Two broader themes united the five leading stories that appeared in the Peninsula News Review in 2021: the ongoing emergence of the Saanich Peninsula as a hub of economic activity with accompanying infrastructure challenges in the face of future growth and climate change and the reckoning with the region’s past and sense of self.
Beacon Wharf proposal sinks
Likely no other issue connected both categories better than the community-wide debate about the future of Sidney’s iconic Beacon Wharf. While the fate of the aging facility had sparked discussions in the past, recent efforts (which had actually started in the summer of 2020) revealed strong public opposition to a proposal to replace the wharf with a floating pontoon featuring a mixed private-public building as part of a private-public partnership between the Town of Sidney and the Marker Group.
Proponents of the pontoon pointed to its favourable economics and adaptability to climate change, but underestimated the status of the wharf as Sidney’s signature building, as evident by the multiple petitions calling for the preservation of the facility circulating through the community soon after the proposal had formally emerged.
This opposition climaxed on Oct. 30, when an estimated 100 people protested in favour of retaining and refurbishing the wharf. Days later, council voted unanimously to maintain the wharf for as long as is practically possible in sinking the controversial pontoon proposal. (Council also voted to undertake a condition assessment of the wharf in 2023 at which point the future Council will consider next steps).
But if the public opposition to the pontoon proposal was significant, with some favouring some version of the status quo, the prior public discourse did not generate a common vision that might allow the municipality to move forward, at least for now, with 2028, the apparent best-before-date of the wharf, slowly but inevitably approaching with each passing day.
Truth and reconciliation
Less visible for the public, but far more personal and painful were the revelations of Kathleen Horne, a member of the Tsawout First Nation, who spoke with Black Press Media about surviving the Alberni Indian Residential School, a state-sponsored place of mental, physical and sexual abuse for multiple generations.
Horne, who is married to local artist Doug LaFortune, was four years old when she first arrived at the facility, learning from the very first moment and many more after, that she, her siblings, their culture and language affronted school authorities, who in term deemed them undeserving of the most basic human dignities. She suffered hunger and beatings at the hands of those nominally tasked with her well-being in a cruel, de-humanizing reversal of education. Deep are the scares that the youngest of nine children still carries with her, as are those of the generations who came before and after her.
Others, as evident by the official and unofficial death count associated with the residential school system, paid the ultimate cost and Horne’s decision to share her story helps give a voice to those who cannot share their stories.
Central Saanich company emerges as global leader
The term hidden champion refers to a relatively small company, concealed to the broader public but a global leader in its field. Central Saanich’s Redlen Technologies, which builds advanced medical imaging equipment among other items, is no longer so hidden after Canon — a corporate behemoth by any measure — purchased the remaining 85 per cent of Redlen’s stock not already under its control for $341 million.
The announcement made in September promises to put Central Saanich on the map and draws attention to the increasingly diverse (and valuable) companies that operate on the Saanich Peninsula.
Chris Erickson, general partner with Pangaea Ventures, the investment fund that helped to finance Redlen Technologies’ growth predicted earlier that the company will be worth billions, thanks to its technology for the development and production of cadmium zinc telluride (CZT) semiconductor detector modules used in diagnostic imaging systems, security systems and other devices.
Amazon moves to Sidney
No one needed to look up the company Edmonton-based York Realty announced on Aug. 18 as its tenant of the warehouse currently under construction on Victoria Airport Authority land within the municipal boundaries of Sidney.
Amazon has revolutionized retail while becoming a reviled symbol for corporate greed and malfeasance in the books of many, including local MP Elizabeth May, who questioned whether the company would fit into the community, even before officially learning of its arrival.
As such, she was just one of many individuals speculating (some in favour, others not) about the would-be identity of York Realty’s future tenant. If some were not flattering in their criticism, others were willing to give the company the benefit of doubt, including retail expert Richard Talbot as well as local business leaders, who see Amazon’s choice of Sidney over other parts of Greater Victoria as proof of its attractiveness as a transportation hub. But questions remain, including who pays for necessary improvements to the increasingly rickety transportation infrastructure near the future Amazon site.
Perhaps lost in commentary about Amazon’s corporate citizenship and concrete demands for roundabouts were broader lessons in political communication. Galaran Road residents living near the facility had to find about it through the media, just hours after the public-at-large received their first and incomplete look at the facility at a council meeting, with members of council seemingly caught off-guard themselves. Geoff Dickson, president and chief executive officer of the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA), noted in the spring of 2021 that the VAA needed to do a better job in communicating.
In the end, public pressure paid off as York Realty made what it called significant changes to the height and massing of the building months before announcing Amazon as its tenant.
Blindspot leaves taxiway sitting idle
Finally, another type of U-turn entered the public discourse in the spring of 2021 when the public heard that a taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport, which came with a price tag of $4.3 million, is sitting unused due to a blind spot.
The Taxi Echo East project completed in 2019 expanded the taxiway by roughly 366 metres – a solution for the current system, which requires pilots to taxi jets down the runway and complete a U-turn in order to position themselves for take-off.
But the extension lies in a blind spot for the airport’s control tower and therefore is unusable.
These were the top five most-read stories on the Peninsula News Review’s website in 2021.
If you have a story suggestion, you’d like to see in 2022, email firstname.lastname@example.org.