A family passes down the memory of a young Abbotsford woman
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Good Morning!
I miss camping. Life has been weird and hectic for a year or two now, and not just because of the pandemic. And when life is busy—and it’s always busy with two young kids—it’s hard to find the time to plan to go camping, much less actually go. Plus, it’s kind of foolish to plan anything during a pandemic (says the guy who quit his job to help start a news outlet). But just wait, as soon as this is all over, you’ll find me at a campground. Or, more likely, swearing at the province’s online campground reservation system. Now that would be a real return to normalcy. —Tyler Olsen, managing editor
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Josée Riopelle’s memory lives on along Discovery Trail, and in the stories of her family. 📸 Courtesy Tina Stewart
The name on the bench

Take a break from your walk. Sit down. Enjoy the view. Then turn around. Is there a name attached to the bench you are sitting on?

One bench along Abbotsford’s Discovery Trail bears the name of Josée Riopelle. Last Wednesday, Josée’s sister Tina Stewart was sent a photo of a small graffiti tag on the bench’s top railing. Upset, she wrote a post on a neighbourhood Facebook group to introduce readers to the life of the person whose bench had been defaced. In doing so, she revealed how precious the benches are to many families.

Adopted shortly after birth, Josée Riopelle was welcomed into a family where all the children were in or nearing their teenage years. A small girl in a family structure that had been set for a decade, Josée instantly endeared herself. And awed them. Josée had spina bifada, a birth defect that required her to use a wheelchair from an early age.

“Here she was stuck in a wheelchair, what the rest of us would look at and think ‘Poor little Josée,’ but she was always happy and giggling and nothing got her down,” Tina told The Current. “She was just the apple of our eyes… She was like our child because she was so much younger and we were teens when she came into our lives.”

Josée grew up, graduated from Rick Hansen Secondary, and went to live with Tina as she entered young adulthood.

“She was always joyful and always happy and nothing got [her down]. I had young children when she lived with me, the youngest was 18 months old, and they would have races in the wheelchair.”

Josée, though, had been having seizures and in 2000, just before her 21st birthday, one of them claimed her life. It was a devastating moment for the Riopelle family. So to remember her, the family funded a memorial bench near the Ag-Rec Centre in Abbotsford. Recently, the Riopelle’s had a new bench installed along Discovery Trail closer to the new home of Josée’s mother.

When that bench was defaced, Tina was furious. Her spirits were lifted by the overwhelmingly caring, positive reaction to her Facebook post, along with the quick removal of the graffiti. But the incident also revealed to Tina that many people don’t understand the importance of a memorial bench to a deceased person’s loved ones. For the Riopelle family, the bench functions as a memorial site, where they can go and spend time with Josée’s memory.

“You’re not having to go to a graveyard,” she said. “We can pack a picnic and sit there. I have 5 grandchildren and it’s a place I can go with them and sit with them and they ask me stories about my sister… To me, it feels more uplifting to go sit in a beautiful park rather than a graveyard.”

A couple weeks ago, Tina’s daughter and granddaughter walked to the bench and sat down. They brought a photo of Josée and sat down on the bench that bore her name. And with the Fraser Valley laid out in front of them, Josée’s niece passed on her memories of a beloved aunt who once raced toddlers in her wheelchair, and who, 20 years after her passing, is still present.

Josée Riopelle’s bench is in Cassiar Park if you want to take in the view.

—By Tyler Olsen

The Floor Is Yours: How do you want to be remembered after you die?
Need to Know
🐣 Citing ‘non-compliance,’ the province has yanked the wildlife permit for an Abbotsford quarry that is home to a rare peregrine falcon nest [Abbotsford News]

💬 Abbotsford Coun. Brenda Falk has resigned from AbbotsfordFirst, a local political party, after a cryptic Facebook post invoking Nazis.

🚂 Hope council will vote tonight on the future of the Hope Station House. [Hope Standard]

🔥 A blaze in Chilliwack razed a barn, but didn't kill any animals. [Chilliwack Progress]

🚓 Chilliwack Mounties seized drugs and guns from a downtown home. [UFVRD RCMP]

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Your community
At the start of the pandemic, Golden Valley Foods plant manager Frank Curtis urged his employees to stop unnecessary activities. The company’s plant grades 80% of the eggs in BC and any shutdown of the plant would have led to widespread egg shortages. In solidarity, Curtis also declared he wouldn’t be getting a hair cut. With everyone at the plant now vaccinated and no outbreaks, Curtis recently auctioned off the chance to cut or style his hair to the winner’s preference. The initiative raised more than $7,000 for Union Gospel Mission and earned Curtis some fancy beads. 📷 BC Egg/Frank Curtis • Do you have a community photo to share? Email us.
The Agenda
A 79-unit townhouse development is being suggested for the northeastern section of Promontory in Chilliwack. The developer asked council to rezone 3 properties on Bradner Lane, located at the bottom of Teskey Way near the Prest Road roundabout. The properties are located between farmland and Promontory’s residential areas. The development plan includes a proposed trail network connection, which would connect the Jinkerson Stairs to the Teskey Way Trail, as well as a common amenity area. There will be at least 2 off-street parking spaces per house (up to 2 in the driveway and 1 in the garage) and 32 visitor parking spots. There are 2 waterways on the property, as well as a steep slope that makes part of the area unsuitable for development. Chilliwack council gave first and second reading to the proposal, and written comments on the project will be discussed at the June 1 council meeting.
COVID latest
Officials are expected to lift some restrictions Tuesday afternoon. It’s likely social distancing and mask-wearing requirements will stay, while travel restrictions may be eased. Many will also be watching restrictions on indoor dining, gyms and places of worship. Officials have previously warned that re-opening will be gradual. The changes are expected to be announced at a 1pm press conference. [BCCDC COVID data]

Fraser Health
  • New cases: 630 Friday-Monday / 243 average (down 23% from last week)
  • No active outbreaks at hospitals / 2 active outbreaks in long-term care
  • School exposures: Abbotsford: 12 / Chilliwack: 3 / Langley: 8 / Mission: 7 / Fraser Cascade: 0
  • Workplace closures (May 21): 2
  • New cases: 974 Friday-Monday / 383 average (down 24% from last week)
  • 292 hospitalizations (down 17% from last week)
  • 12 new deaths / 1,679 total
Around Town
🦷 Fraser Health’s Mobile Dental Health Clinic will return to the Langley Youth Hub May 27, and will be at the site every other Thursday from 1:30 to 2:30pm.

Gallery 7 is hosting Shelley Picard’s original play A New Normal on May 28 and 29. Audiences can livestream the event, including a discussion with the artist.

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