When Richard Atwell moved into Saanich’s Sunnymead neighbourhood at the age 17 in 1987, the area was in transition.
Wedged between Mount Douglas, the Patricia Bay Highway and the Pacific Ocean, the extension of urban infrastructure had opened up what had been a farming area to development, and Atwell and his family were among the first to settle in the new neighbourhood that was emerging.
“There were still a couple of farms at the corner of Royal Oak Drive and Cordova Bay,” he said.
Fast forward to the area today. Farms, with all of their sights and smells, have given away to houses and growing traffic as Saanich has grown up — both in a geographic sense by stretching housing farther up the Peninusla and by shedding, much to the consternation of some, its history as an agricultural community.
Atwell has followed these changes first hand and through the media, while growing up and attending the University of Victoria. He now finds himself with the task of helping to guide these changes after returning home from a technology career in the United States. Yet Atwell never lost his connection with the community, thanks to his mom. “While I was away, mom used to make clippings of interesting stories,” he said.
This practice has continued, especially since Atwell ran for and won the mayoralty. “These days mom cuts out anything that you or someone else writes about me in the Saanich News and keeps it,” he said.
Atwell said he appreciates his mom’s scrap-booking, because it creates a physical record in an age of an ever-faster media.
“That is good, because the online articles often disappear,” he said.
One such physical artefact is a mounted front page photo that Atwell received from a Black Press delegation consisting out of Greater Victoria group publisher Penny Sakamoto, Saanich News publisher Oliver Sommer and then Saanich News editor Daniel Palmer.
“I was very flattered…that was just a very nice gesture and a nice gift,” said Atwell. “I keep that in my office as a reminder to myself why I started in this job. But it also reminds me of my connection to newspapers and my connection to the community. You cannot meet everybody. You don’t have enough time and there is no possibility to do it all. The newspaper provides a community service, that bridge [between the public and elected representatives]. It is an essential part of a democracy and the functioning of a democracy.”