There were plenty of big stories around the Chemainus Valley in 2020 and our top five in this second of a two-part Year in Review series states that case very clearly.
Of course, none of us had any idea at the beginning of the year how different it would be at the end. There were some major issues happening in the early months, even before COVID restrictions hit, as you’ll see in No. 5 through No. 1 of our reverse countdown.
5. The new Chemainus Library grand opening
There was a packed crowd for the long-anticipated event on March 7. It signified the beginning of a new chapter for the branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library in the midst of a downtown Chemainus revival.
Little did anyone know that less than two weeks later it would be shut down, along with most other major businesses and public spaces due to COVID-19.
The library opening was a huge community celebration. There were ceremonial speeches, cake, entertainment and a chance to look over all the amenities that many had already started to familiarize themselves with since the building opened on Jan. 13.
David Carson, director of corporate communications for the VIRL, pointed out about 1,000 people went through the doors during the first two days after the branch opened; 6,000 book checkouts occurred in January; and 200 people signed up for library cards in January and February.
“From the moment the doors opened, the response from the community has been immediate and overwhelmingly positive,” said Carson.
4. The end of the Western Forest Products labour dispute
It looked like a dispute between Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 at WFP mills, including the Chemainus sawmill, that began on July 1, 2019 might continue to drag on.
But then a tentative agreement was reached in early February and the two sides ended their often bitter dispute. The working relationship since between WFP and the union has been very amicable, making everyone wonder why the strike wound up lasting so long.
Both sides felt concessions had been made along the way, but it took seven and a half long months before a deal ended the stalemate.
“Our union is extremely proud of our members’ solidarity in this extended struggle to achieve a fair collective agreement with WFP and their associated contractors,” said Brian Butler, president of Local 1-1937.
The eventual deal finally provided some stability for the company and workers to move forward and leave the hardships that resulted from the shutdown behind.
3. Chemainus Road Corridor Upgrade Project
This project was first and foremost on the minds of residents throughout the year because the work continued virtually non-stop. It was something motorists, pedestrians and business people dealt with on a daily basis, with interruptions to traffic flow and just a huge undertaking changing the complexion of the town.
After Copcan Civil Ltd. of Nanaimo completed the Stage 1 underground utility work, Milestone Equipment Contracting Inc., also of Nanaimo, was awarded the contract for the second phase that is still going on with a completion date now anticipated for mid-February.
The finishing touches being provided include: the new roundabout at River Road; sidewalks; landscaping and rain gardens; signage; lighting; and new fencing on the east side of Chemainus Road.
There were some horrific weather events that altered the work schedule, particularly in October when torrential rain ripped up the road and left huge potholes that had to be repaired before paving could begin.
Frustration was expressed at times. Residents gave each other lessons on how to drive in the new roundabout and it’s been remarkable to people how busy the corridor is when traffic flow was disrupted. Most agree the changes will be so beneficial to the town in the long term in so many ways.
2. Chemainus River flash flooding
A downpour of rain started walloping the region on the evening of Jan. 31. By the early-morning hours of Feb. 1 the area around Westholme and on the Trans Canada Highway toward Mount Sicker Road had experienced massive flooding.
Some residents in the Halalt First Nation and in Westholme had mere moments to get out of their homes before being engulfed in water. Many homes were uninhabitable for quite some time and Russell Farm Market & Garden Centre sustained extensive water damage that closed the business for several months.
Many stayed temporarily at a Cowichan Valley Regional District emergency centre at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan or with relatives. The floods brought the major concerns about logjams and gravel bars along the Chemainus River to the forefront again.
Little has been done over the years to correct the problem of the river finding new paths to overcome the obstacles that lead to the flooding, with so many jurisdictions involved.
The Municipality of North Cowichan at least did some work during the summer to clear logjams under the Chemainus River Bridge on Chemainus Road. But there’s much work that needs to be done on the part of the federal and provincial governments to alleviate the situation so homeowners in the area aren’t at risk every year for what seems to be more frequent heavy rainstorms in the winter.
1. Everything COVID
It all began around mid-March as concerns about the spread of the coronavirus suddenly hit home. There was a mass shutdown of businesses and public facilities until the situation could be further assessed.
We were quite fortunate in Central Vancouver Island to have limited cases in the beginning, but precautions were taken to ensure the virus didn’t get out of control as was being seen in other jurisdictions.
Different industries and businesses were affected in different ways. Grocery stores were booming with the need for essential food and health care industry workers were run off their feet while other businesses and services shut down entirely.
There was some initial panic that led to impulse buying of products such as toilet paper, but we were continually reminded it wasn’t necessary because manufacturers still maintained the supply chain of those items.
Locally, there were many stories of people stepping up to help others in need, particularly the elderly as the pandemic went on. Young folks gave cookies to health care workers while others made masks or face shields to distribute to the community.
Plenty of inspiration came out of the most difficult time most of us have ever known.