Little Winnifred Rittenhouse was the Cowichan Lake area’s New Year’s Baby for 2018. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Year in Review: New beginnings and final goodbyes for Lake Cowichan from January to June

January to June 2018 at the Lake

JANUARY

Cowichan Lake’s New Year’s baby for 2018 was Winnifred Jeannette Rittenhouse. She was born on Jan. 2 at 3:41 a.m., according to proud mom, Lisa. Big Brother Felix and Dad Ben were also smitten.

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The Lake Cowichan Salmon Mushroom Festival called it quits after 18 years. The creation of mycologist Ingeborg Woodsworth, the festival attracted hundreds of people each year who came to celebrate the large variety of mushrooms that grow in the Cowichan Valley, and the many species of salmon that are also here. Woodsworth said she is now 84 years old and decided that “enough is enough”. “I thought that since this was my baby since day one, it was time to end it,” Woodsworth said.

•••

Rogers Hometown Hockey came to the Cowichan Valley in January and the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena hosted a kick-off event on Jan. 19. Residents and merchants were encouraged to “paint the town red” by decorating their stores or homes with hockey paraphernalia such as hockey jerseys, hockey sticks, and hockey gear, and keep Christmas lights up or adding lots of red.

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For the 46th year in a row, Lake Cowichan’s minor hockey teams took to the ice together for the annual jamboree. “It’s a yearly thing,” Lake Cowichan Minor Hockey president Todd Vaughn related. “We try to almost copy the NHL doing their [all-star] skills event. It’s the one day a year we guarantee every team in the association is playing at home.” The oldest players serve as mentors to the younger ones during the skills competition, and players learn to embrace that role as they age up through minor hockey.

•••

Family and friends of Lucile Palsson celebrated the life of the woman who was an integral part of the Lake Cowichan community for decades. Lucile died just three weeks shy of her 100th birthday on Jan. 26, putting an end to elaborate plans by her loved ones to celebrate the occasion with her in a variety of ways.

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River’s Edge Memorial Garden was the name chosen for Lake Cowichan’s first cemetery. The name was chosen by popular vote on Facebook. River’s Edge Memorial Garden, Heritage River Columbarium, and Greendale Memorial Park were the three names offered for choice. After the committee split down the middle on the first two names, the tie-breaker vote was given to the public and there was a lot of interest shown in the posting on the Town’s Facebook page.

•••

The chief of the Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department and his deputy chief were dismissed from their positions by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the fire department was put on “operational pause” as of Jan. 24. Chief Gary Eve, who had been a firefighter for 27 years and chief since 2011, said he and deputy chief Owen Robertson received a letter from the CVRD rescinding their appointments and membership in the department. He said no explanation was given.

•••

At the Jan. 31 council meeting, councillors took the first steps towards demolition of the old J.H. Boyd structure, which not only served as a school in the old Lake Cowichan school district, but also was expensively converted into that district’s administration offices and the home of its transportation and maintenance departments.

FEBRUARY

The Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department resumed operations as of Feb. 2. Jon Lefebure, chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said Kevin Smith, a former captain with the fire department, stepped forward to lead the department as fire chief as a temporary measure. “Safety remains our top priority for our firefighters and our community,” the CVRD said.

•••

On Feb. 6 it was announced that the DNA analysis confirmed human remains found near Lake Cowichan on Dec. 22, 2017, were indeed those of Darreld Stanley Rayner of Lake Cowichan. Rayner was 52 years old when he went missing in May of 2007, and was the subject of a search-and-rescue operation and missing persons investigation by the RCMP. The location of the remains near South Shore Road in Lake Cowichan was steep and secluded, requiring a co-ordinated effort between the BC Coroners Service, Cowichan Search and Rescue and RCMP to recover the remains.

•••

An afternoon hike for a group of young adults out to the Bear Creek Caves deep in the mountains near Skutz Falls turned into an all-day affair after they came across a woman and her severely injured hiking partner on Feb. 12. David Piatkowski, 22, his girlfriend Ayden McKitrick and three friends were about an hour and a half into their trek when they came upon a frantic woman on the phone with 911.“We just gave him all our clothes and tried to keep him as warm as we could,” he said. It ended up taking until roughly 9 p.m. to extract the hiker safely.

•••

A group dubbed Mesachie Lake Citizens spoke to the CVRD board on Feb. 14 requesting that Gary Eve, the former chief of the Mesachie Lake fire department, and former deputy chief Owen Robertson be returned to their jobs immediately.

Spokeswoman Brenda Bernhardt said the group wanted answers as to what happened to cause the CVRD to suddenly fire the two men and announce that the all-volunteer fire department would be closed pending a third-party review of its operations. “It concerns us as a community that our fire chiefs can be forced out and the fire hall suddenly closed without any kind of process or consultations with the community,” Bernhardt said.

•••

Concerns about squatters living in derelict buildings and the possibility of criminal activity connected with them led Lake Cowichan Mounties to take action. A property on Eldred Road and another on North Shore Road had drawn the attention of authorities.

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Lake Cowichan sidestepped most of the power outages, but didn’t miss the wild weather on the weekend of Feb. 17-18. Between Saturday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 18, five to six inches of snow fell on the area, and during the day, those who went outdoors were met by swirling winds, more snow, and then bright sunshine, followed later in the day by a deep freeze. For sure, Mother Nature reminded everyone that February is still a winter month.

MARCH

Lorne Scheffer was beaming as he provided Lake Cowichan Chamber of Commerce members with an update on the work of the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative. And the smile got a little broader following his speech when he was named the 2017 Lake Cowichan Citizen of the Year at the Chamber’s AGM on March 1. It was announced the chamber membership had reached 111 — its highest number in recent memory.

•••

In March, Wideglide Entertainment announced Laketown Shakedowns: a new festival series at Laketown Ranch giving gigs to artists from all over British Columbia from a diverse range of musical genres.

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Four tiny homes were authorized to be added to the Penny Lane development near the Cowichan River on March 13. Lake Cowichan town council approved changes to its official community plan and zoning bylaw so that developer, Laurie Leblanc, could add four small houses to complete the development. The idea was controversial with residents of nearby properties and other concerned Lake Cowichan folks asking questions when council first held a public hearing in January.

•••

Six Lake Cowichan communities became FireSmart Canada Recognized Communities after a 2017 fire safety education push initiated by the Lake Cowichan mayor and council and the Lake Cowichan Fire Department. With the help of Lake Cowichan Fire Department and Margaret Symon from Strathcona Forestry, the communities of Brookside Village, Woodland Shores, Sunny Beach Estates, The Slopes, Lambs Hill and Lake Cowichan First Nation were all recognized.

•••

It was a big day March 25 for Lake Cowichan and District Minor Hockey as the group held their annual awards celebration. Players at all levels were honoured, from the youngest to those ‘aging out’ of minor hockey. In addition, coaches, officials and volunteers also received the thanks of the organization and the crowd.

•••

There’s a lot to think about as Canada legalizes cannabis, Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest told his colleagues March 27. First, town council must take the temperature of the community, by holding public meetings to hear what local residents want and don’t want after pot becomes legal.

APRIL

Lake Cowichan’s Ian Gesman warned the community about yet another income tax phone scam. Gesman said he received a message on his home phone on April 2 from a man claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency stating that he owed taxes and if he didn’t arrange to pay the outstanding amount within 24 hours, the full force of the law would fall upon him. Of course the CRA doesn’t work that way and it was a scam.

•••

It was announced the two ballfields at Centennial Park would be called Dawn Coe-Jones Field and Appollos Field but the public would be asked to help choose a name for the soccer pitch there. Lake Cowichan town council debated, then chose the two names at their April 3 meeting: one for a famous golfer and one for a successful sports team. Naming the fields was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Mayor Ross Forrest.

•••

Lake Cowichan fire department met the Lake Cowichan Minor Hockey midgets for their annual Foodbank Fundraiser game on April 8 at the Lake Cowichan arena. It was a good night out for everyone, with plenty of goals and the firefighters winning by a 7-5 score. Bags of food and a cash donation of $759.90, which included the funds raised from a boot drive and the 50/50 draw held at the game, were handed over to the Lake Cowichan foodbank later.

•••

Town council voted April 10 that “until a new timer can be implemented [on the siren] the current system of fire siren notification should remain in place. However, serious consideration should be given to eliminating the use of the siren between the hours of 10 p.m. each night and ending at 7 a.m. the next morning by allocating budget dollars for that purpose. Additionally the siren should only be used to sound for shorter durations.” Town resident Michele March had originally asked that council reconsider using the siren at night because it could be intrusive, or even frightening, and would interrupt sleep.

•••

Mountain biking and hiking took centre stage March 28 as an enthusiastic group talked with experts about enhancing Cowichan Lake’s tourist potential. It was the community engagement end of a project announced by Community Futures, which aims to find ways to enhance tourism for the Cowichan Lake area.

•••

On Saturday, April 28 at Centennial Hall, the Lake Cowichan Kinsmen and Kinettes presented a Stand up for Charity comedy night. All proceeds from the event went to the Kin Park (Duck pond) revitalization, according to Kinsman Steven White.

•••

Under the caring wing of Denise Allan, the hopeful Lady of the Lake candidates appeared like spring flowers at the April Lake Cowichan town council meeting and introduced themselves officially to the politicians. Amber Eddy (Miss Monti’s Marine & Motorsports), Brooklynn Brown (Miss Lions), Destiny Hamilton (Miss IDA Pharmacy), Amy Davies (Miss Country Grocer), Shian Ingrahm (Miss Royal Canadian Legion), Olivia Skinner (Miss Lake Cowichan Kin), Violet Argue (Miss Island Savings Credit Union), Keely MacDonald (Miss Cassy’s Coffee House) and Jewel Irving (Miss B.P.O. Elks) each stood up and gave a brief speech to applause from everyone in the room. Then, as per previous years, Mayor Ross Forrest gave each of the girls a Town of Lake Cowichan pin to start the collection on her banner ribbon.

MAY

A fatal accident closed Highway 18 between Duncan and Lake Cowichan on May 3 after a car crashed into the ditch and burst into flames. The incident happened near the Paldi Road intersection at around 11 a.m., just about 10 kilometres east of Lake Cowichan.

•••

Lake Cowichan’s taxes went up two per cent this year, town council decided. Asked why, Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest said, “We’re doing well over $10 million in capital improvements to the community. That’s a big part of it. The other is just the fixed costs that go up each year, with contractual obligations. I’m actually extremely happy that staff could keep it as low as two per cent. I think that’s amazing for the work that we’re doing in the community.”

•••

Hopeful plans to upgrade Lake Cowichan’s municipal hall with grant money fell through when the town didn’t get the grant it had applied for and so staff noted it was time to look at new ideas. Council would see those as soon as something is ready to come forward, CAO Joe Fernandez said.

•••

“Capable, loving, and generous.” Those were the recurring themes as family and friends gathered in Lake Cowichan on May 12 to remember Darreld Rayner. He had been missing for 10 years before his remains were found in late 2017, ending a decade of quiet suffering for his family. But, finally they were able to bring that part of all their lives to a conclusion, with the help and support of many, many friends.

•••

A search was initiated for 41-year-old husband and father Ben Kilmer on Wednesday, May 16, after his work van was found parked along Cowichan Lake Road west of Menzies Road. The electrician’s vehicle was empty but the engine was still running.

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May 18-20 Lake Cowichan welcomed visitors and locals out to enjoy Family Heritage Days. There were a variety of events, from the logging truck parade, and bowling in a heritage bowling alley, to buying hanging baskets, and touring the Rhododendron Memorial Park.

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The first-ever Laketown Shakedown took to the new Flats Stage at Laketown Ranch May 18-20.

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Two teenagers came close to drowning in Cowichan Lake on May 26 after being electrocuted by electrical cords in the water near where they were swimming. Lake Cowichan fire chief Doug Knott said a homeowner on North Shore Road was working on a houseboat at approximately 5 p.m. and had run a number of electrical extension cords from his home down the dock to run power tools.

•••

Primate Estate had a primate escape and there was a monkey on the loose somewhere around Lake Cowichan. B.C. Conservation officer Scott Norris confirmed the monkey had escaped from the property at 7300 Lake Cowichan Rd. on May 26 while staff at the animal sanctuary were doing some work on its enclosure. When it couldn’t be immediately found, they called the conservation service. The monkey has not been found.

JUNE

The new permanent Meade Creek Recycling Centre opened June 2, offering a lot more chances for residents to recycle than the old facility. The facility serves residents of Lake Cowichan, Youbou and surrounding communities and provides recycling options for more than 650 products.

•••

“Do you see how big this is! This crown is heavy,” exclaimed an excited and tearful Keely MacDonald (Miss Cassy’s Coffee House) as she spoke to the crowd for the first time as the 2018 Lady of the Lake. MacDonald’s receiving the title followed the crowning of her First Princess, Olivia Skinner (Miss Kin), and her second princess, Amber Eddy (Miss Monti’s Marine and Motorsports).

•••

After decades of waiting, the Town of Lake Cowichan celebrated the naming of its three new fields at Centennial Park on Sunday, June 10. It had already been announced the main baseball field would be named Dawn Coe-Jones Field and the second ballfield, would be the Apollos Field. The third field was named the Dobie Somerville Soccer Field after the tireless efforts of Somerville to introduce the sport to the community. That field got its first use on July 18 as the BC Summer Games teams used it for practices.

•••

The Heritage Sports Wall of Fame at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena gained two new plaques on June 16. Ken Calder and Tony Feltrin were the newest inductees to the wall, which celebrates people who have added lustre to the Lake area’s sports efforts, either by their own success, or as builders. Calder played all his minor hockey in Lake Cowichan, then went on to play minor pro hockey before returning to university. Feltrin was not from the Cowichan Lake area originally but moved to the Lake. His own career in hockey started well, with stints at the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers, but an eye injury put an end that. However, New York manager Phil Esposito offered him a job as a scout, and he’s been scouting for NHL teams ever since.

•••

Any application to set up a recreational marijuana store in Lake Cowichan will now require a site-specific zoning amendment that would have to come before town council to be considered. Council unanimously passed its amended bylaw that will allow the municipality to control pot shops within its jurisdiction on June 26.

 

The Mesachie Lake Fire Department before the CVRD dismissed its leaders: Brad Smith, Deputy Chief Owen Robertson, Jordan Gibson, Kyle Mawson, Tyson Allnutt, Bill Bergen, Wayne Atkinson, Kevin Fraser, Ryan Eve, Colton Walters, John Fraser. Missing Chief Gary Eve, Randy Lindsay, Paul Zalinko. (Gazette file)

The graduating class of 2018 from Lake Cowichan School. (kevin rothbauer/Citizen)

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