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Ocean debris believed to be from Japan is posed for a photograph on Long Beach in Tofino, B.C., April, 18, 2012.


Japanese tsunami debris hits B.C.

There has already been a motorcycle, as well as derelict vessels. Debris from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011 began arriving in B.C. this year – and more is expected to wash up in 2013.

An estimated 5 million tonnes of debris was swept into the Pacific Ocean as a result of the tsunami. About 1.5 million tonnes is believed to still be floating.

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This past March, the governments of B.C., Washington, Oregon and California agreed to work together on managing the debris.

Exactly when the next wave will arrive – or where it will turn up – is unclear. However, a recent Japanese government report says an increase in lumber-related debris is expected between now and June.

The Japanese consulate has requested that any debris that appears to be of value be reported so it can be returned to its rightful owner.

Yertle gets political

There was plenty of tension to go around between teachers and the provincial government during the year, as the two sides butted heads on wages, class size and composition, and other contract issues.

As talks dragged on, some teachers wondered how far they could go in expressing their views.

In April, a Prince Rupert elementary teacher was told a quote from Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle was a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom. The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.

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The quote in question – "I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights" – comes from Yertle the Turtle, the tale of a turtle who climbs on the backs of other turtles to get a better view. That quest ends when a turtle on the bottom of the pile, named Mack, burps and sends Yertle tumbling from his lofty perch.

A school official – who said he didn't know the origin of the quote at the time he deemed it unsuitable – said his decision was in keeping with a 2011 arbitrator's decision that found political materials must be kept out of B.C. classrooms.

After being reported in The Globe and Mail – with an illustration of a status-seeking Yertle – the story was widely circulated.

Some versions said the book was banned – it wasn't – or that all works by Dr. Seuss had somehow been deemed inappropriate by school authorities (they hadn't). But on the upside, the buzz gave readers a reason to refresh their memories of, or perhaps read for the first time, the tale of a turtle whose ambitions sent him hurtling from the heights to the mud.

BCTF members ratified a two-year deal in June, 2012.

Transgender beauty queen Jenna Talackova

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Model Jenna Talackova made headlines in 2012 as the first transgender Miss Universe Canada contestant in the pageant's history. While she didn't ultimately win – the 24-year-old was one of 12 finalists – she says the competition has changed her life, giving her more of a purpose than she felt as a discontented nutrition student just a year ago. Highlights from 2012 include attending the Brazilian Ball in Toronto and serving as grand marshal of the Vancouver Pride Parade, she says.

Early next year, the Vancouver native will move to Toronto to continue production of her reality show, which has yet to air. Despite being a self-professed Vancouver girl, Ms. Talackova said she is excited about the new start, especially since she recently ended a three-year relationship.

"I'm very thankful for all of the popularity and all of the opportunities [the pageant] has brought me," she said. "I'm just owning it now and trying my best at it."

Adam Kreek and his merry band of rowers

In April, after three weeks at sea, Adam Kreek and a small team of four other rowers pulled in to Vancouver harbour after circumnavigating Vancouver Island.

It turns out their sea travels had just begun.

The rowboat trip around the island was an adventure Mr. Kreek, a former Olympic gold-medal winner, had pursued to test his levels of endurance and to help raise awareness about the health of the world's oceans. That journey, which was largely sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, saw the crew travelling 1,200 kilometres, rowing in shifts, 24 hours a day.

But now Mr. Kreek (who lives in Victoria), Markus Pukonen (of Tofino), and Jordan Hanssen and Pat Fleming (both of Seattle) are preparing to launch an ever bigger expedition: across the Atlantic.

The crew arrived in Dakar, Senegal, in early December, where they are preparing to launch for a row to Miami. The 6,700-kilometre voyage is expected to take 60 to 100 days.

Mr. Kreek and his friends are taking on the challenge not just to test their own physical and mental strength, but with the hopes that they can inspire others to experience new adventures of their own.

Mr. Kreek, who works as an inspirational speaker and conducts leadership workshops, said one key to the success of the Vancouver Island expedition was that the crew settled into a routine, and worked at communicating, so no frustrations built up.

"It's a very regimented daily schedule," he said of long-distance rowing. "So it becomes very rhythmical, meditative, reflective and comfortable."

The team hasn't posted a starting date on its website, but says they hoped to get away in late December, which would put them back on land, on the other side of the Atlantic, in early March.

Kits Coast Guard closing

The protests may have gone quiet, but leading B.C. politicians are not giving up on their bid to keep the Kitsilano Coast Guard base open.

"For the safety of British Columbians, the Kitsilano station must remain open," B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond, who is handling the file for the provincial government, said in a statement.

The controversy began in May when the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced it was closing the station as well as three other B.C. Coast Guard communications centres due to budget cuts. Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said mariners would remain safe due to various measures including a new inshore rescue boat station and a new hovercraft station at Sea Island in Richmond.

The federal department said this week that they remain committed to the policy

But critics argued the hovercraft is too far away to provide the rescue services of the station, which handles about 300 calls a year, and as 2012 comes to a close, they made clear they will fight Ottawa on the issue well into 2013.

"While the federal government has not committed to re-evaluating its plan to close the unit, we remain hopeful," Ms. Bond said. "Our government remains firm in the view that while budget challenges exist for all levels of government and tough decisions are required, public safety must remain the paramount consideration."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is also planning to keep up the pressure, noting that the city's police and fire chiefs say "without question" that lives will be at risk if the station is closed: "I will continue to make the case to members of the federal government that the small amount of money they save in their budget is not worth the huge risk to people's lives."

An undead public service announcement

In May, the B.C. government's emergency information team, using Twitter, began sending out a series of urgent messages about an undead apocalypse. They urged residents to keep at least half a tank of gas in their vehicle, plan an evacuation route, and keep an emergency kit with first-aid supplies – even though you're a goner if a zombie bites you.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond signed off on the Zombie Awareness Week campaign, with some hesitation. It took three meetings to persuade her that the unusual media campaign would reach a segment of the population that tends to tune out public service announcements.

The Emergency Info B.C.'s tweets, which linked to a post-zombie attack survival blog (with a small disclaimer noting that the zombies haven't really attacked yet) reached tens of thousands of B.C. residents, who may have some better ideas now about how to prepare for any emergency, including an earthquake.

Burnaby's Attack of the Snakehead

It wasn't quite on par with Jaws, but a Burnaby lagoon had its fair share of drama this past May thanks to a nasty, toothy creature.

A snakehead fish, a species native to Asia and Africa, was spotted in the Central Park lagoon by a member of the public. Just how it got there was something of a mystery, though officials grew to believe it was released by someone who no longer wanted the snakehead as a pet.

The fish can reproduce quickly, and there were concerns it would threaten Fraser River salmon stocks. So began the efforts to catch it, the predator now becoming the prey.

But the snakehead, at least for a time, proved elusive. Electrofishing, in which an electric pulse is zapped into the water, didn't work. What did? Eventually it would be an old-fashioned net. The snakehead, about two-thirds of a metre in length, was caught and killed.

B.C. had been the only jurisdiction in North America to allow the import of northern snakehead, but the province has since amended the controlled alien species regulation. Releasing a live snakehead into local water could now lead to a fine of up to $250,000.

The Fugitive: Paul Watson

Last fall, Paul Watson, an environmental activist known for his extreme actions in protecting the world's oceans, skipped bail in Germany and escaped to sea, generating global headlines.

He is still out there, somewhere, brewing for a confrontation with the Japanese whaling fleet, probably in the waters off Antarctica.

Although there is an Interpol notice out, notifying police in 190 countries that Mr. Watson is wanted in Germany for failing to show up at an extradition hearing, the leader of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has vowed to follow through on his anti-whaling campaign this winter.

"Sea Shepherd remains committed to upholding the integrity of the southern ocean whale sanctuary and ensuring the whalers go home with zero whales killed," Mr. Watson said in a recent statement.

And he said the anti-whaling campaign will not be hindered by a ruling, issued Dec. 17 by the U.S. Court of Appeals, that restricts Sea Shepherd members from approaching within 50 yards of any vessels of the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research.

Mr. Watson said the Sea Shepherd society's fleet of four ships is in position, waiting to harass the Japanese fleet, which annually hunts whales in the waters off Antarctica.

"They will find when they arrive that we will still be there," Mr. Watson promised. "We will defend these whales as we have for the last eight years – non-violently and legally."

He is expected to return to land some time in the New Year, to face the various court challenges that await him.

Bob the Barber

It was a joyous day in Enderby last June when Bob the Barber re-opened for business. Bob Egely's old-style community barbershop had been closed for two years, ever since Mr. Egely lost both his legs as a result of a series of medical calamities.

Yet Mr. Egely never lost the urge to shear, and his quest for help was answered by CanAssist, an innovative program at the University of Victoria that helps the disabled. Engineers designed, built and presented to Bob the Barber an amazing, one-of-a-kind, $65,000 chair that could lift him off the floor, with the ability to circle his customers as he cut their hair.

It worked like a charm. The regulars were soon back, along with a big smile on Mr. Egely's face – thrilled at being able, once again, to do what he loved best.

But the heartwarming tale has a sad ending. A bad fall at home on Halloween night severely fractured Mr. Egely's arm. Complications ensued after surgery, and he passed away in November at 67.

The famous chair that Mr. Egely fondly called his spaceship has been returned. "We want it to give someone else a second chance at life. That's what it did for dad," said daughter Nicole, tearfully.

B.C. gets corked

The summertime announcement by Minister Rich Coleman that British Columbians would finally be able to bring their own wine to restaurants was met with much fanfare – after all, beer, wine and spirit enthusiasts have long harped on the province's many antiquated liquor laws. But five months [PASSED JULY 19] later, the initial huzzah has died down – and few appear to be bringing their own bottle to dinner.

"It's had very minimal impact," said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant Association. "I've had maybe one restaurant say they've had a customer come in, requesting to bring their own wine. No question some restaurants will say, 'I had a customer bring in a very special bottle of wine,' but it's just not happening [often]."

He chalks it up to a Canadian mentality – "We sort of have a notion that it's almost an impolite thing to do" – along with good selections available at restaurants and the fact the BYOB option hasn't been publicized much since the initial announcement. As well, many people likely prefer the convenience of simply ordering wine at the restaurant, Mr. Tostenson theorized.

The Boessenkool Affair

Premier Christy Clark enjoyed one weekend of good news in September for her B.C. Liberal party, as the troubles of the rival B.C. Conservatives took over the spotlight. But it was a short-lived bounce, as she was forced to announce shortly thereafter that her chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool, had been dumped because of a personal indiscretion.

In his letter of resignation, which did not describe what happened, Mr. Boessenkool admitted to acting "inappropriately" and said he regretted his behaviour. He's apologized to his wife and four young daughters.

Ms. Clark has refused to say why her chief of staff, who was appointed to help neutralize the rise of the B.C. Conservatives, had to go. She said she waited to act until an investigation was carried out, but oddly there is no paper trail to indicate if such a probe was carried out, or what it found.

"Dude Chilling" Park

Guelph Park, located in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, was unceremoniously renamed Dude Chilling Park in November when a mysterious prankster erected a fake – but official-looking – City of Vancouver sign at the corner of 8th Avenue and Brunswick Street. The clandestine renaming, presumably after a wooden, Gumby-esque sculpture of a figure lying on its side on the grass, garnered considerable attention on social media, spurring the Park Board to clarify it was fake – and take down the sign the following morning. A petition to officially rename the space Dude Chilling Park garnered more than 1,600 signatures. Wrote supporter Lily Le: "Dude Chilling Park is a name that better reflects the dudes that chill there."

Commissioner Sarah Blyth says the sign now sits in the general manager's office as the Park Board decides what to do with it. Possible options include giving it to the Museum of Vancouver, storing it in an artists' space or having it "travel around to different parks like an art piece," Ms. Blyth said.

"And, of course, I want to have it in my apartment."

While there is no process in place to officially rename a park, the board might entertain the idea of unofficially renaming it, she added, citing as an example how Pioneer Square is more commonly called Pigeon Park.

Ms. Blyth will introduce a motion on the matter in January.

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