Year in Review: Sunfest, woman found, elk tangled in summer

July through September saw lots to see and do at the Lake

Country superstar Carrie Underwood thrilled fans at Sunfest. It was the music festival’s first year in its new location at Meade Creek.


This month the Lake Cowichan First Nation announced it was moving ahead with ambitious economic development plans for the community that include an ecotourism business and a lakeside cafe. The LCFN has purchased kayaks and canoes with plans to begin renting them for use on the lake and eventually offering guided paddling tours.

They are also planning a two-level waterfront structure called the Ts’uubaa-asatx Cafe, which would have a “First Nations-infused” menu, featuring items like salmon, bannock and possibly elk. The cafe would primarily focus on light fare — sandwiches and baked goods — but would be licensed.

“The cafe is going to be our show piece building. It’s really meant to be a beacon,” said Aaron Hamilton. “It’s going to include a lot of our arts and will incorporate throughout the cafe artifacts about who Ts’uubaa-asatx is.”

July was also the month that town council voted unanimously to deny a business licence to a medical marijuana dispensary seeking to set up shop at the lake. The town’s finance and administration committee opposed VanCan Medical Society’s request for a licence to operate in Lake Cowichan.

“The bottom line is, until the feds change the regulations and allow for retail sales of medical marijuana it should not be one that should be considered by council until such time,” said chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez.

Sunfest 2016 capped off July with four days of sun and music at Laketown Ranch — a first for the country musical festival that has been around for more than 15 years.

Headliners this year included Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Dallas Smith, Neal McCoy, High Valley and many more.

The weekend saw a steady increase in attendance with approximately 13,500 on Thursday; 15,000 on Friday; 17,500 on Saturday for Carrie Underwood; and slightly more for Dierks Bentley on Sunday.

“We all feel this was a huge success,” said Emmalee Brunt, Sunfest’s public relations and marketing manager. “Jan. 17 we got the permits for this [site]. And within seven months it turned into this. I think for all of us it was very mind-blowing.”


A woman who was missing in the woods near Copper Canyon for six days was found alive on Aug. 4 and airlifted to Nanaimo for treatment. Irene Paquet, 67, was reported missing on July 30, having been last seen the day before leaving Cowichan Neighbourhood House in Chemainus where she volunteers. Paquet was found about two kilometres from her vehicle, which had gone off the road and into a ditch about 50 kilometres up River Road off the Trans Canada Highway.

Paquet’s daughter, Celeste, said it was “an amazing miracle” that her mother was not only found but was able to survive in the woods for six days and five nights.

Chad Bergman of Lake Cowichan, who was out dirt biking on area trails starting in Youbou, came upon Paquet’s white Hyundai Accent and immediately stopped to investigate further. He had seen a post on Facebook about the missing woman and he assisted police in locating her vehicle, which ultimately led to her discovery as well.

Outdoorsmen from the Cowichan Lake area were angered and dismayed following a break-in and theft from the Valley Fish and Game Club at the beginning of the month.

Wally Baas, vice president of the club, said the perpetrators basically took whatever they could, and the seemingly indiscriminate nature of their actions has led Baas to suspect this is the work of drug addicts.

“Basically they’re crack heads. They stole three quarters of a jerry can of gas (jerry can included), they went into the freezers and stole burgers and food,” he said. “The worst of what they stole as far as I’m concerned is all the kids’ fishing stuff. Rods, tackle boxes, all the derby stuff for the kids Derby.” These items are given out as prizes during the club’s annual kids fishing derby in June.

On Aug. 29, the body of a boater in Cowichan Lake was recovered by authorities. He had been last seen the day before, in the water near Maple Grove Campground, calling for help.

“Subsequent investigation revealed that a lone male had been seen earlier operating a small red boat out on the lake in that area. Unfortunately the wind came up and I think the lake got rough and unfortunately caused issues for the boater,” said RCMP Sgt. Wes Olsen. “We have not recovered the boat but we suspect that the boat took on water and sank.”

The B.C. Coroners Service has not revealed the victim’s name, despite multiple request from the Gazette.

On a happier note, August ended with the Cowichan Lake Community Garden finding a new location after redevelopment of Centennial Park forced them to dismantle their garden. The garden will now be at Ravine Park, behind the old Stanley Gordon School in the 100 Houses Neighbourhood. The park is accessible via Stone Avenue.


The school year kicked off in Lake Cowichan in September with the addition of a new principal at LCS. Jaime Doyle took over the position from Nicole Boucher, who is now principal of Cowichan Secondary School’s Quamichan Campus.

“I believe school has to be a fun place. If kids are having fun then they’re doing the learning as well,” said Doyle.

His previous post, as principal of Cowichan Secondary, meant overseeing a student body of about 1,600 pupils, which made it impossible to truly get to know all the students. Working at LCS, Doyle looks forward to getting to know every kid, every family.

While the town said hello to its new principal, Lake Cowichan also said goodbye to one of its longtime shop owners who passed the reigns of her business on to another local entrepreneur. Dot Lungal, who ran the Footwear Centre on South Shore Road for more than 35 years, retired this month. Taking over the store is Denise Allan, who owned and operated the Bottle Depot until last month.

Allan is also chairwoman of the Lady of the Lake Society. What Dot will miss most about the job: the people.

September was also the month two bull elk became minor celebrities at the lake — “Monster Mesh” and “Line Dancer” as they became known for the backyard materials that had become entangled in their antlers. The former had a mass of garden mesh in its rack while the latter had clothesline wrapped around it. Denis Martel of the Wilderness Watch committee said he was worried about both animals, especially with mating season around the corner. Both animals would be at a disadvantage.

“The one with the mesh we’re a little concerned with because any rival bull that he spars with has the upper hand right away because he has full sight,” said Martel.

Water levels in the lake this month continued to plunge to dangerous depths, and Catalyst Paper predicted that according to current levels, natural water flow over the weir would cease before the end of September. Brian Houle, environment manager at Catalyst, said 2015 had been their worst year ever in terms of water levels, but 2016 “was momentously worse”.

By the end of the month, 20 pumps were installed at the weir to be used in the event the weir reached the dreaded zero storage level. Originally the plan was to use diesel-powered pumps, however, that changed following consultation with BC Hydro, and transformers were installed by the weir’s lock.

Rainfall towards the end of September pushed the earliest possible pump date into October.

Lake Cowichan Gazette

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