Zora Hlevnjak was saved from eviction after an anonymous donor covered her outstanding rent. (Black Press Media file photo)

Zora Hlevnjak was saved from eviction after an anonymous donor covered her outstanding rent. (Black Press Media file photo)

Looking back at the top Peninsula stories of 2020

Five stories that captured the interest of Peninsula News Review readers over the past year

While COVID-19 dominated the headlines around the world in 2020, that wasn’t the only story to pique the interest of Peninsula News Review readers. Here are some of our favourite articles that appeared in the Peninsula News Review this year.

Good Samaritan pays outstanding rent for Sidney woman facing eviction

An anonymous donor stepped forward to help a 76-year-old Sidney woman, who collects cans to supplement her pension, facing eviction.

Kerry Readshaw, communications director for Beacon Community Services, said Zora Hlevnjak no longer faces eviction after the organization received payment.

Hlevnjak faced eviction from subsidized housing after her failure to pay three month’s worth of back rent following a rent increase of more than $300 per month. In early January, she owed $1,087.

Her rent rose under the terms of subsidized housing that require tenants to pay 30 per cent of their income towards rent following submission of financial information.

“We didn’t raise the rent,” said Tim O’Brien, who manages Wakefield Manor, where Hlevnjak has been staying since 2004. “She just started to report her proper income.”

COVID-19 forces Sidney couple to change wedding arrangements

In what could end up becoming a new tradition in the COVID-19 era, hundreds of well-wishers including relatives, friends and strangers gave a just-married couple a parade down Sidney’s Beacon Avenue.

As people lined both sides of Beacon Avenue holding balloons and placards, Josh Huizinga and Brynne Cumming waved to the crowd as a vintage black Rolls-Royce chauffeured them towards the traffic circle at First Street near the Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa, where immediate family and members of the wedding party greeted them.

Hours later, the young couple got married in the father of the groom’s backyard in a small ceremony with a total of 13 people, as social distancing rules against large gatherings to fight COVID-19 forced the couple to make alternative arrangements.

“I’m surprised how many people showed,” said Brynne, standing on the traffic circle in her wedding gown, when asked about the reception the couple received.

Brynne said the couple started planning for the worst-case scenario about six weeks earlier. “The worst-case scenario for us would have been if we were like on a mandatory shutdown,” said Brynne.

“We were prepared to meet with our pastor in the living room in our pajamas and just sign the paperwork. But we were able to do it in the backyard with everybody standing at a safe distance.”

North Saanich artist brightens pandemic with whimsical signs

North Saanich artist Anna Trelford offered two reasons, one practical, the other more profound, behind her decision to decorate the fence of her West Saanich Road home with hand-painted signs whose subjects range from the risque to the revealing.

“Our fence is ugly and I wanted to cover it,” she said. “I guess I just want to make people who walk down the path have a chuckle.”

The hand-painted wooden signs offer funny and whimsical takes on the COVID-19 pandemic and its social effects in commenting on changing social norms and offering personal reflections. A firefighter at Victoria International Airport, Trelford’s work has been appearing around the Saanich Peninsula since 2008, when she started to paint.

“You think it’s bad now?” asks one sign rhetorically. “In 20 years, our country will be run by people home schooled by day drinkers.”

Some signs feature a decidedly Canadian spin. “Canadian PSA on social distancing,” reads one sign. “6 feet = 1 moose or 4.5 beavers…You are welcome, Eh!”

Others are more risque. “Wearing a mask over a beard looks like a ladies underwear ad from 1972.”

Store owner hugs, invites Prince Harry to dinner during Sidney shopping trip

Sidney entrepreneur Chris Stephen still remembers the day when Diana, Princess of Wales, and her companion Dodi Fayed died in a car crash on Aug. 31, 1997.

“I lost my mind,” she said. “I had three boys and two of my boys were of the same age as Harry and William [Diana’s children]. So as a mother, the thought of those little boys being without a mom, it was just really devastating, and Harry has in a slight way always reminded me of my middle son. So I always felt an odd little connection to him.”

Five days before Christmas that connection became real, when two men entered Stephen’s Sidney store, Lilaberry Home & Decor. She did not pay much attention to them. “For all intents and purposes, it looked just like two buddies out to do some Christmas shopping,” she said.

Stephen was demonstrating a scarf when it dawned on her that she might be having a conversation with somebody famous. It turns out one of the shoppers was Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, who was spending time on the Peninsula with his wife Meghan Markle.

The couple, along with their son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, spent the Christmas holidays at a waterfront estate in North Saanich, drawing much coverage in the British tabloid media, but generally collective shrugs from local media and residents, with the odd report of residents running into the royal couple hiking.


 

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North Saanich agrees on operator for Sandown Agricultural Lands

The long search for a new operator of lands once used for horse racing in North Saanich has come to an end.

The District of North Saanich and Circular Farm and Food: Vancouver Island have agreed in principle to lease terms for the Sandown Agricultural Lands.

The agreement — which requires final council ratification — would see Circular Farm supply a range of programming and services on 83 acres. Programs include community gardens and an incubator pilot program to support emerging farmers.

Jen Rashleigh, director of partner and community engagement for Circular Farm, said in a release that her organization sees the site as a place to “support and foster” future farmers while strengthening the local food supply and enhancing bio-diversity among other goals.

The agreement runs for 10 years with the municipality providing funding for the first three years, starting with $135,000 in 2020, followed by $125,000 each for 2021 and 2022.

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Jen Rashleigh, director of partner and community engagement for Circular Farm, says the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, will become a community hub for agriculture. (Black Press Media file photo)

Jen Rashleigh, director of partner and community engagement for Circular Farm, says the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, will become a community hub for agriculture. (Black Press Media file photo)

One of the wooden signs that decorate the fence of Anna Trelford’s West Saanich Road home. (Black Press Media file photo)

One of the wooden signs that decorate the fence of Anna Trelford’s West Saanich Road home. (Black Press Media file photo)

Hundreds greeted newlyweds Josh Huizinga and Brynne Cumming during a parade down Beacon Avenue. (Black Press Media file photo)

Hundreds greeted newlyweds Josh Huizinga and Brynne Cumming during a parade down Beacon Avenue. (Black Press Media file photo)

Chris Stephen, owner of Sidney’s Lilaberry Home & Decor, shows off an otter similar to the one she gifted to the son of Prince Harry, when he and a member of his security detail shopped in her store last December. (Black Press Media file photo)

Chris Stephen, owner of Sidney’s Lilaberry Home & Decor, shows off an otter similar to the one she gifted to the son of Prince Harry, when he and a member of his security detail shopped in her store last December. (Black Press Media file photo)

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