The Island

Jack Knox is an award-winning columnist, now in his 32nd year with the Victoria Times Colonist.

Well, that crept up quickly: Another decade almost done. Goodbye Tumultuous Tens, hello Roaring Twenties 2.0.

Wasn’t Y2K just yesterday? No. That was 20 years ago, not 10, and the past 10 were punctuated by events you have already forgotten.

We saw Gangnam Style, Occupy Wall Street, the Ice Bucket Challenge, ISIS, Brexit, Syria, the zika virus, #MeToo, the AR-15 and “post-truth.” We were mesmerized by the ultimately uplifting — literally — story of 33 trapped Chilean miners in 2010, only to be dragged down by Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot a year later.

“If I hear my mother make one more 50 Shades Of Grey reference, I’m going to meet my goal weight,” someone tweeted in 2012, while in 2013 you learned what “twerking” and “selfie” meant (but hopefully, didn’t use them in the same sentence). Malaysian flight 370 disappeared in 2014.

In 2015, Jose Bautista flipped his bat and Tom Brady deflated his balls. Fort McMurray went up in flames in 2016. So did your faith in democracy/decency when Trump was elected.

We saw Nazis march in Charlottesville in 2017, the rescue of a boys’ soccer team from a Thai cave in 2018 and this year, the arrival of Uber in B.C. (just kidding).

Plenty of stories to remember here in B.C., too. Some won’t end: the pipeline debate, the opioid crisis, the price of housing and the cost of homelessness. Some we’d like to forget: the Nanaimo mill shooting of 2014, the Tofino boat tragedy a year later and a string of crimes that chilled us to the core.

Here are some of the others — not the most significant events, just ones that flared brightly, if briefly, over the past decade. In no particular order:

THE OLYMPICS

OK, it was like being forced to watch the best house party ever from the far side of the street.

Still, even while stuck/safe over here on the wrong/sane side of the strait, it was hard to ignore the lows (a lack of snow, death on the luge run) and highs (Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal, Vancouver’s infectious energy) of the 2010 Games. In fact, B.C. Ferries was almost overwhelmed with foot traffic as Islanders flocked to the Olympics; the Swartz Bay long-term parking lot overflowed for the first time ever.

Then there were all those foreign tourists who shuttled back and forth on the ferries each day, not having realized Vancouver wasn’t on Vancouver Island when they booked their accommodation.

TAMIL MIGRANTS

It felt like déjà vu in August 2010 when the freighter Sun Sea was apprehended and sailed into CFB Esquimalt with 492 Sri Lankan Tamils stuffed on board. A smaller vessel carrying 76 Tamil men had been shepherded into Ogden Point the year before.

Victoria’s reaction was mixed. Half the residents greeted the smuggled migrants with open arms, while the other half rushed to repel them at bayonet point.

ROADSIDE BANS

Bars and restaurants howled about lost business when drivers quit drinking rather than risk blowing .05 and being subjected to B.C.’s new immediate (and expensive) roadside prohibitions in 2010. Hotels learned to rely on cold beer and wine stores for profits that used to come from pubs.

CROTCH WATCH

In 2010 new BC law sed stop talk/texting w/driving WTF! Cops wrote 20,000 $167 tiks in first six months. Good thg nobody still txts w/driving in 2019 LOL oops call 911 just hit deer.

THE TSUNAMI GLIDE

Of all the debris from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami to wash up on our shores, one item stood out: a motorcycle found in a crate half-buried on a remote Haida Gwaii beach in 2012. Hauled to Victoria’s Steve Drane Harley-Davidson for restoration that April, the 2004 FXSTB Softail Night Train was traced to 29-year-old Ikuo Yokoyama of Yamamoto, who declined an offer to have it returned. Instead, he asked that it be displayed at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as a memorial to those killed in the earthquake and tsunami.

HEALTH FIRINGS

It was a dark chapter for B.C.’s public service: In 2012, seven Health Ministry researchers were fired and a contractor lost his job over a “privacy breach” that was never really explained, and that eventually turned out to be unsubstantiated. It took several years, but those fired ultimately received apologies and were reinstated, though by that time one of them, UVic co-op student Roderick MacIsaac, had committed suicide.

RYDER THE RIDER

Author Richard Poplak called it “the single greatest accomplishment by a Canadian athlete in the history of the country.” The Toronto Star was only slightly more muted: “Ryder Hesjedal’s come-from-behind victory at the Giro d’Italia … ranks among the most impressive individual accomplishments by a professional Canadian athlete. Ever.”

BCers still don’t grasp how big a deal it was in May 2012 when the Belmont grad became the first Canadian to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tour races. There were 1.3 billion unique internet searches on his name in the month he won the 3,502-kilometre race.

LIONS AND TIGERS …

Remember the olden days when we got worked up about urban deer?

OK, they’re still here, but now we have critters with teeth and claws, too. There was the lone wolf that took up residence on Discovery and Chatham Islands in 2012. Then, in October 2015, a wayward cougar discovered what all Victorians know: It’s really hard to get out of James Bay.

Langford’s Ginger Morneau photographed the city’s wildest wildlife encounter: an octopus drowning a gull off the Ogden Point breakwater in 2012. No truth to the rumour the octopus was hired by vengeful streetcleaners.

… AND BEARS

Ricky Gervais let his 10.2 million Twitter followers know about it after the B.C. government suspended conservation officer Bryce Casavant for refusing to shoot a pair of black bear cubs whose mother was killed in Port Hardy in 2015.

Baby Iver with father Dylan Benson. Iver was born in 2014, 12 weeks early and weighing less than three pounds, after his mother was declared brain dead, but kept on life support to allow her unborn child to survive.

BABY IVER

The stories that touch us most are those of life and death.

When Victoria’s Iver Benson was born in 2014, it was in the most tragic and miraculous of circumstances. His mother, 32-year-old Robyn Benson, was five months pregnant when she suffered a brain hemorrhage on Dec. 28, 2013. She was declared brain dead but, in a case that was the first of its kind in Canada, was kept on life support to allow her unborn child to survive.

Iver arrived by caesarian section on Feb. 8, 12 weeks early and weighing just two pounds, 13 ounces. Robyn died a day later.

Both father and son are doing well now. “He’s a happy little guy,” Dylan says.

CHRIS HADFIELD

So, he’s not so much a favourite son as a favourite son-in-law (his wife’s mother, Gwen Walter, marketed space memorabilia from her home in Saanich) but Hadfield spent two years at Royal Roads when it was a military college, which was close enough for us to keep a straight face while claiming the wildly popular ex-astronaut as a Victorian.

In a year in which the planet’s best-known Canadian was Rob Ford, it was good to present a face like Hadfield’s to the world after his five-month International Space Station mission ended in 2013.

That November, 1,300 people lined up when the 54-year-old came to Victoria for a book signing.

ALICE MUNRO

OK, we’ll claim her, too. She lived here in the 1960s and ’70s when she and ex-husband Jim opened Munro’s Books, her daughter lived in Oak Bay, and she was in Victoria when it was announced in 2013 that the 82-year-old had won the Nobel Prize for literature.

SEARS AND TARGET

Remember how giddy consumers were when Target — the cool American kid with the hot deals — arrived in Canada in 2013? As it turned out, Target’s Canadian adventure was the most disastrous U.S. invasion since the Bay of Pigs. The department store chain closed all 133 of its Canadian outlets, including those at the Hillside and Tillicum malls, in 2015.

That wasn’t as shocking as what came a couple of years later, when 65-year-old Sears Canada — a retail institution synonymous with middle Canada, its Wish Book catalogue a cultural touchstone in its own right — pulled the plug on all 190 stores, including those in Victoria and Nanaimo.

THE OLDEST CANADIAN

Even by Victoria standards, Merle Barwis was old. In fact, she was the oldest person in Canada when she died in Langford in November 2014, just one month shy of her 114th birthday.

Her family remembered her as a loving-but-not-flowery woman who enjoyed mowing the grass of her Sooke property well into her 90s, pausing halfway through the job to enjoy a cold beer.

LUCY THE EMU

For six days in March 2014, freedom-loving Islanders cheered silently as an emu named Lucy eluded capture after taking off from his (yes, Lucy is a boy) Nanaimo-area home — a man-sized flightless bird that took flight nonetheless. The authorities tried to corral him, but for the longest time, the only thing caught was the public’s imagination as Lucy’s folk-hero status grew: On the day Lucy was discovered wandering behind Vancouver Island University, 20 kilometres from home, a cameraman hung out of a helicopter that was hovering so low, the bird’s captors had to wave it off.

Lucy died peacefully at home just before Christmas 2015, old age stilling a heart that yearned to be free.

EBOLAPOCALYPSE

Prudence is one thing. Paranoia is another. Finding the line between them isn’t easy.

Victoria hospitals rolled out an Ebola contingency plan in 2014. Airport health officials peered suspiciously at anyone arriving with a fever (a 69-year-old Victoria man who hadn’t been within 6,800 kilometres of the Ebola zone got hauled off to hospital after landing in Montreal with a garden-variety flu). You dug a backyard bunker and shot the neighbours, just to be safe.

Despite — or perhaps because of — our fears, the Ebola virus never did make it here from Africa.

UNEASY LIES THE HEAD

In 2015, an exchange of sexually charged Twitter messages with a subordinate’s wife resulted in Frank Elsner becoming the third Victoria Police chief in eight years to be investigated for improper conduct. More allegations followed. Elsner, who officially resigned in 2017, was in 2018 ruled to have committed eight Police Act offences.

SPECTOR 360

Nanaimo and Victoria might have ultimately pulled ahead in the race for Most Entertaining City Council, but for a brief time Saanich topped the list. There was plenty of smirking in 2015 when new mayor Richard Atwell began his term with a series of seemingly outlandish claims that alienated fellow councillors, his police department and municipal staff.

The main charge: intrusive spyware had been secretly installed on his city hall computer.

But Atwell was able to claim vindication when a scathing report from the privacy commissioner said the Spector 360 software really was over-the-top invasive (though an internal investigation later declared its installation to be the product of “a perfect storm,” with no individual to blame).

Still, Atwell was bounced after one term.

TWO GOT ON, THREE GOT OFF

Victoria’s Ada Guan got a nice Mother’s Day surprise while on an Air Canada flight to Tokyo in 2015. Somewhere over Russia, she gave birth.

Guan and dad Wesley Branch didn’t know she was pregnant (a test had come up negative). Baby Chloe now faces a lifetime of complicated explanations when asked to list her place of birth.

POKEMON GO

The summer craze of 2016 lured pasty-white video gamers out of their basements and into the light, where they burst into flames when exposed to the sun.

SNAKE IN A DRAIN

Speaking of pasty white creatures lured from dark places: Victoria workers were surprised in 2016 when a video inspection of a storm sewer pipe revealed a five-foot corn snake blocking the drain at Quadra Street and Balmoral Road, which was hardly creepy at all. (Somewhere, a little girl screamed in terror. Wait, no, it was me.)

Once apprehended, the snake was adopted out to an unidentified new owner who appointed it White House press secretary.

HAROLD BACKER

Yes, Harold Backer came back, but where was he for a year and a half? Nobody ever said.

It was surprising when the mutual-fund salesman, a three-time Olympic rower, disappeared in November 2015, leaving behind investors who were unhappy to discover their money was also gone. It was even more stunning when Backer showed up again, surrendering to Victoria police in April 2017. In July 2018, the 55-year-old was sentenced to 13 months in jail.

THE DEATH OF SEX

Blame (or credit) the internet. In 2015, Playboy dropped a bombshell: After 60 years, it was dropping bombshells, with Vancouver Island’s own Pamela Anderson the magazine’s last nude centrefold.

By that time we had already seen the half-burned-out neon sign above Red Hot Video flicker its last in 2012, an all-but-unnoticed end for a store that was picketed by morally indignant Victorians when in opened in 1982.

When the doors closed at Monty’s Showroom Pub in 2013, followed this year by those of Greater Victoria’s last peeler bar, the Fox at Saanich’s Red Lion, it was time to admit it: the thong is over.

THE BOMB PLOT

Three years after being arrested for plotting to explode pressure-cooker bombs outside the legislative buildings on Canada Day 2013, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody returned to Victoria in 2016, freed by a judge who ruled the RCMP went overboard in drawing the couple into the scheme.

That might be a just decision, but Victorians were left knowing that while the pair might have been entrapped, they were still willing to carry out a terrorist attack in the capital.

TRUDEAU IN TOFINO

Is he prime minister of Canada or lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

Every time we looked up in the summer of 2016, there was a shirtless Justin Trudeau causing the internet to go is-it-just-me-or-is-it-hot-in-here wobbly at the knees.

OK, it only happened twice, including the day the surfboard-toting prime minister accidentally photobombed a wedding on a Tofino beach while on vacation, but it seemed like a lot.

In related news, the Men of the Times Colonist Newsroom calendar wasn’t as big a seller as we might have hoped.

THE ROYALS

Alas, when Victoria’s hockey team dropped its home opener to the Cougars in September 2016, we lost our chance to greet Kate, William and the regal rugrats with a scandalous-sounding “Royals Beat Prince George” headline.

That minor disappointment aside, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s week-long visit went swimmingly. From the moment the royals landed at Victoria airport (where Kate, with baby Charlotte in her arms, the cameras rolling and the Trudeaus waiting at the bottom of the staircase, somehow managed to descend from the RCAF Airbus in stiletto heels without taking a header), they didn’t put a foot wrong.

Even the most miserable, pucker-butted, raisin-hearted anti-monarchists (not that I mean that in a negative way) had fun as the young couple were greeted by 25,000 people on the legislature lawn — the same number who showed up when, um, Prince Andrew opened Victoria’s highland games in 2013.

TRAGICALLY HIP

Way back when, Victoria was one of the first places in Canada to embrace the Tragically Hip. Long known as the unofficial house band at 100.3 The Q, the band drew 12,500 fans — a Greater Victoria record at the time — to the Rock The Shores festival in 2012.

So, after singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it seemed appropriate that the band launched its final tour here on July 22, 2016. A wave of emotion swept the country when the CBC broadcast the band’s final concert in its hometown of Kingston, Ont., that August. When Downie died in October 2017, the TC’s Mike Devlin wrote that it left “a Great Lakes-sized hole in the Canadian landscape, artistic and otherwise.”

HOCKEY HEARTBREAK

When, with two-tenths of a second left on the clock, the Kelowna Rockets tied Game 7 of their 2016 playoff series with the Victoria Royals, you just knew they would score in overtime, too. On the list of Last-Minute Defeats for the Ages, this one ranked with Apollo Creed in Rocky II, the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX and the B.C. New Democrats in 2013.

Of the 7,000 people in the Save-on-Foods arena crowd, no one took the loss harder than diehard Royals fan Jennifer Dyck. She and boyfriend Christian Brix of Kelowna had settled the question of where to live by agreeing that it would be in the city of whoever’s team went furthest in the playoffs.

BUNNY AIRLIFT

In 2016, it cost the Transportation Ministry $20,000 to trap more than 100 bunnies at the Helmcken Road interchange, and it cost volunteers a similar amount of (fundraised) money to truck and fly the animals to the Retired Rabbits Sanctuary in Texas. This is why people in poor countries want to kill us in our sleep.

The drama echoed the Great UVic Bunnycide of 2010, in which more than 100 rabbits (or as we used to call them, “lunch”) were given lethal injections (though not palliative care) before gentler measures were introduced; more than 700 were trapped and relocated to animal sanctuaries, including one in Coombs, where 24 of them were shot after escaping to a neighbouring farm.

CODY THE DOG

For the 14 years before his death in 2017, Cody the golden retriever was a Fort Street fixture in the doorway of Charmaine’s Past and Present store. The canine equivalent of the Dalai Lama (old, gentle, serene, calming, adored) he was greyer than second-term Obama, less threatening than the Canucks’ power play — which made him an unlikely symbol of dissent.

When Victoria’s animal-control department ordered Cody off the sidewalk in 2016, what was unleashed (other than the dog) was the indignation of people who believed that city hall, up to its ears in the courthouse Tent City, had lost interest in the anonymous proles who go to work, pay their taxes and generally go about their lives unnoticed by those in power.

CENTRAL SAANICH 911

It was a most Canadian crime.

After snow fell on the Saanich Peninsula in February 2017, farmer Marko Kardum used the Zamboni he had picked up for $300 to plow his aunt’s street. Alas, when police discovered the vehicle was uninsured, they shooed Kardum home — and into the national spotlight, as the story took off.

Kardum — a good Canajun boy, as Don Cherry would say — was later applauded by MLAs in the legislature.

STATUES

After Victoria council (which has an odd habit of driving wedges between people in the name of community-building) chased Sir John A. Macdonald away from city hall in 2018, the question became what should go in the statue’s place. Take your pick:

A. Mr. Floatie

B. Bongy, the bong shop mascot whose expulsion from Esquimalt landed him on The Colbert Report in 2013

C. Howard the Gnome, positioned so that he peers over the roof into Centennial Square

MARIJUANA

Dozens of Victoria grey-market shops shut down when weed went legit in October 2018, making the capital the only city in Canada where legalization made it harder to buy pot.