2014: The Saanich Peninsula year in review

Part 1: Stories selected by the Peninsula News Review of the year that was in Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich

  • Dec. 31, 2014 9:00 a.m.

It’s funny how looking back can give you a sense of your community that just isn’t possible when you’re living day to day, following the news as it develops.

That’s why the  editorial staff at the Peninsula News Review looks forward to the Year in Review feature that we run at the beginning of every new year. It gives us perspective, and it makes us realize what a privilege it is to serve this remarkable community. Today, it’s the first six months of 2014. On Facebook (www.facebook.com/PeninsulaNewsReview) we’ll post some of our favourite photos from the past year.

One story of the Peninsula isn’t a single story at all, but a collection of tales of generosity. By January 15 we had already run stories about how the North Saanich fire fighters were raising money for a needy family. Then came a piece on the success of the Toys for Tots program. But our favorite visual came in mid-January when Airport Santa Al Paterson sacrificed his signature white hair and beard in support of Victoria Hospice. This is that story.



Airport Santa helping Hospice

Santa shaved it all off this week at the Victoria International Airport. But don’t worry, the demise of the white hair and big white beard was for a good cause.

Al Paterson, known to many as Airport Santa, shaved off his long white hair and beard on Jan. 9 in support of Victoria Hospice.

Paterson works as a Commissionaire at the airport and began his role as Airport Santa in 2009, after his wife died of cancer, with the idea to raise money for Victoria Hospice (he was moonlighting as Santa Claus years before when he was in the Royal Canadian Navy).

“I like to donate to the hospice because they really do a phenomenal job,” said Paterson last Thursday.

This year he has raised almost $4,000 for the Hospice.



The natural beauty of the community was brought to our attention when, in late January, it was announced that portions of Sidney would be used as the backdrop of a TV series remake of the U.K. crime series, Broadstreet.  The series, called Gracepoint,  starred David Tennant (a former Dr. Who) and it brought out the whimsy in some as Dr. Who props popped up in some Sidney locations.

But in case we became too complacent about our good fortune at being Sidney by the Sea, a month later a storm hit the waters outside our communities and three boats were sunk.

Two others ended up beached on our shores. The images were memorable.

Here is that story.

Boats break free in winter storm

Boats were torn from their moorings in Tsehum Harbour during high winds recently and washed up on shore, starting the challenge of getting them back in the water.

Overnight Tuesday, Feb. 4, a storm blew up in the harbour and two vessels were sent onto the beach in front of Sidney waterfront residents. Accompanying them was a large amount of debris from another three vessels that sank.

Janet Rooke, harbour master at the Tsehum Harbour Authority, says at least one derelict sailboat had sunk in the first winter storm back in November and is still out there. The two sailboats on the beach, she continued, have been there at least once before.

“Two months ago, the smaller one broke free and washed up in almost the same place,” she said.

The boat was dug out and towed back into the harbour to a new mooring. The owner was notified.

The larger of the two has also broken loose in the past, Rooke said, but she does not know who owns it. Despite that, she said it was returned to a mooring prior to the most recent storm.

Rooke said it’s up to the boat owners to arrange to have them towed off of the beach. In the event an owner cannot be found, she said people like herself and her husband spend their own time getting the vessels upright again.



The peninsula sometimes feels like a place locked in time, but looking back we can see that change is always happening around us. By March we had done stories on land swaps, groups that were working to change traffic flow patterns and proposed retail developments.

But we were reminded that change is sometimes associated with the passing of memories and traditions.

Take the story of Colleen Jewell (March 14) She had worked at Sandown race track for 25 years. Her smile seemed a little bittersweet as she recalled her time there.

A life on track

Colleen Jewell says she’s not very interested in what happens on the proposed commercial land being broken off from the Sandown horse racing track in North Saanich.

What she is interested in, is what will happen to the rest of the property now that its horse racing past will be torn down to make way for agricultural use.

“I’m sure they’ll do what they need to do (in the proposed Sandown Commons shopping centre), but North Saanich is going to need knowledgable people to take care of the ALR land.”

North Saanich municipal council recently approved plans for a $40 million commercial development on 12 acres of the Sandown property. And in a plan that has been two years in the works, the grandstand and other buildings will be removed, the land cleaned up and left to the residents to decide what to do with it.

For Jewell, 83, the end of horse racing at Sandown in 2008-’09 was the end of an era — where she spent 25 years and met her husband Roy Jewell.

This next phase in the life of Sandown — and the fact that most, if not all, of it will vanish — is bringing back a lot of her memories from when she worked as a trainer, breeder and tester of horses at the racetrack.

The News Review met Jewell as she looked over scrapbook pages detailing some of the history and news clippings on Sandown during one of the developer’s open houses.

She agreed to walk the grounds at the track and tell us about her life as a young woman, proving herself to the owners and jockeys at Sandown.



And speaking of change…

Public participation in the governance process prompted an April 16 editorial in which Sidney residents were urged to put aside the sometimes short sighted infighting that had characterized a debate over a large retail initiative.

The story on that initiative served to remind us that change was inevitable, and that the public participation that is an innate part of life on the peninsula was alive and well.

Retail initiative garners support

Some 50 residents and business owners have stepped up to take a more active role in the future of retail in Sidney’s downtown core.

A new group called Save Our Sidney (SOS) has formed under the direction of the Sidney Tourism Improvement Group (STIG) and Steve Duck of the TIDES Group.

They held a forum April 9 at the Mary Winspear Centre, featuring retail consultant Richard Talbot and local business owner Garry Froese.

Froese, owner of In Touch Cards and Gifts on Beacon Avenue, said Sidney finds itself under siege right now from proposed commercial developments in Central Saanich (Jesken Town Centre) and North Saanich (Sandown Commons).

“Vacancy rates are high and (the Town) has no long-range business plans — only beautification,” Froese said.

“There are businesses in Sidney that do not have the wherewithal to hang on for two more years.”

That timeline is being touted by Talbot as the buffer between now and when the new commercial properties start to develop.

“Sidney isn’t seen as a destination shopping hub,” Froese continued. “We need to be able to attract people outside of the community … as well as hold on to our local customers.”

Froese outlined a series of actions he suggests the Town take — from improved parking and drop-off zones, to lower commercial taxes and uniform business hours.

Talbot, making his third public presentation on threats to local retail, said his hope is that the SOS group gets plenty of public support to back up the efforts of the recently-announced Mayor’s Task Force on Sidney’s downtown.

“As a professional in this field, it would be remiss of me not to do anything,” he said. “If nothing is done, Sidney might have to downsize its downtown, like Oak Bay or Ganges.”



Development and change continued to make it into the news when, in May, a major gateway project was announced in a partnership between the Town of Sidney and the Victoria Airport Authority.

Gateway project takes off

Mayor Larry Cross is enthusiastic about a partnership with the Victoria Airport Authority to create a gateway to Sidney and the south Island.

The Town of Sidney and the Victoria Airport Authority announced on May 1 a partnership to develop 10 acres of land next to the Pat Bay Highway. The municipality and the VAA have signed a memorandum of understanding on a proposal to develop a commercial/industrial site south of Beacon Avenue West, between the highway and Galaran Road. Cross says he wants to see a portion of the land used for a tourist information centre that will help draw travelers off the highway and into his community.

“It’s to be the gateway to Sidney and the rest of the Island,” he said, noting that the proposal will go well with a planned pedestrian overpass.



Life on the peninsula sometimes feels a bit removed from the rest of the Island.

The atmosphere sometimes lets us forget that we are part of a greater whole and that what happens elsewhere can and does impact our own communities.

That was certainly never more true than when the B.C teachers’ union began a series of rotating strikes. That job action would escalate, keeping area schools closed well into September.

Teachers frustrated by a lack of progress

This is not the way that Marilyn Hodgson wants to end her 35-year teaching career.

The Grade 2/3 teacher at Kelset Elementary School in North Saanich was helping her peers hang cardboard cutouts on the school fence during Tuesday’s walkout by teachers in School District 63 (Saanich) and in other B.C. jurisdictions. Those cutouts, she said, represent the 14.85 positions cut by the school board due to funding constraints.

“This is how my 35 years of teaching will end,” Hodgson said. “And it’s strike number four in my career.”

She said it’s a bad note to go out on but added she has never worked so hard in her career than she has in the last five years. Hodgson blames class sizes and the number of special needs students for the increased workload. Classrooms with 30 perfect students is one thing, she said, reality is different.


— commentary and story compilation by Tim Collins

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