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Wreckhouse Weekly’s Top 10 Stories of 2021

By Rosalyn Roy Editorial Director

PORT AUX BASQUES – Every year the staff and family at Wreckhouse Press pick our Top 10 favourite stories that have appeared in our print and/or online edition. It is always difficult to choose, for a very good reason.

We are fortunate to have profiled a great number of artists, seniors and innovators over the course of 2020. We’ve also had some fascinating news stories that have triggered strong reactions – both positive and negative. We’ve endured yet another long year of a pandemic and provincially mandated lockdowns.

But we’ve scoured all of the issues and pulled our Top 10. Here they are, along with a brief note about why they made the cut. Did yours make the list?

1. MAID by John Spencer

The choice for the Weekly’s top story of 2021 wasn’t written by a member of the reporting staff or even a freelancer, but was instead a heartfelt and courageous contribution about choosing Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) by John Spencer. The three part series that appeared in the January 11, 18 and 25th editions (Volume 2, Issues 2-4) offered an open, honest and truly fearless look at what it means to receive a terminal diagnosis and how to remain in control of one’s own destiny and on one’s own terms.

Interspersed with bits of humour by the article’s focus – Norm Osmond – and related by Spencer’s blunt but overwhelmingly truthful writing style, the piece evoked a plethora of emotions ranging from fascination to heartbreak and a touch of catharsis. The public response to the series was enormous, proving just how relatable the series was and still remains.

2. Dymond Group buys SV Airport

Although Stephenville doesn’t technically lie within the Weekly’s coverage map, the sale of its long-struggling regional airport to the Dymond Group of Companies provoked strong reaction throughout the entire Southwest and West coast regions. Stephenville Airport Sale Bodes Well for Entire Southwest Coast (Sept. 13, Vol. 2, Iss. 37) was a joint article by all members of the Weekly and Appalachian’s writing team and was simply great fun for the newsroom to work on together.

Interviews with Carl Dymond about specifics surrounding the airport’s future would follow in later articles, but it was completely impossible to ignore the announcement and the possibilities the sale offered to commuter residents, businesses and the economic makeup of the region.

“It was great to see a re-invigoration of the airline industry on the West coast, not to mention the incredible transportation technology developed by Dymond,” said Ryan King (Community News Reporter).

Community leaders from around the Southwest Coast seemed to agree.

3. The storm

The single biggest story of the year for this region caused the Wreckhouse Weekly to sell out entirely and prompted customers to swing by the office for more copies of Storm Slams into Southwest Coast (Nov. 29, Vol. 2, Iss. 48). Once again this series saw all of the newsroom’s team pull together to cover the multiple stories that unfolded.

News media from around the province and across the country sent journalists to cover the brutal atmospheric river storm that cut the Southwest Coast off from the rest of the island and necessitated ferrying residents in and out by helicopter. Marine Atlantic was forced to re-route its ferry service to Argentia to maintain supply lines, and neighbours and emergency services worked together to ensure residents were kept safe, warm and fed.

The photos, videos and interviews during and after the storm blew up the Weekly’s social media accounts, and even our own staff were roped into interviews as our editor-in-chief and his father were both inundated by French media requests from Québec and New Brunswick. It was a wild, wet and truly unforgettable week.

4. Illegal dumping near cemetery

It’s bad enough that illegal dumping persists despite a necessary provincial recycling program, but to do it near a cemetery is outright offensive. Disrespecting The Dead: Illegal Dumping by Ryan King (May 31, Vol. 2, Iss. 22) showed just why people should embrace a different attitude when it comes to the environment and the effect it has on others when they won’t. Why is it that some would rather force others to clean soiled coffee filters and old toilet seats off a loved one’s headstone rather than just pay a tipping fee and help protect the province’s stunning beauty, wildlife and future?

5. Trikers for Life

Around 30 years after seven local gentlemen rode on ATVs from St. John’s to Port aux Basques, the Weekly took a look back at their historic journey in 30th Anniversary of Trikers for Life (July 12, Vol. 2, Iss. 28). Don Hann, Jim Baggs, Allen Norman, Allen Hewitt, Melvin Yetman, Frank Pike and Dave Butt got the idea from Willard Kettle to ride the recently decommissioned rail bed (now the Newfoundland T’Railway) to raise funds for the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Healthcare Foundation in the wake of yet more provincial healthcare cutbacks. Their adventure was not without its challenges and triumphs, and still lives on in the photographs of Don Butt’s souvenir album and the stories he so generously shared.

6. Torpedoed bravery

Newfoundlanders love their history and the Southwest Coast has a rich one to share. Torpedoed: WWII Bravery Connects Two Sons (May 24, Vol. 2, Iss. 21) is one of those stories, the kind that not only offer a moment in history, but links together two families after the sinking of the S.S. Kitty’s Brook by a German U-boat in 1942 off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia on a return trip from Newfoundland.

Harold Richards rescued Edward Hunt after the torpedo struck and now his son, Robert Hunt, is writing a book about that fateful night. In so doing, he has connected with Harold’s son, Roy. There were 33 people on board the Kitty’s Brook that night, and Robert is busy tracking them down too.

“They have amazing stories, these men. I’m telling ya – amazing stories,” promises Robert.

7. Realities of regional healthcare

If there is one prevailing concern for Newfoundlanders in a pandemic world, it’s the Realities of Regional Health Care (Nov. 8, Vol. 2, Iss. 45). The province may be unveiling initiatives to entice new doctors and set up virtual care programs, but the Southwest Coast is hours from medical facilities that deal with larger care issues from cancers to autism, and families are struggling to cope while treatments and accessibility get waylaid by lockdowns and public health measures. It’s a stressful and frustrating situation for everyone, especially those without a family doctor.

8. Mayors vs. Marine Atlantic

The importance of the federally mandated ferry service to the province cannot be overstated, but for decades the Marine Atlantic’s headquarters have been stationed everywhere except its year-round service in Port aux Basques. A report revealing its high-level employees would rather quit than relocate, coupled with statements that there were no qualified personnel to fill these roles locally, was met with strong condemnation by mayors who took great offence in West Coast Mayors Rally Against Marine Atlantic Report (Aug. 2, Vol. 2, Iss. 31).

9. Mallory Johnson

It’s hard to pick a favourite profile but we’re going to have to go with Music Row Featuring Mallory Johnson (Jan. 18, Vol. 2, Iss. 3). It was one of the first times our editor-in-chief interviewed such a high profile artist who was, at the time, still way down in Nashville, Tennessee. Johnson’s warm and friendly nature made discussing her dreams and epic talent an easy, fun and interesting experience while revealing how she has been staying true to her Newfoundland roots.

10. Mining makes moves

The future of gold mining in the province is exciting on economic, employment and environmental levels among others, but it seems the industry is here to stay according to Mining Companies Stake New Claims in NL (Oct. 18, Vol. 2, Iss. 42) Matador Mining, which owns the Cape Ray Gold Project, staked new claims near Hermitage. Other companies are also branching out, and if the province can continue to harness its natural resources in a responsible and economically-friendly way, the future remains bright.

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