Top Cowichan Valley stories from 2019

Tyler Hayes and his wife Leah, owners of Cowichan Valley-based Enviro Glass Straw Ltd., drink using glass straws made in the company studio. The City of Duncan looked at a ban on plastic straws last year, but ultimately decided not to implement it. In response, the Citizen looked at alternatives to plastic straws. (Robert Barron/Citizen) Tyler Hayes and his wife Leah, owners of Cowichan Valley-based Enviro Glass Straw Ltd., drink using glass straws made in the company studio. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
A fire broke out in an abandoned house on Cowichan Lake Road in 2019. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Younger dancers have lots of fun with ‘Uptown Funk’ during a Celtic Rhythms and Summit Dance show in June, 2019. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

A dozen poisoned bald eagles were found in the Cowichan Valley in January, and rescuers were hoping to find any other sick birds, as well as the source of the poisoning.

“It’s pretty disturbing, finding so many sick and dead eagles,” said The Raptors general manager Robyn Radcliffe, who has been part of the search for the ailing animals.

The birds are believed to have fed off the carcass of a euthanized farm animal that was not properly disposed of.

•••

Habitat for Humanity Mid-Vancouver Island started work on at least eight new homes in the Cowichan Valley this year.

Those homes include a six-plex planned for Duncan, and a duplex in another location in the Cowichan Valley.

•••

The debate had begun: which was worse, the winter of 1996 or February, 2019?

Some argue we got more snow, and faster, back in 1996. They are right. But the snow is sticking around longer this year, others say. Short breaks in the falling snow last just long enough for folks to get out and shovel before it starts up again. Thus far roughly 45 cm of snow has blanketed the greater Duncan area with more or less falling in nearby communities, depending which direction you go.

•••

The rescue of an elderly man and his little dog from a deep ravine in Cowichan Bay has earned a local construction company the gratitude of the man’s friends and neighbours.

Tom Browne’s dog Scruffy, a small terrier mix who he recently adopted, went missing on Feb. 2. The dog was spotted in a ravine, but when Browne tried to rescue the dog, he too got stuck. Nearby workers from Superior Excavating came to the rescue.

•••

A pleasant hike on Cobble Hill Mountain on Jan. 20 turned into a life-threatening medical emergency for a Cowichan couple.

But, thanks to the intervention of some local residents and the professionalism of local emergency crews, Elaine Scott and her husband, Ian Rogers, are safe at home and expressed gratitude to their rescuers.

•••

At a special meeting, North Cowichan council considered options for forestry operations within the municipal forest reserve in 2019, and endorsed just the completion of existing 2018 forestry contracts and harvesting of blow downs from the windstorm in December.

Mayor Al Siebring said council decided to minimize logging in the municipality’s 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve until experts are tapped for their input and the public has been thoroughly consulted on what people want for the future of the public properties.

•••

Plans for a new 650-metre elevated wooden pathway just north of the Malahat Summit is expected to bring a world-class tourism experience to Southern Vancouver Island.

A.Spire by Nature, a new company led by two of the founding partners in the successful Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish, and the Malahat Nation have partnered in the Malahat Skywalk project that intends to combine nature-based tourism with a cultural tourism experience. The skywalk will see an elevated wooden pathway constructed through an Arbutus forest leading to a gentle accessible spiral ramp climbing up to a 40-metre high sightseeing lookout where visitors will witness magnificent views of the Finlayson Arm and distant coastal mountains.

•••

The construction of the long-anticipated new $40 million police building for the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment was back on track.

The Municipality of North Cowichan agreed to proceed with plans for the new detachment building on its property bordering Ford Road and Drinkwater Road.

The facility will bring together the North Cowichan/Duncan detachment, Forensic Identification Services, South Island Traffic Services, and First Nations Policing under one roof.

•••

The addition of Catalyst Paper to the company puts the “paper” in Paper Excellence Canada, said PEP CEO Brian Baarda.

Baarda was joined by B.C. Premier John Horgan, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring, MLA Doug Routley and other dignitaries and company officials on March 18 at the Crofton pulp and paper mill to celebrate the completion of the deal that adds Catalyst Paper’s Crofton mill, as well as its two mills in Port Alberni and Powell River, to PEC’s’s assets.

•••

The Mill Bay fire department hopes it has finally solved its long-time staffing problems.

The department now has three full time, paid career positions, which include a fire chief, training officer and a maintenance firefighter, as part of the department’s small volunteer contingent, the first example of a blended-staffing model among fire crews in the Cowichan Valley. Before this, all of the Cowichan Valley’s firefighters were volunteers, with no permanent paid staff.

•••

The mother of a seven-year-old Lake Cowichan boy who was the target of a cougar attack Friday afternoon displayed “incredible bravery”, according to Insp. Ben York.

York, the conservation officer in charge of the West Coast region, said the mother, who has been identified as Chelsea Bromley, pried the jaws of an attacking cougar off of her son Zachary, saving his life.

•••

The ribbon was cut on the new Forests Forever exhibit at the BC Forest Discovery Centre.

Joined by forestry industry leaders, politicians, investors and supporters of a $1.3 million project that has been more than two years in the development stage, Discovery Centre general manager Chris Gale called the unveiling on April 24 “a momentous event” as the Discovery Centre enters a new era.

•••

Daniel Coogan, 27, was arrested and charged with the murder of his 23-year-old brother Finn in Duncan in May.

•••

“Climate change is the monster under our bed that we were told doesn’t exist,” said Katra Bannister, 15, at the Youth Climate Strike for Action on May 17.

She told the hundreds of people who gathered in Duncan City Square for the event that young people can’t be expected to watch the world fall apart and have no say in it. It was the first of several such events throughout the year.

•••

The Island Savings Centre will revert back to its original name of the Cowichan Community Centre.

The board of the Cowichan Valley Regional District unanimously voted for the name change at a recent meeting to the applause of many of the meeting’s spectators.

The Island Savings Centre Commission had originally recommended to change the name back to the Cowichan Community Centre after the contract with Island Savings expired in October 2018.

•••

Picket lines went up at Western Forest Products mills and logging operations on the coast, including the Cowichan Bay sawmill, as of 4 p.m. on Canada Day.

United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 issued 72-hour strike notice Friday afternoon following a 98.8 per cent vote among its members in favour of taking strike action.

The strike continued as the new year began.

•••

The ordeal of a 55-year-old Duncan woman lost for two days on Heather Mountain, west of Cowichan Lake, had a happy ending in June when she was found safe and sound.

Members of Cowichan Search & Rescue were joined by teams from Ladysmith and Metchosin, and two other mutual aid teams, the ATV club, an RCMP helicopter as well as a search dog and its handler, on June 27 in the search for the Duncan area woman, who went missing on the mountain at around 4 p.m. on June 26.

•••

The dirty dirt stays where it is. The provincial government announced July 2 a final closure plan that fails to remove about 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil at a site in Shawnigan Lake by Stebbings Road.

In December the province began forfeiture proceedings on the site for non-payment of taxes.

•••

A huge crowd gathered at Paldi on Saturday, June 29 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the community, located midway between Duncan and Lake Cowichan.

Although its founders were Sikhs, originally coming over from the Lower Mainland, the population grew to include many immigrants from India, and many people of other nationalities. The small town has steadily lost population as work in the forest industry declined and families had to move to find new lives elsewhere but the special community and its historic Sikh Temple have remained dear to the hearts of the many families with connections to the area.

•••

After nine and half hours swimming down the Cowichan River on June 30, Geoff de Ruiter stepped out of the water about 15 kilometres short of his goal.

De Ruiter, a PhD graduate in natural resources and environmental studies, had planned to swim 50 kilometres in the river, all the way from the weir in Cowichan Lake to the Strait of Georgia to raise awareness of threats to the river’s ecosystem.

•••

The Cowichan Valley gathered in an exuberant crowd Thursday, July 18 to celebrate the sod turning for the Cowichan Valley Hospice House.

•••

The Tube Shack in Lake Cowichan was successful in its attempt to break a world record on July 21.

Owner Aaron Frisby said the goal was to break the Guinness World Record of 215.10 metres of tubes linked together. On Sunday morning, Frisby said approximately 200 people in tubes lined up along the Cowichan River and stretched to make a 219.6-metre chain.

•••

In late August the province began restricting water use by select users on the Koksilah River to protect fish populations, which are under threat due to low water flows in the river.

Biologists from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development determined that flow levels were so low that habitat conditions were severely degraded and fish populations could be threatened.

•••

The man accused of killing a Chemainus man more than three years ago was declared unfit to stand trial.

Colin John suffers from paranoid psychotic disorder which makes it impossible for him to communicate effectively with his defence lawyer, Justice Lisa Warren determined after a hearing into John’s mental state that lasted for several days.

The hearing, initiated by John’s lawyer, Scott Sheets, lasted more than a week and delayed the trial that began in November 2018.

•••

Plans for a biogas plant in Cobble Hill raised the ire of some of its neighbours.

A group of neighbours of the proposed facility formed the “No Biogas Here” organization and held a meeting on April 21 to rally against the plant, known as Cobble Hill Biogas, which they claim would be bad for the area.

Cobble Hill Biogas is a co-operative that has been formed between four local dairy farms located in Cobble Hill and Cowichan Bay that hope to construct an on-farm biogas plant at a closed-down poultry farm on La Fortune Road. The operation intends to convert 20,000 tonnes of dairy manure per year and 19,000 tonnes per year of unused food into biogas.

•••

The dream of a new field house at the Cowichan Sportsplex is a big step closer to reality with senior levels of government kicking in $1 million for the approximately $1.5-million facility.

•••

Members of Cowichan Tribes voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new land code in a vote taken over three days in a vote in September.

Of the 602 tribes members who voted, 460 said yes, 141 said no and one ballot was spoiled in the vote on the land code, which the First Nation refers to as Quw’utsun Tumuhw.

Under the land code, first established under a framework agreement between First Nations and Ottawa 23 years ago, it’s recognized that First Nations have an inherent right to manage their reserve lands and resources under their own land codes, free from constraints imposed by the province and federal officials under the Indian Act.

•••

After years of vacancy, graffiti, and speculation, the fate of the old Crofton Elementary school has finally been determined.

With the help of $650,000 in demolition funding from the provincial government, the old school building is coming down. The goal is to have the removal project complete by March 31, 2020.

•••

In what chief negotiator Robert Morales is calling a “significant step” the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group announced Wednesday that the documents have been signed to move to Stage 5 — the “final agreement” step of BC Treaty Negotiations. The move comes after nearly 20 years at Stage 4.

•••

The lineup at Costa Canna, the Cowichan Valley’s first retail marijuana store, was long at its grand opening on Aug. 18.

•••

A controversial rezoning application for a section of Cowichan Bay was approved by the Cowichan Valley Regional District on Oct. 23.

Western Stevedoring controls the properties and stated when it first started the rezoning process approximately three years ago and that its main purpose was to amend the zoning to allow its tenant, Pacific Industrial Marine, to continue the operation that the company has had in place for years.

But members of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association and other environmental groups took issue with the rezoning application, fearing that the doors could soon be wide open to a lot more heavy manufacturing and its related pollution in Cowichan Bay, which could play havoc with its fragile ecosystem.

•••

Both Anderson Joe and Melissa Tooshley were given suspended sentences and a prohibition from ever owning animals again in a case of animal abuse that shocked and angered residents of the Cowichan Valley and beyond.

Special constables seized Teddy the dog in critical distress from Joe’s property on Feb. 16, 2018. Teddy died from severe neglect.

The judge in the case was convinced there were enough mitigating circumstances, including mental and cognitive issues, to limit sentences for the two.

•••

Anthony Michael Kubica was found guilty of first-degree murder in a California courtroom in November.

The 63-year-old, originally from Shawnigan Lake and extradited to the U.S. in late 2018, was convicted by jury on Nov. 19 of killing Marie Darling, 78, 29 years ago after just a single day of deliberations in Banning, California.

•••

One highly controversial subject simmered all year: a proposed expansion by the Cowichan Motorsport Circuit to its facility on Highway 18.

The fall saw a jam packed marathon public hearing by the Municipality of North Cowichan on the expansion that ran into the wee hours of the morning, and then spilled over into a second evening. At the end of it, council voted “no” on the expansion.

But it wasn’t quite over. Shortly thereafter, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring used his power to walk back that decision and call a do-over on the public hearing. The municipality had received word that the owners of the Motorsport Circuit were looking at filing a lawsuit over the denial of their plans with a $60 million price tag. It all traced back to assurances given on behalf of the municipality to the company by former North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana.

A second public hearing also ended with council turning down the expansion. The municipality is braced for legal action in the coming year.

•••

On Dec. 6, William Seymour was re-elected chief of Cowichan Tribes.

•••

The Clements Centre Society got a $250,000 grant from the provincial government to help construct a new facility to deliver its programs in Cobble Hill.

•••

Three Cowichan Valley residents, one from Mill Bay and two from Saltair, were identified as the victims of a plane crash on Dec. 10 on Gabriola Island.

Alan and Katheryn Boudreau of Saltair were mourned by their children. Pilot Alex Bahlsen, from Mill Bay, was the third victim. His family said they were devastated by the loss.

•••

There will be no alternate route constructed to bypass the Malahat Highway in times of cancellation, the province announced. A study into the matter showed that the highway was not closed on enough occasions to warrant such an expensive build.

•••

Education Minister Rob Fleming was in the Cowichan Valley on Dec. 18 to announce that a new $82 million high school will be built in Duncan.

The province will kick in $80 million for the project, and the local school district will be responsible for $2.2 million.

The new school will replace the old high school, built in 1950, and is set to open in 2023.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Gas leak prompts mop-up response in Chemainus

Thorough check made of Croft Place before residents and business people return

Furstenau announces bid for leadership of the BC Green Party

Cowichan Valley MLA says B.C. needs new style of leadership

VIDEO: Exciting trio of string meisters coming to the Valley on Feb. 9

Andrew Collins Trio promises an evening of lively music at Providence Farm Chapel

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

Ski lift closed at B.C. mountain over alleged actions of former employee

‘We are actively investigating and dealing with the actions of a former employee,’ said the resort

VIDEO: Music stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant at Grammys award show

Music artists including Billy Ray Cyrus, Rick Ross and Kirk Franklin paid tribute to Bryant

John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce on display at Royal BC Museum

The classic car has been a favourite for Beatles fans from Victoria and internationally

Coastal GasLink stresses pipeline ‘on a schedule’ as B.C. appoints liaison for Wet’suwet’en

670-kilometre pipeline is schedule to be completed by end of 2023

Furstenau flays NDP as she launches B.C. Green Party leadership bid

LNG, Site C dam wrong for environment, Cowichan MLA says

Woman guilty of dangerous driving crash that left Saanich girl, then 11, unresponsive

Nikirk guilty of one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm

Pregnant B.C. woman stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

Woman is due to give birth in Wuhan, China unless she can get out

Victoria-area wolf tranquilized after being seen running around neighbourhood

Officials say wolf unharmed during its ‘arrest’

Most Read