When it comes to 2020, for many, it’s been a year to forget, thanks to – you guessed it – the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a nutshell, it’s been trying.
For the past 10 months, it seems nearly every story shared by Peace Arch News has been connected to COVID-19, and at first glance it feels like few, if any, of those have been happy tales.
And considering the number of outbreaks, public-health orders, school closures, business closures, overdose deaths on the rise, events cancelled, fundraising struggles, and sundry other happenings, clearly, it’s an observation not entirely without merit.
Fortunately, there is in the mix, while sometimes a little harder to see at first, many positives – businesses finding ways to adapt amid reduced revenues, cutbacks and closures; impressive (and ongoing) efforts to thank and support frontline workers; creative ways found to ensure milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated; not to mention myriad stories of pure and simple human kindness.
Every year at this time, it’s PAN’s tradition to recap key stories from the previous 12 months. Historically, it’s been a couple of sentences summing up a handful of highlights from every month, and every year, there’s never enough space to include them all.
This year, once again, we won’t have room to include everything worthy of mention, but nonetheless, we’re sharing (again) a selection of stories that have stood out, be that due to a strong COVID-19 influence, or none at all. The emergence of terms such “new normal,” “unprecedented times” and “exposure events” aside, the bottom line is, they’re memorable and an indelible part of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s history.
The first of these stories – in no particular order – is notable not just for the story itself (and the unusual fact that it had nothing to do with the pandemic), but for the two simple words that summed it up, which instantly evoked both curiosity about the details, as well as an inevitable full-body cringe: murder hornets.
A nest of the nasty invasive insects – more properly known as Asian giant hornets – was discovered in Blaine, just across the border from South Surrey, in October, and had to be vacuumed out of the cavity of a tree by workers encased in protective suits.
While experts assured that the hornets aren’t outwardly aggressive towards people – but can co-ordinate devastating attacks on honeybees – the arrival of the massive insects was disconcerting nonetheless.
One of the year’s more heartbreaking stories arrived early in the pandemic, that of Ariis Knight.
The South Surrey woman died in April, after being admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties. The 40-year-old didn’t have COVID-19, but due to pandemic-related hospital-visitor protocols that blocked any family members or support workers from accompanying her in – despite the fact she was non-verbal – she ultimately died alone.
The following month, Minister of Health Adrian Dix confirmed the definition of ‘essential visitors’ would be expanded to better support people with disabilities. Those who knew and loved Knight dubbed the change ‘Ariis’ Law.’
It would be fair to say that a South Surrey senior’s first-time skydiving experience was one of the year’s more breathtaking stories. Barbara Renflesh made the leap in August, at the tender age of 90, later telling PAN that while that first step was daunting, she wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
While the amount of activity at Peace Arch Park may have been a frustration to some, for others, the park has been the only place where they could see their loved one, face-to-face.
Newlyweds Birgit Heinbach, who lives in South Surrey, and Ian Geddes, who lives in Blaine, have been separated since Canada and the U.S. closed the border for non-essential travel last March.
However, the American side of the Peace Arch Park, which straddles the U.S. and Canadian border in South Surrey, has remained open for the duration of the pandemic. The Canadian side of the park has been closed.
“There are couples, and as of now, that have been separated for almost three months with no end in sight,” Geddes said in June.
“These are people who haven’t shared the same room for almost three months. That’s rough.”
The State Park, on the U.S. side, provided a crowded site for daily camping, wedding parties, family reunions and celebrations of all kinds.
Visiting the park as a Canadian is considered by many to be a loophole. It’s one of the few, if not only, locations where Canadians, unless singled out for a visit to CBSA upon their return, can meet Americans without going through customs, and without being subject to quarantine.
While small businesses were undeniably hit the hardest during the pandemic, some neighbourhood companies, almost instantly, shifted to help in the fight against COVID-19.
Early in the pandemic, staff at White Rock’s 3 Dogs Brewing tapped into a slightly different skill-set. The brewery was one of the first of its kind to start manufacturing hand sanitizer.
The first recipients of 3 Dogs’ initial batch were members of the White Rock RCMP and White Rock Fire Department as well as HandyDart employees.
The pandemic led many of us to come up with innovative ways to see our loved ones, and this aerial example might be the most creative.
Four-year-old Ethan Fritz has only seen his dad, U.S. Air Force Lt.-Col. TK Minzak, through video calls since his birthday in early March.
In August, however, Ethan and several of his family members gathered at the end of the White Rock Pier to see Minzak approach from Point Roberts, flying a U.S. Air Force transport plane over the pier. Minzak and his aircraft made two passes before returning to the U.S. air space.
As the plane appeared in the distance, the excitement built.
“Look, just for you,” Ethan’s mom Alyssa Fritz exclaimed to her son as the plane came in for its first pass and did a ‘wing wiggle’ greeting. “He’s waving.”
After, Fritz said Ethan couldn’t wait to share the experience with his friends at daycare.
“He was just so happy and excited,” she said.
“It’s not like a deployment,” she noted of Minzak’s absence. “It’s like, his dad is right there and we just can’t get to him.
It was a small group gathering at Beach Road and Highway 99 in late December – and the weather was wet, cold and blustery.
But that didn’t dampen the excitement that members of Semiahmoo First Nation, ranging from children to seniors, felt in observing a historic step forward.
As John Boros, of City of Surrey water operations, turned two underground roadside taps – one for potable water and one for emergency services – the rumbling activation of mains marked the completion of a long-awaited connection between SFN and the Surrey water supply.
The $10 million infrastructure project is partly funded by a grant from Indigenous Services Canada, and Chief Harley Chappell paid tribute to them, the City of Surrey, engineering consultants Aplin and Martin, and former MP Gordon Hogg – one of the onlookers – who has long championed the cause.
Following an historic election, after which it took two weeks to count votes, the BC Liberals retained both the Surrey South and Surrey-White Rock seats while the BC NDP formed a majority government.
Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux finished with 12,970 votes (47.36 per cent) to NDP Pauline Greaves with 11,794 (43.06 per cent).
Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford finished with 10,718 votes (39.51 per cent) to NDP’s Bryn Smith with 10,494 (38.69 per cent).
While the Election Day took place on Oct. 24, mail-in and absentee votes weren’t tabulated until Nov. 8. The delay was caused by a record-number of mail-in ballots received, as voters stayed away from polling stations.
The question of whether the emotional stress caused by COVID-19 will have a long-term psychological effect on British Columbians isn’t a matter of if – it’s a matter of just how widespread it will be, says a leading physician in the province.
South Surrey’s Dr. Tahmeena Ali, who this year was named the BC Family Physician of the Year, and White Rock psychologist Jennifer Mervyn, who was among 150 Canadians recognized as a leader in mental health, have both signed an open letter urging government to prepare for the potential short- and long-term harm from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter asks that a B.C. task force be created to support an evidence-based strategy for children’s wellness during pandemic recovery.
“This is potentially creating trauma for people, this COVID situation,” Mervyn said. “We don’t have as many people to bounce things off of, to regulate, to get away from the stress, to talk through things with. That’s so critical, to us as human beings, it actually changes how our brains work.”
In a symbol of unity between nations, the Surrey RCMP and Washington State Patrol held a private ceremony in November to raise U.S. and Canadian flags at the Peace Arch Park in South Surrey.
The flags that usually fly on top of the arch were taken down earlier in 2020 as the Peace Arch received a cleaning and a new coat of paint from Canada. Every 10 years, the Peace Arch undergoes a “face-lift,” with the two nations taking turns doing the improvements.
The initial plan was to have a public ceremony on Sept. 6 as a way to count down the Sept. 6, 2021 Peace Arch Centennial Celebration. However, COVID-19 pushed back the refurbishment schedule and restrictions made it impossible to host a public event.
As the days went by, so did the opportunity for a number of non-profit and charitable organizations to raise money.
While many events were cancelled outright, such as the annual White Rock Firefighters Charity Association Breakfast with Santa, others moved into the virtual world.
Some of the notable events that moved online include the Sources Gala, the Parkinson SuperWalk, and Terry Fox Run. And even so, with online-only events, Semiahoo Peninsula residents showed their generosity.
The battle over the controversial Surrey RCMP transition to a City of Surrey-owned police department continued throughout the year, with Norm Lipinski being named chief constable of the new Surrey Police Service in November.
Despite opposition from some segments of the community, throughout 2020, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum maintained that the Surrey police department is a ‘done deal.’