Many intriguing stories made headlines across the Chemainus Valley in 2019.
It was another year filled with trials and tribulations, triumphs and tragedies. Following are my picks for the top five stories of the year, based on a variety of criteria.
1. United Steelworkers strike – It’s still going after six months and that alone makes it a remarkable story.
It hasn’t always garnered headlines with the media on a larger scale, but it should because this is one dispute that affects so many people both directly and indirectly.
It was long known before the USW started its strike on July 1 at Western Forest Products operations, including the Chemainus sawmill, that the relationship between the two sides had deteriorated.
As a result, both sides have dug in their heels. The union has repeatedly said there are concessions WFP wants that would set labour relations back 50 years.
Working conditions and a positive environment are major issues for the union more than wages. WFP says the market is weak, but contends it has offered a fair agreement.
A local agreement in Chemainus seems to be hanging in the balance. It’s been a salvation for employees to provide better balance to their work situations and, consequently, improved health and more productivity.
Where it will end is anybody’s guess. Mediation efforts have failed to this point, with the two sides being so far apart.
2. Plane crash – Extremely sad news only two weeks before Christmas when Saltair couple Allan and Katheryn Boudreau died along with pilot Alex Bahlsen of Mill Bay on Gabriola Island.
The Boudreaus were on a return trip from a vacation in Mexico. Their many friends in the area were shocked and saddened to hear the news. They operated Island Hothouse, a two-acre site producing sweet bell peppers.
The Boudreaus’ three adult children came forward to the Gabriola Sounder newspaper to announce it was their parents who died in the crash. To their credit, they took a pro-active approach that could not have been easy and asked the Sounder to spread the word to other media, including the Courier which covers the region where the Boudreaus lived.
A huge void has been left in many facets of life frequented by the Boudreaus. Katheryn was one of the original artists at the St. Joseph’s Art Studios, created in the former St. Joseph’s School space on Elm Street.
3. Chemainus River Campground – This is one of those issues that immediately gets you shaking your head and wondering, ‘what were they thinking?’
Jeri and John Wyatt were ordered to close the campground by the Agricultural Land Commission because it wasn’t in compliance with the intended use of the site, even though it had been operating for many years.
With help from former MLA Bill Routley, details were quickly uncovered that the land was not suitable for agricultural purposes anyway and would require drawing an extensive amount of water from the Chemainus River. With the drought situation so prominent today, it didn’t make any sense to do that.
The campground received an extension until the matter could be reviewed more thoroughly and hopefully common sense will prevail.
4. Dee Gallant – The Chemainus resident was everywhere in 2019 after scaring off a cougar during a hike with her dog Murphy by playing a Metallica song.
The incident captured world-wide attention. The story was picked up by all the major news organizations, including CNN, and the piece de resistance was a segment on the Seth Meyers show.
Gallant had no idea Meyers was going to feature her clever scare tactic and he delivered an extremely funny take on the incident. She otherwise did extensive interviews, as the story continued to capture the imagination of audiences far and wide.
Metallica front man James Hetfield, of course, weighed in on it, and contacted Gallant directly. He even sent a rough-looking photo to prove it was him.
We kept expecting Ellen DeGeneres was going to get in on the act, as well, but she was about the only major celebrity who didn’t.
5. Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit – Even though the motorsport track is not located within the Chemainus Valley, it still became a major concern for North Cowichan residents because of the potential implications of a lawsuit.
North Cowichan twice rejected a motorsport application for expansion on its Highway 18 site that would have gobbled up a huge amount of land toward Mount Prevost. A second public hearing was scheduled when Mayor Al Siebring felt the possible lawsuit needed to be given more weight in the decision and the enormous rise in taxes that could have resulted from it.
North Cowichan made a subsequent move to ensure the motorsport circuit’s existing facility would not be jeopardized.
This matter is far from over, as the Sahtlam Residents Association and the facility operators continue to grapple over decibel levels.