Editor's note: The parent company of The Guardian and Journal Pioneer, SaltWire Network, asked its journalists to choose the favourite story they produced during 2018, and to write a short essay explaining why. We hope this project provides insight into how we approach journalism in our newsrooms, and a different look at some of the year’s top stories for our readers. We will add a new story to the top of the list as they run in the print edition.
Dignity in the face of death
I’ve written a lot of stories in the past 23 years but the tale of a 55-year-old Charlottetown woman dying of cancer touched me the most in 2018.
Margaret Ross, who lives in British Columbia now, had one last wish — to be reunited with her family together under one roof.
Ross was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that spread to her brain and leg. Her dying wish was to see her sons and a grandson, some of whom lived on the East Coast, one more time to say goodbye and to make some special memories.
Ross shared her story with me in August and I made sure to keep in touch with her in the weeks and months ahead.
Her story touched me in ways so many others haven’t. It was Ross’s deep faith, acceptance of her diagnosis and her determination to live out her remaining days with dignity that truly stood out.
Sadly, Ross’s story won’t have a happy ending. I received an email from her on Dec. 7. Her doctor gave her a heart-wrenching diagnosis.
Her cancer has spread with a vengeance.
She’s down to days, weeks or less than a few months to live.
Still, her faith remains steadfast.
Margaret Ross is a woman I will never forget.
Dave Stewart is a city hall reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown
A passion to play
This proved my favourite story of 2018 simply because of the player’s dedication and desire to, and for, a sometimes brutal sport; a compulsion not driven by money (it’s purely amateur) or reward, but just a love of the game - a devotion unhampered by bumps, bruises and the occasional broken bone.
P.E.I.’s rugby community is close-knit, the men’s and women’s clubs support each other (both clubs offer programs for youth, too) and players even enjoy after-match beers with opponents, win or lose, at a local bar. Not many sports can say that.
CRFC did win its second straight Tier A title and the club’s Tier B squad won its division crown in its initial season. Two CRFC players, Alysha Corrigan and Holly Jones, were invited to national senior team camp. Corrigan made Team Canada and scored a try in a recent international game versus England.
Charles Reid is a sports reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown
Preserving a legacy
READ: Ray Martin gives ownership of Ray’s Place Barber to his daughter, Rhonda Myers, who is the 'second best barber in town’
Businesses change owners on P.E.I. all the time.
And a common concern among businesses owners looking to move on is having a succession plan and preserving the legacy of the business that took decades to build.
Ray Martin was one of the lucky ones. He didn’t have to look far for a new owner of the popular Charlottetown barbershop he started in 1973. His daughter Rhonda Myers, who cuts hair in the chair next to her dad for more than 20 years, took over the business in January and renamed it to Ray’s Place Barber on Kent.
I got the chance to sit down with Ray and Rhonda for a story that appeared in The Guardian in February.
Ray’s story is a trip down memory lane with references to Ollie Harper’s barbershop on Queen Street and the importance of trying to be located on Dizzy Block, a part of the downtown named because drivers get dizzy going in circles trying to find a parking spot. It is also a familiar story about family, community and building a business and a life as a new resident of P.E.I.
Ray didn’t retire. He continues to cut hair in the number one chair.
After the story ran, I went to Ray’s for a haircut as usual. The nervous excitement of seeing people the first time after an interview quickly vanished when I glanced at the counter and saw the story cut out of the paper, laminated and on display. As a reporter, that might be the best compliment someone can give you.
Terrence McEachern is a business reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown
Struggling to feel at home in her own skin
Reporter touched by one person’s ongoing transition from male to femaleand the gap between political spin and reality
This story was produced as part of The Guardian’s coverage of LGTBQ+ issues in the lead-up to Pride celebrations. I tried to peal back the spin from political officials and government communications departments.
In May, P.E.I. announced coverage of gender-confirming surgery for transgender or gender-non-conforming Islanders. On the one hand, it was encouraging to see this step, as P.E.I. had developed a reputation for social conservatism in the delivery of health services. This reputation was partly due to the lengthy battle to gain access to abortion services on the Island, which lasted for 35 years.
But despite the May announcement, Islanders dealing with gender dysphoria still faced barriers to health. Many of these barriers are common irritants in the health-care system – limited trained personnel, long wait times, lengthy travel requirements for serious medical procedures.
But for people like Cadence O’keefe, who shared with me an incredibly difficult story about her ongoing transition from male to female, the gap between political spin and reality was more than an irritant.
It exposed a deep, personal struggle about her battle to feel at home in her own skin.
Stu Neatby is a political reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown
Anne Stewart-Hume making a difference in her desire to have a positive impact on the lives of others
I always relish stumbling across a great human-interest story that should be told - but never has been.
Such was the case when a woman I had written about earlier this year suggested to me that her friend Anne Stewart-Hume would make for a good article in The Guardian.
She was right.
Stewart-Hume is simply a remarkable woman.
Introducing her – and her touching life - to readers was a pleasure and a privilege.
Even after 30 years of reporting, I am still joyously moved in meeting people like Stewart-Hume.
She is quiet and reserved, not the type of person who would go out of her way to garner attention.
But she deserves recognition. Plenty.
She endured a childhood of savage bullying, never lashing back and refusing to become spiteful or negative.
She went on to live a positive life as a caring, loving person, who late in life believed she could offer meaningful interaction to federal inmates.
She spoke to me with clear pride, but not the slightest hint of bravado, in recounting her life and highlighting the time she spent visiting prisoners at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick.
She made a difference in their lives – and in telling her story, I hope I was able to touch and inspire others.
Stewart-Hume told me following the article being published that many people called to praise her for the great work she did in prison ministry, each noting they had no idea what she had been up to.
While she no longer visits Dorchester or any other federal prison, Stewart-Hume still makes the effort to help people as best she can.
I tip my hat – and tap my heart – to her.
Jim Day is a reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown.
‘You never stop learning’
Heidi Litke to receive training from expert luthier Sergei de Jonge
Heidi Litke’s world is still in tune with the ukulele.
But ever since a story about the P.E.I. luthier/musican appeared in The Guardian this past April, the tempo of that world has gotten faster.
Litke has received calls from local music teachers inviting her to give ukulele-making demos to their classes.
“The kids are so enthusiastic. They were just gathering around me, just asking questions and touching and poking (at the ukuleles). And I thought, ‘this is really cool’,” says Litke, who gave presentations to students at Gulf Shore Consolidated School (teacher, Kirsten MacLaine) and Central Queens Elementary (teacher, Tiffany Blanchard).
This “overflowed” into giving school ukuleles some needed TLC.
“It was overwhelming because they have 30 or 40 in each school. So, I’ve been taking 10 at a time and repairing them.”
Litke is taking time to build a few classical guitars and parlour guitars, smaller, easier to handle instruments.
She is also involved in professional development. For five weeks, starting in February, Litke has been invited to study under Canadian luthier Sergei de Jonge.
“This is going to be fun. I’ve been doing it for 10 years and you realize that you never stop learning in this business.”
She’s also becoming recognized.
Litke also just returned from a show at Woodstock Invitational Luthier Showcase in New York.
“You need an invitation to go there.”
But most of all, making and playing ukuleles make her happy.
“It cheers me up, in light of what’s happening in the world right now. You’ve got to do something to change it. And that’s my little part – giving people music, with a little instrument. It’s something anyone can do – from a little child to someone in a nursing homes.”
Sally Cole is a reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown
Senior fights to bring wife home
Jim Munves successfully takes on government to make sure he and his wife, Barbara, could be together
The story that impacted me most this year was beautiful and tragic.
Despite being 96 years old, Jim Munves was still sharp and very much in love with his wife Barbara, who lived with dementia.
Jim was Barbara’s caretaker until the province issued an emergency intervention order and took her into long-term care, even denying the two an outing for their 45th anniversary.
While Jim knew Barbara was safer in long-term care, he felt they had a right to live the rest of their days together in their Charlottetown home.
Ultimately, an agreement was made allowing Barbara to return home once Jim made some improvements and hired a live-in caretaker.
Unfortunately, the reunion was short.
After spending the summer together, Munves died in August and Barbara is now in long-term care. A memorial for Jim was held in early December, where friends of the couple gathered to share memories of an amazing man who served as a Jewish soldier in the Second World War, where he earned a Purple Heart, before becoming a peace activist.
I’m positive that Jim would have been happy to know that Barbara also attended the memorial and was able to convey her love for her husband.
Despite being a peace activist for much of his life, it was clear that to Jim, love was worth fighting for.
Mitch MacDonald is a reporter for The Guardian in Charlottetown.
The release of a rescued bald eagle emotional moment for Mi’kmaq people and reporter
The article I wrote this year that stands out most in my mind was about a rescued bald eagle.
The article, “Rescued eagle soars back into the wild after treatment at the AVC Wildlife Services” was published in The Guardian on April 25.
This was the first time I’d been to a ceremony where an animal was being released back into the wild. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I didn’t expect was that I would have an emotional reaction.
A Mi’kmaq woman, who is of the Abegweit First Nation, found an injured bald eagle when she was in New Brunswick in late-March.
She told me the eagle is one of the Seven Sacred Grandfather Teachings and it represents love and is a highly respected animal in their culture because it’s “the closest animal to the creato”. She said being able to hold one was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The eagle arrived at a critical time in the community, as there had been several people who died around that time. In fact, the release was delayed until the funeral of one of the elders in the cemetery next to the field was complete.
Following a smudging ceremony, the eagle was set free. At first, the eagle remained in place on the woman’s father’s arm, as if she wasn’t quite ready to take off.
When she finally did, there were cheers and tears among those in attendance, including myself.
It was strange to react emotionally the way I did, but it was as though when the eagle flew away, I felt a sense of peace. It was a beautiful moment and I gained a new appreciation for nature and for the Mi’kmaq culture. I won’t forget that feeling.
Katie Smith is a reporter and digital editor for The Guardian in Charlottetown
Man steals more than 100 pairs of underwear
It was a story of complex lies, manipulation and fake identities.
The target wasn’t a big financial payoff.
It was women’s underwear.
Mikael John DesJardins was sentenced in June to two years less a day in jail on several charges that included break and enter and possessing stolen underwear – more than 100 pairs of underwear to be more precise.
DesJardins’s case was unlike any I had ever covered, not just for the unusual nature of the items he stole, but for the way he went about getting them.
The court heard details of the intricate scheming involved in DesJardins’ manipulation of the victims to gain their trust and friendship before stealing their clothing and other personal items.
DesJardins even went as far as fabricating a non-existent wife as part of his scheming.
Every turn of the case involved a new twist, including the search of a storage unit where DesJardins kept about 150 pairs of women’s underwear in re-sealable plastic bags.
Some bags were labelled with women’s names.
The Crown said DesJardins had a tremendous impact on his victims, and it’s easy to see why, given the way he violated their trust.
It’s hard to imagine I’ll ever cover a case like this again anytime soon.
Ryan Ross is a court reporter for The Guardian in Charlottetown