So long, 2020. (Chilliwack Progress illustration, COVID-19 Image courtesy CDC))

So long, 2020. (Chilliwack Progress illustration, COVID-19 Image courtesy CDC))

TOP STORIES 2020: A look back at an unforgettable year in Chilliwack

‘All we can do is hope for something better and that the community stays strong together’

How does one begin to unpack a year like 2020?

A year we will never forget. A global pandemic rocked our community, our province, our nation, the planet.

This year was so unusual it sent journalists scrambling to the thesaurus to avoid saying the same thing over and over. (The expression “amid a pandemic” quickly became as tiresome as “the new normal.”)

It goes without saying that from mid-March to now, COVID-19 has been the theme of 2020, even as other subjects were written about and reported on, it was often done so in the context of the pandemic.

The mental health and overdose crisis, arts, sports, courts, real estate, development, the economy, all were covered in the context of the effect this virus had on us all.

This year started normally enough, with some stories you might forget: the IGA shut its doors for good; there was the Sto:lo protest in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en; more and more retail cannabis shops opened up.

And while the pandemic did not hit us in British Columbia until March, former Chilliwack Progress editor Greg Knill wrote a prescient column in the Jan. 29 edition under the headline (in print): “Health officials balance caution with alarm.” At that writing, there was one confirmed case in Seattle and a suspected one in Vancouver. That was 11 months ago.

READ MORE: B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

READ MORE: Sto:lo protest in support of Wet’suwet’en shuts down busiest intersection in Chilliwack

In the March 13 edition of The Progress, we had three stories that touched on COVID-19. On March 18, there were 11, and on it went.

Of course, it wasn’t all pandemic this year, even if it mostly was. Named by this newspaper the newsmaker of 2019, school trustee Barry Neufeld made even more headlines in 2020 kicking off January by filing an appeal to the BC Supreme Court tossing out his defamation lawsuit against Glen Hansman. That followed social media tirades against Dr. Theresa Tam, for which he apologized, then censure by the school board. He then called members of our staff the R-word, which prompted outrage. The outgoing and incoming Ministers of Education have both called for him to resign.

Former BC Liberal MLA Laurie Throness, too, had a tumultuous year, with the NDP calling for his ouster for his advertising and statements made. Eventually, he was forced to resign, and Throness served as a symbol of the trouble within the BC Liberal’s big tent. That led to an NDP majority election win, including a surprise orange wave washing over the two local ridings.

But COVID-19 just wouldn’t go away. The pandemic struck hard and fast with shutdowns across the board in April. We cheered for healthcare workers, crafters sewed masks, and mental health quickly became an important subject.

READ MORE: All your COVID-19 coverage in one place

In May, some businesses that didn’t shutter for good started to open again. Some kids were back in school classes, some stayed home. In June, playgrounds, weight rooms, and spray parks reopened. We started to look past the first wave, relied on Dr. Bonnie Henry’s calm words and as the days got longer, the curve flattened.

Then July hit. We were always told a second wave was inevitable, but how bad would it be? Beaches and trails and parks were packed in the summer months as indoor gatherings were restricted. Being outside was both encouraged and was the natural thing to do. Up to August 21, there were just 34 cases in Chilliwack. Did this spur complacency or was a serious second surge inevitable?

In October, there was the start of ongoing confusion about how school exposures were reported, a confusion that never left us. In November, 36 cases were linked to one local dance school and finger pointing, blame and shame were an unfortunate side effect.

At least three local churches then decided to defy public health orders, culminating in $18,400 in fines, and the start of what could be a protracted legal battle with some pointing to religious protection in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

By this week, the death toll hit 15,000 in Canada, and while infection numbers seem to be levelling off, it’s all but certain the numbers will spike again as many people gathered over the Christmas holiday.

Through it all, however, we learned a lot. We learned that in a tragedy, the wealthy actually get wealthier, and the poor, well they lose more.

During this global pandemic, close to home, the general public learned what journalists have long known, that Canadian governments at all levels default to opacity over transparency whenever possible. Reporters had to beg and plead for COVID-19 data at the municipal level, which was only reluctantly provided.

We also learned this year what we could live without, what we could not live without, and the definition of “essential” was up for debate. Groceries? Essential. The beach in summer with friends? Not so much. In-person church services? No.

I think we also learned to stop sweating the small stuff. As an editor of a community newspaper, the number of letters to the editor complaining about garbage pickup or rezoning applications have dropped right off. Now it’s mostly philosophical contemplations from 30,000 feet.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack Progress Letters

COVID-19 dominated news coverage this year but even the pandemic stories were not all negative. Repeatedly we have seen that whenever there is tragedy or strife, this community comes together, whether it’s a missing person, the death of a teenager, or, as we’ve seen now, even a global pandemic.

It’s been said that children are learning resilience through all this. For those who didn’t suffer personal loss such as the death of a family member, what didn’t kill them could well make them stronger. We learn very little from success and when things go precisely as planned. We learn from failure, from mistakes, and when things go wrong. And boy, did things go wrong in 2020.

There will still be hard times ahead in 2021. Many of us struggled mightily, many of us took up new hobbies, sports, learned to live differently, and many of us grew in positive ways.

All we can do is hope for something better and that the community stays strong together.

See you next year. I’m looking forward to it.

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