that it is there can stop and pay their respects."
Stantec Consulting and city officials extended the width of the road enough so one vehicle can safely park near the monument.
A year later, Driver's death still hasn't sunk in, she said. "When we woke up today, the first thing we did, all of us shared tears. Shayla should be here with us sharing in the holidays and other things."
Alton has resided in Langley for the past five years, but spent
30 years growing up in Kelowna. Her daughter was raised in the Okanagan, drove narrow, winding McKinley Road for nine years when Alton had joint custody and "had her future in front of her," said her mother.
"It's come full circle. I just hope that lives will be saved and nobody has to go through what I have gone through, what our family and Shayla's friends have gone through for the past year. It's been very difficult year."
McKinley Road is well-known for its black ice during the winter and the corner around the reservoir is "so dangerous," Alton said. "My daughter wanted to be a social worker and she wanted to bring change to the world. So her stone says: Be the change you want to see in this world. It's very empowering."
Staff at Burnco Landscaping told her granite is the stone of protection "so she is the permanent concrete angel out there, watching over everybody and making sure the school bus goes safely by."