The biggest news of the year? The return of non-pandemic news.
Putin invaded Ukraine. BoJo got bounced in Britain. Canada’s hockey women beat the U.S. at the Olympics and Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. The Queen died, and so did your will to live after six weeks of Johnny Depp-Amber Heard testimony. Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion US, which is, coincidentally, how much you spent on groceries.
No, things aren’t back to the way they were — 2022 wasn’t like rewinding the tape to 2019. Still, with quadruple-vaccinated Vancouver Islanders treating COVID as something less than an existential crisis, this was the year life got moving again, in good ways and bad.
With that in mind, here are 22 non-COVID stories Islanders will remember from 2022.
1. SAANICH SHOOTOUT
Could there be a less-likely time and place for a deadly gunfight? On June 28, at 11 a.m. on a quiet Tuesday, a shot shattered the calm at the Bank of Montreal on Shelbourne Street, where the 20-plus people inside found themselves confronted by two heavily armed men in body armour. Witnesses would later describe the pair as calm and unhurried. As police from Saanich and Victoria poured to the scene, the robbers left the bank, but got no farther than the parking lot before dying in an exchange of gunfire that also left six members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team wounded. The car driven by the gunmen — 22-year-olds Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie, part of a set of triplets from the Cowichan Valley — was later found to hold explosive devices.
Last week, the Independent Investigations Office — B.C.’s police watchdog — released a report that praised officers for their actions and, in chilling detail, revealed the sequence of events that morning. We still have little insight, though, into what led the Auchterlonies, two men with no criminal records, to do what they did. The findings of a Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit investigation are still to come.
The last of the wounded police officers was released from hospital Sept. 7.
Within hours of the Feb. 24 invasion, Victoria was bathed in yellow and blue. The Ukrainian flag flew outside the legislature, and the TC printed a full-page version suitable for taping in windows. Liquor stores banned Russian vodka. Esquimalt’s Compassionate Resource Warehouse filled a shipping container with donations for refugees. We were shocked when, in April, Victoria’s Ukrainian-Catholic priest and his family barely escaped after someone set their Caledonia Street house on fire at 1 a.m.
But, inevitably, our attention drifted just as uprooted Ukrainians began to arrive in numbers. By the beginning of December, there were 700 of them on Vancouver Island. They still need support.
For sale: one head of lettuce, only 10 per cent down and low monthly payments on approved credit. (Just kidding. They would never finance 90 per cent.)
Blame the wonky supply chain, higher wages, the war in Ukraine, or good old-fashioned corporate greed, but Canada’s inflation rate reached levels we haven’t seen since Gretzky was an Oiler. Victoria’s consumer price index rose 7.9 per cent October to October. Did your paycheque/pension go up that much?
4. THE LABOUR SHORTAGE
Construction projects stalled. The big signs outside fast-food joints pleaded for burger flippers. Hotels stopped renting out rooms they couldn’t clean. B.C.’s health-care system (motto: “Come for the long hours, stay for the lunatic fringe protesters”) had 4,265 unfilled nursing jobs in March. In November, Greater Victoria’s unemployment rate fell to just 3.5 per cent.
Where did all the workers go? Some just shifted sectors: Young people who lost their hospitality-industry jobs during the pandemic found posts that didn’t involve short skirts/sore feet/rude customers. But COVID wasn’t the only factor; Victoria’s unemployment rate was even lower — 3.0 per cent — just before the plague hit in March 2019. In part, the labour shortage comes down to demographics. In the city with the lowest birth rate in Canada, there aren’t enough skilled workers to replace the mass of retiring baby boomers.
Remember the good old days of 2021 when you had to choose between A) paying the rent/mortgage and B) eating? Now it’s too expensive to do either.
Back in the Peter Pollen era, politicians were praised for protecting the low-rise, low-density City of Gardens against what were cast as greedy developers. But in 2022, with a yawning affordability gap dividing those who bought decades ago from would-be buyers stuck on the outside, density was touted as a way to close the divide. Victoria council wrestled with its missing-middle initiative, while new premier David Eby’s housing initiatives included leaning on reluctant municipalities to hit growth targets. Will there ever be enough homes to satisfy demand, though? As fast as they’re built, people move here to fill them. Greater Victoria added 10,000 dwellings between 2016 and 2021, but its population rose by 30,000. Even with interest rates cooling the market, the benchmark price for a single-family house in the core was $1.3 million in November, up 4.6 per cent in a year.
6. FAMILY DOCTORS
If it was jarring to see lawn signs declaring Everyone Deserves A Family Doctor pop up outside even the swankiest homes, it also showed the breadth of the crisis as one million of B.C.’s five million residents found themselves without a physician. Early this month, B.C. doctors ratified a $308-million package meant to lure/retain more of them. Keep your arthritic fingers crossed that it works.
7. THE QUEEN
Have you sung God Save The King yet? How weird did that feel? Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8 at age 96, was the only monarch most of us had ever known. Some, though, are old enough to remember the first of her seven trips to Vancouver Island, in 1951 — her only visit as a princess, not a queen. The 25-year-old capped that stay by driving over the Malahat, Philip at the wheel, just another young couple off for a holiday near Qualicum. Little did she know that four months later her father would die and she would begin another journey that would last 70 years.
8. FREEDOM CONVOYS
What ticked you off the most: the clogged streets, the non-stop horn-honking, the Trumpian truthiness, the way they triumphantly weaponized the flag? Or, if you opposed pandemic measures, did you see the “freedom” convoys that descended on the legislature in January as being as legitimate as any other protests here in the contrarian capital of Canada?
It was a year of disruptive demonstrations — Douglas Street, the Trans-Canada and the Pat Bay Highway were among routes blockaded by those protesting in the name of climate action and old-growth preservation — but they petered out as public patience wore thin. In June, an activist blocking the highway near Swartz Bay ended up in hospital after a frustrated driver snapped the support beam of a platform holding the protester aloft.
9. BALLOT BOX REVOLT
Here’s the thing with municipal council terms being extended to four years: By the time voters finally get a chance to cast a ballot, they’re often itching for change.
This year’s election wasn’t about voting new people in as much as it was about throwing the old ones out. Of the capital region mayors whose re-election was contested, only Sooke’s Maja Tait and Esquimalt’s Barb Desjardins were voted back in. Incumbents Fred Haynes of Saanich, Rob Martin of Colwood, David Screech of View Royal and — stunningly — 29-year fixture Stew Young of Langford, who lost to a guy no one had ever heard of, all got tossed. In Victoria, Ben Isitt, the lone incumbent to run for re-election as a councillor, went from topping the polls in 2018 to 11th place, even though the top five spots this time went to candidates who, like Isitt, leaned decidedly to the left.
10. JOHN HORGAN
Never mind the partisan politics, ordinary people connected with Horgan because he could relate to them and their problems. B.C.’s first premier from Vancouver Island since 1941 graduated from Reynolds, worked in the mill, was a Star Trek nerd, bled Shamrocks green, and bought a non-mansion in Langford more than 30 years ago and never moved out. Premier Dad was the guy who, after young female servers at Mr. Mike’s were abused by diners for enforcing pandemic rules, quietly dropped by the Langford restaurant on his way home (on his own birthday no less) to encourage the rattled staff. Horgan, who announced in June that he was stepping down, was replaced by Eby in November. At 63, and after his second brush with cancer, he is a rarity: a B.C. premier who left office without being chased or voted out.
11. MUSEUM FIASCO
The backlash was immediate when, in May, the province announced the Royal B.C. Museum would be closed in September, torn down and replaced by a $789-million version that wouldn’t open until 2030. By then, there had already been widespread grumbling over the 2021 decision to close third-floor galleries in the name of decolonization, a head-scratcher for those who couldn’t see anything offensive in the kid-friendly railway station, Old Town and other popular exhibits. Now the province wanted to rob the city of a major attraction for eight years? The argument that the museum was seismically risky and ridden with asbestos failed to silence the complaints. Horgan, taking the blame, abandoned the plan in June. Still to be determined is what happens with the scaled-down museum that remains. A three-year (!) public consultation process begins in January.
12. CATCH AND RELEASE
A man takes a hammer to the back of the head in an unprovoked attack on Pandora. Another is stabbed while sitting on a Victoria bench, minding his own business. A rock through the window leaves an unsuspecting woman with bad facial injuries downtown. What was with the surge in stranger attacks? Some blamed so-called catch-and-release practices flowing from federal bail changes and the way they have been interpreted in B.C., with those accused of disturbing crimes being spat back onto the streets before the cops have even finished their paperwork. A plea for help from B.C.’s Urban Mayors’ Caucus, co‑chaired by Victoria’s Lisa Helps, cited the example of 10 chronic offenders who have recorded 1,385 negative interactions with police over two years. In November, Eby, in what looked like a political Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion, announced public-safety measures that included a shift in bail policy and a crackdown on violent, repeat offenders.
13. THE REBOUND
As Joni Mitchell sang: Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. Which is why, when dormant events emerged from COVID hibernation, Victorians embraced them like I-thought-you-were-dead survivors of the Titanic: HarbourCats games, the Times Colonist book sale, the TC 10K, the Victoria Day parade, Deuce Days, the art walk, Swiftsure, neighbourhood markets….
Some rebounded spectacularly — hello Rifflandia, back after an extended absence — but others struggled to clear logistical hurdles. (Who would have thought there would be a portapotty shortage?)
14. FERRY TALES
In the good old days, we worried about two-sailing waits. This year, we sometimes wondered if ferries would leave the dock at all. Your holiday planning felt like playing roulette as crew shortages forced cancellations.
Also cancelled: the idea that B.C. Ferries was free of political interference. CEO Mark Collins was punted by a new board that had the NDP government’s fingerprints all over it. (You could tell because the Queen of Oak Bay was renamed the Spirit of Tommy Douglas. Well, no, but you get the idea.)
Crew shortages were also blamed for keeping Washington State Ferries’ Sidney-Anacortes run in its COVID coma. It is not expected to resume until the summer, if then. April’s easing of cross-border testing requirements uncorked the flow of Coho and Clipper passengers, though.
15. AIRY TALES
OK, it wasn’t just the ferries. Security logjams, cancelled flights, mountains of lost luggage — this isn’t how we dreamed of post-pandemic travel. At one point, Air Canada even stopped taking pets as cargo, fearing the airport chaos could strand them in their kennels.
16. BEAR HENRY
In February, 74 days after getting lost en route to a Fairy Creek protest camp, 37-year-old Bear Henry walked out of the forest 60 pounds lighter but alive, with a survival story of being stranded in a camper van in the Caycuse watershed, eating cat food, tinned vegetables and raw rice soaked in water.
B.C.’s non-story of 2022: the lack of Old Testament disasters. No killer heat domes like the summer of 2021. No weeks on end of orange, apocalyptic, streetlights-on-at-3-p.m. forest fire skies. No wild November weather washing out the Malahat and cutting the West Coast’s rail and highway links to the rest of Canada, either. Guess that means the climate-change crisis has passed, eh? Whew!
18. DRUG DEATHS
It’s the epidemic that never ends. B.C. recorded 1,827 illicit-drug deaths in the first 10 months of 2022, more than in the same period last year. So why don’t we fixate on them like COVID? The answer, of course, is that COVID is contagious. Drug deaths feel like something that affects other people — until it’s someone you know.
19. TIP CREEP
A healthy gratuity for your server, sure — but your proctologist? Well, no, it wasn’t quite that bad, but this was the year you were nudged toward tip options (and high ones, too!) at places — retailers, liquor stores, auto shops — you had never considered tipping before.
20. RUNNING RECORD
In July, Alberta massage therapist Dave Proctor reached the Terry Fox statue at Mile Zero, breaking Island running legend Al Howie’s St. John’s-to-Victoria record with a new mark of 67 days, 10 hours. Proctor would have been faster had it not been for a three-day wait for a ferry at Tsawwassen. (Joking! Sort of.)
Just down from the Fox statue — in its shadow, figuratively speaking — is the beach where one-legged runner Steve Fonyo completed his own cross cross-Canada journey in 1985. Fonyo, a troubled soul, died in a Burnaby hotel room in February at age 56.
21. WAKE UP, WE’RE EXCITING
This summer, a study ranked Victoria the top city in Canada for a night on the town. For real. No, stop laughing. Yes, we know this is the city that invented 4:30 p.m. late-night dining, but we even beat Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
Was this a scientific study? Let’s just say the effort, based on TripAdvisor approval ratings, was appropriate for a year in which so many people “did their own research.”
Ottawa had the truck convoy. Vancouver had gang shootings. Here? The award for the Most Victoria Story of 2022 goes to what the TC’s Cindy Harnett dubbed “picklebrawl.”
National media, always happy to confirm a regional stereotype (we’re cast as either pearl-clutchingly fussy or eye-rollingly woke) had a field day as noise complaints chased grey-haired pickleball players out of James Bay.
Oh, if only that were the worst of our problems in 2022.
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