The death of a Chilliwack truck driver in a collision at Highway 1 and Cornwall Road happened on December 30, 2016; but it was the front page story for the first issue of The Journal of 2017. It was swiftly followed by a CP derailment near Ashcroft, the death of a family of four in Venables Valley, the death of an Ashcroft-area woman in the Thompson River, and the death of a Cache Creek resident in another collision, this one at the junction of Highways 1 and 97C.
It was a brutal start to 2017, and an unprecedented string of tragedies for the area. Then, in May, Cache Creek fire chief Clayton Cassidy went missing in the midst of yet more flooding in that Village, and was not found for three weeks.
Barely had we started to recover from that when the Elephant Hill wildfire broke out on July 6 and exploded on July 7, causing massive destruction and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. The fire was not fully contained until 83 days after it started, and I admit I cried tears of relief when I heard that news.
In any given year, any one of the above stories would have been bad enough. Cumulatively, they made 2017 the most brutal one I can recall, as both a long-time resident of Ashcroft and the person whose job it is to report on these things. Indeed, so filled with tragedy and disaster was 2017 that I had completely forgotten about the CP derailment until it came time to go through last year’s papers and start doing the “2017 in review” series.
Elsewhere in this issue, South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society executive director Yoriko Susanj talks about the vicarious stress her staff are experiencing, as they assist people affected by the wildfire. I suspect that was what I felt this past year, as I wrote story after story detailing disasters and tragedies: not because I wanted to, but because it was my job.
I’m conscious that many people—some of them friends, or people I now consider friends—lost everything, and that I was one of the fortunate ones: I was able to stay in my home. However, I suspect a lot of people who were in the same boat as me have suffered, or are still suffering, from vicarious stress after the past year’s events.
How to put that behind and move on will vary from person to person. For me, the first week of writing about the fire was the hardest; coming on the heels of all the other terrible stories I had had to cover, I wondered if this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Then I was able to begin reporting on the stories of quiet heroism and aid that abounded in the wake of the wildfires, and that helped. Writing about the fire was inescapable; but being able to write about people at their finest and most generous was, it seems, just what I needed.
What will 2018 bring for us all? No one can say. If you had asked me, this time last year, what I thought 2017 would bring, none of the events mentioned above would have made the list. I suspect that the best we can do is hope for a better year, and strive to do what we can to make things better. That’s a New Year’s resolution I think we can all get behind.