2021: The year in review in Abbotsford

All of Sumas Prairie was flooded when the Nooksack River topped its banks in mid-November and there were breaches of the Sumas Dike in Abbotsford. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)All of Sumas Prairie was flooded when the Nooksack River topped its banks in mid-November and there were breaches of the Sumas Dike in Abbotsford. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)
A video released by Tabor Home in January included staff holding photos of some of the 26 residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. (Video screengrab)A video released by Tabor Home in January included staff holding photos of some of the 26 residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. (Video screengrab)
A massive fire broke out Feb. 14 at the Delair Court Apartments in Abbotsford. (Facebook photo)A massive fire broke out Feb. 14 at the Delair Court Apartments in Abbotsford. (Facebook photo)
Mayor Henry Braun announced in March that the future of the Tradex building was being looked at. (Abbotsford News file photo)Mayor Henry Braun announced in March that the future of the Tradex building was being looked at. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford council in April approved the spending of up to $200,000 from donated funds towards the cost of a fountain in Mill Lake.Abbotsford council in April approved the spending of up to $200,000 from donated funds towards the cost of a fountain in Mill Lake.
Concerns escalated in May about the safety of two peregrine falcons when blasting occurred in the area where they were nesting.Concerns escalated in May about the safety of two peregrine falcons when blasting occurred in the area where they were nesting.
Emergency services personnel did a drive-by on June 8 to honour health-care workers and other staff at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, as well as to celebrate the official opening of the expanded ER. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)Emergency services personnel did a drive-by on June 8 to honour health-care workers and other staff at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, as well as to celebrate the official opening of the expanded ER. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
A mural containing the phrase “Make Abbotsford great again” was created without the approval of the Downtown Abbotsford Business Association in July. Shortly after discovering the phrase, it was painted over. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)A mural containing the phrase “Make Abbotsford great again” was created without the approval of the Downtown Abbotsford Business Association in July. Shortly after discovering the phrase, it was painted over. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford Agrifair returned to an in-person event, instead of a drive-thru, in August. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)Abbotsford Agrifair returned to an in-person event, instead of a drive-thru, in August. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Ed Fast won the Abbotsford riding for the sixth time in a row in the federal election on Sept. 20, doubling his nearest competitor. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)Ed Fast won the Abbotsford riding for the sixth time in a row in the federal election on Sept. 20, doubling his nearest competitor. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Rail District on Oct. 5. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Rail District on Oct. 5. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)
Catastrophic flooding hit Sumas Prairie in mid-November. This photo shows the middle median of Highway 1 near No. 4 Road on Nov. 22, 2021. The westbound lanes are to the rear of the photo. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)Catastrophic flooding hit Sumas Prairie in mid-November. This photo shows the middle median of Highway 1 near No. 4 Road on Nov. 22, 2021. The westbound lanes are to the rear of the photo. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at Abbotsford city hall on Nov. 26 to tour the flood-damaged areas and thank volunteers and workers for their efforts during the disaster. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at Abbotsford city hall on Nov. 26 to tour the flood-damaged areas and thank volunteers and workers for their efforts during the disaster. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)
Crews erected a Tiger Dam on the evening of Nov. 28 across Highway 1 near Cole Road in Abbotsford. (Photo: Abbotsford Police Department)Crews erected a Tiger Dam on the evening of Nov. 28 across Highway 1 near Cole Road in Abbotsford. (Photo: Abbotsford Police Department)
Farmer Avtar Dhillon was surprised to see that his saffron plants survived the catastrophic flooding that hit the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford starting in mid-November. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)Farmer Avtar Dhillon was surprised to see that his saffron plants survived the catastrophic flooding that hit the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford starting in mid-November. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

The year 2021 was one to remember in Abbotsford, with everything from the pandemic to the catastrophic flooding on Sumas Prairie making headlines.

These are some of the stories that the community experienced over the last year:

JANUARY

• The COVID-19 outbreak was declared over at Abbotsford’s Tabor Home on Jan. 8. The long-term care facility was the site of Fraser Health’s largest outbreak – and one of the biggest in the province – with a total of 156 cases (93 residents and 63 staff) and the death of 26 residents. The outbreak was first declared Nov. 4, 2020.

• The new $152 million Abbotsford Law Courts at Trethewey Street and Veterans Way (beside Clearbrook Library) opened on Jan. 18, marking the first new courthouse in the province since 2002. The new facility includes eight provincial and three Supreme courtrooms. It is also home to the BC Prosecution Services, community corrections and a justice access centre.

RELATED: Abbotsford Law Courts celebrate official opening with virtual event

• The city said a proposed large industrial project along Mt. Lehman Road will be a “catalyst” for economic development in Abbotsford and the region. The 80-acre Xchange Business Park – located north of Highway 1 and Highstreet Shopping Centre – involves eight buildings encompassing 1.2 million square feet of space.

RELATED: Large industrial project on Mt. Lehman Road in Abbotsford nears final approval

• Figures released by the BC Centre for Disease Control indicated that Abbotsford had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases – a total of 3,377 – in the Fraser Health region in 2020. This represented 6.6 per cent of the provincial total. Surrey had the highest number with 16,109 (31 per cent of B.C.’s total.)

FEBRUARY

• Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford was among three Fraser Valley Churches that took the B.C. government to court to lift orders that banned or restricted public gatherings. The churches had been fined for continuing to hold in-person services. The judge later dismissed their petition.

• A massive blaze broke out Feb. 14 at the Delair Court Apartments, resulting in the residents of all 57 units in one building having to be evacuated and without homes. A second building in the complex, with 45 units, was also evacuated but residents were expected to be allowed back in, in early March.

RELATED: Abbotsford fire could mean up to 200 people without homes

• Bruce Banman announced he was stepping down from Abbotsford city council after having been elected as the MLA for Abbotsford South in the provincial election in October 2020. The Community Charter requires local governments to hold a by-election if a councillor resigns their position before Jan. 1 in the year of a general local election. The next municipal election takes place Oct. 15, 2022.

• The Abbotsford school district announced that, due to the ongoing pandemic and public health restrictions for gatherings and public events, proms would not be allowed for the second consecutive year. However, convocation ceremonies were permitted to proceed. Graduates were allowed to cross the stage, with two family members in attendance at the Abbotsford Arts Centre and the event live-streamed.

MARCH

• A manslaughter charge was laid against a Castlegar man, 26-year-old Alex Willness, in relation to the death of Abbotsford Police Const. Allan Young, 55. Young was seriously injured on July 21, 2020, after allegedly approaching a man causing a disturbance in downtown Nelson. He died three days later. The case is still making its way through the courts.

• City council requested that staff prepare a report into a request to rename Fairlane Street in memory of the victims of the 1914 Komagata Maru incident that resulted in the deaths of 20 citizens of India. Fairlane Street borders the Gur Sikh Gurdwara, North America’s oldest Sikh temple. Council decided the following month that staff would instead work with four organizations to determine the best way to honour the city’s South Asian heritage. The matter has not yet come back before council.

• Former Abbotsford and Mission teacher Donald Sweet was charged with six sexual offences and one count of assault against two former students, who are now adults. The crimes allegedly occurred around 2007 0r 2008. Sweet was once an all-star CFL kicker for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes. He taught in Abbotsford from 1989 to 2000. The case is still making its way through the courts.

RELATED: Retired Mission teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

* Former Abbotsford masseur Reinhard “Bud” Loewen, 56, was charged with the alleged sexual assaults of three clients when he operated Bud’s Massage Therapy on Munroe Avenue. Another 21 charges were later added. The case has not yet gone to trial.

• Mayor Henry Braun announced that the city was seeking proposals for the future operation of Tradex as it looked towards “transforming the property into a revenue-generating asset.” Tourism Abbotsford, which had been running the facility since 2003, said they were “shocked and disappointed” about the decision.

RELATED: City of Abbotsford seeks proposals for operation of Tradex

APRIL

• Abbotsford council approved the spending of up to $200,000 from donated funds towards the cost of a fountain in Mill Lake. The total cost of the project was estimated at $200,000 with money coming from the Mill Lake Park Reserve Fund. The city in 2019 received a commitment of a $1 million donation over 10 years from an anonymous donor for improvements to Mill Lake Park. The project is still underway.

RELATED: City approves $200K fountain for Mill Lake using donated funds

• A former Chilliwack man, Kao Macaulay, was charged with break-and-enter following the theft of five 10-day-old kittens during a home break-in on March 30. One of the kittens was taken to the SPCA the following afternoon by a man who arrived in a cab, and police located the four others shortly after. They were all safely returned to their owner. Macaulay was later sentenced to time served and one year of probation.

• The producers of several events held at Tradex each year started a petition urging the city to allow the site to continue to operate as an event facility, following the mayor’s announcement in March. Among the events held regularly at Tradex in the past are the West Coast Women’s Show, the Vancouver Motorcycle Show, the Fraser Valley Home and Garden Expo, and the Earlybird RV Show.

RELATED: Show producers start petition against city’s call for Tradex proposals

• Harpreet (Harb) Dhaliwal, 31, of Abbotsford was identified as the victim of a fatal shooting outside Cardero’s restaurant in Vancouver. He was the victim of previous shootings in 2017 in Abbotsford and 2018 at Lansdowne Mall in Richmond. Francois Joseph Gauthier was charged with the killing, and the case is still before the courts.

• The courts ruled that the second-degree murder conviction should stand for Gabriel Klein, who stabbed 13-year-old Letisha Reimer to death on Nov. 1, 2016 at Abbotsford Senior Secondary and seriously injured her friend. Klein had gone back to court, arguing that he should instead be found “not criminally responsible due to mental disorder.”

RELATED: Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

MAY

• The Vancouver Canucks announced they were relocating the team’s American Hockey League affiliate to Abbotsford for the 2021-22 season, playing out of Abbotsford Centre. The centre previously hosted the Calgary Flames AHL club for five seasons until the departed after the 2013-14 season.

RELATED: Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

• Damian Dutrisac of Abbotsford went missing after his boat capsized on the Fraser River near Chilliwack on May 7. He and a friend had been fishing just west of where the Vedder River meets the Fraser River when their anchor got snagged on something, and the boat began to fill with water. His body was recovered July 13 from a sand and gravel quarry in the Upper Sumas Mountain area of the Fraser River.

• Concerns escalated about a rare peregrine falcon nest at an Abbotsford quarry on Quadling Road. Blasting work was going on at the site and opponents were worried about the birds’ safety. The company conducting the blasting, Mountainside Quarries, temporarily had its permit suspended for non-compliance, but it was reinstated several days later.

RELATED: Concerns escalate about rare peregrine falcons as blasting set for Abbotsford quarry

• Abbotsford Coun. Brenda Falk resigned from the AbbotsfordFirst slate, to which she had belonged since 2014, after she came under fire for a post she shared on social media. Some people accused Falk of comparing COVID-19 restrictions to Nazi Germany. Falk remains a member of city council.

JUNE

• City council awarded a contract to Devencore Company Ltd. (now CDN Global), a real estate advisory and brokerage firm, to help the city explore what businesses might be interested in managing Tradex. Mayor Henry Braun said the company would receive proposals from proponents interested in operating Tradex and bring recommendations to council.

• A $15 million expansion of the ER at Abbotsford Regional Hospital opened on June 8, featuring 7,200 square feet of additional floor space to ease persistent congestion issues at the facility. The space includes three new trauma bays, 11 new patient exams rooms, a renovate triage area and more.

RELATED: Expanded emergency department opens at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

• The family of Robert Nelson, 35, appealed to the public for more information around his fatal stabbing on April 7. Nelson was killed in the homeless camp in the area of Riverside and King roads. No one has yet been charged in his killing.

• Deepak Sharma, a cab driver and former president of Abbotsford’s only Hindu temple, was found guilty of sexual assault. Sharma, 62, groped a woman in his cab and placed her hand in his genital area while she was in his cab in West Vancouver on Jan. 2, 2019. Sharma is scheduled to be sentenced in March 2022.

RELATED: Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

JULY

• The hottest temperature ever recorded in Abbotsford occurred on June 28, when local thermometers reached a sweltering 42.9 Celsius. Records were earlier broken on June 26 (39.6C) and June 27 (41.7C). It was the first time ever that Abbotsford had broken the 40C mark. The previous record was 38C, which was set on July 29, 2009.

RELATED: Historical heat wave smashes records in Abbotsford

• The man who stabbed Abbotsford student Letisha Reimer to death and seriously injured her friend in 2016 had his parole eligibility set at 16 years on July 7. Gabriel Klein, 26, received a life sentence for the second-degree murder of the 13-year-old. He also got a concurrent sentence of seven years for aggravated assault on the other teenager.

• The new American Hockey League team in Abbotsford was officially named the Canucks during an online reveal on July 14. The Aquilini Investment Group, which owns Canucks Sports and Entertainment, entered into an agreement with the city of Abbotsford to manage and operate the Abbotsford Centre. That contract begins on Jan. 1, 2022.

RELATED: Vancouver Canucks delay Abbotsford AHL team announcements

• A mural completed on July 10 in downtown Abbotsford featured content that was not approved by the Abbotsford Downtown Abbotsford Business Association. The mural was created to honour Bob Bos, who is regarded as one of the more important people in the history of downtown. Several users on social media spoke out about the fact that the mural had the words “make Abbotsford great again,” a phrase almost identical to the campaign slogan of former US president Donald Trump. It was later revealed that the ADBA did not approve of the content and the phrase was painted over later in July.

AUGUST

• Convicted killer Terry Driver died in custody at the age of 56 on Aug. 23. Driver was serving life in prison for the murder of Tanya Smith, 16, and attempted murder of Misty Cockerill, 15, in 1995 in Abbotsford. Driver died of natural causes.

• Tenants in a transitional-housing program in Abbotsford were given only a few days to vacate their premises after the society running it announced it was ceasing operations. Many Ways Home Housing Society issued a “notice to vacate” to tenants in mid-August, leaving 45 people reeling to find housing. However, BC Housing announced in September that they would be providing more than $149,000 in temporary emergency funding and the tenants would not have to move.

RELATED: Transitional-housing tenants in Abbotsford given just days to move

• The Abbotsford Agrifair returned to its traditional format after a drive-thru event in 2020 and attracted approximately 18,000 people. Tickets were limited but it was the first in-person community event in Abbotsford since the beginning of the pandemic.

• The News learned that the $47 million Vye Road and Highway 11 widening project in Abbotsford had been delayed for an unknown time due to an archeological discovery. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development – whose archeology branch protects such sites – said the nature of the discovery and its exact location could not be revealed.

RELATED: Major $47M road project in Abbotsford delayed due to archeological find

SEPTEMBER

• Abbotsford’s Tradex building was listed for sale or lease as part of the city’s plan announced in March to see what opportunities might be available for the future of the facility. Later in the month, critics stated it was a short-sighted decision, with Mayor Henry Braun claiming that it is fiscal discipline and in the city’s best interest to seek other tenants.

RELATED: Tradex building in Abbotsford listed for sale or lease

• Ed Fast (Conservative) won the Abbotsford federal riding for the sixth consecutive time with 48 per cent of the vote on Sept. 20. Fast doubled Liberal Navreen Gill, who finished in second place. Abbotsford’s voter turnout was 55.03 per cent, which was below the national average of 59 per cent.

• The Abbotsford News moved from its longtime home on Gladys Avenue to a new office in La Galleria building on Trethewey Street on Sept. 27. The News had been located on Gladys Avenue since 1977.

• Dave Sidhu won the Abbotsford council byelection on Sept. 25 and beat out eight other competitors by a wide margin. Sidhu collected 7,829 votes, which was significantly more than second-place vote-getter Korky Neufeld at 2,448. It was the first time Sidhu had earned a seat on council. The turnout for the election was 18.6 per cent.

RELATED: Dave Sidhu wins Abbotsford city council byelection

OCTOBER

• The Abbotsford Canucks dropped the puck at home ice for the first time on Oct. 22 and opened with a 3-2 win over the Henderson Silver Knights. Vancouver Canucks legends Stan Smyl and Henrik and Daniel Sedin were on hand for the opening ceremonies. Abbotsford went on to blank Henderson 3-0 on Oct. 23. Games were held at 50 per cent capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions.

• A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site of the Rail District in downtown Abbotsford on Oct. 5, highlighting the development of a new community with 650 homes and 80,000 square feet of retail and office space. The entire development will take 10 to 12 years to complete.

RELATED: Major downtown Abbotsford housing project breaks ground

NOVEMBER

• An Abbotsford dairy farm had its licence suspended after the BC SPCA announced it was investigating the location for allegations of animal abuse. Video footage of Cedar Valley Farms workers appeared to show workers engaging in serious instances of animal abuse. The licence was re-instated later in November, with conditions placed on the farm. The investigation is ongoing.

RELATED: Licence reinstated with mandatory conditions for Abbotsford dairy farm

• The Abbotsford board of education decided against mandating COVID-19 vaccines for district staff during an in-camera session on Nov. 2. Board chair Stan Petersen stated that there are multiple layers of protection in place in schools to prevent spread of the virus.

• Extreme flooding rocked Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie and other areas the week of Nov. 15, and the devastation and aftermath brought immense challenges for locals. Tradex was set up as a centre for evacuees and much of Abbotsford’s farming community on the prairie was put on evacuation orders. Thousands of farm animals perished in the flooding, as farmers were unable to save them. There were worries that Abbotsford’s Barrowtown Pump Station wouldn’t be able to handle all the water, but it eventually helped to save the day.

RELATED: City of Abbotsford says ‘significant risk to life’ for those who stay on Sumas Prairie

• The Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund was created by the Abbotsford Community Foundation, the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and the University of the Fraser Valley to help those impacted by flooding. The ADRF helped raise over $1.5 million at the time of publication.

• Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Abbotsford on Nov. 26 to meet with officials and tour the flood-ravaged Sumas Prairie and Clayburn Village. Trudeau met with B.C. Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth, Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation and Chief Alice McKay of the Matsqui First Nation. He also visited the Emergency Operations Centre at city hall in the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium where he met members of the Canadian Armed Forces, first responders and volunteers, including those who repaired damaged dikes and help kept the Barrowtown Pump Station operating.

RELATED: PM Justin Trudeau lands in Abbotsford to tour flooded areas

DECEMBER

• A Tiger Dam to prevent flooding was put in place across Highway 1 at Cole Road in Abbotsford starting on Nov. 28 and remained until the morning of Dec. 2. The dam was installed by crews from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Canadian Armed Forces and the City of Abbotsford to try to keep floodwaters in the Sumas River so they could be directed to the Barrowtown Pump Station and into the Fraser River.

RELATED: ‘Tiger Dam’ being built on Highway 1 in Abbotsford to hold back floodwaters

• An Abbotsford farmer who spent almost five years experimenting with methods to grow the flower that produces saffron was crushed after flooding damaged his fields, but he was shocked to discover that some of his crops survived and thrived. Avtar Dhillon also spoke to The News in November before the flooding started, noting that he was one of the first in B.C. to grow and harvest saffron – the world’s most expensive spice. Following the flooding, he expressed disappointment at the lack of support for all farmers from the government.

RELATED: Abbotsford saffron farm suffers major flood losses, but crop is in renewal

• Mayor Henry Braun gave his last daily press conference on Dec. 10, and stated it was a surreal and unbelievably challenging last month in Abbotsford due to the flooding. He added that further upgrades are needed to the local diking system to prevent future catastrophes.

RELATED: ‘Worst days are behind us,’ says Abbotsford mayor about flooding situation

• Abbotsford’s Bo Lokombo was named the 2021 Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Canadian during the league’s awards in Hamilton on Dec. 10. Lokombo had an excellent year playing for the BC Lions as a linebacker. He previously played high school football in Abbotsford with the W. J. Mouat Hawks.

2021 Year in Review