Valley Voices

44 years; Thousands of Stories

Don Bodger

It’s obviously impossible to condense 44 years of work as a journalist into one article. There’s just far too many stories that will always stand out in my mind.

The majority of my career was spent with the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial that closed in 2015. I started as a 20-year-old with the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle in 1979 and later years included brief stints with the now-defunct Duncan Free Press and South Cowichan Echo as well as the Chemainus Valley Courier where I served as editor from June 2017 until my retirement in mid-March of this year.

Sports was long my primary field of coverage for a large portion of those years. Typical of small-town newspapers, I was also responsible for entertainment and community stories and profiles which I thoroughly enjoyed and the mandatory hard news coverage that was probably my least favourite of all the beats.

I was fortunate to interview the Cowichan Valley’s top athletes many times during the last four decades, including several Olympians.

Tanya Clarke-Young, now a chiropractor in Duncan, was a frequent interview subject of mine while she was en route to ski ballet fame, culminating in the Albertville, France Winter Olympic Games in 1992.

Emily Zurrer grew up in little old Crofton and went on to glory in two Olympics for the Canadian women’s soccer team. I remember featuring her in the newspaper as Youth Athlete of the Week after she scored five goals for Crofton Elementary School in an elementary level game where her high skill level became readily apparent.

Melanie Slade grew up in Cobble Hill and eventually played field hockey for Canada in the Seoul, South Korea Summer Olympic Games in 1988. I followed her progress from high school after I began working for the Cowichan News Leader in 1983.

Getting to know these people as well as so many others and telling their stories of personal achievement became a passion of mine.

In a roundabout way, that led me to create a yearly list in the newspaper of the Cowichan Valley’s top athletes. It started out to include adults, but eventually focused solely on youth.

In the year 2000, I compiled my list of the top 100 youth athletes of the year, expanding it to 101 for 2001, 102 for 2002, etc. It became a feature that was more popular than I could possibly have imagined and people still mention it to me today and how much it meant to them.

In conjunction with that list, I started a banquet for the top 10 athletes each year with a luncheon, guest speakers (that included several Olympians) and awards that later expanded to the top 10 girls and top 10 boys for a great celebration with their families hosted at Shawnigan Lake School.

Some of those “kids” I included in that list are now in their 40s and 50s but it stuck with them to be recognized. Many never turned pro or made the Olympics, but several went south of the border in their various sports on scholarships and excelled.

Field hockey player Crystal Poland of Duncan, for example, concluded her time at Northeastern University in Boston as the school’s all-time leader in career goals with 78 and points with 179.

Yes, Cowichan Valley athletes obtained some big-time results around North America and the world (and still are) and I was pleased to be getting those stories out to the public.

It wasn’t all about sports, as covering the theatre was always of interest to me. During my first year at the Chronicle, I enjoyed doing an in-depth report with numerous photos on the Chemainus Hospital Day show coordinated by community icon Sandra Heydon.

Things tend to go full circle and, while writing about the shows at the Chemainus Theatre, I met Sanda’s granddaughter Georgia Bennett who became a budding actress in her hometown and expanded her horizons well beyond the community. That gave me the connection to the younger generation from a famous local family to write some compelling stories.

There were also high school graduation ceremonies and so many special events that I loved to cover such as car shows, the Giant Street Market, Christmas celebrations, fall fairs, Canada Day festivities, Remembrance Day and so much more mainly emanating from community service clubs and organizations.

Perhaps one of the most memorable stories I ever did came near the end of my career last year in 2023 when I was invited to attend a ceremony honouring Valerie Bob.

Bob was bed-ridden with terminal cancer and could not attend a traditional ceremony to receive her Doctor of Philosophy (Individualized Interdisciplinary Studies) from Simon Fraser University. Drs. Dorothy Christian and George Agnes from the Graduate Studies office at SFU went to her home on Penelakut Tribe’s Tsussie Reserve to present Bob with her degree.

Being there with a circle of proud family members and friends in attendance was truly a unique experience, combining celebration of Bob’s achievement and heartache at the reality of her situation. It was a very difficult story to write under the circumstances, but I must have done a decent job since it was recently awarded gold for best feature in the under 11,000 circulation category at the B.C. and Yukon Community Newsmedia awards in North Vancouver during April.

SFU’s Dorothy Christian, accompanied by Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum, reads a letter of congratulations to Valerie Bob upon receiving her PhD. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The utmost of accolades are certainly due to my wife Theresa for standing by me through thick and thin over the years. It was a big commitment and certainly a sacrifice of considerable personal time for me to do this job.

Being out late on weekends to cover hockey games and other scheduling oddities certainly meant we had to do a lot of juggling to see family or go on vacations, but the time was most rewarding to capture some great moments in Cowichan Valley history during the heyday of newspapers.


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