Upon review: stories, issues and newsmakers of the year August September October November December

The Alberni Valley News only hit the newsstands Aug. 25, but we’ve packed a lot of news into our first 19 issues.
We kicked off our inaugural issue of Port Alberni’s newest newspaper with a report on the building boom in the Alberni Valley and its inherent problem of not enough qualified tradesmen available to keep up. Contractor John Versteeg, who has worked in Port Alberni for 46 years, said he had rarely seen the labour pool so empty.
That same week Port Alberni RCMP were called upon to investigate two deaths – one a suspicious death of a Beaver Creek woman and the other the discovery of human remains on First Nations land near the municipal airport.
The woman killed in her Beaver Creek home was identified as Kristy Leanne Morrey, 28, and RCMP would only say at the time that she died “ of unnatural causes”.
Also in August, MP James Lunney announced that the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans will fund a total of $550,000 for improvements to three area harbours: Port Alberni, Bamfield West and French Creek.
The money will be used in Port Alberni to complete phase three of an electrical improvement project involving a complete refurbishment of the electrical system and provision of power to the main line of floats in the harbour.
September began with a water crisis in Tofino that had far-reaching effects. When Tofino turned off its taps, the Port Alberni Chamber of Commerce worried that the water woes would affect Port Alberni, too. While coastal hotels and resorts were forced to shut their doors, Alberni businesses rallied and sent pallets of bottled water to Tofino residents, helping them through the initial crisis.
Port Alberni city engineer Guy Cicon assured that such a water shortage likely wouldn’t happen here, but it would be prudent of Alberni residents to conserve their water resources anyway. The city had previously announced plans to replace 1.5 kilometres of pipe running from China Creek at an estimated cost of $1.6 million.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced that a new health care centre catering to public health, mental health and addictions as well as home support services would be built in Port Alberni. Expressions of interest were called for, including those from food vendors. The clinic, according to VIHA, would be built by a private developer with VIHA as the primary tenant.
Catalyst announced the closure of its groundwood pulp facility, leaving 60 or so people facing layoffs. Some of them were able to find work at the Crofton pulp mill.
The Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the rest of the B.C. Hockey League’s teams saw their exhibition games riddled with penalties as the BCHL got used to a new style of hockey: no tolerance for holding.
The Valley lost one of its leaders when Brooke George, co-owner of the MV Lady Rose, was killed in a climbing accident on Victoria Peak north of Gold River.
The Save Our Valley Alliance (SOVA) protested the export of raw logs on Horne Lake Road, and kept their message in the forefront by monitoring the ships that load logs at the Port Alberni Port Authority’s wharf. They also took their protest to the lawn of the legislature, parading with other labour leaders through downtown Victoria.
The city suggested a new sewer toll, but took flak for the way they initially set it up. A revamp was deemed more fair for residents and businesses alike.
The average selling price for a home in Port Alberni hit $209,587 in September, an increase of 17 per cent over August 2005 and the first time the average price broke the $200,000 mark.
Coulson Aircrane extended its contract with Helijet and also signed another contract that would see them fly in support of the U.S. Navy out of the Hawaiian Island of Kaua’i.
Nearly 250 people turned out for the annual Terry Fox Run, which raised $4,300 for cancer research. The Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock stopped in Port Alberni on the way to the West Coast, creating a frenzy at Tim Hortons and Alberni Elementary School.
September ended with the retirement of one of the Valley’s tireless volunteers, Vera Seydel, who ran the Bread of Life for almost 20 years.
Logging was in the news in October, when Valley resident Stacey Robins staged a small protest in front of City Hall to object to Island Timberlands’ plans to log Arbutus Ridge. Robins argued that those plans would disrupt the viewscape from Harbour Quay, but the company disagreed and began logging anyway.
Safety in uptown Alberni took the spotlight when merchants banded together to complain that panhandlers and suspicious activity were driving customers away from shops at Third Avenue and Argyle Street.
Talks between Catalyst and its unions moved behind closed doors, as both parties said they did not want to negotiate in the press.
Float homes on Great Central Lake came to the forefront after owners were threatened with eviction. An inventory by the Agriculture and Lands ministry revealed approximately 40 float homes were located without permission on Crown land.
The Alberni school district’s final enrolment numbers were 200 less than anticipated, meaning lean times during the next budget go-round.
The Chamber of Commerce’s visitors’ centre broke records; more than 50,000 visitors had stopped in by mid-September, the Chamber reported in October.The Chamber’s annual fundraiser, Shootout at the OK Corral, raised more than $10,000.
A logging truck lost its load while turning the corner of Roger Street and Stamp Avenue, narrowly missing crushing a couple of cars.
A few days later an impromptu inspection of commercial trucks along Stamp turned up several violations.
Alberni-Clayoquot MLA Scott Fraser made public again the battle to open Ty Watson House Hospice.
The house has been sitting empty for years while waiting for VIHA to make up its mind whether to open it.
The Tseshaht First Nation increased its land base after buying 120 hectares (297 acres) of land previously owned by Catalyst for $1.2 million.
A Nuu-chah-nulth career fair drew 200 people and more than 80 vendors for the first annual event.
The Hupacasath First Nation opened its Upnit Power project at China Creek, just shy of a year late. The Hupacasath teamed up with the city, Ucluelet First Nation and Synex Energy for the 6.5 megawatt hydroelectric plant.
Howie Dorn returned after a brief retirement to assist in setting up Howie’s Haunted Harbour, a fundraiser for North Island College bursaries.
At the same time, Farmer Bill’s annual Haunted Barn took a one-year break after growing too big to handle.
In November, former Hupacasath chief Jessie Hamilton, 83, was honoured in Victoria during national Women’s History Month for her life-long dedication to her people and culture.
City Council agreed to slash the industrial tax rate to lure Catalyst into staying in business in Port Alberni. The tax rate – which came with conditions – would be cut by a total of 20 per cent in the next five years, trimming the city’s budget by $1.5 million. The tax cut would also apply to Western Forest Products, which owns two other mills in town.
United Nations special envoy Stephen Lewis spoke of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in front of a crowd of 800 at ADSS, as part of the Great Speakers Series.
His dedication to facing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa inspired a Port Alberni group, the PaGo Grannies, to form with the purpose of raising money and awareness for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
Mount Arrowsmith was one step closer to becoming a regional park, although a Regional District of Nanaimo delegation asked Environment Minister Barry Penner to turn it into a provincial park.
Low coho numbers at Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery were a cause for concern, although the hatchery did get sufficient fish for its brood stock.
An amateur historian from France stirred up memories from the Second World War when he wrote asking for information on Earl Wesly Bookhout, an air gunner from Port Alberni who was killed in action on July 5, 1944 when the Lancaster bomber he was flying in was shot down. Remco Immerzeel wanted to create a memorial for the seven men killed in the bomber, but he wanted to find some family members, first.
Betty Argotow recalled that Bookhout lived with his parents and their families were close. “I don’t remember Earl, but I do remember calling him Uncle Earl,” she said.
A rain storm in early November caused a tree in Cathedral Grove to come crashing down on a car owned by a North Vancouver man, who received serious injuries. It would be a precursor to the “storm to end all storms” on Nov. 15, which cut power to the entire city and also cut off Highway 4 both east and west of Port Alberni. High winds and torrential rains – more than 130 millimetres in 24 hours – caused widespread flooding and tore down trees.
The storm was only one of a chain that helped Port Alberni break weather records for rain, 600 millimetres or nearly double the average.
The storm also renewed calls for a second access road connecting Port Alberni with the east coast, but Mayor Ken McRae rejected out of hand a suggestion from Lake Cowichan Mayor Jack Peake to renew talks of a valley link between his community, Alberni and Cumberland.
It was also in November that TimberWest put the famed Martin Mars water bombers up for sale. The deadline for expressions of interest was Dec. 31.
Threats of legal action swirled around Island Timberlands and TimberWest in December, as neighbours complained that logging caused flooding in their neighbourhood at the foot of the Beaufort Range. The Log Train Trail was also hit, and the regional district decided to spend $3,000 to clear up debris. Wayne Crowley took his complaints to the regional district, which suggested he take legal action.
On a lighter note, the Santa Train went full steam ahead for the first time in five years, taking passengers and the big guy along the waterfront. The steam train received a boost – a caboose – when the Terminal Park McDonald’s in Nanaimo donated its red caboose to the Industrial Heritage Society.
A new co-operative health clinic opened on Elizabeth Street and the fact the new doctors were accepting patients created a buzz to a physician-deprived city.
Also on the health front, media outlets discovered Port Alberni has a tuberculosis outbreak, with twice as many cases (12) reported in a six-month period as medical health officer Dr. Fred Rockwell usually hears about in a year.
Mayor McRae and other city officials went to Catalyst’s head office in Vancouver to plead their case to keep the mill operating here, but participants in the talks were curiously tight lipped when they returned home.
Another tempest was brewing outside, with a second vicious wind and rain storm taking down numerous trees and cutting power to the city – again. Two days later, the snow began to fall, stretching the city’s snow clearing budget to bursting.
While the trees were falling all around, the province’s log export review report was released, and B.C. labour leader Jim Sinclair travelled to Port Alberni for a log export protest at the Port Authority’s Berth 3.
Dave Jansma received an early Christmas present Dec. 12, a piece of his sister’s liver to replace his ailing organ. Jansma was able to leave Vancouver General Hospital just in time for New Year’s Eve, according to his wife, Colleen.
It wasn’t such a happy time for residents of Clifton Terrace on Anderson Avenue. Residents were evacuated when the building became unsafe after the last wind storm, prompting city councillors to consider new standards for building maintenance.
We ended the year on a sad bit of news, with the death of cancer awareness advocate Maria Castiglione. Despite dealing with terminal lung cancer, Castiglione talked frankly about her experience with cancer, was an integral part of the Relay for Life last summer, and organized one final Sproat Lake Raft Race so she could celebrate with friends and family while she still had the energy.
Castiglione spent her final months lobbying the Vancouver Island Health Authority to open Ty Watson Hospice House, so she could die there instead of West Coast General Hospital.
Her wish never came true.

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