Special para-attack fire crew from Fort St. John camped out at the Chemainus River Campground while fighting wildfires in the area. (Photo by John Wyatt)

Special para-attack fire crew from Fort St. John camped out at the Chemainus River Campground while fighting wildfires in the area. (Photo by John Wyatt)

Weather extremes dominate the headlines in 2021

Heat domes, atmospheric rivers, snowfall – we had it all

The consequences of extreme weather dominated the headlines just about everywhere in 2021.

From a heat dome and drought to torrential rains and flooding to a minor earthquake, temperatures way below normal and snowfall at the end of the year all occurred just in the last seven months within the Chemainus Valley.

Naturally, the weather topped the charts as the top two stories of the year, ongoing COVID notwithstanding. In this second of two parts, the Courier details the upper half in the countdown of the Top 10 stories of 2021.

5. Colin John guilty plea

A case that’s dragged on for more than five and a half years since Derek Descoteau was murdered in Chemainus in May of 2016 suddenly took a dramatic turn with a guilty plea from accused Colin John.

Related story: Accused pleads guilty to murder of Chemainus man Derek Descoteau

Many delays in the court proceedings have occurred since John was initially arrested and charged. Part of it was due to COVID, but the on-again, off-again trial was also interrupted by an assessment of John’s mental fitness to face the charges.

John had been charged with the second-degree murder of Descoteau, 20, and the attempted murder of Descoteau’s girlfriend, Janelle Guyatt, who survived the attack but required several surgeries for nerve damage after being stabbed multiple times.

During a late November court appearance in Victoria, switched from an earlier date in Duncan that was postponed following a power outage, John also pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated assault for stabbing Guyatt. Crown lawyer Ken Paziuk told the court the victims and their families were informed about the change from the attempted murder plea.

Proceedings in the case will continue at the Duncan courthouse on Jan. 17, 2022, when dates will be set for a three-day sentencing hearing. A psychiatric assessment of John will be completed by Jan. 11 and be included in a pre-sentencing report.

4. Crofton murders

There was a shocking development on Oct. 23 when the bodies of father and son Tom Johnson and Brad Johnson were discovered in a home on Crofton Road.

Related story: ‘They both had such big hearts’: Father and son identified as victims in Crofton killings

Justin Dodd, also known as Screaton, was charged with the murders of the two men.

“They were like family,” noted Mel Behan-Millard. “I called Brad bro and his dad, Tom, dad. I just wanna know why. They were innocent and loving people. I can’t handle losing anyone else, I tell you. I can’t believe they are gone. I was talking to Brad two days before it happened on Facebook.”

Terese Shearer lives in Falkland but has long been best friends with Chelsea Lloy, the sister of Brad and daughter of Tom.

“You hear about these murders all the time in documentaries and stuff like that,” said Shearer. “It’s crazy to think it’s happening to you. All of a sudden the day comes and it was honestly devastating hearing that news.”

Dodd is representing himself on the two charges of second-degree murder. His next court appearance is Jan. 11 to fix a date.

3. March for the Children

A massive crowd attended the March for the Children in Chemainus, organized by the Penelakut Tribe, following the discovery of grave sites connected to the former Kuper Island residential school.

Related story: More than 1,500 march in support of Penelakut Tribe’s March for the Children

It was one of the largest crowds seen in Chemainus for an event of any kind in many years.

“We are walking for the children who didn’t have the chance to walk with us,” Penelakut chief Joan Brown said to attendees. “We’re all holding each other up at this time. This is a very emotional time for a lot of the survivors and the families of children who were lost. They were not forgotten.”

Penelakut disclosed to neighbouring First Nations in July that more than 160 unmarked graves were found on the grounds of the former residential school.

Mike sul-xwumqun Charlie, chair of the Penelakut Elders Treaty Committee, said the work to locate the unmarked graves has been ongoing since 2014. Initially, work was funded through the Truth and Reconciliation Comission, but when funding ran out, Andrew Martindale and Eric Simons from the UBC Department of Anthropology conducted the site investigation, including the use of ground-penetrating radar analysis, for free.

Penelakut was inspired to share its findings after Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc announced 215 unmarked graves had been found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

2. Heat dome/drought/wildfires

It was clearly a summer to remember for all the wrong reasons, as water scarcity ignited a firestorm of debate about climate change and the need to conserve.

Record-breaking temperatures were recorded during the latter part of June as intense heat stuck around for an extended period. It was a tough time for seniors, especially, to stay hydrated and use caution in all their daily activities.

There was almost no precipitation throughout July and August. Wildfires raged all over the province and we were quite fortunate on the Island to avoid the worst of it, but a couple of scares in our vicinity had people on edge and watching the skies over Mount Prevost and the back end of Mount Sicker.

Related story: Aggressive firefighting tactics limit Copper Canyon fire to 32 hectares

Two wildfires a short distance apart were fortunately kept from spreading by the diligent containment work of fire crews.

The first one on Aug. 4, located at the Chemainus River Provincial Park, was contained at 0.3 hectares by BC Wildfire Service personnel. That fire was no sooner contained than another one broke out and was reported around midnight Aug. 5.

The Copper Canyon fire quickly grew from five hectares to 32 in the first 24 hours. After some anxious moments when the fire was classified as ‘out of control’ and remained that way for a few days, it was considered ‘being held’ by the BC Wildfire Service.

A para-attack crew from Fort St. John literally parachuted in to join the firefight due to “the remoteness of that part of the fire,” noted Dorthe Jakobsen, fire information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre. “They’re a self-contained team and they’re able to bring lots of equipment. It’s a special crew. They call them smoke jumpers colloquially.”

It was still a long fight to bring the fire to a status of ‘under control.’

A total of 48 firefighters, one helicopter, four water tenders and heavy equipment were utilized to knock the fire down.

1. Atmospheric rivers/flooding

It didn’t take long for the dry spell experienced in the Valley to take a complete turn in the other direction. Substantially more rainfall than usual in September was followed by an only slightly less saturated October, but then all hell broke loose with an unbelievable atmospheric river downpour of more than 175 millimetres in the Chemainus area over just two days that led to damaging floods in the same vulnerable places as the Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2020 rainstorm.

Related story: Insane amount of rain hits the region

The Halalt First Nation, Westholme Road, Tussie Road, sections along the Chemainus River, Pinson’s Corner, Quist Farms, Russell Farm, Katie Farm, the Bald Eagle campsite and lower Mount Sicker Road were flooded by the quickly rising water.

Roberta Hicks de Plumpton grew up in the same home where she currently resides on the banks of the Chemainus River near the Chemainus River bridge. She’s seen many floods over the years, but this is “absolutely the worst I’ve seen it,” she conceded.

Her husband Clive, now deceased, dedicated himself to building The Great Wall of Westholme more than 30 years ago.

“I am so proud of him, this is the first time the flooding has breached the back wall you see with the gate,” said Hicks de Plumpton. “It was coming over in waves, something never seen before. Clive has passed now but his walls will remain as a testament to his foresight.”

Jen Newman and North Cowichan Councillor Rosalie Sawrie live on the edge of Westholme Road where the water suddenly went from ground level to five feet deep.

They shut off the power to their residence and packed up to leave until the water abated.

“It is completely under water,” said Newman of the 69 acres behind the household.

They’ve lived in the residence for six years and “this is the worst I’ve seen it,” said Newman.

Neighbours who’ve been there 15 years told them this is also the worst they’ve seen flooding during that time.

2021 Year in ReviewB.C. Floods 2021Wildfires

 

For reference, this was behind Russell Farm on the day of the floods Nov. 15 on Mt. Sicker Road. That’s Deanna Abbott looking at the green bridge to the left, the highway in front and Russell Farm is behind the trees to the right. (Photo courtesy Deanna Abbott)

For reference, this was behind Russell Farm on the day of the floods Nov. 15 on Mt. Sicker Road. That’s Deanna Abbott looking at the green bridge to the left, the highway in front and Russell Farm is behind the trees to the right. (Photo courtesy Deanna Abbott)

Plumes of smoke from a concerning wildfire behind Mount Prevost. (Photo by Bud Gagnon)

Plumes of smoke from a concerning wildfire behind Mount Prevost. (Photo by Bud Gagnon)

Derek Descoteau’s mother Brenda Smith and her husband Steve Smith have long been awaiting justice for Derek. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Derek Descoteau’s mother Brenda Smith and her husband Steve Smith have long been awaiting justice for Derek. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The house at 6848 Crofton Road where the bodies of Tom and Brad Johnson were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The house at 6848 Crofton Road where the bodies of Tom and Brad Johnson were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Jen Newman lives on the edge of Westholme Road where the water suddenly goes from ground level to up to five feet deep. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Jen Newman lives on the edge of Westholme Road where the water suddenly goes from ground level to up to five feet deep. (Photo by Don Bodger)

A sea of orange shirts stands out among the huge crowd attending the Penelakut Tribe’s March For the Children in Chemainus Aug. 2. (Photo by Don Bodger)

A sea of orange shirts stands out among the huge crowd attending the Penelakut Tribe’s March For the Children in Chemainus Aug. 2. (Photo by Don Bodger)

At the Penelakut Tribe’s March for the Children, from left: Emmy Manson, Sandy Good, April Devoy, Charsanaa Johnny and Wanda Good from the Snuneymuxw First Nation. (Photo by Don Bodger)

At the Penelakut Tribe’s March for the Children, from left: Emmy Manson, Sandy Good, April Devoy, Charsanaa Johnny and Wanda Good from the Snuneymuxw First Nation. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Yearbook photo of Justin Dodd (Screaton) from his days at Chemainus Secondary School. Dodd is accused in two Crofton murders.

Yearbook photo of Justin Dodd (Screaton) from his days at Chemainus Secondary School. Dodd is accused in two Crofton murders.