How does one begin to unpack a year like 2022 in Sooke?
It was a year we began to recover from a global pandemic. The world was supposed to return to normal (whatever that is). Yet, as hard as we tried, it was often done so in the context of the pandemic.
The homeless, mental health and overdose crisis, real estate, development, and the economy were all big stories in 2022. Still, there were other smaller tales, from untimely deaths to the return of Canada Day celebrations after a two-year absence.
The year began on a sad note with the death of local hockey star Grant Gilbertson, who died in a motor vehicle crash on the way to hockey practice in North Saanich on Jan. 3 en route from Sooke.
And while we were digging out of the cooling embers of the COVID threat, there was good news on the horizon – at least for some – with the news property assessments were skyrocketing by more than 40 per cent, but that came with a warning from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation that high prices and low supply were on the horizon for the Sooke housing market.
That prognostication came true by mid-year as the Bank of Canada began rising interest rates, and the economy began to sputter with inflation grabbing at our pocketbooks.
Sooke set an indubitable record in January with the report that there were more 911 overdose-related calls in Sooke than ever before. B.C Emergency Health Services says that during the pandemic, the number of calls has steadily increased, with Sooke recording 62 calls in 2021, up from 37 in 2020 and 36 in 2019.
Traffic, traffic, traffic and road delays sum up life in Sooke, but this year seemed particularly annoying as work continued on the $85-million upgrade of Highway 14 between Glinz Lake and Connie Road. And throw in extra work at Church Road, Charters Road and Otter Point Road, and many drivers hit the boiling point.
Luckily, the Transportation Ministry tells us by spring work we’ll be wrapped up on the Highway 14 work, but then again, they also said they’d have everything finished by fall.
Sooke wrote a new chapter with the opening of the new Vancouver Island Regional Library branch of Wadams Way. The iconic round building features diverse materials, study space, meeting rooms, and high-tech features. In addition, more staff were hired, and library hours were extended.
The Fairy Creek Watershed has been a forest battleground since August 2020, when protesters attempted to stop old-growth logging on the western edge of Fairy Creek on Pacheedaht Nation territory. That battle continued in 2022, with much of the fight in the courtroom. In early January, the RCMP released documents stating that enforcement at the site had cost taxpayers $10 million.
Meanwhile, Teal Jones, the forestry company at Fairy Creek, and Pacheedaht First Nation struck a deal and began talks to identify areas of joint economic opportunity while safeguarding the environment.
Sooke’s population officially crossed the 15,000-resident mark with the release of the 2021 census, up 16 per cent from 13,001 in 2016. The change means Sooke will need to cover more policing costs (up to 90 per cent), which could mean higher property taxes down the road.
Sooke’s last pay telephone was hung up for good. Tucked outside Pharmasave in Cedar Grove Shopping Centre, the phone line went dead in April. The use of payphones has dramatically declined over the past years, says Telus.
The aftermath of COVID had a chilling effect on emergency services. The Sooke News Mirror reported in April that ambulance service was at an all-time high, while in a consultant’s report, Sooke council was told that when paid-on-call volunteers take over from career staff at night and early in the morning, Sooke Fire Rescue fails to meet its eight-minute response time.
Two big events returned to Sooke after a two-year pandemic absence. Edward Milne Community School students participated in the first full-fledged spring graduation since 2019. The Sooke Lions Club and the District of Sooke opened the gates at Sooke Flats for Canada Day celebrations without fireworks.
The former Sooke Harbour House remained in the news throughout 2022 with news that the hotel’s former manager suing Facebook for $50 million, claiming the social media giant failed to remove an imposter account. The Sooke Harbour House was put back on the market again. North Vancouver-based IAG Enterprises bought the property for $5.6 million in July 2020.
Many Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks on their country landed in Sooke and were greeted with joyful hugs and tears. The community held several fundraisers, and a Ukrainian Safe Haven was built in East Sooke, housing several refugee families.
Residents west of Sooke got connected to the rest of the world with the construction of seven towers to expand cellular service on a 70-kilometre stretch of Highway 14 from Sooke to Port Renfrew has begun. The first cellular tower west of Sooke went into service at the end of May.
John Horgan announced in June that he would relinquish his position as premier of B.C. following a provincial NDP leadership convention in the fall because of concerns for his health, a drop in his energy level and a desire to spend more time with his family. Horgan, who recently completed treatment for throat cancer and is now cancer-free – will continue to serve as MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca until the next provincial election on Oct. 19, 2024.
And how was your year?