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The top Squamish news stories from 2023

With the year coming to a close, here are some of the top stories from the year that turned heads; plus, our annual underreported story from the last year.

At the end of each year, The Squamish Chief looks back on its stories that garnered attention from you, the readers. Taking a look back on these stories perhaps best summarizes what happened in and around Squamish during 2023.

Take a look back on some of the notable stories as we head towards the new year.

Capilano University and Quest University

In February 2023, Quest University announced that it was suspending operations indefinitely at the end of its spring semester for the Squamish school. The closure, in part, was due to financial troubles, as the land and facilities were sold to Primacorp Ventures for roughly $43 million in 2020 and leased back to Quest to help with debt. 

The university held what would be its final graduation, at least for now, on April 29, 2023.

By August, the province and Capilano University would go on to announce that CapU would be purchasing the Squamish campus. Many people were in attendance at the announcement, including government officials from various parties and levels as well as CapU representatives.

“This is a spectacularly exciting day,” said Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, Selina Robinson at the announcement.

CapU reached a $63.2 million deal with Primacorp, $48 million of which was kicked in by the B.C. government. The student accommodations were not a part of the sale at the time of the purchase.

The president and vice-chancellor of Quest University, Arthur Coren, called Capilano a “positive” for the Squamish community.

“Capilano has long been a friend of Quest. Prior to the insolvency proceedings in 2020, Capilano was very supportive in a number of ways,” he wrote in an email to The Chief in August.

Not all were excited about the move, however, including Quest alumni and founder of the Save Quest campaign, Jake Henderson, who wrote to Robinson and Premier David Eby in the hours leading up to the announcement urging the B.C. government to reconsider.

Near the end of 2023, CapU officially released that it was aiming for 120 students by the fall of 2024, as applications were open for a slate of programs and degree offerings.

Business openings and closings

Several new businesses opened in 2023 and some closed as well, leading to reader intrigue throughout the year.

A new burger and cafe joint, Outbound Station, on the Sea to Sky Highway in Britannia Beach pulled in readers much like its parking lot pulls in travellers.

“We are potentially the first stop [on] somebody's dream vacation,” owner Jeffrey Edward told The Chief in April 2023. “We're potentially that first interaction and we really want to make that a super positive one.”

The eatery went on to win the New Business of the Year award at the annual Squamish Chamber of Commerce Squamish Business Excellence Awards Gala, on Nov. 3.

Nearby, the Sea to Sky was sad to lose the Mountain Woman roadside restaurant after more than four decades. 

After 39 years, Mountain Woman closed in September due to zoning issues with the new Britannia Beach housing development. 

The beloved restaurant served fish and chips, burgers, grilled cheese and more.

Squamish also said goodbye to the beloved Zephyr Cafe this year, as it closed for good in September 2023.

Owner of Zephyr, Adrian Blachut, told The Chief that he would not be relocating the cafe as it was difficult to “recreate that magic.” 

Some of the equipment would be moved to The Brackendale Art Gallery, as Blachut is a co-owner there with Jessica Rigg, which is another business change occurring in 2023

Stong’s Market plans to move into Zephyr’s previous location on Cleveland Avenue space in the spring of 2024.

The closure of Zephyr perhaps kickstarted another new business, Trickster’s Hideout, which opened the same day that Zephyr closed.

The speakeasy-themed bar and lounge is located at One and a Half Ave and comes from the minds of artists and musicians Bill Wallace, Liesl Petersen and Allen Edwards. It is a community-oriented space that will welcome and host eclectic events.

Howe Sound intrigue

Who doesn’t love seeing an orca?

As the ocean covers over 70% of Earth’s surface, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what awaits us in Howe Sound.

Two Squamish locals, Joe Eppele and Wade Laktin, caught a video of orcas that were swimming near their boat in May.

"[We] were just touring around killing a bit of time while we waited to pull the traps," Eppele told The Chief, adding they had seen the whales far off, but when they resurfaced, they were "a lot closer than expected and ended up swimming right past us." 

Outside of wildlife, a huge naval ship was spotted in Howe Sound in September called the HMCS Winnipeg

Capt. Pedram Mohyeddin, public affairs officer for the Maritime Forces in the Pacific, told The Chief that the ship had approximately 235 members on board.

Mohyeddin continued that this particular sail focused on training new marine technicians to qualify them for postings throughout the fleet. The Winnipeg was also training their bridge watchkeepers.

"Conducting this training in Howe Sound allows the ship’s company to train in a variety of waterways in the presence of many different types of vessels while experiencing the breathtaking views on that part of the coast,” he said in September.

Wildfire near Squamish

Squamish was fortunate to escape a wildfire season largely unscathed, but a fire in the Squamish Valley had the community on its toes in mid-May.

The Shovelnose Creek wildfire started on May 13 and eventually grew to a size of 38 hectares as it was deemed out-of-control. It was suspected to be caused by humans. At times, 20 firefighters and numerous helicopters were used to battle the blaze.

Much to the thanks of the B.C. Wildfire Service, the fire was eventually called out over six weeks later on June 29, though it was being held for quite some time. The Shovelnose Creek fire, however, added to what would turn out to be the most destructive wildfire season to date for B.C., as 2.84 million hectares of forest and land were burned throughout the province and thousands of people were evacuated at various times.

Tragically, six firefighters lost their lives throughout the wildfire season.

Squamish would largely undergo a fire ban for almost the entirety of the summer months. Later in August, parts of the Squamish Valley were closed due to ongoing fire concerns and monitoring by the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) was increased in the region as B.C. also announced a state of emergency across the province.

Even as 2023 nears its end, there are 106 active wildfires as of Dec. 21, all being held or under control.

FortisBC and Woodfibre LNG projects

Throughout the year, movement was made on the FortisBC and Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) projects.

The WLNG natural gas liquefaction facility took The Chief on a tour of the site preparation in July, and similar work went on well into the fall and winter months.

Meanwhile, FortisBC also began some construction activities in the fall for the Eagle Mountain to Woodfibre pipeline, which will supply natural gas to the site.

“Initial construction activities will include mobilizing equipment and materials, setting up construction offices, preparing the work sites for construction, fencing, flagging, vegetation, tree clearing and more," a spokesperson for FortisBC told The Squamish Chief in August.  

Tunnel boring machines for the project were also spotted heading to Squamish as well as portions of the steel pipe.

Not all have been receptive to the projects and District of Squamish council has shared some challenges with working with the two companies on the projects at various times throughout the year.

Near the end of the year, the two worker accommodations associated with either project were approved by the province’s Environmental Assessment Office with added conditions. 

One of those conditions were that the companies would need to implement a gender and cultural safety plan as well as establish ongoing communications with community groups such as the District and Squamish Nation.

WLNG has said workers at the floatel will be restricted from accessing Squamish for leisure or recreation. Workers with FortisBC will have to live at the established camp, which is planned to be on Mamquam River Forest Service Road. Those hired locally may continue to live in Squamish.

The District is still assessing temporary use permit applications from WLNG for the floatel and FortisBC for the worker accommodation and a laydown yard. The assessment and public feedback meeting is planning to happen in 2024.

Squamish Nation and District of Squamish agreement

The District of Squamish and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) took a step towards strengthening their relationship this year.

On July 11, Squamish  council unanimously endorsed the Wa Iy̓ím ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish Strong) protocol between the Nation and District of Squamish. After the approval, representatives from the Nation and the District attended a formal signing ceremony at Totem Hall on July 17.

"Think about what they will say about us 100 years from now, and what we did together for them," Nation spokesperson Khelsilem Rivers said at the ceremony. "I think about this protocol, and this relationship, and how both of our communities will come together to create relationships so that we can create that meaningful impact that is going to benefit all of our communities.”

The agreement commits both parties to the following Sḵwx̱wú7mesh guiding principles:

  • tkwáya7n iy nexwnew̓ítm – listen and engage 
  • wa nexwniwnen chet ta nexwniw̓ tl’a Sḵwxw̱ú7mesh – follow the ways of the Squamish 
  • tex̱wlám̓ ns7eyx̱ – genuinely care 
  • chet wa telnexw tina tl'a snewiyelh tl'a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh – learn the advice of the Squamish 
  • na wa nelhnilhtway ta úxwumixw – going through it together 
  • we7us chet ta Sḵwx̱wú7mesh siyá̓m̓in – protect the rights and title of the Squamish

“This is our renewed commitment to work with Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, to honour your principles, to build and strengthen our relationship and to move forward together in a good positive way," said Mayor Armand Hurford on July 17.

The Nation would go on to sign similar agreements with the City of Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver.

Underreported story from 2023: Coun. Eric Andersen censure

This year’s most underreported story was the censure of Coun. Eric Andersen by fellow council members. 

The Squamish Chief did cover this, but we wish we could have given readers more details.

While there was some information shared with the public on the nature of the accusations against Andersen, other information has yet to be uncovered, paving the way for this story to be the most underreported story in 2023.

It was announced on Oct. 27 that Andersen would face four penalties over the following 12 months after it was deemed he breached a section of the Community Charter and a portion of council’s Code of Conduct for allegedly disclosing confidential information.

The District said this was the first time in corporate memory that a councillor had been sanctioned. No other information about the specific disclosure was released.

As it was the first breach by Andersen, his pay was reduced by 10%, his appointments to internal and external committees and boards was revoked, he was removed from the acting mayor rotation, and will have to pledge to recommit to the code of conduct.

A University of British Columbia lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Stewart Prest, said in November this penalty was more than “a slap on the wrist.”

“It’s a significant penalty,” he told The Chief. “It’s very unusual for any elected official to lose part of their wages.”

The Chief filed a freedom of information request with the District asking for any records, documents or emails about the matter in a two-month period leading up to the release of the censure. In response, the District sent back two internal emails, both of which were notifying staff of impending media releases. One was related to the Code of Conduct media release in 2022 and the other was about the media release about Andersen’s censure.

The District wrote that “a number of other records are being withheld” under the Protection of Privacy Act under the following sections:

  • Cabinet and local public body confidences
    • S. 12(3) The head of a local public body may refuse to disclose to an applicant information that would reveal:
    • (b) the substance of deliberations of a meeting of its elected officials or of its governing body or a committee of its governing body, if an Act or a regulation under this Act authorizes the holding of that meeting in the absence of the public.
  • Legal Advice
    • S. 14 The head of a public body may refuse to disclose to an applicant information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege.
  • Disclosure harmful to law enforcement
    • S. 15(1) The head of a public body may refuse to disclose information to an applicant if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to:
    •  (a)reveal the identity of a confidential source of law enforcement information,
  • Disclosure harmful to personal privacy
    • 22(3) A disclosure of personal information is presumed to be an unreasonable invasion of a third party's personal privacy if:
    • (b)the personal information was compiled and is identifiable as part of an investigation into a possible violation of law, except to the extent that disclosure is necessary to prosecute the violation or to continue the investigation.
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