Comox Valley

Don’t bother with an umbrella this weekend. You’ll probably get soaked anyway.

Environment Canada has upgraded its weather alert for parts of VanIsle. First, it was a rainfall watch, but now it’s a rainfall warning. And it’s supposed to rain a lot.

A map of Vancouver Island with the predicted rainfall listed over each city.
A bucket of rain is heading for Vancouver Island and the BC south coast. Forecast by SkyTracker / Global News.

WestIsle and Comox Valley will be the wettest places on the island. So, Environment Canada is warning folks in the regions to watch out for overflowing streams and flash floods.

To make matters worse, it’s going to get cold in the mountains. It could snow up there, and when the snow melts, it’ll make flooding more intense.

Emergency services on VanIsle are already pretty stretched, so it will be interesting to see how they handle intense rains. Floods could pop up in a lot of places, and they might happen without any warning.

So why is this happening?

Mark Madryga is a meteorologist for Global News. “A ‘river’ of atmospheric moisture is flowing high above the Pacific Ocean,” he said, “and [it’s] taking aim at BC.”

An atmospheric river is a long, narrow band in the atmosphere that sucks up large amounts of moisture from warm tropical regions. It really is like a river in the sky.

Only when an atmospheric river gets going, it can carry up to 70 times the amount of water flowing through the mouth of the Fraser River.

That, my friends, is a lot of water.

Folks might want to know, is this climate change?

And the answer is not really, but kind of.

Frustrating, right? But here’s why.

Atmospheric rivers have always been a thing, you know? They’re part of the global water cycle, and they’re always kind of flowing around the planet.

With climate change, we might even get fewer atmospheric rivers coming our way. But the ones we do get will be doozies. They’ll be wider, and they’ll carry even more water.

And that kind of rain will test everything from our storm drains to flood rescue plans.

So we can’t point to this one atmospheric river and declare, “that’s climate change.” But we can stand in the rain this weekend and say, “this is what climate change feels like.”

It was a tough year for salmon on the Tsolum. The heat dome rocked Coho early in the summer, the prolonged drought left salmon with nowhere to go, and low water levels killed pinks in August.

But by the middle of September, the rain came. The rivers filled up a little and gave the pinks some more breathing room—literally.

And it turned out to be a game-changer.

On the afternoons of September 20th and September 26th, volunteers with the Tsolum River Restoration Society walked from the end of Railway Avenue down to the confluence with the Puntledge River. They counted the pinks that were making their way to the headwaters.

And there were so many fish to count! In fact, it was the highest number of pinks ever recorded in the Tsolum River.

https://www.facebook.com/tsolum.restoration/videos/300644251561646/

Volunteers counted more than 155,000 pinks in the watershed. About 39,000 pinks made it all the way to Headwaters Creek.

It’s pretty spectacular to see so many salmon returning home to spawn. But the fish aren’t totally out of the woods. Climate change and fish farms can still make life difficult for them in the river and out in the ocean.

But it sure is a relief to see a good run this year.

As Carmen Everest Wahl said on the Restoration Society’s post, “Father Charles Brandt would be so pleased.”

Bronx is a bit scary. But according to a Victoria judge, deep down, he’s a good dog.

Let’s be real, Bronx has done some bad stuff. He’s nervous and needs a lot of training. And he’s really freaking strong.

He has been on death row for months after biting dogs and people in Victoria. The City of Victoria wanted to have him put down because they considered the dog dangerous.

But Judge Adrian Brooks has decided to take Bronx off death row.

Instead, this good dog with a bad past gets to go live with Ken Griffiths, the Comox Valley Dog Whisperer.

Ken Griffiths, known as the Comox Valley Dog Whisperer
Ken Griffiths, the Comox Valley Dog Whisperer, sits with his pack. Photo c/o Facebook.

The court case to decide what would happen to Bronx took ages. The trial was filled with people who love Bronx. And some who thought he was too dangerous to live. People talked. They argued. Some cried. There were even roosters.

Vancouver lawyer Rebeka Breder represented Bronx’s original owner. “The dog gets to live,” she told the Times Colonist.

Bronx’s original owner, Richard Bonora, knew that Bronx needed more care than he could give. Bonora lives on a disability pension and had trouble controlling Bronx’s outbursts. The City of Victoria told Bonora that he needed to keep Bronx in a muzzle, but Bonora ignored them.

Bonora regretted that decision. He knew that he couldn’t keep Bronx, but didn’t think the dog should die for his owner’s mistakes. So he agreed to let the Dog Whisperer adopt him.

But it was still up to the judge to decide that was okay. And ultimately, he did—the judge ruled that Bronx was not an unacceptable risk to the public.

“The judge explained that the city didn’t do enough to try to rehabilitate Bronx,” Breder said, “and that animal control should do a better job in trying to save a dog’s life before jumping to court.”

Here’s hoping Bronx finds a new pack up in Comox. Sometimes a bad dog just needs a good home.

A decade ago, Angie Farquharson and Evan Fair were working at Mount Washington, living in an oceanfront rental on Kin Beach, and ready for a change. It was either move to a different ski hill or do a 180 and try something new.

Around that same time, Fair, an avid snowboarder, wondered what it would be like to design and build his own snowboard.

Not long after, they spotted a Craigslist ad for a second-hand snowboard press.

Call it a stroke of good timing.

Two days later, they drove to Vancouver to buy the press, and Kindred Snowboards was born.

The couple would make a good business team. Fair is comfortable around tools, having worked construction in the off-season. Farquharson is a talented graphic artist and, with her experience in ski resort marketing, also had a natural flair for promotion. The rest is history.

Today Kindred makes roughly 250 boards annually from a small shop behind their home on the North Island Highway. They relocated to Merville after quickly outgrowing their rental on Kin Beach (it’s where the name Kindred came from).

Customers find them mainly through word-of-mouth. They come from across North America, Europe and as far away as Australia and Japan.

Fair does the heavy lifting, building yellow cedar and Douglas fir cores out of wood sourced from local sawmills.

Farquharson designs the top sheets with marquetry, a technique of using wood veneers to create striking stylized patterns. She credits social media and great support from ambassadors in the guiding and snow sports world for helping to build their brand.

So far, the small company employs one other person at peak production times. But they will need to bring on more help if they keep growing and reach their target of selling between 700 and 800 skis and snowboards annually.

If you are looking for a tranquil float on an inner tube or a wild ride through whitewater, the Puntledge River can provide it – which you get depends on the day.

And how much water BC Hydro is releasing at the dam where the river exits Comox Lake.

BC Hydro controls the flow for both electricity generation and salmon habitat.

Originally built in 1912 to provide electricity for the coal mines in the Cumberland area, BC Hydro took over the dam in 1953 and upgraded it in 1982.

It now generates enough hydro to power more than 400 homes.

But on some days, the iconic Comox Valley River is also a whitewater paddler’s dream come true.

When heavy rain or snowmelt raises the lake’s level, BC Hydro releases water through the dam.

Consequently, the river’s character shifts dramatically from calm and peaceful to wild and woolly.

BC Hydro sounds a siren, then opens the sluice, suddenly releasing a torrent of water. This raises the Puntledge’s volume from 8 to 15 cubic metres per second (cms) to a thundering 80 cms, sometimes even 140 cms. 

It’s go-time for kayakers.

But it only happens 20 or so days a year.

For most of its fascinating journey from Comox Lake to where it meets the Tsolum River, the Puntledge tumbles in a series of roaring rapids, pools, and waterfalls.

Among kayakers, the Puntledge is renowned for so-called “play waves,” standing waves that paddlers can surf while not moving downstream.

Check out this video.

YouTube video
Paddling the Upper Puntledge after BC Hydro releases water
Credit: Rafting Life / Youtube

Kayakers come from far and wide to paddle Puntledge whitewater. There is even a festival devoted to it called Puntledge Fest.

Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 and province-wide travel restrictions, Puntledge Fest has been cancelled for the past three years.

But that didn’t stop paddlers when BC Hydro released water from the dam on a beautiful day last May.

Once COVID restrictions ease up, Vancouver Island Whitewater Paddling Society will likely resurrect the annual event.

But in the meantime, if you hear the siren, get your kayak and enjoy.

Two people are lucky to be alive after their boat caught fire 40 kilometres north of Vancouver Island.

A map of where the boat sank, and where the air squad and coast guards were dispatched.
Map from MARPAC.

They put out a mayday at about 1:30 p.m. on Monday, September 27th. A floatplane happened to spot them floating (and burning) off the shore of Egg Island. The pilot called in the boat’s coordinates.

Around this point, the two people managed to get off the blazing vessel and into a little rowboat.

The coast guard sent out two boats from Port Hardy.

And CFB Comox dispatched a CC-115 Buffalo airplane and a Cormorant helicopter from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron. They dropped a radio and sea rescue kit and circled for an hour until the rescue boats arrived.

Thankfully a fishing boat was passing by at the time. The fishers picked the two people up from their rowboat and transferred them safely to one of the Port Hardy coast guard ships.

The coast guard brought the two survivors to Port Hardy for a medical checkup. They were fine.

The boat, though, was not okay. It definitely sank.

Credit: MARPAC

Brooklyn Creek suffers every once in a while.

Rain water gets drained from streets and sidewalks into the stormwater system. It washes off all the dirt, car exhaust, and tire dust and flushes it straight into the creek.

For twenty years, engineers have been telling Comox town leaders that their stormwater practices suck. But for the most part, it doesn’t look like they’ve cared.

Only recently, that problem got worse.

On September 3rd, Comox town staff found a leak in the sewage pipes near the Hillside and Highland intersection. The leak let raw sewage drain straight into Brooklyn Creek.

They didn’t tell anyone about it until the released this news update on September 25th.

And they still haven’t said anything about how much raw shit spilled into Brooklyn Creek.

In the news release, they said:

No health risks to the public were identified and Council was not made aware of the issue though a number of residents in the area were informed of the work taking place

Town of Comox Response to Sanitary Leak at Hillside and Highland Intersection, September 25th 2021

But Comox town council isn’t exactly known for being open about big problems.

Brooklyn Creek starts in Courtenay, then passes through Area B before it gets to Comox. That means three different towns are in charge of maintaining it. Only none of them monitor the creek’s water quality.

You might want to ask your elected officials why nobody let Comox residents know that there was human shit flowing into Brooklyn Creek. Like, maybe let people know that their kids might have played in poo?

How about sending your town councillor an email?

Russ Arnott, Mayor: rarnott@comox.ca

Alex Bissinger: abissinger@comox.ca

Nicole Minions: nminions@comox.ca

Ken Grant: kgrant@comox.ca

Maureen Swift: mswift@comox.ca

Stephanie McGowan: smcgowan@comox.ca

Only a few more days until election day. Here’s an update on the candidates

Gord Johns

Credit: NDP

In the dying days of the federal election campaign, Gord Johns has been hard at it. The NDP incumbent has been hammering the governing Liberals on everything from inaction on Canada’s ongoing opioid overdose crisis to its mishandling of the Fish Harvester Benefit Program. In a recent Facebook post about DFO’s recent decision to claw back $18 million from the program, he called it “one more example of how the Trudeau Liberals have cost Canadians.” In addition, Johns recently put himself on the hot seat with the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce when they questioned him on the opioid crisis, affordable housing, and small business support.

In another FB post, Johns addressed affordable housing. He blamed the Liberal and Conservative governments for giving the ultra-rich a free ride. mHe said they failed to crackdown “on the big-money house flippers who are making big profits, taking advantage of tax loopholes and driving up house prices beyond the reach of everyday families.”

Mary Lee

The Conservative candidate was a no-show at last Thursday’s all-candidates meeting hosted by the North Island Students’ Union at the North Island College campus in Courtenay.

Facebook / Mary Lee CPC

For the most part, Lee’s official website directs voters to Conservative Party social media platforms. In a recent promotional video posted to Black Press’s Comox Valley Record, Lee pumped up the Conservative Party’s five-pillar strategy; secure jobs, secure accountability, secure mental health, secure the country and secure the economy.”

She also said that the main thing she has consistently heard when knocking on doors throughout the riding is concern about economic recovery from the pandemic.

Lee said her experience in the military and communications for the school district and other clients has given her a “people-centric approach.”

Sue Farlinger

Credit: Liberal Party

Like her Conservative counterpart, Farlinger leans heavily on party platform talking points. But, as a biologist and career senior public servant, she said she has worked with fishers, environmentalists, stewardship groups and aboriginal communities up and down the coast of B.C and in international fisheries negotiations.

“My experience in managing the diverse programs and relationships for Fisheries and Oceans in this region is based on a belief not only in evidence-based science but also in the need for understanding the knowledge, impacts and experience of individuals and communities to respond to these profound challenges,” she said in a campaign video posted to Black Press newspapers.

Farlinger is an ongoing contributor and member of the Oceanside 100 Women Who Care, an organization that has contributed $382,700 to local charities since 2017 and is a board member with the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

In the video, she said she wants to ”communicate the needs and interests of our communities to the Liberal government and put real solutions into action on the ground.”

Susanne LawsonCredit

The McGill University-educated graphic artist lives on an island near Tofino and has owned galleries in both Tofino and Gastown in Vancouver. 

Credit: Green Party

“A green movement around the globe is the necessary change to help us get out of the spiral of deteriorating life forces taking place. We need to be regenerating, renewing, repairing and restoring the natural world,” said Courtenay-Alberni Green Party candidate Susan Lawson in a recent interview.

Lawson is a long-time environmental activist who protested against old-growth logging in Clayoquot Sound in the early 1990s and mining in Strathcona Park. She was also co-chair of the Canadian Environmental Network based in Ottawa.

Lawson says we are at a critical time in our relationship with the planet and is calling for a paradigm shift “that looks at long term results rather than short-term profit.”

The Courtenay-Alberni Green Party Facebook page features posts about various social and environmental issues, from child poverty to a Nuu-Chah-Nulth resource management proposal for “salmon” parks on the West Coast.

Robert Eppich

Credit: PPC

Eppich has virtually no online information about his policy positions. Other than some broad statements about supporting small businesses, the Denman Island resident tweets mirror the Peoples Party of Canada’s pro-virus, pro-fossil fuels, freedom of speech, and anti-multiculturalism agenda.

Not all anti-vaxxers are alike. Some oppose vaccine cards, others the vaccines themselves, still others oppose mask requirements and other anti-COVID public health measures.

Anti-vaxxers are entitled to their opinions. But lately, some have started to use threats and violence.

You might have seen news clips of fury-filled American anti-vaxxers screaming and spitting and sometimes getting violent. Well, America’s angry, foolish anti-vaccine movement has snuck across the border like a virus.

Now we’re witnessing irate pro-virus protestors in Canada blocking ambulances and hospitals, cursing and throwing things at politicians, and intimidating business owners. They even forced an entire School District in the North Okanagan and Shuswap region to close down.

It’s serious! These extremists are a terrible influence as we keep fighting this seemingly endless pandemic.

The ugly trend has now reached the Comox Valley.

The owner of the Waverley Hotel in Cumberland, Don McClennan, received death threats after he announced on Facebook that his pub would be following the new mandate and checking everyone’s vaccine passports.

He had to close his business for two days to keep his staff safe.

In a string of hateful online comments, the anonymous, cowardly Victoria-based anti-vaxxer said, “I’m coming after you” and “you know what happens to Nazis.”

Then the language got even more threatening. The individual told McClennan on Facebook that, “You’re going down, and I’m going to be on the right side of history, and I will have an alibi.”

In a CTV News report, McClennan said he has no idea why someone in Victoria targeted his business in Cumberland. However, the comments have left him and his staff shaken.

“We’re very concerned about our business,” he said. “If he just wants to harm us on social media, that’s his own prerogative, but it sounds like he may be wanting to cause damage to my actual business. It’s very concerning.”

An RCMP spokesperson confirmed that they had opened a file and that police take the threats very seriously.

McClennan told CTV News that the vaccine passport mandate has put his staff in a terrible position.

“It’s a lot to put on a small business,” he said. “My staff has been through so much in the last 18 months, they’re literally afraid to have to do this. I’m going to be the one here for the next while asking people to show me their passport because I can’t put my staff through that.”

Beginning Sept 13, many businesses will have to check patrons for vaccine passports. The passports have to prove that folks coming in have at least one dose of vaccine. The businesses include pubs, restaurants, gyms, indoor art, music and sporting events with more than 50 people, casinos, and movie theatres.

By October 24, you won’t be allowed to enter non-essential businesses unless you are fully vaccinated.

The intensity of the anti-vaxxers demonstration will likely get worse as the rules become stricter.

It may be easy to laugh off or dismiss these incidents as one-offs from bad apples. But minimizing or denying the potential violence of these extremists is a big mistake.

While not all pro-virus protestors will become violent, these recent flareups show that some people will use threats and violence as they attempt to overwhelm others with their claims.

Ignoring these increasing violent threats, pretending they don’t exist, is irresponsible and will give unstated permission for further US-style violence and destruction.

The old E&N Railway cutting through downtown Courtenay isn’t getting any younger. The last train chugged down these tracks 10 years ago. The rails are rusty, the wooden ties are rotting, and weeds and bushes are overwhelming the tracks. Only a small section of the track in Nanaimo is still in use for freight.  

Map: WSP Canada

The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) owns the E&N. The non-profit has been trying for years to bring back railway passenger and freight service to Vancouver Island, and they got a rare win recently.

The Snaw-naw-nas First Nation had argued successfully in BC Supreme Court to have the 10 acres of E&N right of way passing through their community in Nanoose Bay returned to them. They say the land had sat idle for too long and was stolen from their people in the first place when Robert Dunsmuir was handed 8,000 square km of indigenous territory on the east side of Vancouver Island more than 100 years ago. But the ICF appealed.

In a decision early this week, the BC Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the ICF retaining ownership of the right of way. But there’s a catch. The courts will revisit the issue in 18 months unless the train buffs can secure the necessary funds to get the railway up and running again.  

It’s a tall order that will take major investment from governments. It could take more than $700 million to restore the tracks between Courtenay and Victoria, buy new rolling stock, and renovate or build new stations. It sounds like a lot on paper.

But when you consider that taxpayers spent $820 million a decade ago to build the new Port Mann Bridge crossing the Fraser River in the Lower Mainland, it starts to sound more reasonable.

Larry Stevenson, ICF’s executive director, welcomed the court’s decision. In a CHEK News report, he said he was still reading the fine print of the 100-page decision.

Stevenson and the ICF have long argued that population growth on southern Vancouver Island makes a strong argument for getting people out of their cars and onto trains.

The group wants to focus first on creating a commuter rail service from Langford to downtown Victoria. Anyone familiar with the notorious “Colwood Crawl” knows that something needs to be done about Greater Victoria’s awful rush hour traffic snarls. Still, it’s been a tough sell for ICF. The general public is addicted to single-occupancy vehicles, and transportation planners seem more focused on adding lanes, building interchanges and widening bridges.  The Greater Victoria Transit System believes more busses, not rail, is the solution to the region’s traffic woes.

According to the ICF, the gold standard for island rail would see the entire 225-km  line between Courtenay and Vic restored with freight and passenger service, and a schedule that works for travellers and commuters.  

At this point, it looks like a long shot.

Though the provincial government has paid for numerous E&N feasibility studies over the years, neither Victoria nor the feds seem anywhere close to writing cheques for rail restoration on Vancouver Island. The ICF has some public support and endorsement from community leaders along the rail corridor. But some people believe the tracks should be torn up and replaced with a biking path.  

The Snaw-naw-nas First Nation just wants the right of way back and is tired of waiting for something to happen. The ICF has been lobbying for 15 years to bring back trains – now, the group has until early 2023 to make it happen. And as each year passes, the cost of rail restoration only gets higher.