Time to say farewell

Reporter Katya Slepian says goodbye.

A former fire chief snaps a photo of my attempt to drive the Port Alberni Fire Department's vintage fire truck.

The one cardinal rule of being a reporter: never make the paper.

It’s a rule I’ve broken just three times over my almost two-and-half-years with the News—once when I started here, once in a letter to the editor and once just last week when I was half of a council delegation on bike racks.

Today, I’m breaking it for the final time as I bid the community farewell.

I came to Port Alberni in July 2014 straight out of journalism school with no idea of what was in store for me.

My first, panicked day ended with a city council meeting. I took rushed and scrambled notes on new transit passes, a proposed water treatment plant and pot bellied pigs. What seemed like a billion strangers shook my hand and welcomed me to the community. The fire chief gave me his card and told me they’d be demonstrating a pier rescue in the morning—did I want to come?

I did indeed, although I wasn’t quite sure what I was agreeing to. I almost fell off the pier trying to get a good enough shot.

Saying yes first and considering the implications later became standard practice—a month in I met a machete-wielding logging road engineer in a ravine based only on a text from our then-mayor.

I stumbled into journalism by accident. The daughter of an engineer who never answered the question of ‘why is the sky blue?’ with ‘because,’ the thought of pestering people for a living appealed to me greatly.

I’ve learned plenty in my time here: I’ve hiked through old growth, seen every bit of the city’s water system, stood on top of the Philippine Mars and was embedded with Vancouver’s Task Force 1 heavy urban search and rescue team for Exercise Coastal Response. I’ve seen more sewage in the past two years than you’ll see in your lifetime.

This job has come with incredible perks—I’ve driven a fire truck, skated on frozen lakes and made a water buffalo BFF.

Reporting, like every job, has its negatives. I’ve covered murders, child predators and countless car accidents. I’ve seen people’s entire lives go up in flames before their eyes. But I’ve also seen the good. A woman giving up a kidney so a stranger could live. City works crews up in the middle of the night so the water never stops flowing from your tap. Countless people who welcomed me into their homes and made me part of their lives.

The good in Port Alberni outweighs the bad. Many of the people above have become personal friends. I’ve collaborated with others on projects outside my work—including as part of the Young Professionals. See the Dry Creek Community Garden and the tsunami public art project? That’s us. Soon, a series of bike racks will adorn your streets courtesy of the group and many generous partners.

A few us of are kiteboarding, running and watching sunsets in the city’s ‘I get it’ campaign. It’s a legacy I’m proud to be a part of.

Today’s edition of the paper will be my last. On Monday, I join Black Press’ digital team in Surrey. I hope you’ll welcome my replacement as warmly as you did me.