Year in Review: Top headlines from Lake Cowichan in 2020, part II

Signs are being placed this July around Lake Cowichan and the region asking tourists to follow the rules around COVID-19 while visiting local businesses and other attractions and facilities this summer. (Submitted graphic)Signs are being placed this July around Lake Cowichan and the region asking tourists to follow the rules around COVID-19 while visiting local businesses and other attractions and facilities this summer. (Submitted graphic)
St. Aidan’s and St. Christopher Anglican Church in Lake Cowichan is still closed In July due to COVID-19 safety concerns among the governing body of the church. (Kathryn Swan photo)St. Aidan’s and St. Christopher Anglican Church in Lake Cowichan is still closed In July due to COVID-19 safety concerns among the governing body of the church. (Kathryn Swan photo)
Tubers make their way down the Cowichan River through Lake Cowichan on Saturday, July 25, 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)Tubers make their way down the Cowichan River through Lake Cowichan on Saturday, July 25, 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Shady Lady, a 1943 Consolidated PBY Catalina operated by the Catalina Preservation Society, performs a touch-and-go on Cowichan Lake west of Youbou on Thursday, July 23. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)Shady Lady, a 1943 Consolidated PBY Catalina operated by the Catalina Preservation Society, performs a touch-and-go on Cowichan Lake west of Youbou on Thursday, July 23. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)
Denise Holt sang her way to first place in Cowichan Lake Idol 2020. (Submitted)Denise Holt sang her way to first place in Cowichan Lake Idol 2020. (Submitted)
One crayfish and three minnows were the stars at the Kinsmen Duck Pond. Children gathered to see them, then scattered out with high hopes of finding more water creatures. (Kathryn Swan photo)One crayfish and three minnows were the stars at the Kinsmen Duck Pond. Children gathered to see them, then scattered out with high hopes of finding more water creatures. (Kathryn Swan photo)
Lake Cowichan mayoral candidates, from left, include Bob Day, Corrie Helliwell, Ross Forrester and Mike Hallatt. (Robert Barron/Citizen)Lake Cowichan mayoral candidates, from left, include Bob Day, Corrie Helliwell, Ross Forrester and Mike Hallatt. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

May

Tubing the Cowichan River has been banned for the summer of 2020 due to COVID-19. That is, unless things change for the better. “We had a motion in council to prohibit tubing this year and the reason for it is not the actual tubing itself but it is the action of the people coming into town in masses and all congregating down by Saywell Park where the tubes are rented from,” said Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters on April 28. He explained further: “There’d be no social distancing, the way it should be, and that’s according to the rules set by the Vancouver Island Emergency Program, so we have to do it.”

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Painter and sculptor Thomas Hutchings loves his new hometown of Honeymoon Bay. But he’s not fond of whoever stole two of his prized paintings off the wall of his studio sometime last weekend. Hutchings moved from Newfoundland to Honeymoon Bay 10 months ago and renovated and set up his new studio in the community’s old gas station. But he said the COVID-19 crisis has cut into his business, and now he needs money to help pay for his lease on the studio and his artistic materials.

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Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters says residents can expect a tax increase this year but not as much as he and his council had first anticipated. “It hasn’t been totally decided yet. We had a rate that we’d come up with that we were going to charge this year but we are still working on something,” Peters said on April 28. “The rate that we were going to charge this year is going to be decreased but I don’t know by how much. We had figured around five per cent but it’s probably going to be closer to a three per cent increase.”

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The body of a 33-year-old Duncan man was recovered from Cowichan Lake on Wednesday, May 6 after police responded to concerns about tire tracks leading into the Lake. Shortly after 9 a.m., the Lake Cowichan RCMP were called about tracks that could be seen leaving a logging road about 17 km west of Youbou. The tracks led over an embankment and into the lake. Youbou Volunteer Fire Rescue provided their emergency boat and underwater camera to help locate a blue Toyota van and a body nearby in the water. The RCMP Underwater Recovery Team was contacted and located the vehicle, which was towed to the Heather Campground, where the man and the vehicle were removed from the water.

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The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling for the protection of old-growth forests following the logging of some of Vancouver Island’s ancient forests along Haddon Creek in the Caycuse River watershed. The call from the conservation group coincides with the deadline for a government-appointed panel to submit recommendations to the province following a six-month-long Old Growth Strategic Review. AFA campaigner and photographer TJ Watt recently found scores of giant trees cut down in the Caycuse watershed, including red cedar trees more than 11 feet in diameter.

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The first aerial-spraying treatment to eradicate invasive gypsy moths from 231 hectares of residential and municipal park land in Lake Cowichan began this week. The gypsy moth is destructive to native and urban forests and orchards. Without treatment, it could spread to other parts of the province and put hundreds of species of trees and shrubs at risk, including endangered Garry oak ecosystems.

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Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters has taken a leave of absence. Longtime councillor Tim McGonigle will be acting as mayor while Peters is away. “He’s dealing with some personal issues,” McGonigle confirmed on Tuesday. “There’s a Facebook post on the Town’s page stating that he’s taking a personal leave.”

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A number of capital projects in Lake Cowichan slated for 2020 have been postponed as a cost-saving measure as the town council, like many other municipalities, works toward providing some financial relief to its citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the town’s tax increase for 2020 was proposed to be approximately five per cent before the health crisis, council and staff worked to reduce that to three per cent when Lake Cowichan finally set its tax increase for the year earlier this month. Lake Cowichan’s CAO Joe Fernandez said two of the capital projects that have been postponed are approximately $225,000 in upgrades at Centennial Hall, and extensive work on the parking lot at Centennial Park, at a projected cost of approximately $100,000. He said a $65,000 upgrade of the public washrooms at Duck Pond Park has also been postponed, as well as approximately $20,000 in regular maintenance work, including a roof project and painting, at the Cowichan Lake Education Centre, and a $15,000 review of the town’s development cost charges has also been cancelled for the time being.

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The board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District has decided to postpone discussions around a pay raise for nine of its directors until the 2021 budget process. At its meeting on May 15, the board decided that, mainly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis that many people in the district are facing as a result, the proposal for an increase in pay of $11,167 per year for the directors of the CVRD’s electoral areas be shelved for the time being.

June

The tubing ban on the Cowichan River has been lifted and The Tube Shack has announced it will be open for business for the summer as of June 27. Tim McGonigle, acting mayor of Lake Cowichan, said council decided to lift the ban and issue The Tube Shack a business licence for the season after determining that tubing on the river would be allowed under Island Health’s recently introduced stage-two plan for reopening some businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the town contacted WorkSafe BC and was advised that tubing would be permitted under stage two’s sports and recreation policies, and then reviewed The Tube Shack’s phased reopening plan for the summer and, after some concerns and issues were satisfactorily addressed by the company, the town gave the green light for it to open for the summer.

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The stolen paintings taken from a studio in Honeymoon Bay in April have been returned. But painter and sculptor Thomas Hutchings, who created the two art pieces of scenes on Vancouver Island, said they were returned in a most peculiar way. He said that, after the two paintings were shown in the Lake Cowichan Gazette, someone contacted a friend of his and asked if there was a reward to have them returned. “I certainly don’t have any money to pay anyone a reward,” said Hutchings, who moved to the Cowichan Valley from Newfoundland about a year ago to continue with his artistic career. “I was working with a friend in the backyard one day after that and noticed a plastic bag stapled onto the fence and the two paintings were in it, totally unharmed.

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Mike Hallatt has some fresh ideas for a new hamburger joint in Lake Cowichan. Tired of the regular fare that is served in most fast food franchises, which he claims are out of touch with healthy-eating trends that are becoming the new norm among consumers, Hallatt and his sister Sue are in the process of converting the old gas station on Cowichan Lake Road into a unique restaurant that he hopes will appeal to those looking for tasty and healthy hamburgers and meals. Hallatt said the best meat is raised in natural settings and he and Sue have set their sights on Russian wild razorback boars that live in the forests of northern Saskatchewan.

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The head office of the Cowichan Valley Regional District at 175 Ingram St. in Duncan reinstated limited front counter service as of June 1 for transit passes, dog licences, courier deliveries and document drop-off. All other business, including public inquiries, development applications, site visits and inspections, will continue to be delivered electronically via phone, email or video conference. The move

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Graduation ceremonies will occur within the Cowichan Valley School District but they won’t be the formal large gatherings many have come to identify as being the tradition for the end of Grade 12. “All district secondary schools are all at different stages in their planning. However, secondary schools will follow the Provincial Health Officer guidelines while finalizing their plans for the ceremonies,” said a report from SD79 director of secondary instruction Larry Mattin.

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The Lake Cowichan Volunteer Fire Department responded to a structure fire shortly before midnight on Monday, June 1. According to fire chief Doug Knott, the blaze was in a “fairsized shop” and motorhome on an uninhabited lot near the corner of old Cowichan Lake Road and Mayo Road. A house on the property previously burned down about a year ago.

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Royal Canadian Legion Branch 210 Lake Cowichan members thanked the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative for their generous donation of $16,000, enabling the legion to put in a heat pump system in their hall.

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New fencing will be placed where required at Lake Cowichan’s sewer treatment plant on Hudgrove Road. Concerns were raised after a deer managed to slip through a gap in the fencing and drown in the plant’s new settling pond.

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A private island in Cowichan Lake just off Youbou is for sale and attracting interest from across Canada, according to the agent handling the transaction. Billy Goat Island was listed by LandQuest Realty Corporation earlier this spring with an asking price of $479,000. According to the online listing, the 3.6-acre private island boasts 1,200 feet of south-facing waterfront and easy access from Youbou.

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In response to growing numbers of human-bear conflicts in the region, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and BC Conservation Officer Service are reminding the public not to put their garbage and recycling totes at the curb the night before collection. According to Conservation Officer Scott Norris, there have been 230 such conflicts in Cowichan since April 1. This is a marked increase from the 350 reported for all of 2019.

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July

The Lake Cowichan First Nation is hoping the province will transfer a 30-hectare parcel of Crown land located within the Cowichan Valley Regional District to their ownership and control as part of the First Nation’s ongoing treaty process. A letter to council written by the First Nation’s Chief Councillor Georgina Livingstone said the property is ideally situated to provide for the future expansion of the band’s community. “[The Lake Cowichan First Nation] has undertaken extensive research and analysis over the last 10 years to determine the Crown lands that best fit the objectives of the community,” she said. “DL 27, due to its adjacency and proximity to the current reserve lands, was a natural fit. Additionally, there is cultural importance of this site to various members (past and present) that have lived off the land since time memorial.”

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The renovated town hall will include an emergency operations centre when the project is complete. The Town of Lake Cowichan is applying for a grant of $25,000 for the centre, which is expected to cost a total of $50,000. Joe Fernandez, the town’s CAO, said council made the decision to add the centre to the renovation project so that the town will have its own area to deal with emergencies in the community, like the windstorm in December, 2018, that saw major and lengthy power disruptions in the region. “It was determined that we needed our own centre to handle phone calls, emails and to set up emergency services in the community when it’s needed,” he said.

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Lake Cowichan’s Charleigh Fales turned five years old on July 2, and the family wants to thank the community for all their support over the past year. In 2019, Charleigh was diagnosed as just one of 11 in Canada, and only about 500 worldwide, with CLN2 Batten disease, an extremely rare fatal genetic disorder. Most children diagnosed with the disease will die between the ages of six and 12 years old. The province agreed to pay for an expensive treatment, a new enzyme replacement gene therapy called Brineura which costs up to $750,000 per year, that was considered critical to help slow down Charleigh’s rapid deterioration, and the family has recently been informed that the provincial government will pay to extend the treatment for another year. The hope is that the treatment will keep Charleigh alive long enough for a cure to be found for CLN2 Batten disease.

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Signs have been placed near the entrances to Lake Cowichan and throughout the area asking visitors to respect social distancing and other rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 15 signs are a collaboration between the Cowichan Lake Chamber of Commerce, Town of Lake Cowichan, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the Lake Cowichan First Nation under their new “Welcome to Safe Cowichan Lake & District Signage Project”.

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The new residential development on waterfront property on North Shore Road will launch sales of its first phase of 23 lots within the next few weeks. North Shore Estates is part of a plan by the Lake Cowichan First Nation to transform that area of North Shore Road into a fully developed residential and recreational area. The plan for the residential part of the project is for North Shore Estates to consist of approximately 100 units that will be offered in two or three phases. The first phase offers 23 single-family lake view lots with easy beach access and prices starting at $169,000.

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The mother of one of two Langford teens who were found safe near Chemainus on Monday, July 6 expressed her gratitude to the people of the Cowichan Valley for their efforts in helping the boys. Jordan Phillion, 15, and his friend Dylan Deroy, 18, were reported missing when they failed to return from a day trip to the Cowichan Lake area on Sunday. They were found on Monday afternoon on a back road in the Copper Canyon area near Chemainus, where their truck had become stranded.

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The B.C. Conservation Officer Service is expressing concern over reports of people trying to feed a wild bear near Youbou. The BCCOS tweeted about the reports on Monday, July 6. “The #BCCOS has received reports of people attempting to feed a bear near #Youbou,” read the tweet from @_BCCOS. “CO’s are monitoring the situation. If you witness this, call the #RAPP line. It is an offence to feed dangerous wildlife — doing so creates a serious risk to public safety & the safety of the bear.”

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With the help of a handful of community members, the Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society released about 3,000 salmon fry into the lake on Saturday, July 4. The release took place at the Lake Cowichan First Nation’s Kaatza Adventures dock, with four pails worth of chum and coho fry going into the water. The chum salmon leave for salt water right away, said society president Bob Crandall, and their main purpose is to eventually provide protein for the river ecosystem. The coho will hang around in the lake for a year to get bigger before they head out to the ocean.

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A $5,000 grant from Island Return-It will have Palsson Elementary students feeling the beat next school year. It’s all thanks to the students’ commitment to recycling for a cause. The grant was the grand prize in the 2019/20 Return-It School Contest, where students of all ages from across the province entered by sharing their recycling stories with Island Return-It.

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August

A beautiful Sunday morning (July 24) in Lake Cowichan was marred for some by an act of animal cruelty. Nick Epp-Evans, from Ladysmith, and his two children were launching their vessel from Lake Cowichan’s boat launch along with a number of other recreational boaters when a truck pulled up on the dock. Epp-Evans said a man stepped out of the truck with a trap cage containing a very alive and active black squirrel. “Looking very proud of himself, in front of my two kids and some others that were there, the man threw the cage into the water to deliberately drown the creature,” he said. “He left the cage in the water for about three minutes and when he pulled it out, the squirrel was lying flat and obviously dead. Nobody could believe what was happening and many were shocked by what they saw. My kids were in a state of disbelief and my daughter had tears in her eyes.”

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Reconfigured due to a pandemic, and the final decision delayed two weeks because of technical difficulties, Cowichan Lake Idol 2020 finally wrapped up on Tuesday evening with the announcement of the top three performers. The announcement was supposed to be made online a week and a half earlier, but ended up being done in person at the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce thanks to some technology challenges. When all was said and done, Denise Holt claimed first place in the competition, with Kent Ball in second, and Jo Spry in third.

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Cowichan Lake was perfectly cooperative on Thursday, July 23 as aircraft buffs tested a legendary amphibious plane with a series of touch-and-gos and landings west of Youbou. Members of the Victoria-based Catalina Preservation society used the lake for crew training and exercising their Consolidated PBY Catalina for a few hours that afternoon, and the situation couldn’t have been better. “It was a stellar day,” said Oliver Evans, who was behind the controls of the Catalina. “The weather worked out perfectly. We got there early, and the water conditions were just pristine.

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The first gathering at Lake Cowichan’s 50+ Centre since shutdown due to COVID-19 in March was an outdoor concert on the front lawn at lunchtime Thursday, Aug. 6. It was well attended by a happy crowd of members of the popular centre.

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Rod Peters resigned as mayor of Lake Cowichan. Peters, who has been mayor since the municipal elections in 2018, officially resigned on July 28 after sending a letter to council outlining his reasons. In the letter, Peters said the health of his wife Karen is in decline and he wants to spend more time with her. “She isn’t walking well enough to leave her unassisted at home and she contracted c. difficile again,” Peters said. “Also she’s retaining fluid in her feet, legs and abdominal cavity. This is a sign that her liver is not functioning properly. I have stopped being involved with my business so I can take care of Karen. But I have decided to resign as mayor because Karen is my number one priority. I have no idea what time she has left. I’m almost 71 years old and Karen is 73 and I think it’s time I spend my time looking after her. I apologize for resigning but Karen needs my help having some quality of life, and I am going to help her all I can.” It was Peters’s first term as mayor and he served two terms as a town councillor in the 1980s.

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There is very little chance that pumps will have to be used this year to pump water into the Cowichan River to raise its water flows, according to Brian Houle. Houle, the environmental manager for Catalyst Crofton which operates the weir at Cowichan Lake, said the wet weather experienced last winter and early summer have raised water levels in Lake Cowichan enough to negate the need for pumps this year. “For the past 10 years, I have been wishing for rain in the summer season but, despite all the predictions of rain in those months over the years, it rarely showed up,” he said. “The snow pack in the mountains is still below average this year, but we had the biggest rain storm in 50 years in January, and February, March and April were just horrible with all the precipitation and then it was pretty wet through the spring and early summer. So, overall, we’ve been having a wetter year than usual.”

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The Town of Lake Cowichan has a new emergency plan. Council voted unanimously at its meeting on July 28 to adopt the plan, the development of which began after the major windstorm that struck the region in December, 2018. Acting Mayor Tim McGonigle said the new plan gives Lake Cowichan the ability to better determine its own courses of action in the event of an emergency, and to collaborate with surrounding communities to come up with the best response.

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The Cowichan Valley and much of southern Vancouver Island were treated to a rare spectacle on Sunday evening as forked lightning danced across the skies and thunder shook buildings. It’s believed the lightening sparked at least 12 spot fires in the region covered by the Coastal Fire Centre, including one near Lake Cowichan at Meade Creek and one near Mount Hayes, close to Ladysmith.

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The upper Cowichan River cleanup is taking a year off. In most years, the clean-up organized by the Cowichan Lake & River Stewards takes place in late August, but things are different, to say the least, in 2020. The lower Cowichan River clean-up is also cancelled this year for the same reasons as the upper river clean-up.

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Ottawa will grant $300,000 towards the new marina being constructed by the Ts’uubaa-asatx (Lake Cowichan) First Nation on North Shore Road. Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services, announced the funding on Aug. 17 and said the $300,000 will be used to support the construction of the marina and related amenities; such as a pathway, a swimming float, storage sheds, seating, landscaping, signage and art. The marina’s construction will create 48 direct jobs, and it will provide permanent jobs for another five people when complete.

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All the fires in the Cowichan Valley sparked by last week’s electrical storm are now considered under control. Julia Caranci, a fire information officer with the Coastal Fire Centre, said the fire near Lake Cowichan at Meade Creek that covered six hectares at its height, and the one near the Sooke reservoir, which covered eight hectares at its height, are now considered in the “patrol phase”. She said that means that while the fires may appear to be out, the CFC is continuing to monitor the sites until all the hot spots have been dealt with.

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September

A pair of chickens abandoned in a box in their driveway has a couple who live near Lake Cowichan perplexed. Vic and Joanne, who live on a large property with a barn on McLean Road, off of the Lake Cowichan Highway, said that at about 7 p.m. on Aug. 23, they discovered the box containing the chickens abandoned about halfway up their approximately 300-foot driveway. Joanne said their son was working on the property at the time and heard a car driving along the road, but didn’t see its occupants before they left the box in the driveway. Vic said they were initially afraid to approach the box and called the police, but after more than an hour of waiting for a patrol car, which never did come, they finally approached the box and opened it.

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The Tube Shack is picking up where the Cowichan Lake & River Stewardship Society had to leave off. Following the advice of public health officers relating to COVID-19, the CLRSS decided to cancel its annual upper river clean-up this year. Knowing that the Cowichan River still needed a good tidying anyway, employees of The Tube Shack will dedicate their time to cleaning the river on Sept. 13, and are inviting the rest of the community to join them. The Tube Shack does what it can to keep the river tidy on a regular basis, but they are going all-in as the summer comes to a close.

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Years of annual clean-ups and weekly tidyings by The Tube Shack this summer have had an impact on the upper Cowichan River. A big end-of-season clean-up on Sunday, Sept. 13 uncovered less garbage than previous similar events, showing that the hard work is paying off. “The divers who have been there multiple years said it was the best they’d seen it,” said Aaron Frisby, owner of The Tube Shack.

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Five people have tossed their hats in the ring to replace Rod Peters as mayor of Lake Cowichan as of the deadline for nominations on Sept. 18. Peters resigned for personal reasons in July, and councillor Tim McGonigle has been serving as acting mayor since then. Ross Forrest, who served three terms as mayor before losing to Peters in the last municipal elections in 2018, Bob Day, who was a long-time town councillor before losing his bid to be mayor to Peters in 2018, as well as Jayne Ingram, Corrie Helliwell and Mike Hallatt have all put their names forward. Town CAO Joe Fernendez said the election campaign officially begins on Sept. 26, and the byelection will be held on Oct. 24.

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Ian Morrison, the Cowichan Valley Regional District director for Area F (Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls) is the new president of the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities. Morrison was installed with the rest of the AVICC executive during a virtual annual general meeting on Sept. 22, held during the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention. The AVICC usually has a convention of its own each spring, but this year’s was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic before going entirely electronic.

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Check out our next edition of the Lake Cowichan Gazette for the conclusion of our year in review for 2020.

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