2014 started off with a chill as 200 to 300 Port Albernians plunged into the frigid waters of the Alberni Inlet for the first annual Polar Bear swim held at Canal Beach. Shortly after that, Tre Warren George became Port Alberni’s first baby of 2014.
Vietnamese students who came to Port Alberni as part of the Canada World Youth Exchange put on a show for locals with a fashion show, traditional songs and dances and a fashion show before leaving the Valley.
In slightly more mundane News, non-profits kicked off the city’s budget process, with the SPCA asking for more, McLean Mill for less and the chamber of commerce retaining the status quo.
The month then took a turn for the worse as vandals cut two 20-foot-long lengths of railroad tracks near McLean Mill.
The Valley then suffered further, with poachers illegally slaughtering elk in January. The Nuu-chah-Nulth Tribal Council, Tseshaht First Nation and other nations, local businesses and organizations stepped up with a $31,000 reward to catch the poachers, the largest reward for such a crime in Canadian history.
Another first in January was the city joining social media, logging onto both Twitter and Facebook. No word yet on whether the city will get an Instagram account, so for now locals will have to provide their own filtered views of Mt. Arrowsmith.
Eight Port Alberni businesses came out as finalists in the Vancouver Island Business Excellence Awards.
The city conducted some business of its own, approving the purchase of specialized equipment for the now under construction water treatment plant at Bainbridge Lake to comply with VIHA’s 4-3-2-1 drinking water regulations.
Council continued flashing the cash with a proposed salary increase. While council and mayor claimed the increase was to put their salaries in line with other communities and to attract more candidates, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said that comparisons to other cities shouldn’t be a basis for increases, nor is there a dearth of candidates as is.
Council asked the taxpayers to put up some cash yet again, with a proposed 5.3 per cent property tax increase for homeowners.
In sports, ADSS senior boys and girls both clinched their respective top spots in the 59th annual Totem basketball tournament, setting the tune for the rest of the season to come.
That same weekend, ADSS unveiled their sports wall of fame, and honoured several community members.
The month ended on a high note that was a decade in the making. Brandon Olebar, a falsely convicted Nuu-chah-nulth, finally got another chance at life outside of a jail cell. In 2003, Olebar, who was living in Washington state, was convicted in the assault and robbery of his sister’s boyfriend after the victim picked him out of a police lineup. Ten years into a 16-year prison term, he was exonerated when new, yet unprosecuted attackers where found. Three of those attackers signed sworn statements that Olebar was not involved in the assault and his decade-long nightmare was over.
Local realtor Dave Koszegi discovered that the 1967 Porsche he bought for scrap parts had belonged to folk singer Valdy in the early 1980s, leading him to restore the car to its former glory.
A fire destroyed an Argyle Street building that housed McGill Engineering and Associates and a Nuu-chal-nuth Tribal Council program.
Police and fire crews, who were called to the scene at 1:23 a.m. Family Day morning with temperatures dipping below -10 degrees Celsius, called the blaze suspicious.
That sort of work is what the VIU criminology students participating in a four-month internships program at the Port Alberni RCMP detachment will get to experience once they join the RCMP. But in February, the two students worked with both officers and police dogs in the ‘ident’ section of the detachment, as well as coordinating emergency plans for schools.
School District 70 had some planning of its own to do, with then superintendent Cam Pinkerton telling trustees that there were no options on the table that didn’t include closing schools. While all three school closure scenarios had their problems, families at Wood Elementary School came out to fight for the school’s continued existence, citing its central location and proximity to young, low-income families as a reason why closing it would be irresponsible.
Independent schools around the Valley also braced for change as they waited to see if instability in SD70 would drive parents to take their kids out of district.
The Robertson Creek Fish Hatchery was forced to make some tough choices when it killed 60,000 virus-infected fish in order to stop the high mortality virus from spreading.
The decisions continued with Port Alberni’s city council voting to allow residents the opportunity to vote in a non-binding referendum whether or not they wanted a 10th Avenue crossing over Roger Creek at a cost of $12 million dollars.
Council also chose to boost its own pay, up to $38,540 for the mayor and $17,041 for council.
In other business, Safeway became Save-on-Foods and work finally began on the creek diversion at McLean Mill.
On the arts scene, the Portal Players broke new ground in their Wizard of Oz production. From a green screen to green makeup, Dorothy’s trip down the yellow brick road was nothing short of spectacular.
In sports, hundreds of wrestlers came to Port Alberni for the 31st annual Alberni Invitational Tournament, nine athletes headed off to the B.C. Winter Games and one Alberni Valley-born referee got all the way to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The News’ 2014 year in review will continue next week.