Lake Cowichan’s Year in Review – Part II

Lake Cowichan town councillor Tim McGonigle’s little grandson likes to wave his flag for Canada. (Malcolm Chalmers photo)
Off we go! It was tuber central at the Tube Shack in Lake Cowichan on Sunday morning, as 200 tubes lined up to break the world record. (Malcolm Chalmers photo)
Susan Lafountain arrives from Shawnigan Lake in six hours 35 minutes during the Lake to Lake Walk & Marathon, which saw participants walk or run from Shawnigan Lake to Cowichan Lake, on Saturday, Sept. 14. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)
Larry Kazakoff of Lake Cowichan put out his hand and the young hummingbird sat in it for about 20 minutes. (Michael Colwell photo)
Palsson Elementary School students turn our in force to admire the rainbow crosswalk created at their school by Mr. Battye’s Social Justice Class from Lake Cowichan School. (Carolyne Austin photo)
Being on stage with dad makes it much easier during the Halloween costume contest at Youbou Hall. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)
A sea cadet keeps watch during Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph in Lake Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)
Tour de Rock Riders line up to visit with staff, students and parents at Palsson Elementary in Lake Cowichan Tuesday. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Pumping over the weir in Cowichan Lake has begun. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

JULY

The Cowichan Valley Regional District and partners, including Cowichan Tribes, were one of 23 groups to get funding for projects to help rebuild the water supply for the Cowichan River. It’s all aimed at supporting suffering salmon stocks but that covers a lot of territory in Cowichan. The Valley project is to conduct an evaluation of the natural boundary of Cowichan Lake “to support building critical new water storage infrastructure, to provide flows required to sustain Cowichan salmon populations”, said a press release issued after a top level meeting in Vancouver in early July.

•••

“It’s all basically the dream but the dream has started,” said Mayor Rod Peters July 9. Initial talks have begun towards getting the Town of Lake Cowichan a second road crossing to the south of the Cowichan River. Peters was explaining at the town finance committee meeting that the week before he and Town CAO Joe Fernandez met with officials from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure about the need for more access to the south side of the Cowichan River.

•••

Brent Rayner and his family were distressed that the memorial for his father, Darreld, missing 10 years before his remains were discovered in the woods near Lake Cowichan, was vandalized and a custom firepit was stolen.

•••

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. Frisby said approximately 200 people in tubes lined up along the Cowichan River and stretched to make a 219.6-metre chain. He said $2,000 was also raised at the event to help the family of Charleigh Fales, the three-year-old toddler from Lake Cowichan who was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that requires expensive treatments.

•••

Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters said he’s willing to stick his neck out, and even go to jail to fight for his council’s right to look after its people. He, and the rest of town council are frustrated at the attitude of Catalyst, which runs the Crofton mill and the weir at Lake Cowichan that, in the summer, determines how much water flows down the Cowichan River. Council is upset that Catalyst is trying an “end-run” to change weir pumping rules without consultation, and they are concerned about the town’s drinking water intake, which is near where water would be pumped from the lake over the weir into the river. “They have absolutely no social conscience with any of the municipalities or areas they are in. And they figure they can just come in and walk all over us,” Peters said. He called on his colleagues to support him.

•••

After the amount of heat and light generated at town council meetings on July 9 and July 16, Catalyst Crofton has replied to comments about what they are doing at the Lake Cowichan weir right now. Brian Houle, Environment Manager, Catalyst Crofton, said Friday, July 19, “Paper Excellence is fully committed to the protection of Lake Cowichan, the Cowichan River, and the Town of Lake Cowichan’s potable water supply and their water system if, due to the drought, we are forced to have to implement pumping of lake water over the weir.” The major problem has been that the work began without a word officially to the Town of Lake Cowichan or council, leaving them out of the loop.

•••

The Town of Lake Cowichan will add its name to the list of groups calling for a declaration of a climate change emergency. In a three to two vote, councillors made the decision July 9 following a brief discussion about a letter from One Cowichan and 49 other agencies. “Unfortunately our policy is not to do declarations,” said Coun. Tim McGonigle. “Most municipal governments do not do declarations or proclamations. “But, municipal governments are quite focused on climate change and how it impacts us. I think we are doing the best that we can with the funds that we have available to us and we are constantly thinking of ways to reduce our GHG. We will be looking at some in the retrofit of this building, for instance, and we’ll continue to do our part.”

•••

The Cowichan Lake Pickleball Club held its first invitational tournament July 26-28, something the club plans to make an annual event. The club ran the Island championships last summer, and expects to build on that success.

•••

A group of Catalyst executives found themselves facing a big crowd at Lake Cowichan’s Centennial Hall Tuesday, July 23. The event, an information session about Catalyst’s plans for pumping over the Lake Cowichan weir, had morphed from a cozy chat with town council to a major event, drawing close to 200 people to the hall. Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters and Coun. Tim McGonigle had expressed furious frustration at hearing that the company was planning to make changes to the way it was going to pump Cowichan Lake water over the weir into the Cowichan River. The problem: Catalyst never mentioned to the town or council about actions that would occur near the town water intake.

•••

As part of Honeymoon Bay Day ceremonies on Saturday, July 20, a ribbon cutting officially opened the new kids playground at Honeymoon Bay’s centrally located park. “I’m excited to see you all here. This is a really important part of Honeymoon Bay’s downtown,” said CVRD board chair Ian Morrison. “There was a community planner who talked about making communities that were liveable for people from eight to 80. He talked about creating gathering spaces. “I don’t know many other communities where you can walk out the front steps of your community hall, and walk on a wonderful manicured path from the front door of the hall all the way down to the waterfront at the lake. We have that here and I think it’s a pretty darned good thing, too.”

•••

Lake Cowichan Food Bank Society treasurer Katherine Worsley said the group is doing as one would expect in terms of summertime stockpiles, and while donations are always welcome, it’s a secure food storage space and a permanent home the group dreams of most. “Because it’s the summer season, there are less donations coming in this time of year, but we are doing OK in regards to our food source that we have,” Worsley said. “One of the situations that we have is making sure we have a constant safe food storage and a permanent home to distribute from.” Worsley explained that sometime between June 22 and June 26 thieves stole $469 worth of bottles and cans that had been collected by the food bank. Fortunately the community saw fit to step up and then some.

•••

The Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative has now reached the stage where it can start handing out money to community groups. The Co-op board has established a fund to benefit communities from Paldi to Nitinat Lake. Funds are available for various grants and aid under these categories: parks and recreation; community recreation; club sponsorship; and educational bursaries/scholarships.

AUGUST

Catalyst is warned boaters on Cowichan Lake to operate their craft with “extreme caution” if plans to pump lake water over the weir and into the Cowichan River moved forward. Water levels in Cowichan Lake were expected to drop by as much as 20 inches if the pumping began in mid-August, as planned, and that could uncover unexpected navigational hazards in the lake.

•••

Sunfest 2019 opened Thursday, Aug. 1 with some great shows, despite a late-evening downpour from a once-a-decade summer storm. Lindsay Elzinga, who boasted to the audience that she “grew up just down the street” from Laketown Ranch, drew a big crowd of friends and family so her 5:20 p.m. performance, which turned into a huge block party where almost everyone knew each other and newcomers were just invited in to join the fun. Once she left the stage, two huge transport trucks rolled into the restricted area, bearing the name “Jason Aldean” and serving notice that Friday’s headliner was bringing tons of equipment with him.

•••

The playground located between Stone Avenue and Larch Street in Lake Cowichan’s 100 Houses area could use an upgrade, council learned recently. Three boys and a couple of parents showed up to a parks, recreation, and culture committee meeting with a presentation about the need for a better sports court. Korbyn McGonigle, Jake Kelly, and Tyler Mykle spoke to councillors, accompanying their presentation with some photos on an iPad to illustrate exactly what was needed.

•••

Kathryn Swan has lived in Lake Cowichan for 17 years but still considers herself a newcomer. She’s been on a mission since August to track down the town’s longstanding citizens. “The day we had the big celebration at the Lake, they didn’t mention the long-time residents at the Lake,” Swan explained. This year has marked the 75th anniversary of Lake Cowichan becoming at town, and there have been numerous events to celebrate the occasion. She felt the community’s longest-running citizens needed some type of recognition.

•••

Although not conducted under the brilliant sunshine that usually characterizes the annual event, the 2019 Youbou Regatta was deemed a stand-up success following the Aug. 10 event.

•••

Organizers had the pedal to the metal in early August preparing for the Town of Lake Cowichan’s 75th Anniversary celebrations which ran the weekend of Aug. 16 to 18. It was three days of honouring the past, present and the future of the Town of Lake Cowichan and everyone was invited. It promised to be a party like no other with live bands, children’s entertainment, a pro logger sports competition, a slo-pitch tournament and more, and it didn’t disappoint.

•••

The small amount of rain the region has received in early August suspended plans to pump water into the Cowichan River. Brian Houle, environment manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said the original plan called for the pumping of water over the weir to begin on Aug. 8 if necessary, but the few wet days recently has allowed those plans to be put on hold until Aug. 17, and now that’s been extended to at least Aug. 28.

•••

For the first time in its 70-year history the Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department has a three-vehicle fleet. Chief Kevin Smith has confirmed that Truck 43 is now in service, but it took some doing to get it there. It’s amazing what a community can accomplish when they work together.

•••

Lake Cowichan Fire Chief Doug Knott asked council for support for a couple of grants his department is applying for to get some new training equipment. “The problem we’ve had over the years here is we still burned houses. I’ve had a lot of requests for that. Just lately, quite a bit,” he told councillors Aug. 12. Contaminants coming from such fires are dangerous to both firefighters and nearby residents.

•••

The water treatment plant at Lake Cowichan is more or less completed. It’s the less that is bothering members of Lake Cowichan town council. Councillors had previously said they were unhappy with the idea of facing another turbidity problem this fall and possible boil water advisories, after having spent $6 million on a new treatment plant, just because the work still wasn’t finished months after it should have been completed.

•••

Before a packed house at the Lake Cowichan 50+ Centre on Aug. 16, local businesswoman Denise Allan introduced her uncle, Dr. Bill Carpentier as “my favourite world famous physician.” Carpentier took the stage and took the audience on a fascinating journey. “This year is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s flight to the moon. It was an incredibly important event in my life.”

The physician’s main task was getting an incapacitated astronaut out of a space craft and do CPR “on a pliable life raft in five to six foot seas. I felt that if I couldn’t figure it out, there was no one else who could, and besides, no one else wanted the job.”

•••

Lake Cowichan honoured a hard working environmental dynamo during the recent 75th anniversary celebrations, dedicating the Gerald Thom Native Plants Memorial Park on Saturday, Aug. 17. A group of friends and fellow volunteers has been looking for some way to honour Thom, who died in a tragic airplane accident a few years ago, for his hard work for the overall community.

•••

A large crowd came out to Saywell Park Sunday afternoon, Aug. 18 to enjoy the show as timbersports made a welcome return to Lake Cowichan for the 75th anniversary celebrations.

•••

“This river is clean!” cried one diver as he returned to the surface of the Cowichan River in Lake Cowichan Sunday morning, Aug. 18. He hadn’t been able to find anything to pick up at all in the area he was checking under the car bridge on South Shore Road as part of the annual Cowichan River cleanup event.

•••

Catalyst began pumping water over the weir as planned on Cowichan Lake at 11 a.m. on Aug. 29. Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said 13 of the 20 pumps that have been installed at the weir were required to keep the water in the Cowichan River flowing at the required 4.5 cubic metres per second. “It all went very smoothly,” Houle said.

SEPTEMBER

The Town of Lake Cowichan announced it would go ahead with demolishing the building at 226 Neva Rd. and billing the owners for the job, if the owners don’t do it themselves by the end of September. The problem structure, located right at the bend of Neva Road, near Highway 18, has slipped off its foundation and has been derelict for years. Council has discussed the problem of the eyesore several times over the years but movement on this sort of thing takes time, as they have learned on every occasion.

•••

Vehicles just kept on arriving in Lake Cowichan Sunday morning, Sept. 8 as the big show & shine, organized by the town’s 75th anniversary committee, A&W, and the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit attracted a bumper crop of entries. Cars from almost every era, motorbikes of every type, ATVs, trucks old and new, they were there.

•••

Despite the rain, 117 participants completed the Lake to Lake Walk/ Run on Saturday, Sept. 14, making their way along backwoods trails from Shawnigan Lake to Lake Cowichan. In the Full Walk/Marathon, the fastest racer and top male racer: Joshua Aiken 3 hours :16 minutes :34 seconds. The fastest female racer was Emily Solsberg at 3:36:58. At the other end of the speed scale, the last racer came in after spending 10:26:06 on the trail. There were 133 participants registering, which makes the 117 finishers look like a great result.

•••

While the rain over the weekend added a significant amount of water to Cowichan Lake, water levels in the lake have still not risen enough to shut the pumps down. But Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said Sept. 16 that if the water levels in the lake rises to the “zero storage” level, the pumps will be shut down. “Rainfall expected this week could be enough to raise the lake level to above the zero storage level,” he said. Houle said last Friday that the lake rose approximately one and a half inches as a result of the heavy rains that blanketed the region on Sept. 13, but the water levels need to rise an additional three to four inches before shutting down the pumps can be considered.

•••

Dozens of forest workers employed by the Teal-Jones forest company in Honeymoon Bay, west of Lake Cowichan, are out of work. The Surrey-based company announced it is curtailing all of its harvesting operations on the B.C. coast, including at Honeymoon Bay and in the Fraser Valley, in mid September due to weak timber markets and the high cost of fibre. Following the layoffs of roughly 40 workers in June, this latest shut down announcement was expected to impact about another 40 workers in the Honeymoon Bay area.

•••

The pumps in Cowichan Lake were shut down as of 4 p.m. Sept. 25. Brian Houle, environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said water levels in the lake have continued to rise due to the rain over the past two days. He said that with the wet weather, the water flow in the Cowichan River has risen to 5.2 cubic metres a second, a rise of about two CMS. That means the river is currently seeing approximately 40 per cent more flow than it had all summer. “The forecast continues to show wet weather in Lake Cowichan for the coming seven days, and that equates to lower risk of needing to return to pumps this year,” Houle said.

OCTOBER

Powered by grit, determination, and the clapping hands of hundreds upon hundreds of schoolchildren, the members of the 2019 Tour de Rock bike team powered their way through the Cowichan Valley on Oct. 8 — Day 11 of their the 14-day Island-wide ride. By mid morning they were at Lake Cowichan School for a visit and an early lunch. At 11:40 a.m., the riders were greeted by the cheers of the staff, students, and parents at Palsson Elementary in Lake Cowichan.

•••

Youbou Community Hall was the place to be on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. Youbou Community Association chair Julia Martinusen said her group is taking a little inspiration from the Bavarian fall beer-tasting tradition and hosting an “Oktobeerfest” celebration.

•••

Lake Cowichan council decided to draft a policy for consideration by residents that would govern where cannabis shops can set up in town. Such a policy, which would include the idea of issuing temporary use permits, would regulate applications for cannabis retail stores as they come through the door at the town office, CAO Joe Fernandez told the mayor and council Oct. 8.

•••

The CVRD’s emergency preparedness guru, Sybille Sanderson, urged Lake Cowichan town councillors Oct. 8 to update their own education and plans so they’ll be ready to help others. Last December’s huge windstorm and multi-day power outage opened many eyes about disaster readiness in the Valley, particularly the Cowichan Lake area, as both access roads were closed. “We might have another event where we are dealing with lengthy power outages and last year was an excellent learning curve for people in terms of realizing: oh, maybe I’m not as ready as I should be.”

•••

“The lower two baseball fields [at Centennial Park] are not in great condition,” public works superintendent Kam So told Lake Cowichan town council Oct. 15. It was part of an extensive series of reports that So, who just took over the position last month, had prepared for council’s public works committee meeting.

“The president of Lake Cowichan & District Minor Baseball Association [Kelly Bergstrom] is aware of the conditions of the ball fields. When consulted about the possible schedule and treatment of the ball field, Bergstrom was supportive of the rehabilitation plan and excited that the ball field will be returning to a playable state,” the works superintendent said.

•••

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford learned it would be represented by Alistair MacGregor for another four years. The incumbent NDP MP was re-elected on election night, defeating five other candidates to retain his seat.

•••

Cowichan Lake Sports Arena was the venue for a midget hockey tournament Oct. 25-27. The home team opened against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, as Nanaimo, Victoria, Peninsula, Langley, Vancouver, and Semiahmoo teams made their way to Lake Cowichan for the three-day event. The Capitals went on to win the tourney.

•••

Residents were lined up prior to the noon opening on Sunday, Oct. 27 for the Lake Cowichan Community Preparedness Team’s open house in the lower Centennial Hall in Lake Cowichan. Approximately 80 local residents came for the open house and stayed to talk with the various vendors. Refreshments provided by Country Grocer, the Lake Cowichan Christian Fellowship Church and the Lake Cowichan Fire Department were enjoyed by all.

“Our main goals were to help residents to educate themselves prior to weather-related emergencies and to encourage neighbours to connect with neighbours as well,” said organizers.

•••

Youbou Community Hall was the place to be at Cowichan Lake on Halloween Night for family fun. A superb Haunted House, costume contests for all ages, hot dogs and hot chocolate, and fireworks combined to make a it an especially memorable evening for everyone.

NOVEMBER

Members of Lake Cowichan Volunteer Fire Department had lots of reasons to celebrate on Monday, Nov. 4. After all, it was the night they hand out their long-service awards. But, there was some sadness, too, as they bid farewell to retiring firefighter, Ray Bourassa. Fire chief Doug Knott received his 40-year ribbon and bar, and Tom Denniger received his award for 35 years in the department. Steve Johnson was given his award for 30 years of service and Steve Vatcher was honoured for 25 years of service. Finally, in an emotional moment, Johnson presented Bourassa with his 30-year award. As the two men joined in the same year, Johnson also got to give his friend two fun going-away presents, before the entire department gathered for a group picture.

•••

Is it possible to use a remotely-operated vehicle to clean Lake Cowichan’s town reservoir? That’s a question that’s been posed by the town’s works superintendent in November. In a report prepared recently for council, Kam So said, “the town’s reservoir needs to be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure clean drinking water is delivered to households in Lake Cowichan.” This should be an annual job, he said.

•••

Colin Court was last seen Nov. 14 at his own birthday party. An avid fly fisherman, Court, 70, is believed to have gone out fishing near Shaw Creek on Lake Cowichan on Friday morning. Fishing is his favourite hobby. Court’s overturned kayak has been found at the far end of the lake and RCMP located his car at Little Shaw Campground.

•••

It’s the culmination of many years of work but now the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative is handing out legacy grants to various community groups from the profits of its logging venture with the Pacheedaht First Nation. Decisions were made in October as to how this year’s fund of $50,000 would be divvied up, and Tim McGonigle, vice-chair of the Co-op, announced the names of the winners on Nov. 12.

•••

Residents gathered from all around the Cowichan Lake district Monday morning, Nov. 11 to remember the war dead. The amphitheatre setting above the Lake Cowichan cenotaph was thronged with people, who turned out on a chilly but dry morning for the increasingly popular ceremonies. After the ceremonies concluded, a crowd thronged forward to place their poppies on the cenotaph before heading home.

DECEMBER

More than 5,400 signatures were added to the petition calling for wildlife fencing along Cowichan’s Highway 18. The online appeal, entitled “Hwy 18 needs wildlife fencing ASAP” was set up by Lake Cowichan’s Bonnie Jones following the Nov. 19 accident that took the life of Maureen Cowles-Curtis. Another 100 signatures graced a paper petition at the Lake Cowichan seniors centre, as well

•••

Work began on the demolition of a controversial house at the bend of Neva Road. The structure — one of three that has been the subject of discussion at council meetings for years — had slipped right off its foundations.

•••

The Lake Cowichan First Nation was recognized for its many achievements in recent years. The First Nation, which is also known as Ts’uubaa-asatx, won one of three 2019 Best Practices Awards from the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association B.C., which honours indigenous communities in the province that have demonstrated “long-term excellence” in their financial, business and governance affairs.

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