Sooke is a dynamic, rapidly changing community, but this year’s top story goes right back to one of the region’s earliest economic drivers – fishing.
In truth 2019’s top story wasn’t a single story at all, but an amalgam of stories related to the fisheries in Sooke, Port Renfrew and beyond.
It started in February when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans signalled that it was contemplating what Capital Regional District Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks described as devastating closures to the recreational and sport fishery.
The rationale for the closures invoked the plight of the southern resident killer whales that rely on chinook salmon as their primary food source.
But Hicks joined with local anglers and others to question the approach, pointing out that habitat restoration and more hatcheries would do more to save the chinook.
By April, however, it was apparent that those suggestions had fallen on deaf ears as the federal government announced the Fraser River would remain closed to all salmon fishing until Aug. 23 and that other restrictions would severely limit the sport fishing industry.
“Our government has failed us. They have lied to us and the decision they’ve made is a purely political one, not one based on science,” Ryan Chamberlain, the owner of Vancouver Island Lodge in Sooke, said at the time.
To add insult to injury, in May the federal Fisheries Department announced it had denied funding for Sooke’s new fish hatchery.
“The truth is that we’ve always had to go it alone. We’ll just have to work that much harder to make this happen,” long time hatchery volunteer Wally Vowels said.
But Vowels had no idea what was still ahead.
At the end of May, the District of Sooke surprised volunteers when they issued a stop work order shut down work on the hatchery based on a lack of appropriate building permits.
A public outcry forced quick action on the issue and the stop work order was lifted only days later, but by then a lot of damage had been done. Vowels resigned from his long-time volunteer efforts, leaving others to finish the work.
In July the story shifted once again when local MLA and Premier John Horgan waded into the fray and sent off letters to his federal counterparts in which he questioned the federal government’s approach to the issue.
“It appears the Pacific Region (of Fisheries) is more focused on short-term fixes rather than on presenting a cohesive plan that will accomplish these goals over the long term,” Horgan said.
The story continued with the hatchery volunteers still out in droves to help stock their tanks in the fall while, at about the same time early indicators of even more fishing closures were announced, foreshadowing even more damage to the sport fishery in 2020.
Other stories served to rock the community in the past year.
A tragedy at Camp Bernard saw a teen-aged boy lose his life after he was struck by a tree while he and his friends hiked in the woods during a period of high winds. The community is still waiting for the B.C. Coroners Service to provide some answers regarding the cause of that tragedy. The death, however, has led to some fundamental changes in the management of activities at the camp.
Early in the year, beloved Sooke councillor, Brenda Parkinson, was diagnosed with brain cancer and by July, she died. Her legacy of working to beautify Sooke was repeatedly referenced as the community processed the news and mourned her passing.
Parkinson’s death led to a byelection on Sept. 27 in which Dana Lajeunesse bested his nearest rival by only three votes. Following that result, the election process was placed under a microscope amid allegations of sloppy processes. In the end, though, the vote held and Lajeunesse joined council.
On a brighter note, the community came together on Aug. 17 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of incorporation of the District of Sooke.
The picnic managed to bring together the community for a day of fun and added to a multitude of summer festivals and special events in and around Sooke.