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Wreckhouse in review: 2020

“Music has always been my life. It’s not what I do. It’s who I am,” said Gordon Cormier in the first ever Music Row featured column. – © J. René Roy

Although we have only been publishing your stories since Aug. 10, even in that short span of time we’ve shared some pretty interesting stories. It was still quite difficult to choose, a solid testament to the sometimes overlooked but no less compelling stories of more rural life.

It seems we’re not alone in thinking that our region’s stories are important. One of our most common requests, even after less than a half year of publication, is access to some of our first editions. In particular, new mail subscribers living and working out of province will ask for back copies, looking for news of home.

With that in mind, we’ve selected our favourite Wreckhouse stories so far. In this week’s edition, we’ve also popped in some of the Traditions stories, although if you want recipes about how to make Christmas Potted Meat you’re going to have to buy the cookbook.

From talented artists to touching tributes to harder news, the Wreckhouse Weekly has endeavoured to provide a glimpse into our tiny corner of the world. Most of it you may be aware of, but there may just be one or two that slid under your radar.

So without further ado, here are the Top 10 stories we published and throughly enjoyed this year, in no particular order. Did yours make the list? What one did we forget? Tell us!

1. Music Row featuring Gordon Cormier.

(Vol. 1, Issue 1, Aug. 10)

Our very first Music Row column is likely to always remain one of our top favourites.

Codroy Valley musician Gordon Cormier not only sat down with editor J. René Roy to discuss his storied musical career, he was the one who reached out to suggest the idea for a regular music column in the first place!

Thanks to Cormier’s initial suggestion, we’ve also published columns on local artists, seniors and even a Meet Your Neighbour feature. Did you know that when he was only four or five years old that Cormier used to perform onstage at the Chignic Lodge? Gordon has performed as a solo artist and as a member of the Cormiers, an award-winning family musical group. His great uncle was Johnny Archie MacDonald and his niece, Mallory Johnson, has found success in country music’s famed Nashville scene. Musical talent runs in the blood for the Cormier clan.

Gordon still performs live on Facebook on Saturday nights, and he’s even hosted a virtual jamboree. His current group, the Breeze Band, played at the 2019 Deer Lake Strawberry Festival.

2. Rennie bible comes home to Cape Ray.

(Vol. 1, Issue 5, Sept. 7)

Even if you’re not particularly devout, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Rennie family bible. The gold embossed, red leather bible is filled with black and white and full colour engravings that evoke Renaissance paintings, full of light and vividly etched detail. Printed in 1892, the bible has seen its fair share of wear and tear but is still a treat for historians, art lovers and locals alike.

Originally stored at The Rooms in St. John’s, the Rennie bible has been placed on display at the Cape Ray Lighthouse Museum and Crafts. The move was prompted by Caroline Taylor, great-granddaughter of Robert Rennie, the first lightkeeper stationed at Cape Ray in its original wooden lighthouse back in 1871.

In addition to the bible, the Cape Ray Lighthouse Museum also shares photos of the Rennie family and delves into their history, as well as the history of the lightkeepers who followed.

“We’d like to have it in its proper place, where he lived,” said Anne Osmond, Chairperson for the Cape Ray Lighthouse Keepers Committee.

3. Remembering an icon: Jim Hayward.

(Vol. 1, Issue 6, Sept. 14)

Loss is never easy, and writing tributes of remembrance for public consumption that extend beyond the traditional obituary can be very painful. Stepping outside his role as MHA for Burgeo-La Poile, Andrew Parsons penned a touching memorial to his old hockey coach, Jim Hayward.

Hayward’s legacy lies not in the coaching itself, but rather in all of the players he coached, his words still echoing in their ears decades after they hung up their skates. Like youth sport coaches everywhere, he helped shape the adults his players eventually grew to be.

“If there were to be a Mount Rushmore of local hockey figures, he would undoubtedly be one of the prominent figures in this sculpture,” wrote Parsons.

4. Outfitters struggles impact region.

(Vol. 1, Issue 8, Sept. 28)

The fiscal realities of COVID-19 continue to reverberate around the globe, and while the Southwest Coast has not yet registered a single case, that is not to say the region as a whole isn’t being hit hard. Small businesses, the backbone of any economy, have moved beyond suffering and into financial ruin thanks to the mandated shutdowns.

Mountain Top Outfitters and the Silver Sands Restaurant, owned and operated by Arthur and Debbie Ryan, are among those trying to stay afloat. They’ve gotten creative and re-targeted clients or accommodated those they could, but the couple fears that it may take years to rebuild their business – if and when the pandemic recedes. Compounding the situation is that because the outfitter and restaurant are so closely tied to other businesses in the Codroy Valley, the ripple effect has been exacerbated.

“I don’t know. I just take it a day at a time,” said Arthur.

5. Saving St. James Anglican Church.

(Vol. 1, Issue 10, Oct. 12)

How do you save a historic church that needs repairs too costly for an increasingly smaller congregation, especially when scheduled worship services must adjust to compensate for pandemic protocols? That is one of the larger problems facing Rev. Jane Allen of St. James Anglican Church in Port aux Basques.

Over one hundred years of the town’s history can be tied to St. James, and that’s about as old as the building itself is. If the town shows no sign of aging, the same can’t be said true of the church.

Repairing the prominent towers alone cost over $30,000 and the exterior and the roof will cost even more. Overhauling the church will keep it standing for another 50 or 60 years, assuming the funds can be raised. Letting it fall to ruin is simply not an option.

“It’s a landmark. Our church is a landmark,” said Allen. “You can see it whichever way you come. My father used to use it as a marker when he was out fishing.”

6. Accidental archaeology.

(Vol. 1, Issue 13, Nov. 2)

Who doesn’t like finding buried treasure? Of course ‘treasure’ might be too generous a word, given that all First Choice Convenience owner Jeannette Tobin found was a long-forgotten basement.

Chasing a water leak, the excavator instead unearthed a basement beneath the store’s driveway. Inside was a lot of canvas, wood, rubble and a crushed orange and brown Frostie Root Beer soda can. Had it been intact, Tobin could have sold it for about $11 on e-Bay.

After much discussion, a trip or two down memory lane, and a hefty assist from the Southwest Coast Historical Society, it seems likely that the basement belonged to an old barber shop.

“We never knew it was there. We’ve been walking on it all along,” said Tobin.

7. A mother’s love.

(Vol. 1, Issue 14, Nov. 9)

So much of life is unkind or unfair, yet people continue to find grace and beauty despite the hardships. Jackiee Sweet’s story of young mother Brittany Gaudet’s struggle to help her daughter, Jersey, battle Battens disease, offered insight into strength and courage to cope with the unthinkable.

Gaudet lost one child to Battens disease, her beloved Ava. Then she learned she would have to battle for Jersey too. That means regular, bi-weekly 10 hour drives for medical treatment and a steady stream of doctors, nurses and sleepless nights. It takes an egregious toll that very few can ever truly understand, but Gaudet shows no sign of fatigue or surrender.

“The sky is the limit for my kids. I won’t stop until I an do all I can for them,” promised Gaudet.

8. Poor cell service impacts 911 response.

(Vol. 1, Issue 17, Nov. 30)

Imagine you have an accident somewhere on a road along the Southwest Coast – even the Trans Canada Highway, that main artery that runs the breadth of the world’s second largest country. But you can’t call for help, and anyone who stops to render aid will have to leave you, alone and bleeding, just to call 911.

It’s 2020 and everyone has a cell phone, but not everyone has service. Those dropped cell signals are commonplace around the province. First responders, politicians and even the service providers are trying to fix it, so what’s the hold up? Is it really all about money?

“Times are changing, and people are moving from landlines to cell phones and that’s not always a benefit to first responders,” says RCMP Cpl. Colin Helm of the Port aux Basques detachment.

9. Silent witness: Arrow Air Flight 1285.

(Vol. 1, Issue 19, Dec. 14)

Listening to retired RCMP officer Bob Hinks talk about his experience in the aftermath of the Arrow Air Flight 1285 plane crash sends chills down the spine. For Hinks, meanwhile, chills would be an improvement. He suffers from PTSD. Decades later he can still detail the sights, sounds, smells of that day and just discussing it can result in a bad day, a bad night.

Hinks was among the first to respond to the McDonnell Douglas DC-8 wreckage. The flight, carrying 256 souls, crashed shortly after takeoff from Gander on Dec. 12, 1985 and remains the deadliest crash in Canadian history and the U.S. Army’s single deadliest peacetime air disaster.

“He was just sitting there, and I asked him, ‘Are you okay?’ And he was dead,” recounted Hinks.

10. Grinch sightings increase.

(Vol. 1, Issue 20, Dec. 21)

Call us biased. We’re enjoying The Grinch as much as everyone else is.

From taunting school children to snarking at seniors, attempting to steal ornaments, wreck trees or swipe Christmas dinners, the Grinch has helped spread some silliness with his antics.

Were you lucky enough to spot him with his little dog, Max, or were you one of the poor motorists forced to wait while he halted traffic so he could swagger his way across the street?

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