Here’s a rundown of our most-read news stories of 2020.
Lost dog returned
After over two months spent desperately searching for her missing dog, Tofino resident Shannon Boothman was delighted to have her best friend Itska back in her arms on Jan. 19.
Itska vanished near Tonquin Beach on Nov. 2 and the belief among Boothman and the Tofino RCMP at the time was that two tourists had taken the dog thinking it was in need of care.
“I’m really happy. I’m ecstatic. I can’t believe that I’m actually getting him back because it’s hard not to give up hope after so long,” Bootman said.
Three-day highway closure cuts communities off from supplies
A rock blasting accident obliterated a section of Hwy. 4 at Kennedy Hill on Jan. 23, cutting the West Coast off from the rest of Vancouver Island. The road re-opened to all traffic roughly three days later after a temporary bridge was installed at the site.
DriveBC first reported that a “major road failure” had closed the road through Twitter at 7:09 a.m. on Jan. 23 and crews had initially hoped to have the highway open by 5 p.m. that day, however a geotechnical assessment of the site quickly quashed that timeline and the road remained closed Friday morning.
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel acknowledged that he is “100 per cent concerned” about the lack of goods coming into town.
“Today, we’re not out of groceries. Tomorrow, we’re not out of groceries. We’re trying to get an understanding of how much fuel there is…Those kinds of things are being asked and we’re just trying to monitor it,” he said.
West Coast leaders unite to fight against COVID-19
On March 17, members of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) set up an informational checkpoint for vehicles travelling along Hwy. 4 from Port Alberni towards the Tofino-Ucluelet region.
“We are stopping cars to stop COVID-19 from reaching the Coast,” said TFN hereditary chief and emergency preparedness co-ordinator Simon Tom.
“We are doing this to protect all Tofino community and our residents. Not just our tribe, but the whole community. We have a small hospital so if it breaks out then we’ll have half the town will have to see the doctor. It’s safety precautions,” said Tom.
That same day, the District of Tofino, Tourism Tofino, and the Tofino Chamber of Commerce released a joint statement asking visitors to make their ways home, to postpone upcoming trips, and to let our community prepare for the arrival of COVID-19. Authorities in Ucluelet released a similar joint statement the following day. Ahousaht First Nation closed its community to non-residents and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has barricaded the entrance to their community from non-residents for then next 14 days.
Tofino General Hospital chief of staff Dr. Carrie Marshall made an urgent appeal to the public on March 20 over the local airwaves to protect her small West Coast community from the threat of COVID-19.
“I think this is an unprecedented medical emergency. Everybody needs to take it seriously,” said Dr. Marshall.
On March 21, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) and City of Port Alberni united with West Coast communities in their urgent request to visitors not to travel to Tofino, Ucluelet, Long Beach, Toquaht, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ, Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht, Bamfield, Huu-ay-aht and Uchucklesaht until further notice.
Tofino Craft Distillery and Ucluelet’s Pacific Rim Distilling stepped up by mass-producing hand sanitizer for front lines essential service workers in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.
Anti-racism protests draw huge crowds
The names of Chantel Moore and George Floyd rang out across Ucluelet on June 7 and in Tofino on June 8 as the West Coast marched in unified opposition against racism and police violence towards people of colour.
Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, spurring protests across the United States, Canada and Europe.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck, pinning him to the ground for roughly nine minutes and is facing a second-degree murder charge. Three other officers who were at the scene face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Twenty-six-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN) woman Chantel Moore was shot and killed by police in Edmundston, New Brunswick, during a well-being check on June 4 around 2:30 a.m.
In a statement, the Edmundston Police Force said an officer “was confronted at the scene by a woman holding a knife who made threats,” so the officer “discharged a firearm.”
Moore had recently moved to N.B. after living in Tofino and Port Alberni. On June 20, TFN hereditary chiefs and elected council release a statement demanding that the police officer who killed Moore be charged with murder under Canada’s Criminal Code.
Helicopter landing on Cox Bay sparks investigation
A helicopter that landed on a popular Tofino beach sparked an investigation by Transport Canada.
The aircraft startled beachgoers on a sunny Sunday afternoon when it made what appeared to be a non-emergency landing at Cox Bay on June 14.
Tofino local Sophie L’Homme told the Westerly News that she was walking along nearby Chesterman Beach when the helicopter “came flying right above us.”
“We were really confused. I couldnt imagine landing on the beach like that for fun could be legal,” L’Homme said. “It could have injured someone without a security parameter. Cox Bay can be packed with people on a Sunday afternoon like that.”
Tofino beachgoers ‘horrified’ by watercrafts in surf zone
A Tofino resident and former municipal councillor is questioning whether personal watercrafts should be allowed to share the same waves as swimmers and surfers at local beaches.
Back in July, Cathy Thicke shared a video on social media that shows at least two Sea-Doo or Jet Ski operators riding waves close to shore and near surfers at Chesterman Beach.
Thicke told the Westerly News that the video was shot by her son in law and local surf instructor Shannon Brown and she posted it online to see whether her safety concerns would be shared by others.
“I was quite distressed to see it…People on soft tops who were learning and young kids were less than 50 metres away. So, I thought, that doesn’t look right, that doesn’t look good, that doesn’t look safe, what should we be doing about that on our beaches?” she said. “I thought that if I feel horrified looking at this, I wonder if other people feel the same and, if that is the case, then we should do something as a municipality towards sorting that out.”
Tourists’ vehicles vandalized in Tofino
In September, three couples visiting Tofino from the mainland woke up to find their vehicles vandalized outside their vacation rental.
Tofino resident Juhelle Stephens told the Westerly News that one of the couples were friends of hers who had arrived for a three-day visit with their 10-month-old baby and she was dismayed to hear what had happened on their second night in town.
“It was completely embarrassing,” Stephens said. “It was upsetting. It sucked.”
She said the vehicles were scratched up and written on, along with some tires being slashed and others having the air let out of them by the vandal or vandals.
RCMP increase patrol at Kennedy Watershed
Several emergency service crews responded to multiple overdoses out on the Kennedy Lake watershed logging roads in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) territory resulting in an increased police patrol and check-stops in the area.
Ucluelet’s community paramedic unit chief Rachelle Cole raised the issue during the Aug. 26 Alberni Clayoquot-Regional District (ACRD) board meeting.
“We are going out there for overdose calls and it’s wall-to-wall people living in their cars,” said Cole.
“There’s no social distancing and there is a lot of drugs; total destruction of the environment. I had heard how bad it was, but until you see it and until you experience I think anybody on this call would be shocked that this is happening in our backyard,” she said. Cole later confirmed there have been no fatalities to date.
Year-long operation leads to drug and weapon charges
Seven Ucluelet residents were charged with drug and weapons offences following a year-long joint operation between the Ucluelet RCMP and Vancouver Island RCMP General Investigation section (GIS).
The operation targeted the illegal opioid drug trade in the area with the intent to limit the effects of the crisis in the community, according to the Oct. 8 RCMP news release.
The operation began in September 2019 when two search warrants were executed in Ucluelet; drugs, firearms, drug paraphernalia and a vehicle were seized, according to the RCMP. Police said the seized drugs were later sent off for analysis and the drugs being sold and distributed as heroin were confirmed to be fentanyl. Other drugs seized included cocaine, heroin and oxycodone. Also seized was a significant amount of currency, four firearms and a vehicle.
Mid-Island Pacific Rim elects Josie Osborne, Tofino seeks new mayor
BC NDP candidate Josie Osborne was declared the winner of the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding in the 2020 provincial election.
“I’m feeling really great,” said Osborne on Nov. 8 after the results had been announced. “I’m feeling so incredibly proud of my volunteers and the campaign we ran.”
In light of Osborne’s new role as MLA, Tofino will be electing a new mayor on March 6. Councillors Dan Law and Andrea McQuade announced they will be running for the mayor’s position.