2021: A year in review

The Royal Canadian Air Force confirmed they have rescued 311 people, 26 dogs and a cat and brought them to Agassiz following floods and landslides in November. (Photo/Royal Canadian Air Force)The Royal Canadian Air Force confirmed they have rescued 311 people, 26 dogs and a cat and brought them to Agassiz following floods and landslides in November. (Photo/Royal Canadian Air Force)
Some Canadians are finding butter harder than usual, resulting in an avalanche of social media controversy around #buttergate. (Brett Williams/The Observer)Some Canadians are finding butter harder than usual, resulting in an avalanche of social media controversy around #buttergate. (Brett Williams/The Observer)
Wyatt Gore (front) was the keeper of the Atlatl point found by the Gore family last spring until it could be returned to the Sts’ailes First Nation. (Tony Gore/Contributed)Wyatt Gore (front) was the keeper of the Atlatl point found by the Gore family last spring until it could be returned to the Sts’ailes First Nation. (Tony Gore/Contributed)
Movie production vehicles are seen parked in the Community Recreation and Cultural Centre in Agassiz. Production crews are working on “26 Hour Day;” much of the movie’s details are currently under wraps. (Adam Louis/Observer)Movie production vehicles are seen parked in the Community Recreation and Cultural Centre in Agassiz. Production crews are working on “26 Hour Day;” much of the movie’s details are currently under wraps. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Staff and clients from the Fraser River Lodge caught this white sturgeon on Saturday, July 17, 2021. (Fraser River Lodge)Staff and clients from the Fraser River Lodge caught this white sturgeon on Saturday, July 17, 2021. (Fraser River Lodge)
Smoke rises from Long Island north of Harrison Hot Springs. (Carly Ferguson/Observer)Smoke rises from Long Island north of Harrison Hot Springs. (Carly Ferguson/Observer)
Locked out Hilton workers took a break today to prepare signs for Harrison Hot Springs Resort workers, who were facing a lockout earlier this year. (Contributed Photo/UNITE HERE 40)Locked out Hilton workers took a break today to prepare signs for Harrison Hot Springs Resort workers, who were facing a lockout earlier this year. (Contributed Photo/UNITE HERE 40)
Brad Vis (centre) stands with his mother Diana Campbell and his sister Joanna Scarborough at his campaign office in Mission. Vis was declared the winner in the riding of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon. / Submitted PhotoBrad Vis (centre) stands with his mother Diana Campbell and his sister Joanna Scarborough at his campaign office in Mission. Vis was declared the winner in the riding of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon. / Submitted Photo
Hundreds gathered to honour the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday, Sept. 30. They walked nearly four kilometres to bring awareness and healing to residential school survivors and victims. (Adam Louis/Observer)Hundreds gathered to honour the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday, Sept. 30. They walked nearly four kilometres to bring awareness and healing to residential school survivors and victims. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Karl Kjarsgaard, curator from the Bomber Command Museum of Canada (left) and local history buff Theo Gantzert point to Maxwell Calhoun’s name at the BCMC Memorial Wall, where the names of more than 10,000 RCAF members killed in bombers are engraved. Between the men is Calhoun’s box of World War II memorabilia, which was found in Agassiz. (Contributed photo/Karl Kjarsgaard)Karl Kjarsgaard, curator from the Bomber Command Museum of Canada (left) and local history buff Theo Gantzert point to Maxwell Calhoun’s name at the BCMC Memorial Wall, where the names of more than 10,000 RCAF members killed in bombers are engraved. Between the men is Calhoun’s box of World War II memorabilia, which was found in Agassiz. (Contributed photo/Karl Kjarsgaard)

2021 certainly had its share of ups and downs.

In this end of the year edition of the Observer, we’re taking a look back at the top 10 stories of 2021. In chronological order, a number of these stories are among the most read of the year, according to data from our website.

#Buttergate: Concerns around hard butter hit Agassiz and beyond

March 3, 2021

Dairy farmer Julaine Treur buys 30 pounds of butter every time she goes to Costco. For her family of seven, it lasts about a month and a half before she’s out to buy more.

This winter, her butter was harder than it was in the summer — nothing out of the ordinary for a climate like Agassiz’s. But when food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal shared that she was finding butter firmer than usual, Treur took notice.

“That piqued my interest as a dairy farmer of course,” Treur said.

“I can’t say that (the butter has) been different than other years,” she added. “But from what I’ve heard, a lot of people have thought otherwise. So it’s definitely something that should be looked into.”

Van Rosendaal wasn’t the only one to notice butter was seeming more difficult to spread. Nova Scotia professor Sylvain Charlebois, in Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analysis Lab, also heard people complaining about hard butter.

“Frankly, I wasn’t convinced,” Charlebois said.

But more and more people seemed to be noticing that something was different about their butter. Then, in October 2020, the B.C. Milk Marketing Board put out a notice about non-foaming milk.

“That’s when alarm bells rang,” Charlebois said.

The October notice was directed at B.C. dairy farmers, telling them that some of the milk going out to processors wasn’t foaming properly — a big concern for shops selling drinks like lattes or cappuccinos. No foam, no sales.

On social media, the conversation moved away from whether butter actually was harder and moved into concerns around whether dairy farmers should be feeding their cows palm fats at all.

Back in Agassiz, Farmhouse Natural Cheeses was seeing a local interest in #buttergate.

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries, especially in this past week about our butter, people just verifying that we don’t use the palm oil,” Dana Dinn, wholesale manager at Farmhouse, said.

Right now, there is no conclusive evidence that the use of palm fats have made butter harder — and there’s not a lot of evidence that butter is harder than it used to be, other than anecdotal reports.

But in response to consumer concerns, the Dairy Farmers of Canada announced on Feb. 19 that it will launch a working group to look into the science surrounding palm fats, palmitic acid and the dairy industry. They have also asked dairy farmers to temporarily look for alternatives to palm-based supplements.

Artifact found on Harrison River returned to Sts’ailes

March 11, 2021

The tip of a weapon many thousands of years old has been returned to the Sts’ailes First Nation after being found on the banks of the Harrison River last spring.

Tony Gore and his family live in Chilliwack, but spend sunny days at their cabin on the Harrison River. Last spring, the family was exploring on the riverbanks close to Harrison Lake when Gore spotted a curiously shaped rock on the beach.

“As soon as I found it I called everybody over,” Gore said. “We all huddled around it, and we’re looking at this perfect point lying on the beach.”

The rock was clearly chiselled into the tip of some sort of weapon, and Gore began explaining to his son Wyatt, 4, and daughter Naomi, 3, how Indigenous people had used the point before metal to hunt animals.

“Wyatt, my son, reaches down and grabs it, right,” Gore said. “And I’m like, ‘Wyatt, you’re the first person to grab it in thousands of years.’”

Gore asked his son to give him the point for safekeeping, but Wyatt refused.

“He tucked it into his little pocket and he said, ‘I’ll keep it in my pocket dad, don’t worry. It’s safe.’”

Not wanting to quash his dreams, Gore let Wyatt take the point into his room to keep it safe.

After getting in touch with the Chilliwack Progress, Gore was connected with Morgan Ritchie, the heritage research archaeologist at the Sts’ailes First Nation.

According to Gore, Ritchie said the point was between 2,500 and 4,000 years old. It would have been used on an Atlatl, a type of thrown weapon that combines a spear with a hand-held device to help the user throw it further and faster.

‘27 Hour Day’ filming in Agassiz-Harrison

May 15, 2021

The movie business is quietly humming along through the Agassiz-Harrison area.

District of Kent officials confirmed they are working with producers behind “27 Hour Day,” among the latest upcoming movies featuring the Agassiz-Harrison area, and production in the area is expected to wrap up on Friday, May 21.

The Agassiz-Harrison area has been the site of several films and TV productions, according to IMDB. Among the biggest productions in recent years included “Wayward Pines,” starring Matt Dillon (“There’s Something About Mary,” “The House That Jack Built”) and Shannyn Sossamon (“Rules of Attraction,” “A Knight’s Tale”) and Netflix’s “Virgin River,” starring Alexandra Breckenridge (“This is Us,” “American Horror Story”) and Martin Henderson (“The Ring,” “Grey’s Anatomy”).

‘Virgin’ sturgeon caught in Fraser River more than 11 feet long

July 22, 2021

A white sturgeon caught Saturday in the Fraser River was more than 11 feet long, and had never been caught before, according to a fishing lodge rep in Agassiz.

“Our excellent team of guides managed to find a virgin (never before caught) 11’5” length and 56” girth white sturgeon in the Fraser River,” says Kate Wisse, media assistant at the Fraser River Lodge.

“Catches like this are extremely rare and are always exciting to be a part of.”

They were happy to showcase what they called “a momentous occasion” by sharing the photo of the mammoth sturgeon, which weighed more than 800 pounds.

The fish’s age is unknown but it could be more than 100 years old, she added.

“There was an hour-long battle with multiple obstacles, manoeuvring around the Agassiz bridge pillars, an island and there were trees popping up from the water and hitting the boat,” Wisse said.

Guides gently released the sturgeon.

Long Island wildfire in Harrison area now under control

Aug. 19, 2021

After nearly four weeks of burning, the wildfires surrounding Harrison Lake are showing significant signs of slowing down.

The B.C. Wildfire Service reports the Long Island fire that triggered an island-wide evacuation is now under control, holding at 256 hectares on the island’s north side. The Big Silver Creek (3 hectares) and Hornet Creek No. 1 (0.9 hectares) are also under control.

The Clear Creek wildfire north of Harrison Hot Springs has reached nearly double the size of 2018’s Mt. Hicks fire.

Hospitality workers in Harrison and beyond ratify new contract with management company

Sept. 16, 2021

More than 1,000 UNITE HERE Local 40, unionized hospitality workers across 14 communities – including Harrison Hot Springs – have ratified a new four-year agreement with Hospitality Industrial Relations, ending an 18-month-long negotiations stalemate.

According to a release from UNITE HERE Local 40, 80 per cent of hospitality workers in the union throughout B.C. voted to approve the new agreement with hotel management company HIR. The agreement includes an extension of recall rights for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic through July 1, 2023 or when the World Health Organization declares the pandemic is over.

In addition to specifically recall rights for the COVID-19 pandemic, the union also won unlimited recall rights for future crises including pandemics and natural disasters and longer recall protection for regular season layoffs.

In late April, workers at HIR properties across the province, including Harrison Hot Springs Resort, faced a lockout notice from the B.C. Labour Relations Board following a then-unresolved labour dispute with the management company. UNITE HERE Local 40 representatives feared 32 employers across the province would rather fire current staff and replace them when travel and tourism restrictions lifted.

Additionally, the union noted the lockout would disproportionately affect women and people of colour, who make up a majority of the hospitality workforce.

“It feels incredible to have been part of this huge victory, after so many months of fighting against the industry,” said Jan Budd, an employee of Holiday Inn and Suites Vancouver Downtown. “I can breathe a sigh of relief now knowing that I won’t have to start all over again at minimum wage. HIR finally respected our years of service, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone back at work again as business eventually recovers.”

Conservative incumbent Brad Vis retains Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon seat by wide margin

Sept. 20, 2021

Conservative incumbent MP Brad Vis retained his seat for the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding in the 2021 Canadian Election by a wide margin.

With 179 of 180 polls reporting, Vis is at 43.6 per cent of the vote (17,962 votes), compared to Liberal candidate Geet Grewal’s 24.5 per cent (10,071 votes), while the NDP’s Lynn Perrin is at 20.2 per cent of the vote (8,333 votes).

Vis won the seat in the 2019 election, taking the seat from Liberal Jati Sidhu with 42.1 per cent of the vote. They also ran against each other in the 2015 election, with Sidhu winning in an upset by just over 1,000 votes.

“It was like I was up for a job interview. They gave me my trial period (in 2019) and now I’ve passed the job interview in 2021. I have the approval of the people,” said Vis.

He said this campaign was “more nerve-wracking” than in 2019.

“I had so many volunteers and I think that is a testament to the work I’ve done in the community, that new people just stepped forward … it was a real team effort.”

While he would like to savour the moment, the reality is he needed to get back to work, especially in a riding of this size.

“The first thing I have to do is, I have to work on Lytton. And I have to make sure the federal government gets the money where the money is needed.”

Other priorities for Vis include addressing the growing water issues in Mission and Abbotsford, concerns about flooding and the erosion of the Fraser River and getting all levels of government together.

‘We are all brothers and sisters’ Sts’ailes chief imparts words of healing, hope on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Sept. 30, 2021

A persistent, cleansing September rain didn’t stop 300-plus people from local First Nations and nearby municipalities from walking to honour the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Hosted by the Sts’ailes First Nation, the walk was meant to bring awareness of and healing to those who were traumatized or have survived the residential school system and in memory of those who did not.

For nearly four kilometres down Morris Valley Road on Sts’ailes land, hundreds marched, led by hand drums and songs of healing. Nearly all wore orange in honour of Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Some brought signs proclaiming “Every Child Matters” while others dressed in traditional Sts’ailes regalia.

At the walk’s final destination at Sandpiper Golf Course, Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon was among several speakers.

“We need to do this, and it’s going to get bigger every year,” Leon said. “I have that good feeling, we’re going to walk together like we’re supposed to. We are all brothers and sisters, regardless of how you look at it. We come from only one mother – Mother Earth.”

Leon pointed out that there is no word for different colours of skin in the Halq’eme’ylem language.

“With those other words in those other languages comes judgement, racism,” he continued. “We don’t have that in our language. That’s why we acknowledge brothers and sisters, because that’s what we are and forever will be.”

Held in proud remembrance: Decorated airman’s history, affects surface in Agassiz

Nov. 5, 2021

When Art Lagendyk went up to the attic of his Agassiz home, the last thing he expected to come across was a historic treasure trove.

Lagendyk and his wife, Clara, bought a local home that used to belong to District of Kent Mayor Sylvia Pranger and her late husband, John. While working in the attic, Lagendyk came across an unassuming, covered wooden box filled with medals, official documents and newspaper clippings. Art contacted Sylvia about the box, and she left the box to the Lagendyks’ care.

Earlier this year, Art Lagendyk gave the box to his friend, Theo Gantzert, who documented Calhoun’s life, submitted documents and photos to The Observer, began a search for next of kin and contacted the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta about the box.

These items belonged to Flight Lieutenant Maxwell Boyd Calhoun of St. Lambert, Quebec, a bomb aimer and pathfinder aboard Avro Lancaster PB239 heavy bomber that was shot down in 1944.

Gantzert, carrying Maxwell’s box, made it to the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, meeting Kjarsgaard. The two men posed for a pictured together and pointed to Maxwell’s name, immortalized on the museum’s memorial wall, along with 10,000 of his fellow airmen.

Looking back, Kjarsgaard was amazed the box completed its journey to the museum.

“This could’ve been thrown out when the new owners came in,” he said.

Catastrophe rallies community: Agassiz-Harrison steps up to help as catastrophic flood, landslides wreak havoc on Fraser Valley

November 19, 2021

Agassiz-Harrison residents are surveying the damage and helping stranded travellers as floods and landslides tore through the Fraser Valley this past week.

Two major landslides stranded travellers along the Lougheed Highway in the Agassiz area for several hours. Hundreds were evacuated to Agassiz thanks to Canada Task Force 1 and local emergency crews, air lifted to the Agassiz Fairgrounds and taking shelter to rest, recover and warm up at the Agricultural Centre on Pioneer Avenue.

Community members have shown no hesitation to answer the call for supply donations and volunteers have worked day and night to meet the needs of evacuees.

District of Kent Coun. Susan Spaeti praised locals for stepping up to help so many people.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of our community as I have been today,” she posted on her public Facebook page on Monday.

“The way our community stepped up with food, clothing, offers of rides or a warm bed is amazing. The evacuees were so grateful and many wanted us to pass on their thanks to the community. Thanks again to everyone.”

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