In a whirlwind of a year, Sarah Shaw and her husband met, married, moved to Victoria and bought a sailboat that they plan to move onto in April. (Courtesy of Sarah Shaw)

In a whirlwind of a year, Sarah Shaw and her husband met, married, moved to Victoria and bought a sailboat that they plan to move onto in April. (Courtesy of Sarah Shaw)

Silver linings: Vancouver Islanders share their positive pandemic experiences

Health risks, social isolation and economic impact real, but some people have found a bright side

Job and food insecurity, worsening mental health, and increased domestic violence and loss are some of the hardships faced by Greater Victoria residents this year.

Amidst it all though, there have been positive stories, too. For some people, the pandemic was the impetus they needed to start something new or make a change for the better.

Here is a small selection of the good things this year has brought about.

Brett Smith-Daniels

Brett Smith-Daniels is releasing “Teenagers from Mars?”, the first single of his collective album, on Spotify on Jan. 15. (Courtesy of Wendhi Gale)

Working paycheque to paycheque as a full-time musician, Brett Smith-Daniels had never had the time to sit down and record a full album.

Then COVID-19 hit, and he lost 170 gigs. The 24-year-old decided to turn to technology. As a live musician the idea had never clicked with him before but, equipped with an iPad, a small home studio and a sudden abundance of time, Smith-Daniels was soon fully absorbed.

“It’s really opened my eyes to a world that I didn’t think existed really,” he said.

Soon, Smith-Daniels was connecting with Grammy-winning audio engineers through SoundBetter, an online music production marketplace, and having musicians from the States and the U.K. record tracks for his songs based off renderings he sent from his iPad.

The resulting work is a concept album, combining rock, ’90s alternative, hip hop and contemporary influences, called “Disenchanted Youth.” It will touch on various topics related to modern life, such as the post-fact era, the political divide between young and old, and the effect of social media on mental health.

Smith-Daniels has decided to release each one individually, six weeks apart throughout the new year.

His first song “Teenagers from Mars?” is set to release on Spotify on Jan. 15. It can be pre-saved here.

Erin Maher

Erin Maher launched Heartbeat Supply Co. this year, a local foodbox delivery company. (Courtesy of Erin Maher)

Navigating through the grocery store with her daughter in the early spring, Erin Maher was struck with the level of stress she felt – not just because of the early public mayhem of the pandemic, but because she was a single mother who had been laid off from her sommelier job, and she was worried about food security.

Maher had always been passionate about local foods and realized that it was these producers that would be hardest hit by COVID-19. In creating Heartbeat Supply Co., a foodbox delivery company, she hoped to do two things: support local producers and provide quality goods for local consumers straight to their doors.

She’s also been working with a forager to create foodboxes, and hopes they help make people more aware of the edible goods that exist in their own neighbourhoods.

“Every week I would learn a new plant,” she said. “I would be walking down the street and would suddenly recognize something I could eat.”

More information can be found at heartbeatsupply.ca.

Brian Rockwell

Brian Rockwell was thrilled to get to spend more time with his son this year. (Courtesy of Brian Rockwell)

The only word that Brian Rockwell can think of to describe his life since the start of the pandemic is “amazing.” In the last 15 years of being an aircraft mechanic, Rockwell has almost never been home for more than half of it.

He said he always used to wonder what life would be like if he got to spend more time at home.

This year, with COVID-19 restricting his travel to one month, he received his answer.

“Getting to see life on the other side and getting to be home all the time has been amazing. I want this to be my life from now on.”

His constant travelling was one of the reasons his marriage ended, and it kept him from seeing his 10-year-old son as much as he’d like.

In February, Rockwell met his new partner and they moved in together last month. They’re expecting a baby in March.

“I have no complaints for 2020. It treated me pretty nicely.”

Elaine Smithers

Elaine Smithers says taking up cold water swimming has been a game changer for her concussion recovery and her mental health. (Courtesy of Elaine Smithers)

Slow down.

This is what the pandemic both forced and allowed Elaine Smithers to do.

Her four-year-old son has been on a wait list for 17 months to get assessed for autism, and at the start of 2020, Smithers said she was constantly stressing about how to support him. In February, she got a concussion, and suddenly she too was struggling with sensory overload.

Then the world was thrown into lockdown, and Smithers was offered a respite. With her seven-year-old home from school and activities cancelled, their family began develop their own routine – one characterized by slow mornings, outdoor adventures and walking the dog along the beach.

As the world quieted, Smithers’ four-year-old began to thrive and so did she.

Hearing that cold water swimming was good for concussion recovery, Smithers started walking to the Gorge Waterway and dipping into the icy water. Initially, she said the cold would suck her breath away, and her fingers and toes would be freezing. But after less than two weeks, Smithers was craving the chilling plunge.

“I feel the best mentally this year that I’ve felt in my entire adult life.”

Sarah Shaw

In a whirlwind of a year, Sarah Shaw and her husband met, married, moved to Victoria and bought a sailboat that they plan to move onto in April. (Courtesy of Sarah Shaw)

One night, in April of this year, Sarah Shaw turned to her then-boyfriend of two months and asked him a wildly spontaneous question – would he be willing to move across the country with her.

Chris Shaw is someone who takes a little more time to think things through, so Sarah was shocked when “without a blink of an eye,” he said yes.

The two met on Plenty of Fish at the start of the pandemic, and Sarah said it was this that allowed them to get to know each other so well so fast.

“We spent more time doing quality things like going out on Chris’s boat, or going for walks, or making supper together.”

By June, they were engaged and moving from Ontario to Victoria. By October, they were married. And, come next April, they plan to be living on their newly purchased sailboat.

“COVID is really allowing us to go for our dreams and expand and grow as a couple together. It’s given us the ability to really appreciate and value time with those who mean the most to us.”

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