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2023: Highlights of a Year in The Watershed

Updated: Mar 25

Looking back on our memorable moments

What a year it's been!

The Watershed's humble beginnings kicked off 2023 with coverage of the Polar Bear Swim, before splashing out into the deep (and occasionally murky) waters of daily life in this little village on Howe Sound. More than 230 news stories later, we find ourselves here at the tail-end of the year with a sense of wonder at just how much can happen in one small municipality. Join us as we look back on a few of the memorable moments that marked 2023.

It has been a year of many heated and contentious meetings. The Watershed attended every regular Council meeting, many other council and committee meetings, and has published more than 50 Council-related columns summarizing events for those residents who could not attend. In the wake of the dismissal of long-time Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Peter deJong at the end of 2022, January and February saw a wave of staff departures, with the Village losing long-time Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Pamela Rooke and building inspector Dave Butler along with two Public Works staff members.

The January appointment of interim CFO Anthony Tobin turned out to be short term, with his resignation announced on February 7. Tobin's replacement Ron Miller served a three-month contract, only to depart in May and be replaced by Mayor Ken Berry when another candidate couldn't be found. On March 23, the Village lost another valuable staff member when municipal accountant Hayley Cook resigned after 14 years at the office. The province appointed Municipal Advisor Randy Diehl in April, and on his advice Council then employed a second advisor, Deanna Campbell.

April saw the resignation of yet another valued employee as Public Works Manager (PWM) Nai Jaffer departed for a position in North Vancouver. Former Mayor Karl Buhr stepped up to take on the PWM role, an even more daunting than usual task, that included the long-delayed repair of the Bayview Bridge, the Klatt Building upgrade and the many ongoing infrastructure issues the Village continues to face.

This year also marked a hard-fought by-election on May 6. Our intensive election coverage included interviews with both candidates Tanya Cosgrave and Jaime Cunliffe, and a look at the broad range of issues this heated race brought to the fore. On May 6, Cunliffe was elected, and sworn in to her position as councillor on May 16.

The budget passed on May 14, just under the wire of the provincial deadline. The 2022 Annual Report June deadline, however, flew by with a completed document not submitted to the provincial government until November. On June 9, former CAO deJong filed a lawsuit against the Village for alleged breach of contract, which remains unsettled. Finally in September, Council welcomed new CAO Ross Blackwell, who continues to hold the position.

Outside Council chambers, 2023 has been an eventful year on many other fronts. February marked the sombre 40-year anniversary of the debris torrent that swept through the Village in 1983, killing Tom and David Wade and destroying several homes.

This news source (and this Village) are privileged to exist on the traditional and unceded territories of the Skwxwú7mesh uxwúmixw (Squamish Nation), and so throughout the year we have taken time to celebrate local First Nations. Our Settler Education 101 columns aim to address and educate ourselves about the institutional racism that has shaped this country, and highlight anti-racist actions that we can all take to make this a safer and more equitable place to live.

The warmer months brought hikers, of course, in ever-increasing numbers. This meant a spate of helicopter rescues and included one tragic death of a hiker on our mountain, and a number of unprecedented parking and traffic issues, but the principal story of the summer was written in flame. From the fire above the railroad tracks by Kelvin Grove on June 4, through the campers in the watershed defying the fire ban, to the wildfire near Whyte Lake, the stage was set for a contentious season with the right of public access pitted against the risk of wildfire. The driest season in recorded history led Council to temporarily shut down parking lot and trailhead access on August 24, a closure that lasted until September 21, when the fall rains returned at last to help mitigate the fire risk.

Over the summer, local construction projects that had all but ground to a halt resumed again with the reinstatement of Building Official Dave Butler at the end of July.

In the fall, Council pledged their support to Squamish councillor John French's anti-speeding initiative for the Sea to Sky highway, and in November, residents attended in force as the Parking and Traffic Noise task forces finally got underway. Throughout the year, we've offered explainers on topics as diverse as speculation and property taxes, winter hiking tips from Lions Bay Search and Rescue (LBSAR), waste collection fees, the background behind BC's Homeowner Grant, the complicated business of fighting fires from the sky, parking sign confusion, the new Alertable communication system and an entire series on what's needed to protect our watershed resources.

The Watershed took great pleasure this year in celebrating the successes of Village residents. We lauded Madeleine Pollock's cycling exploits, the karate success of Quinn and Thatcher Bradshaw, the ongoing efforts of the Village Trailblazers, the kindness of residents like Rod Baker, and the success of local piemaker Jessica Weiss's Red Couch Bakery.

We shone a light on the hard work of our local firefighters, and the recognition of Jonathan Wreglesworth, whose heroic actions saved the life of his mother-in-law Pippa Phillips in 2022. We took a closer look at some of the daring rescues undertaken by LBSAR , the hard work of Public Works staff and the Village Events Committee. We celebrated the talents of local artists including writer Maria Escobar Trujíllo, artist Barbara San Severino, writer Max Wyman, and featured the stunning photography of Rich Vernon, David C. Zhang, Myron Loutet, John Dudley and Herb Johnston.

On the nature front, we ran stories on (and by) the Mary Comber Miles Gardeners, the Bear Smart Committee efforts to educate residents on safe ways to coexist with our furry neighbours (including a visit to Lions Bay School) and Bird-Friendly Lions Bay's beach clean up. We also featured Ruth Simons's Howe Sound biosphere designation initiatives, Peter Gross and his plans to revolutionize agricultural fertilizers and Norm Barmeier's efforts to bring green hydrogen to the transportation industry.

On the health front, we ran a piece written by Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa in which she spoke of the realities of fighting cancer that her own research had addressed. Village residents rallied to raise funds for local paramedic Shaena Randles, when she was suddenly stricken with leukemia at age 24.

Throughout the year, we have followed the story of a lengthy fundraising initiative to help welcome a Syrian family to Canada, and we profiled a local family as they put forward a bold new initiative aimed at protecting the watershed and reducing fire risk. In December, local residents celebrated the re-opening of Lions Bay Store & Cafe, under new management.

We have regularly welcomed new residents, kept you up to date on Lions Bay Historical Society events, and, of course, we shone a loving spotlight on 12 special coastal canines who brighten all our lives. It was also an honour to say a final farewell to resident Valori MacKay and former Village resident Pat Carney.

It's been our goal this year to provide a closer look at the cogs and wheels that make this village (and surrounding environs) tick, to share information that is verifiable, and to provide a platform for critical thinking and the civil exchange of opinions. We hope you have enjoyed reading the first year of The Watershed, and we look forward to sharing the news in 2024, with all the success and failure, kindness and controversy the new year will bring.

Happy New Year!

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Wow, what a busy year indeed. I really appreciated the Watershed's astute and informed coverage, helping us keep track of it all. Thanks Karen!!!


Well Done Watershed! I appreciate your time, energy and perspectives. Thank you for covering our village life.

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