LighthouseNOW Newsmakers of 2017: Part One

  • <p>Clockwise from top left: Stephen McNeil; firemen battling the King Street blaze in Bridgewater; a sign protesting a proposed school closure; Heather and Dr. David Abriel.</p>

Over the next two editions, we'll be reminding you of some of the stories that our readers cared about the most in 2017. We based our decisions on website statistics, engagement on social media, and the feedback we received by mail or in person. Community newspapers aren't just about breaking news, they're about telling your stories and going beyond the headlines to investigate the deeper meaning. This week we're looking back on five stories and come January 10 we'll bring you five more.

Bridgewater pulls together after fire

By far one of the biggest stories to come out of Bridgewater this year was the devastating fire on King Street.

Fire tore through a block of buildings in downtown Bridgewater, bringing around a dozen volunteer fire departments to fight the blaze into the early hours of the morning on October 23.

A 911 call was made at around 10:30 p.m. on October 22 reporting a possible structure fire at 535 King Street where the Greenway dispensary and Geeky Robar's Computer Services are located.

The fire destroyed several turn-of-the-century buildings that were built shortly after a massive fire that leveled much of the town in 1899.

Journalist Keith Corcoran rushed to the scene as the fire broke out, capturing video and photo of the events and getting them online for the public. LighthouseNOW reporters continued to follow the story throughout the days and weeks following the incident.

After the fire, the community rallied together, raising money for people who lost their apartments or businesses like Artistic Issues, a tattoo parlour that did not have insurance.

Rennick Clattenburg, a 20-year-old tattoo artist, described his thoughts when he arrived on the scene of the fire.

"To see something you live for as a passion be up in flames right in front of your eyes is just devastating," he said.

Community members came by the scene with food and coffee for firefighters who continued to tackle hotspots for two days. Bridgewater's mayor - David Mitchell, showed up with 10 pizzas to help fuel the firefighters.

Bridgewater Town Council honoured the firefighters from Queens and Lunenburg.

The gutted buildings were quickly torn down and the fire marshall deemed the blaze suspicious. Bridgewater Police Services also put out notices saying they were looking for a person of interest who was seen leaving the scene shortly before the fire.

The investigation however, is still ongoing.

Lunenburg County struggles with Lyme Disease "epidemic"

Lyme Disease was at the forefront of the minds of councillors, community members, and even some entrepreneurs this year as ticks continued to be a problem for Lunenburg County.

Journalist Gayle Wilson wrote an extensive piece and several follow ups on what was described by Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg, as an 'epidemic.'

"My concerns are huge here in our municipality. Eighty per cent of the reported cases of Lyme Disease are in the Western Zone and we make up the largest percentage of that," Bolivar-Getson told LighthouseNOW.

The municipality discussed deer bait stations as one remedy. The stations apply a tick repellent to deer, which are often covered in ticks that carry the bacteria causing Lyme Disease.

We also heard from Melanie Schwartz, a Bridgewater mother who struggled to get a diagnosis of Lyme Disease for her 12-year-old daughter Alyssa. The young girl was experiencing symptoms that looked like Bell's Palsy, as well, she was vomiting and had a persistent headache. Her symptoms were not as typical as others that come with Lyme, which made it more difficult.

Alyssa was eventually diagnosed and received treatment.

Another mother, Lisa Ali of Mahone Bay, also spoke to LighthouseNOW. After her sons got Lyme Disease, she developed a natural tick repellent to combat the problem.

South Shore Health recommends applying DEET or Icaridin to exposed skin if you are in the woods or long grass. Light clothing is also recommended to spot ticks and tucking your pants into your socks.

Heather and David Abriel remembered for lives well lived

Mahone Bay lost a beloved couple in early February after an accident on Highway 103 near Ingramport took the lives of Heather and Dr. David Abriel.

The couple were well known for their parts in the band Midlife Crisis and for playing Father and Mother Christmas during the Father Christmas festival in Mahone Bay.

"They were a very warm, generous couple who were devoted to each other," said friend and bandmate Jon Allen.

Heather, a teacher, was described as a loving mother and a friend who always cared for her family.

Dr. Abriel, a palliative care physician who worked in Lunenburg, Bridgewater and Liverpool was known for his sense of humour and hearty laugh. He was a frequent contributor to this newspaper, weighing in on issues like assisted dying.

The pair were inseparable, sharing in each others love of music and in their occupations.

"Not that many couples spend as much time together as they did," said Dr. David Moore, a dentist in Lunenburg and a member of Midlife Crisis.

Since the loss of the couple, several things were done in their honour, including a fundraiser for the Mahone Bay Community Centre that will see a room named for them. As well, the recent Father Christmas festival was dedicated to the pair. The Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians honoured Dr. Abriel with the 2017 Dr. Charles and Mrs. Jean Gass Lifetime Achievement Award.

Petite Riviere school sees its day in court

Petite Riviere Elementary School remains in limbo as they await a decision from the Supreme Court on whether to uphold or overturn a school board motion to close the school next year.

The fight for the little village school continued throughout the year, even becoming an election issue that saw NDP leader Gary Burrill announce his party would propose a moratorium on closing schools.

Despite that approach, the people of Petite Riviere voted for Mark Furey, Liberal MLA for Lunenburg West, according to a poll that he won in the area.

The Greater Petite Area Community Association (GPACA), have argued that the South Shore Regional School Board decision was made without following the school review process.

The groups last met in court on September 7.

Since then, a petition signed by around 1,500 people asking that the school board "conduct a fair school review process for Petite Riviere Elementary School" and rescind their 2013 motion was brought to the provincial government.

LighthouseNOW spoke to Stacey Godsoe, the association's chair in November, however, so far there has not been a decision from the judge.

Nova Scotia re-elects Liberals

Nova Scotia went to the polls last May, handing the McNeil liberals a slightly reduced majority.

Queens County went from orange to blue in electing first time politician Kim Masland. Liberal MLAs Mark Furey and Suzanne Lohnes-Croft were re-elected in their respective ridings of Lunenburg West and Lunenburg.

However, the ousting of NDP Denise Peterson-Rafuse was a nail-biter. Peterson-Rafuse had gone to bed thinking she had re-taken the seat. However, Liberal Hugh McKay squeaked by her, which had the NDP calling for a re-count.

LighthouseNOW staff were up until the wee hours of the morning, writing on all of the ridings, the wins and the losses.

The election brought a couple of issues to the forefront, particularly at local debates. From rural school closures to the teachers labour disputes to mental health to forestry, Nova Scotians were engaged and asking a lot of questions.

Since the election, the Liberals have reintroduced their budget, added pre-primary programs in dozens of communities, and appointed law professor Bill Lahey to head up a forestry review, which will wrap this February.

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