One year ago I was driving to Lake Cowichan for the first time ever. I’d accepted this position at the Gazette without ever having actually visited the area. Besides some cursory Googling and the positive things I heard from friends who vacationed here before, I didn’t really know what to expect.
Coming up Highway 18 on a grey afternoon in December, the tall trees looming on either side of the road, fog and low clouds all around, it created an undeniable sense of foreboding.
I couldn’t help but wonder: What the heck am I getting myself into?
The fog and rain stayed for several days — it felt more like weeks — but what did clear up almost immediately was any lingering doubts I had about my decision to come and live here.
There’s no better way to be introduced to a new community than as a reporter. From the very first day I was meeting people (lots of people, and consequently mixing up lots of names); attending gatherings and sporting events and fundraisers; learning about this area’s rich history.
My friends who work as reporters in places like Vancouver or Toronto or even Yellowknife (the biggest little city I’ve ever known) all asked the same thing: in an area like the Cowichan Lake, with a population this size, how was I ever going to find enough to write about each week?
These friends clearly do not know Lake Cowichan, Mesachie Lake, Honeymoon Bay or Youbou.
During my time here I’ve been continually amazed by all that’s going on around the Lake. And by the many dedicated volunteers — long-timers and newcomers alike — who are doing everything they can to keep these communities and their traditions alive.
There’s always been more happening at the Lake than I’ve had time to cover as a single reporter, and for those whose events I couldn’t make it to or whose stories or photos didn’t wind up on the printed page, I hope you’ll understand.
And I hope, since you’re reading this today, that means you also understand the importance of having a community reporter. I know how this probably sounds, but hear me out. I’m not talking about myself or any specific individual reporter.
Lake Cowichan is a community on the grow. Even in my short time here, I’ve seen big changes. Municipal projects like signage, beautification and Centennial Park’s redevelopment; new commercial ventures, big and small; and grassroots initiatives, whether for the arts or pickle ball or community safety — Lake Cowichan and its neighbouring communities are growing. Like a second growth forest, it’s taken time for the area to recover but it’s happening. It’s taking shape.
Now more than ever it’s important for Cowichan Lake to have a local paper, a local reporter. And no one’s paying me to write those words, I swear. This farewell address isn’t a pledge drive, a call to renew your subscriptions. No. Whether it’s called the Lake Cowichan Gazette or something else and no matter who owns it, a local news source is important to a community.
The stories of people in small towns matter just as much as those in the big cities, but we can’t count on the Times Colonist to cover ours unless there’s been a drowning in the lake or Carrie Underwood’s coming to perform.
Since you’re reading this, it means I’m preaching to choir, but I’ve got to say it anyway. Continue to support those who come after me — Lexi and my colleagues at the Citizen and whoever comes after them. Send story tips, write letters to the editor, tell your friends “I read it in the Gazette” or the Bugle or the Chronicle or whatever future form your local paper takes.
Because as the Lake continues to grow and change, having someone there to document, to record, to probe and keep track is going to only become more important.
For me, getting to spend this year hearing and writing your stories, documenting 2016 at the Cowichan Lake, has been a great privilege.
I look forward to returning many times in the future — although this may be my last time enjoying Highway 18 in the December fog and rain — and I look forward to reading about what’s been going on around the lake.