A cougar stalked and attacked a hiker near Sooke. (Black Press Media)

Top stories of 2019

Last year in Sooke was interesting to be sure.

We’ve gathered some of the biggest stories we covered, just to jog your memory as we enter the new year.

Remember that, as was famously observed by Mark Twain, “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme”.

So, with that in mind, here are some highlights of 2019.

And, away we go….

JANUARY

Cinnamon Lennox was the lucky winner of a $1-million Lotto 6/49 ticket.

“I want to stay alive and enjoy the money,” she said jokingly.

Lennox’s plans included buying a Corvette and building a dream home.

“There will definitely be a hot tub and a pool, and a nice view, of course.”

•••

Ayre Manor took the unusual step of placing a sign in front of Sooke Elementary School in an attempt to entice nurses to join its medical staff.

“We’ve had a shortage of nurses to work on a casual basis at Ayre Manor for some time, and it certainly has the potential to cause stress to our existing staff,” Linda Quigley, Ayre Manor’s director of care, said.

The dearth of casual staff means holidays or illness can result in overtime costs for the facility as other staff are asked to work extra hours to fill the gaps.

•••

The Sooke School District implemented a lottery for students registering in French immersion and nature kindergarten.

In the past, the two kindergarten programs have seen more registration than district schools can accommodate.

“We want to make sure there’s an equitable way for families to be able to access those programs,” said Scott Stinson, schools superintendent.

The new system was implemented after extensive study.

(Note: Rumours that Cinnamon Lennox was contracted by some to enter the lottery on thier behalf were entirely unfounded. She was busy house hunting.)

•••

A portion of Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail was closed after a mudslide.

The closure extended from the Humpback reservoir to the suspension bridge across the Goldstream River. The north section of the trail from the Goldstream River to Goldstream Heights remained open.

The mudslide comprised of about 200 cubic metres of debris that stretched for about 17 metres and about six metres wide. At the deepest point, it was about a metre deep.

………………………..

FEBRUARY

The Capital Regional District Water Supply Commission unanimously voted to oppose an alternative Malahat route that would go through the Greater Victoria Water Supply Area.

Several residents and conservation advocates spoke against the alternate highway route.

“I think it’s the right move and frankly the only move that the water commission can make as we only have one job and that’s to protect the water supply,” Victoria city councillor Jeremy Loveday said.

In January, the province announced it will look into improving traffic flow on the South Island with a new transportation strategy that will explore an emergency detour route over the Malahat between the West Shore communities and Duncan.

(Note: That report is finally coming out. Concerns continue.)

•••

The crash of a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue boat that put three crew members in hospital and left the craft upside down on the rocks near Christie Point raised concerns from several members of the Sooke operation that systemic problems at the station made the crash inevitable.

Four people were rescued from the boat on Feb. 7 at about 9:45 p.m. during a training exercise.

“We’re aware of some recent allegation that have materialized about the Sooke station’s history,” Pat Quealey, the CEO of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue in B.C.

“We take these allegations very seriously and will determine their validity.”

•••

While it wasn’t quite Snow Armageddon, a wintery blast that struck Sooke felt like the end of the world for some.

More than 30 centimetres of snow fell on the region over five days. But it wasn’t the snow that was the worst of it: high winds brought down trees and isolated Sooke for more than seven hours.

“In one case, we had to get a person to hospital and the only way was to take them up to the [fallen] trees in one ambulance, walk them around the trees and transfer them to another ambulance on the other side,” Matt Barney, deputy fire chief, said.

For elected officials, life got interesting as well.

“I actually had people calling and blaming me for the snow,” Mayor Maja Tait said.

(Note: Not surprising. The Mayor, after all controls the weather, doesn’t she? No? Hmph….)

•••

A hiker who was stalked by a cougar near Sooke escaped by hitting the animal with an axe, authorities said.

The man was hiking near in a remote area of Sooke Hills, above Pascoe Road, when the cougar began stalking and following him.

The hiker jumped over a log to get away, but the cougar came after him and that’s when the man hit him with a hatchet to escape.

The hiker was not injured.

Conservation officers with a dog team searched the area and did pick up the cougar’s scent, but didn’t locate the animal.

………………….

MARCH

Council voted itself a pay raise – the first since 2012.

The raise for councillors was far from overwhelming, amounting to $2,500 retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019 and an additional $2,500 to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020; an increase that will set their salaries at $15,000 per year in 2020.

Mayor Maja Tait also received a raise in pay, bringing her remuneration up to $25,000 in 2019 and to $30,000 in 2020.

(Note: Wait a minute. Didn’t we just establish that Maya doesn’t control the weather? And she still gets a raise? Again… hmph…)

•••

The investigation of “cruel and threatening” cyberbullying by a group of students at Edward Milne Community School came under fire by the parent of the 14-year-old victim.

Numerous online messages suggested the young teenager take her own life.

EMCS administration declined to comment on the specific case, but Sooke School District superintendent Scott Stinson said he was aware of the situation, and was satisfied the school was dealing with the case.

“Cyberbullying is problematic because they don’t originate in the school, but we recognize that we have a duty to react if it has an effect on the school environment,” he said.

(Note: By the way, in case we forget, all this happened during anti-bullying week.)

•••

While they didn’t arrive at Sooke Municipal Hall wielding pitchforks and torches, local builders were intent on making a point at a meeting with Maja Tait to talk about the growing frustration with the building permit process.

“Right now, it’s taking three months to get a building permit in Sooke. That’s just unacceptable, and its driving up the cost of housing in Sooke,” Herb Haldane, a builder, said.

Tait promised within six weeks, the system will be changed so that the turn around time for building permits will be reduced to a maximum of 10 days.

•••

Sooke council approved a $22.2-million budget, which included a 7.2 tax increase.

The take increase resulted in the average Sooke homeowner paying an additional $87 in taxes.

The increase was due in part to a “staffing up” initiative that saw six positions added to municipal staff this year, including a municipal engineer, a chief building officer, and file manager.

•••

Three coastal spill response boats – one which was slated for Beecher Bay – was held in Nanaimo due to a lack of federal funding.

Western Canada Marine Response Corp. received a shipment of three boats in Nanaimo. The boats came to Canada from Singapore.

The boats were built as part of a deal to improve spill response time with construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

……………………..

APRIL

The process of creating a four-lane highway between Langford and Sooke appeared to be moving forward despite concerns of residents along Sooke Road and a claim by Mayor Maja Tait she was unaware of the plans.

The project will see Sooke Road expanded to a divided four lanes between Connie and Glinz Lake roads.

The Transportation Ministry said no funding was in place for the project and all the ministry has is a concept plan.

Later in the month, Premier John Horgan announced the $85-million project.

(Note: In case we forget, John responded to resident concerns by noting that you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs. Wise words indeed….)

•••

A developer building a housing development in East Sooke took the unusual step of dedicating more than 20 per cent of the land for use as a wildlife corridor.

“This is a sensitive area, and when I bought the property and started walking it to get a sense of what it was all about, it became immediately obvious that there was a wildlife corridor that ran through the middle of the property,” Wally Vowels said.

Saving green space as a wildlife corridor, cost Vowels more than $27,000 due to government regulations.

•••

Construction of a $3.4-million expansion at SEAPARC Leisure Complex began in mid-April.

The expansion is expected to address the need for a fitness gym and additional multi-purpose space. It will expand the facility by 10 per cent.

“It has been a long road to get here and there has been some challenges, but we are very excited to move ahead and start the project,” Al Beddows, SEAPARC chair, stated in a press release.

•••

Plans to auction off 109 hectares of old-growth forest adjacent to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park outraged conservationists and tourism operators.

The seven planned cutbacks, two of which come within 37 metres of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park boundary near Port Renfrew, would seen an estimated 55,346 cubic metres of old-growth cut – the equivalent of more than 1,300 loaded logging trucks.

Opponents charge the B.C. government and Forest Minister Doug Donaldson have demonstrated a lack of political to preserve the endangered forests.

In May, the province cancelled the auction.

(Note: Left us wondering if the breaking eggs to make omlettes theory had been applied by mistake and then reconsidered.)

…………………..

MAY

The provincial government announced plans for an expanded primary care centre in Sooke.

The centre will be located in Evergreen Centre and includes a substantial expansion of services at the West Coast Family Medical Clinic.

The announcement was made by health Minister Adrian Dix, who said the centre will emphasize a team-based approach to health care that will improve health services to the region.

There will be space for four more doctors and additional diagnostic services.

(Note: Best laid plans of mice and men…. By year’s end, this promise was being scaled back.)

•••

Up to 100 new childcare spaces were announced for Sooke.

Compass and Almost Home daycares have new facilities planned for Sooke.

The announcement came at a time when there is huge demand for licensed daycares in the region.

•••

Condolences poured in for nine-year-old Hannah Day after she lost her long battle with cancer,

Hannah was diagnosed with Stage 4 rhabdomyoscarma when she was three years old.

Over the years, the community supported the Day family while Hannah received treatment at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, both through a Go Fund Me page and community fundraisers.

•••

The District of Sooke issued a stop-work order on the new Charters Creek Salmon Hatchery after the Juan de Fuca Salmon Enhancement Society failed to obtain a building permit.

The enhancement society said it applied for the permit, but it was not issued in a timely matter, prompting society volunteers to go ahead with construction without the permit.

The dispute was quickly resolved by Mayor Maja Tait and municipal staff, and work on the $1-million facility resumed.

(Note: This one gets our nomination for the most poorly handled issue.)

………………….

JUNE

Sooke firefighters kept their fingers crossed, as their counterparts across the country battled devastating forest fires.

“We haven’t had anything in the past little while, and right now our fire risk is listed as moderate. But you can expect that to change pretty quickly, said deputy fire chief Matt Barney.

“With drier weather and these winds we’ve been having resulting in a drying effect on the vegetation, I can see us with a high fire risk rating fairly soon.”

•••

After nearly 20 years absence from the annual traditional canoe gathering of the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Coast Salish First Nations, the people of the Pacheedaht First Nation are preparing to rejoin the celebration.

The journey centres on canoe families paddling from nation to nation en route to a final host destination where they participate in a potlatch celebration.

This year the final celebration was at Lummi First Nation, near Bellingham, Wash.

•••

Lose the balcony. Replace the fancy exterior siding. Nix some of the smaller stuff.

Those are some of the fancy trimmings the Vancouver Island Regional Library board has yanked from the $6-million Sooke library project to keep it on budget.

Sooke has sought a new library for more than a decade, but the process has been fraught with political indecisiveness and unforeseen delays.

Construction of the library is expected to start in 2020.

(Note: The new library was now well over a decade in the making. By way of comparison, we checked and found that the Empress Hotel took four years to build, and they had to reclaim swampland to do it. Just saying….)

•••

Saanich high school student Tai Caverhill was remembered as a hero following a tragic accident that took his life and left another student in hospital while on a school field trip to Camp Barnard.

Emergency crews responded to a report of a 13-year-old boy who was trapped under a fallen tree. He was unconscious and not breathing when first responders arrived. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The B.C. Coroners Service has released few details of the incident, and expects to release a report early in 2020.

…………….

JULY

Sooke district councillor and longtime champion of the arts Brenda Parkinson died of cancer.

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said Parkinson served the community with love and passion, while former mayor Wendal Milne said she was a force in the community.

Parkinson was diagnosed with cancer in January and within six month had died from the disease.

She was elected councillor in 2005, 2014 and 2018.

•••

More than 2,200 Scouts, aged 11 to 14, arrived in Sooke from across Canada for the Pacific Jamboree at Camp Barnard.

They participated in watersports, rock climbing, mountain biking, and just about every other camp activity you can imagine.

The Pacific Jamboree has a history dating back 55 years in Sooke.

•••

The long-awaited redevelopment of Evergreen Centre began.

A fire gutted a two-storey building at the 6660 Sooke Rd. shopping mall in 2013.

Now the mall’s owner, Skyline REIT, is building a 6,400-square-foot single-storey commercial building next to the B.C. Liquor Store.

The building is expected to be completed by this spring.

•••

A crash that involved a van and a motorcycle and resulted in one person taken to hospital is raising concerns about the danger of the West Coast and Deering roads intersection in Port Renfrew.

A motorcyclist was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital with serious injuries, including several broken bones.

“It’s definitely a place where drivers should slow down and pay attention to what’s going on around them,” RCMP Sgt. Clayton Weibe said.

•••

Riverside Cannabis became the first legal cannabis retail store in Sooke and on the West Shore.

The process was months in the making and included an in-depth review of the applicant’s background and history of the business.

“It’s been a hell of a journey that’s for sure,” co-owner Lisa Taylor said.

(Note: The journey also ended for 642 Cannabis a short time later. The days of operating without permission were officially over.)

…………………..

AUGUST

A lunchtime fire saw Sooke Fire Rescue struggle to convince residents at a Lincroft Road condo complex to evacuate the building.

“The fire alarm system worked and most of the people evacuated as they should, but we had a few stubborn people who refused to vacate the building, even though we’d had some open flames and considerable smoke in the building,” Fire Chief Kenn Mount said.

“Some people obviously don’t understand the risks to themselves and the risk that they create for firefighters when they don’t evacuate.”

(Note: This one gets our ‘What the heck are people thinking?’ award for 2019. ‘Fire? What fire? check again and get back to me….’)

•••

A wildfire that forced a handful of East Sooke residents out of their homes was possibly caused by self-ignited moss and grass, said fire officials.

The fire blazed through three hectares of land at Rice Passage off Cain’s Way before doused by firefighters from East Sooke, Sooke and Metchosin.

Firefighters arrived with fire lipping backyards and wooden decks.

No injuries were reported.

•••

After several years of growth, the number of tourists visiting the Sooke Region dropped this summer amid the uncertainty of new salmon regulations.

Officials in both Sooke and Port Renfrew said the numbers weren’t as devastating as first expected when the federal government announced new regulations in the spring.

The drop in fishing had an obvious effect on restaurant, stores and other businesses, said Karl Ablack, vice-president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce.

•••

Ten candidates threw their hat in the ring to run in the Sooke byelection.

The slate of candidates included three former councillors – Herb Haldane, Kevin Pearson and Jeff Stewart.

And there was a surprise or two.

Former Sooke RCMP detachment commander Jeff McArthur decided to run, only to unofficially withdraw midway through the race, while Kenneth Robar disappeared during the campaign, only to-re-appear before the vote.

The byelection was necessary after the death of longtime Coun. Brenda Parkinson.

(Note: This was a very strange by-election, to be sure. Not often a council candidate becomes a missing person. RObar was later found in Ontario, having decided to go walk-about.)

………………..

SEPTEMBER

The 642 Cannabis store in Sooke had its products seized and doors shuttered after the province’s Community Safety Unit conducted an early morning raid.

The store was the only one of the four cannabis stores in Sooke that continued to operate without a licence.

The remaining two non-licensed stores voluntarily shut down awaiting their licence procedures to be completed.

The raid came on the heels of similar enforcement operations on unlicensed pot stores across Greater Victoria.

•••

The Dead Boats Society was back in Sooke to remove five derelict boats from the harbour.

“These are boats that were inventories almost three years ago, and now we’re finally able to come and take them out,” said spokesman John Roe.

Funding to remove the boats is shared by the federal government and the Capital Regional District.

(Note: John gets our nomination for the most personable environmentalist of the year. Tough work but always with a sense of humour.)

•••

The Green Party had it eyes on the Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke riding as a possible winnable riding.

Early polls showed the Green Party had an edge in the race over NDP incumbent Randall Garrison. It was a battleground replicated across the Island.

“We have a really good shot of winning here,” candidate David Merner said.

But in the end Garrison beat Merner by more than 5,000 votes, and the Greens failed to win any new seats on the Island.

•••

In a move that threatened to shutter a longtime business, Sooke council denied a temporary use permit for Drivers Welding at 5536 Sooke Rd.

The decision could result in enforcement action by the district and force the business to close.

“I’m numb at this point,” said Shawn Driver after the decision.

Council denied Driver’s application due to lack of information.

(Note: This situation sent us to the internet to seek out the meaning of the term SNAFU. It turns out to have been applicable.)

………………….

OCTOBER

Dana Lajeunesse won the Sooke civic byelection by the narrowest of margins over former councillor Kevin Pearson – winning the vacant council seat by only three votes.

Pearson did not request a judicial recount of the results.

“The process is over, and I just want to congratulate Dana,” Pearson said.

“It was a squeaker, for sure, but if a judicial review is the only way to challenge the results, I’m not going to do that.”

•••

Concerns swirling around procedures in place during Sooke’s byelection were addressed by a line-by-line audit of the voting books, chief election officer Carolyn Mushata confirmed.

“I am pleased to report that all ballots cast were issued to 1,447 individual voters indicating that no double voting occurred,” Mushata said.

Concerns were raised when some Sooke residents said people’s names were not struck from the voter rolls on the regular voting day. Despite that they had already voted in the advance polls.

(Note: This one left us hoping that proceedures are reviewed before the next election.)

•••

The Royal Canadian Legion warned residents of a fraud caller soliciting in Greater Victoria.

A Colwood resident said he was contacted by someone claiming to be a poppy fund volunteer asking for a donation.

The caller claimed they would be able to easily set up a one-time payment or monthly payments through a credit card.

•••

Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke voters showed on federal election night that they liked Randall Garrison so much they wanted him back in Ottawa.

Garrison handily defeated Green, Liberal and Conservative challengers with 21,351 votes, or 35 per cent of the popular vote, winning his third consecutive term.

Garrison joined 23 other New Democrats in the House of Commons.

•••

The numbers of chinook returning to the Sooke River was slightly above average.

Divers counted more than 750 salmon in the river. The annual average is about 500.

“It’s very complicated when you start talking about salmon,” Wilf Luedke, chief biologist for the Fisheries Department, said.

“The problems with chinook are more severe with stream chinook. The Sooke River fish are ocean type. They go out to sea, so their survival numbers are better.”

……………..

NOVEMBER

The Sooke School District continued to experience record growth.

September enrolment increased by 310 students between kindergarten and Grade 12, bringing the total number of students to 11,142.

The increase shows a growth rate of three per cent or the equivalent of one elementary school’s worth of students.

•••

Online posts that linked a hold and secure at EMCS with alleged threats against the high school frustrated police as they investigated the incident.

“This investigation, as with most police investigations, needs to be based on facts and first-hand information. Social media can be a great tool, but investigators are finding that rumours, speculation and hearsay are unnecessarily hampering the investigation,” RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau said.

(Note : It was refreshing to see the RCMP come out and ask people not to gossip and spread misinformation. SAdly, we checked and it still happens. Go figure.)

•••

A drug sample obtained in Sooke, thought by the user to be heroin, proved to something very different.

The sample, provided by a client of AIDS Vancouver Island, turned out to be a combination of etizolam (prescribed for anxiety and neurosis), xylitol (a sugar substitute), and methorphan (cough suppressant and dissociative hallucinogen and fentanyl.

The fentanyl made up 20 per cent of the sample, four times the average amount found in most opioid samples.

•••

An attempt by the owner of the former Tin Grotto on Otter Point Road to set aside a municipal demolition order for the building was rejected by Sooke council.

The structure was earlier dubbed a dangerous eyesore by district officials.

Barring any further developments, the owner will be forced to demolish the building or face having the district contract the demolition.

………………………

DECEMBER

Sooke’s long-awaited library moved closer to reality as council granted a development permit that paved the way for the project.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library now needs to apply for a building permit.

Once the building permit is issued, VIRL said construction of the library is ecpected to take about 16 months.

•••

The for sale signs that recently sprouted up on lands owned by Western Forest Products near Shirley have some residents concerned about the potential damage to their drinking water.

They’ve sent letters of concern to Premier John Horgan and the Capital Regional District and have mounted a petition calling for the protection of their watershed through the cancellation of the sale.

“We need Western (Forest Products) and the CRD to come back to the table to find a way to protect our water,” Terri Alcock, Sheringham Water Works administrator said.

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A raise came for Council in 2019 (Black Press Media)

Wally Vowels (Foreground) resigned his position with the Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society in the wake of a stop work order issued by the District of Sooke (Tim Collins - Sooke News Mirror)

Pacheedaht residents took a ride in the newly blessed canoe that was part of Tribal Journeys, 2019. (Tim Collins - Sooke News Mirror)

The Sooke Trading Post, also known as the ‘tin grotto’ was handed a death warrant in 2019. (Tim Collins - Sooke News Mirror)

This concept drawing of Sooke’s proposed library highlights the structure’s unique design. (Black Press Media))

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