Port Renfrew’s most imposing structure, St. Mary’s Ecumenical Church, stands boldly against the summer sky. The church, which is well over 50 years old, was moved to the west coast community from Duncan where it served as home to a small congregation around Somenos Road. The Duncan congregation joined a nearby parish, and the building survived the rough trip to Port Renfrew where it then served worshippers of several denominations. (Lake News, Aug. 9, 1979)

LAKE FLASHBACK: Fires, an annivsary celebration, plans for a shake mill at Cow Bay, and a bit of history on the road

This week we have an unusual picture, and the answer to the question: what happened to St. Mary’s?

Welcome to Lake Flashback. Reporter Lexi Bainas has been combing through old newspapers with the assistance of the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives so we can jog your memory, give you that nostalgic feeling, or just a chuckle, as we take a look at what was making headlines this week around Cowichan Lake in years gone by.

This week around the Cowichan Lake area…

10 years ago:

“Two suspicious road side fires put out on Youbou Road” says the headline of the Lake Cowichan Gazette of Aug. 12, 2009.

“Two road side fires halfway between Youbou and Lake Cowichan, only 800 feet apart, were both successfully contained by Youbou and Lake Cowichan fire departments early Friday morning.”

Lake Cowichan Fire Chief, Tom Denninger, said fire departments were on the scene a total of five hours.

The fires occured at 1 and 3:30 a.m.

“They are suspicious,” Denninger said about the cause of the two fires. Both fires were on the same side of Youbou Road.

Denninger said the fires went up the bank quite a ways, and flames were 50 feet high up the trees.

“It was certainly rockin’,” he said, describing the nature of the fires. “I would think they are human caused, whether it is from lit cigarette butts or who knows. It was hard to determine but they were suspicious, having taken place in two really close settings.”

Denninger said there wasn’t anyone he could see at the scene besides the fire departments.

Because of the current fire hazard across B.C., Lake Cowichan RCMP are asking anyone with information to call the detachment or Crime Stoppers for more information concerning these two suspicious road side fires.

25 years ago:

The Aug. 10, 1994 issue of The Lake News was a special issue featuring “The Way We Are — Lake Cowichan’s 50th anniversary!”

In a front page editorial, entitled: “Looking at the way we are”, readers are asked, “If we could look 50 years ahead we might see a young man standing on a very much changed South Shore Road, the modern cubes and globes of buildings cupped in spinneys of verdant trees and grass beside the river, the tall thin municipal building on a hill overlooking the city and speedy, non-polluting cars silently rushing everywhere.

Perhaps he has recently come to this very copy of The Lake News and now he is trying to envision what it was like way back in 1994, where the library was, and the post office. Middle aged people in their 70s could tell him for they were in their 20s in 1994. Still it is hard even for them to realize how much Lake Cowichan has changed in only 50 years.”

One of the stories talked about was “The Kaatza Historical Society has announced that work is progressing well on the Bell Tower School. Five weeks are left on the project for the six people that were hired through Employment and Immigration’s Job Creation Program.

“There will be many more changes in the time remaining. Artist Gaylia Nelson will soon begin work on a mural in the entrance way. The art gallery/art shop will be painted next week and the kitchen is nearing completion. The Society is looking forward to holding meetings in the education centre when it is finished. The whole crew has enjoyed the job of restoring the building and have taken great pride in their work.”

40 years ago:

“Island Shake to build on estuary” said the main headline in The Lake News of Wednesday, Aug. 8, 1979.

“Island Shake and Shingle Ltd. will build a multi-million dollar shake plant on Indian [sic] land in the Cowichan River estuary,” said the story. “A lease arrangement has been made with the Cowichan Indian Band and permission has been received by the federal Indian Affairs ministry, company president Bert Rodenbush confirmed Monday.”

Construction of the mill on First Nations land avoids any applications for rezoning and skirts formal public confrontation with opponents of estuary development.

But Rodenbush says his company, as “a good corporate citizen”, will operate a “clean” mill.

Normally anybody who seeks to use land in a manner other than for which it is zoned must apply to the relevant agency, in this case the Cowichan Valley Regional District for rezoning.

Wes Modeste, an economic development worker for the Cowichan Indian Band, said that an agreement between the band and IS&S provides for a 25-year lease on roughtly 10 acres of land between the Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers “kitty corner from Domans.”

Although he would not discount the likelihood of conflict with environmentalists who have vocally protested industrial activity on the estuary, Modeste suggested that the shake mill wouldn’t do any more damage than that already done.

“Damage to the estuary was done years ago by massive logging practices in the Cowichan Valley and after that these people started dumping raw sewage into the river,” Modeste said.

“The clams were destroyed by raw sewage (which) completely wiped out any small sea life in the estuary.”


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