You are currently viewing A flooded yard, a chilling courtroom video, an outspoken realtor, and a magical proposal: Our most memorable stories of 2021 – Vancouver Sun

A flooded yard, a chilling courtroom video, an outspoken realtor, and a magical proposal: Our most memorable stories of 2021 – Vancouver Sun

From watching Christine Sinclair finally get her gold medal to covering floods while also being evacuated, our reporters look back at the stories that stuck with them in 2021.
Undoubtedly, many people will ring in 2022 by saying “good riddance” to 2021. Heartache and calamity were prominent in many of the stories covered by Postmedia journalists this past year. But amid the doom and gloom, their stories also touched on themes of unity, triumph, ingenuity, audaciousness and love. Here, in their own words, are some of their most memorable:
I first interviewed Christine Sinclair when she was a shy, one-word-answer soccer phenomenon who was still in high school but playing for Canada’s women’s team.
Still 17 years old, Sinclair scored in a game against the United States, the last game, it turned out, that Canada had beaten their bitter rivals until this year’s Olympics.
It was so wonderful to watch the highest international goal scorer in soccer history lay on the grass at Tokyo’s Kashima Stadium and revel in redemption for a 2012 controversial loss to the U.S. at the London Games.
Sinclair is now 38 and Team Canada had gone 0-37 against the Americans until their semifinal victory in Japan this summer, which relegated the U.S. to the bronze-medal game and propelled Canada to face Sweden for gold.
It was great talking to Sinclair’s former national teammates — Emily Zurrer, Brittany Timko Baxter — about what a gold medal would mean for the Burnaby superstar.
“The journey Sinc has been on with this team, we came so close and had so many moments of triumph with those bronze medals in 2012 and again in 2016,” Zurrer said. “She deserves a gold medal. She’s worked her whole career for it.”
Four days after that win over the U.S., on Aug. 6, Sinclair had her gold.
It’s a strange experience to be approached by a journalist hoping to tell your story.
When it happened to me, as I stood in my flooded front yard a few weeks ago, I felt confused. This isn’t the part I’m meant to play here.
I’m used to doing the approaching. I ask people to share their stories because I firmly believe the public needs to hear them to better understand what happened, what was lost, or how to help.
I did a lot of approaching this summer. The morning after a wildfire destroyed Lytton, I asked Jeff Chapman, a man who lost both his parents in the inferno, to let me share his story. I’ll never forget his courage as he talked about his dad, a retired mechanic who loved Lytton’s hot summers, and his mom, who selflessly cared for his disabled brother.
But it’s sometimes easier to tell other people’s stories than it is to tell your own.
I grew up on the Sumas Prairie, and I love my home there. I know it’s on the floodplain, but I never thought it would flood. It’s like I know B.C. could experience an earthquake, but I’m not really expecting it.
Looking out my front door, I can see for a mile in every direction across fields of grass and blueberries. On Nov. 16, in the grey dawn light, I could see police cars in three directions, stopping to tell people to evacuate. When I looked south, I saw a white smudge where there is usually a road. It was water from an overflowing ditch, cascading over the asphalt and into a field on the other side. I didn’t think there could be enough water to reach us.
I’ve sometimes thought about what I’d take if my house was burning down around me. With our three kids and two cats in the car, my husband and I took photo albums, documents and our hard drive. And then we left. It felt wrong, like we were abandoning our neighbours, but we didn’t want to put our kids in danger.
Friends in Chilliwack took us in without hesitation, but I hardly slept our first night away from home. I heard helicopters overhead and cattle trailers rattling past on the road.
I am grateful to those first responders who rescued many of my neighbours that night, and I am inspired by the farmers who made dozens of trips to evacuate livestock from flooded barns. I am proud of my parents who would not leave their animals and were fortunate to remain dry as their farm became an island. And I am humbled by the 300 volunteers who sandbagged the Barrowtown Pump Station through the night, possibly saving lives and certainly saving homes, as well as all the helpers whose stories have not be told.
That day began our month-long evacuation, which at this time of writing, continues. We are incredibly blessed that our house was not inundated, although we did experience some losses. My heart breaks for those whose homes were destroyed.
I keep telling my kids that I hope this experience makes us better people. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I want to somehow repay the kindness we’ve been shown by family, friends and complete strangers from across B.C. At a time when COVID has created divisions, I have experienced unity.
Through it all, it has been a privilege to share my community’s stories.
It was described as “chilling” by Crown counsel, and it lived up to the billing.
The most memorable event covering the courts for me in 2021 was the day in March when the prosecution played a video showing a woman shortly after she had been repeatedly stabbed by her jealous former boyfriend.
The video, shot by Jan Poepl using his cellphone, depicted his former girlfriend, Nicole Hasselmann, as she struggled to breathe in Poepl’s car following the attack.
The judge warned the courtroom in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver that the video was going to be graphic and invited those in the public gallery to leave if they became uncomfortable.
The visibly distraught father of the murder victim did get up from his seat and left. A brother of the victim shouted and swore at Poepl, telling him to raise his head and watch the video, which was being played during Poepl’s sentencing hearing.
Poepl had pleaded guilty to the November 2018 second-degree murder of Hasselmann. Court heard that after the attack, Poepl had driven the vehicle into a power pole, killing his former girlfriend.
The accused received the mandatory sentence of life in prison with no parole eligibility of 15 years.
Controversial Vancouver realtor Layla Yang, who sells homes in the $5 million-to-$15 million range, says she’s the kind of woman who speaks the truth, while most Vancouverites are too hypocritical to do so. And she’s probably right, especially when it comes to the city’s fieriest issue: Housing.
So it was invigorating to catch up on the former flight attendant’s provocative life, career and quotes : China-born Yang thinks any politician who wants to restrict foreign buyers, with whom she deals often, is “against capitalism.”
She supports house-flipping and tells other realtors “the only language you need to know is money.”
She’s constantly keeping lawyers busy with her legal and regulative troubles, including over a sexually racy video she made about what it’s like to be a “real estate general.”
Ask her if she cares about pushback: “I’m female. I’m an agent. I’m beautiful. And I don’t care about those people. You know what I mean?”
My column about Yang was my second-most-read piece of 2021, beaten only by “ Vancouver is still suffering from fallout due to ‘students’ buying mansions.” It’s a strategy Yang knows well. Canada’s housing unaffordability debate is excruciating, but audacious players like Yang illustrate it’s rarely dull.
When Don Iverson emailed me to say that he hoped to propose to his girlfriend, Chandra Pope, at Imagine Van Gogh: The Immersive Exhibition, it was a shot in the dark.
He didn’t have a ring, the exhibition organizers hadn’t replied to him, and, well, hard-nosed news reporters aren’t generally part of the wedding industrial complex. We are not about making dreams come true. We break news, hold powerful institutions to account and maintain a bulletproof sense of detachment.
We don’t get involved in personal stuff.
But Iverson mentioned he was also in town for treatment of Stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma. He had always been a tough nut to crack. He found it hard to say: “I love you.” Now he wanted to say it in a big way.
He got to me.
A few phone calls and emails later, I learned the Van Gogh people had never received Iverson’s emails. When they heard his story, they jumped on-board. Like news reporters, fine arts groups aren’t in the business of wedding proposals, but this one was different.
We made it happen.
The story got to readers the same way it got to me. Love isn’t really breaking news, but sometimes it’s the news we need.
(Oh, and spoiler alert: Iverson’s CAR T cell therapy is “working really well” and the couple is doing great.)
From the deadly heat dome to wildfires and floods, we wrote a lot of climate crisis-related stories this year so it’s difficult to choose just one. But a yarn that stands out in my mind is that of the Kamloops-area couple who bought a fire truck to help save their house from the flames.
There are so many tales of neighbours coming together to help each other during B.C.’s multiple natural disasters, but I loved this story because they took drastic measures during an extremely dangerous situation.
When Criss Creek couple Andrea and Magnus Mussfeld were told by a wildfire official that they didn’t have enough resources to save their house from the Sparks Lake wildfire, they took measure into their own hands. That included digging their own fire guard and buying the fire truck with the help of fundraising efforts in the community.
It helped and their house was spared. The person they bought the truck off of even put a decal on it with their family name.
At 10 a.m. on April 30, 2021, the city-imposed deadline to clear what had been Canada’s largest homeless encampment passed without incident.
Unlike three months later in Toronto, where violent scenes made national news as police forcefully evicted homeless encampments, the Vancouver police at Strathcona Park’s “deadline day” calmly remained around the park’s perimeter. Happily, no major incidents were reported.
I still found that morning memorable. For one thing, it marked one of the first times in more than a year that I was out reporting in the field, outside my home office. It was a city park not far from home, not some far-off destination, but being there allowed me to witness an important day, and, instead of relying on the usual spokespeople, I spoke with unhoused folks we don’t always hear in the news.
I’m fortunate I could work remotely during COVID-19. Many people in Strathcona that morning — including police and other first responders, outreach workers and our hard-working Sun and Province photographers — never had that option. I’m thankful to them. Of course, many other people in the park had no safe, physically distanced space of their own. I’ll try to keep them in mind, too, when I complain about being stuck at home.
When I heard about an art exhibition at The Blue Cabin, it felt like a return to a kind of normal. It wasn’t, at least not in the first few months of 2021 when vaccines had yet to be widely available, but it did mean going to see something new after months of staying home and pretty well avoiding public events.
Artist Pippa Lattey had reimagined the upright piano played by jazz musician and artist Al Neil in the Blue Cabin over a period of 40 years when it was located on pilings in the foreshore of Cates Park, Tsleil-Waututh territory. Rebuilt and restored, the cabin had a new life as a temporary floating artist residency at the Plaza of Nations in False Creek.
The piano was nestled into a circular metal frame with several bells and wooden balls that made sounds as the piano spun in response to an algorithm based on natural processes such as tides. It also played the first few notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song I’d loved since first hearing Judy Garland sing it in The Wizard of Oz. Playful and historic, Lattey’s installation was a perfect antidote to the first COVID-19 winter.
Dialogue series of the Permafrost Carbon Feedback Action Group isn’t an event title that rolls off the tongue, but it stands out for me as a story that I covered that offered a bigger-picture background to a lot of the other major stories that emerged in 2021.
The four-session, online dialogue series gathered scientists, philosophers, journalists and policy experts to talk about the problem of thawing permafrost under conditions of climate change, which is warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet.
Permafrost, the organic matter and soils that have been frozen deep beneath the Arctic, sequester twice the amount of carbon that is already in the atmosphere. As it thaws, however, it has the potential to release huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide.
Warming conditions could reach a “tipping point,” if global warming isn’t held to two degrees Celsius, the conference was warned.
And that concern, for me, echoed through B.C.’s major stories from the devastating heat dome that delivered a Canadian all-time record 49.6 C high temperature to Lytton — the day before the village burned down, a third-worst wildfire season ever in the province and the unprecedented deluge of so-called atmospheric river conditions in November that led to catastrophic flooding in the Fraser Valley and washouts that decimated several B.C. highways.
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