FRF @ QCX

The Fraser River Fuggitivi is a road cycling club. But as the weather turns cold and wet, the sleek carbon fibre road bikes are kept inside, out of the elements and off the slicked roads.

Instead, a hardy handful of riders saddles up their winter rides and head to the boggy tracks of the cyclocross circuit.

Sunday, the Vancouver Cyclocross Coalition alighted in New Westminster’s Queen’s Park. Essentially the home race for Fuggitivi.

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Remembering Greg Moore

In 1996, I had the opportunity to cover Greg Moore’s first public appearance in an IndyCar, the pinnacle of open-wheel motorsports in North America. I first covered Moore in 1993, when his underfunded family-owned team competed in Indy Lights, the feeder series to the powerful 750 HP big cars; I was in Portland when Moore’s team had to borrow tires from another team to get Greg back in the race. By the time the checkered flag dropped, he had clawed his way back to third.

For the next two seasons we caught up with him regularly in Portland and at the Vancouver Indy. It was apparent he was a special racer with huge potential to make a major mark in his sport.

So when the promoters of the Vancouver race offered a package deal to local media to travel to Homestead, Florida to cover IndyCar “Spring Training,” I lobbied my editor at The Maple Ridge News that we should be there.

This is the story I brought back:

The fastest man from Maple Ridge

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Greg Moore’s Reynard speeds around the banked oval at Homestead, Florida during IndyCar Spring Training.

It’s the second day of Greg Moore’s first IndyCar season, but he’s not going anywhere.

While Paul Tracy, Raul Boesel and Bryan Herta are lapping the 1.51-mile oval track in Homestead, Florida, at more than 190 miles an hour, the fasted man from Maple Ridge is slumped in a chair in front of his team’s garage, his head buried in the collar of a jacket to ward off the unseasonable cold. Something in his Player’s Reynard electrical system is acting up and the team of technicians and mechanics swarming over the car can’t seem to find the problem. The tension is palpable.

But this is what “Spring Training” week at the brand new Homestead Motorsports Complex in the middle of a flat Florida swamp is all about. Most of the world’s fastest drivers are here to shake down their new cars, test new equipment, work out the bugs and crank up the hype machine for the upcoming ’96 PPG IndyCar World Series that begins the first week of March at this very same track.

It’s an especially big week for Moore.

He’s only had six days of seat time in the car he’ll be racing this season. As the new kid on the block, it’s a chance for him to earn some early credibility with the other drivers and with fans. At 20 years-old he’s the youngest driver on the circuit, and he’s the second-youngest by only a month to Al Unser Jr. to ever climb into an Indy racing car.

“It’s nothing new for me to be the kid, because I’ve always been the kid,” says Moore.

Indeed, in Formula 1600 he was the youngest driver by four years. In Indy Lights he was younger than his competitors by six years.

Moore’s ride to car racing’s big league has been almost as fast as some of the cars he drives: a go-kart champion in 1990; rookie-of-the-year in Formula 1600 in 1991; a Formula 2000 champion in 1992; racing Indy Lights before he graduated high school in 1993, breaking all the series’ records and winning the championship in 1995. Climbing into the cockpit of a 750-horsepower Indy car is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“It was pretty hard to imagine we’d ever get to this day,” says Moore’s dad, Ric, who’s also his manager.

It’s been a lot of work. Since being named the driver for the Player/Forsythe Racing team last November, Moore has spent 30 days testing at tracks in Florida, Arizona and California. He had a couple of days of media training in Montreal to prepare for his higher profile. And there’s been an intense conditioning program to get him ready for the rigours of wrestling the powerful Indy car around a track for two or three hours.

“The physical preparation is a little more intense for IndyCar,” says Moore.

That includes a lot of cardio work, training in the gym, on the stair master, rowing, lifting weights, riding his bike.

Moore will also have to prepare himself mentally for longer races – 200 to 500 miles instead of the 75-mile sprints he raced in Indy Lights.

“He’ll have to be 100 per cent focused,” says Ric.

Moore says he’s just honing the intensity he already possesses every race weekend. “I don’t really think I can change that much.”

Moore’s focus is almost legendary on pit row. When his blue, white and gold Reynard sputters and grunts only a few laps into the second day of testing at Homestead, Moore pulls into pit lane with a frustrated twitch.

Technicians remove the carbon fiber rear engine cowling and side pods to try to diagnose the problem. Moore flips up his helmet’s visor and exchanges a few curt hand signals with his chief mechanic, Chris Lovely. But mostly he just stares straight ahead, the fire to be on the track instead of keeping the revs up in the pits burning from his eyes.

When the signal comes to cut the engine, Moore climbs from the car and removes his helmet brusquely. He looks over the shoulder of chief engineer Steve Challis at a clipboard crowded with numbers. Nobody says much.

As the car is pushed behind the wall and back to the garage, Moore strides down pit lane alone. It takes most of the day before technicians pin down the problem. A spare part is salvaged from the back-up car and phone calls are made to the team’s headquarters in Indianapolis to get more parts shipped down overnight.

Moore’s race-ready intensity cools a little quicker. For a while he just stews in the plastic chair. He moves to the pit wall when one of his heroes, Paul Tracy, blows up his engine in a cloud of white smoke as he exits turn four.

By early afternoon Moore is loose and smiling again.

One of the consequences of his ascent to the big leagues is the added demands on his time, infringements on his concentration. Media from across North America are anxious to get a clip from the hot new talent of IndyCar racing.

Moore handles each interview with aplomb. He mugs for the camera as his mic is hooked up. He’s careful to mention his sponsors, He smiles politely as the same questions are asked again and again.

“There’s a little more show involved,” says Moore. “Before I didn’t have sponsors, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that.”

Everything is bigger now for Moore. This season he’ll compete in 16 races in four countries. Each race will be seen by an average 75 million TV viewers in 150 countries.
Moore says he’s won’t be along just for the ride; his goal is to win rookie-of-the-year, finish in the top ten point, win a race.

“I think the Player’s team is quite capable of it,” says Moore. “I think it could be Vancouver’s first IndyCar win for a Vancouver driver.”

That’s not just youthful bravado, says Challis who’s worked with Moore for six years. “He has a good work ethic and he’s very smart. He has the potential to be one of the best drivers in the world.”

The stubborn electrical glitch apparently solved, Moore’s car is rolled back out to pit lane late in the afternoon, in time for the day’s final practice session. After an IndyCar official gives the signal to open the track, Moore pops the clutch and thunders into the long Florida sunset.

The Reynard holds together. Moore’s speed increases each time around the banked oval. On the second-last lap of the day, with the sun dipped below the track wall, Moore clocks 192.196 mph. It’s the second-fastest lap of the day.

The next day, Moore breaks 194 mph, the third fastest lap for the whole week.

“Everything goes by a lot quicker now,” says Moore’s dad, Ric.

Circle of Journalism

Journalists wear their profession.

Everything we do passes through the prism of a storyteller. When we watch the news, one ear is on the craft of the writing, one eye honed to the visuals. When something cool or extraordinary happens, we want to immediately be there to pass the story on.

So while you may take the journalist out of the newsroom, you can never take the newsroom out of the journalist.

This week, I officially return to a newsroom to tell stories again.

When my newspaper, the Burnaby/New Westminster NewsLeader, closed in Oct., 2015, I thought I was walking out of a newsroom for the last time. And I was fine with that. I’d cobbled together an admirable career for just over 30 years. I’d seen and experienced a lot of interesting things. I had had a front-row seat to some incredible happenings. I met amazing people. I learned a lot about building and connecting communities. I got paid to be curious, find out stuff.

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One of my early photos after landing in the West in 1991. I have no idea what was going on here, but it seems someone was so upset with something at New Westminster City Hall, they decided to strip down.

But with the newspaper industry in its death throes, sucking morale and enthusiasm from depleted newsrooms everywhere, I accepted I’d have to find other avenues to tell stories.

After some time away to decompress and reorient myself to a new path, I did just that. I learned some new skills, explored new topics for new audiences.

But in conversations, I still called myself a journalist, I still referred to the newspaper business as “our industry” when lamenting its sorrowful state.

This is my tribe. For better or for worse.

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The Banana Republic vest-of-many pockets. The button-up denim shirt. The Ray-Bans. The Canon A-1. It had to be the 1990s.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I was presented an opportunity to pull some shifts for the Tri-City News. While I’d visited newsrooms on social calls to old colleagues, or to discuss freelance projects with editors, this was the first time I’d sat at an actual desk to log in to write a story, download photos from the camera, in more than 18 months.

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Office hi-jinks circa 1991.
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My new editor, doing his best upside-down-reporter schtick back in 1991.

It felt like I’d never been away. It felt right. It felt like home.

And I’m not just speaking metaphorically. Because my first official day at the News came 26 years almost to the exact day I landed there after being encouraged to head west by the paper’s former chief photographer Craig Hodge.

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On my first shift at the News 26 years ago, colleague Greg Kinch took me for lunch at The Lunch Doctor. So it’s only fitting that this week I went again.

A lot has changed over that time. But a lot hasn’t. Not the least of which is the drive and determination of a small newsroom to keep the citizens of three growing communities informed, share their stories, help out when there’s need, call out when it’s required.

It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

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Covering a football game at Centennial secondary school in 1991.
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A couple more blasts from the past I dug up from the archive. Left, the NAIA track and field championships in Abbotsford. Right, riding shotgun with hydro line workers high above Barnet Highway; I don’t imagine we’d get this kind of photo op these days.

Losing stories, losing history

Norm Friesen cut hair in New Westminster for 40 years. He likely won’t write a memoir, nor will Hollywood turn his life into a biopic. But the barber who also composed gospel music at the old piano in his one-chair shop on Mackenzie Street is just the kind of character who gives a community its soul and attracts the attention of a journalist looking for an interesting story.

A couple of years after I told Norm’s story in the NewsLeader, in words and photos, the city block that housed his shop was destroyed by a massive fire. Norm’s planned retirement was moved up a few weeks, but he lost every memento of his career. My story and photos were the last record of his life’s work, what the inside of his shop looked like, where he played his piano, the appointment book where he jotted down customers’ names.

When the NewsLeader was in its waning days I thought of Norm often, especially in the context of our responsibility as journalists to document our communities.

But as newspapers strip their resources to the bone, or close altogether, it gets harder and harder to live up to that responsibility. Stories are left untold, photos untaken. All in the name of economy.

In days of yore, before newspapers were bought up by corporations and hedge funds, publishers took their contract as a public service seriously. The ad department extracted dollars from local businesses and in return, the community was provided a daily, or weekly, chronicle of all the important, and not-so-important, news and information.

In the halcyon days of the early 1990s, it was heresy to let a community event go uncovered, to mute the volume on the police scanner. If important events conflicted, shifts were juggled, overtime authorized or freelancers hired to ensure readers wouldn’t miss a thing. And if it was a really big event, extra hands were brought in to give readers the whole story from several angles and nothing was missed. Accepting handout photos was an affront to our journalistic integrity.

But as news holes started shrinking and budgets tightened, that commitment to “be there” waned. Overtime was no longer authorized to put photographers at opposite baselines for the BC High School Basketball Championship or bring in additional help to cover all candidates on election night. More and more events went unreported; it someone provided a free handout photo, no matter the quality or source, that would suffice to at least create the illusion of coverage.

As newsrooms got even smaller, editors and reporters more harried, coverage was further compromised. Whole days were left unstaffed. The police scanners went unheeded because a call meant putting aside the 13 other things that needed to get done. Handout photos and press releases started landing on the front page, that most hallowed ground for every journalist.

The implications of this go far beyond the diminished product and overworked, dispirited journalists. They will be felt for generations to come.

Because for all their current faults, newspapers are still the first record of a community’s history. They’re the in-the-moment chronicle of events, issues and characters of a community. As depleted newsrooms pass over stories that would be too labour-intensive, time-consuming or inconvenient to cover, holes appear in that history.

Last week, the Vancouver Sun and Province laid off 54 people; 29 of them are journalists. Two are  librarians; they’re the caretakers of the papers’ archives. With them gone, who takes on that responsibility? Who will gather all the stories and photos and ensure they’re preserved and archived so future generations can access them, learn a little about the community’s evolution?

Anyone who’s ever tried to find something in an electronic database knows their fallibility. The database is only as good as the data that is put into it, and a vague or incorrect search term might yield nothing.

Without champions to ensure their integrity and continuity, it’s easy to let an archive slip, allow information to disappear forever, create gaps in a community’s story.

When the NewsLeader closed, the money guys who made that decision paid no mind to our archive of 26 years of community stories and photos. The old bound copies of the paper were destined for the garbage bin, as were the binders of cd’s and dvd’s containing our digital photo archive. The electronic archive, our websites, was simply turned off. Eventually some stories did reappear on the server of the surviving papers, but they’re sporadic; vast swaths of history have just disappeared.

Only a determined effort by one of our reporters saved our archive; the bound copies and digital photos were donated to the Burnaby and New Westminster archives, where they’ll be sorted and catalogued, a huge project because we didn’t have librarians to keep them well organized.

A Vancouver councilor, Geoff Meggs, has launched a similar initiative to preserve the archives of the Sun and Province. He recognizes that a company that jettisons the keepers of its archive has no commitment to protect the community’s “history on the run,” has no interest in keeping its part of the contract with the community it’s supposed to “serve.”

To see an example of the importance of a newspaper’s archives in action, check out the exhibition Vancouver in the Seventies, at the Museum of Vancouver until July 16; it’s comprised of 400 photos from the Vancouver Sun’s archive. Most of those images were routine assignments, likely forgotten by the photographer as soon as they handed their prints to an editor; but 40 years later they’re a remarkable record of the city’s coming of age. As the museum’s blurb says, “They capture the beauty of everyday events and chronicle the drama of pivotal moments that continue to shape the city.” You have to wonder if they’d be able to mount a similar exhibition in 2047 of Vancouver in the Twenty-tens.

Remembering a rocky start for a hometown hero

One of the special things about working in community journalism is being able to cover stories at a very intimate level, jumping in before they capture the attention of bigger, regional media.

In November, 2008, Kyle Turris was a young NHL prospect trying to earn a regular place on a team coached by the legendary Wayne Gretzky.

But the NewsLeader had been telling Turris’ story for years. We were there when he led his junior team, the Burnaby Express, to a national championship. We were with him when he packed up his bedroom in his family’s New Westminster home to embark on a collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. We covered his selection to a team of Canadian all-stars to play a series of games against a team of Russian all-stars. We held the paper so we could get the story of his selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes; he was selected third overall, the highest position in the draft ever achieved by a graduate of a Tier II Junior A hockey league.

Turris played a year of collegiate hockey, then turned pro in the spring of 2008.

When the NHL released its 2008-09 schedule that summer, NewsLeader reporter Grant Granger and I circled Nov. 6 when the Coyotes would visit the Vancouver Canucks and Turris would be able to play his first game as an NHLer in front of his friends and family. It would be, we thought, a triumphant, feel-good story of a hometown hero making it big.

The Coyotes were in town a day early for their Thursday night game so Granger and I headed down to the team’s Wednesday morning practice; it would be a chance for him to talk to Turris in a more relaxed setting and for me to be able to get a folio of photos we could use for years to come, including some of him interacting with Gretzky, who had championed his selection by the Coyotes.

Game night, we worked the plaza outside GM Place, talked to some of Turris’ old high school buddies who were there to cheer on their former classmate.

Inside the arena, Granger ascended to the press box while I headed rinkside to get a few closeup photos of Turris warming up during the pre-game skate. As the players left the ice, I went to my accredited position at the mezzanine level to prepare for the game.

But when the lights dimmed and the teams returned to skate a few laps before the opening face off, Turris was not among them. He had been scratched from the Coyotes’ lineup. He would not get a chance to play for his friends and family. And our triumphant story took a dark turn.

Over the cellphone, Granger and I plotted our next move. We would connect partway through the first period, then head downstairs to see if we could find Turris and get some comment.

I half-heartedly shot a few frames of game action (after all, I didn’t get many chances to shoot NHL hockey in good light) but a mid-season game between Vancouver and Phoenix wasn’t my story.

As Granger and I descended a stairwell, heading to the dressing room area, we bumped into Kyle. He was wearing civvies and a heavy black overcoat. He clutched a sandwich in plastic wrap. He looked very sad, almost near tears.

Turris said he was going to look for his dad and graciously allowed us to tag along. Granger asked some questions, I shot a few photos. None of us was feeling particularly good about the situation.

When Turris found his dad in the concourse, they embraced. I shot a few frames and then retreated. For a kid on a winning streak of hockey success for most of his young life, this was a kick to the gut.

Sunday, Kyle Turris played his 500th NHL game. Most of them have been with the Ottawa Senators, where he was traded just over three years after that sad night in Vancouver.

New facility fails to lure lazy roadsters

Not even the novelty of a new home court was enough to fire the roadsters up for the second half of the season.

Only five players reported Sunday to the converted basketball court that was one of the few outdoor facilities completely clear of the snow and ice that has kept the road hockey season frozen for the past seven weeks. A week of warmer temperatures and heavy rain diminished the glacial sheet a bit, but the roadsters may be banished from their traditional home court for another week or two until the tundra has melted entirely.

In fact, conditions are so bad at the road hockey courts, they’ve been secured by bright yellow caution tape.

Colonel said the unfamiliarity of the new venue may have tempered the ardour of some of the roadsters to get their game in gear after the extended layoff.

“I think people like what’s normal and comfortable for them,” said the veteran centreman. “I’d say our guys aren’t super good at being outside their comfort zone.”

Nouvelle Guy, who supplied the nets that converted the basketball court to a hockey venue, said he was discouraged by the ambivalence of his fellow roadsters.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” said the versatile veteran. “I expected there would be more people out here, but it is what it is.”

The new facility presented some challenges. While it’s mostly enclosed, the surrounding fence is much lower, allowing more balls to escape play. And the fencing doesn’t quite reach the ground so low rollers had a tendency to slip beyond the game.

But, said the Colonel, it was a more than adequate alternative.

“It’s a nice clear court,” said the feisty forward. “The surface is smooth. It’s a lot of fun running around here today.”

That exercise was a major motivator for Nouvelle Guy.

“It’s been really tough,” said the power forward. “I’ve been wanting to get out on the court. It’s one of the things I love to do.”

The mid-season break that has now stretched to seven weeks for some roadsters is unprecedented. And that could have serious implications as players begin to gear their game for the climactic Stanley Stick championship series in April.

“People are fatter,” said Colonel of the season’s slothful pause. “People don’t quite grasp it’s a lot easier to put a few pounds on than to take a few pounds off.”

Playing consistently keeps players sharp, hones their timing and playmaking, said the veteran. Those skills diminish quickly.

“You lose your hands, you lose your ball skills,” said Colonel, who struggled with some of his deke moves during Sunday’s half-court scrimmage. “It’s best for everyone to be out playing the game.”

The previous story was first published on my weekly road hockey blog, roadhockey.net

Roadsters dig out before digging in

Twizzler scored four times to become the first, and most unlikely, winner of the inaugural Shrimp Ring Shootout on Sunday.

The shotstopping stalwart was given a rare reprieve from his armour of heavy leg pads as the competition required only one goalie; he took full advantage, ripping bullets past his rearguard rival, Joker, high into the top corner, over his glove and through the five hole. It was a remarkable offensive effort against some of the game’s top snipers including Doo, Lak Attack and Scooby, who was making his first appearance at the courts in more than a year.

That the Shootout occurred at all was a testimony of the roadsters’ resolve to restart the season after a five week hiatus brought on by extended wintry weather.

“This is the week we were going to get back to playing hockey and you have to take a stand that you’re not going to let anything stand in your way,” said Doo during a break from the arduous effort to chip and shovel away more than a foot of hardened, compacted snow and ice.

It may have been the worst conditions the roadsters have ever encountered at the concrete courts said Lak Attack. A snowfall early in December wasn’t cleared before a thaw and subsequent freeze encased the concrete surface in ice and frozen slush. More snow piled on over the holiday hiatus that was compacted when the neighbouring school reopened.

“This is something we’ve never seen,” said the veteran who’s participated in numerous shovel brigades over his long career. “The amount of snow, and the ice underneath; there’s a lot of challenges.”

But the roadsters wered undeterred. Every chunk of snow or block of ice heaved to the side felt like a victory, said Doo.

“They’re doing something impossible. It’s back-breaking labour for a game that we’re probably not even going to be able to play.”

That realization was apparent more than an hour into the clearing effort as the accumulated snow had been removed from only a third of the court, and a thick layer of hard ice still remained.

The shoot out contest may not have had the competitive fire of a regular game, but for the roadsters who survived Sunday’s shovelling brigade it still felt like victory.

“It’s great to see,” said Doo. “This is probably helpful for people’s fitness.”

“This is a building block of how badly the guys want to play,” said Lak Attack. “It builds character for the guys… and that’s good for the rest of the season.”

This story was originally published in my road hockey blog, roadhockey.net

Photographing fiction

Shooting sports successfully usually demands some level of vague familiarity with the rules and flow of play. Knowing how a sport works can help you anticipate the action, point your lens at the right area of the field, stand in the proper place.

But what if a sport exists entirely in fiction?

Quidditch is a sport played by some of the characters in the Harry Potter novels. It’s a fantastical amalgam of tag, capture the flag, soccer and rugby played in mid-air by wizards flying magical broomsticks.

Some enthusiasts, mostly from university campuses, have brought the game down to earth and compete in actual leagues and championship tournaments.

In the spring of 2015, the Canadian Quidditch championship landed in Burnaby.

While I’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, I really had no idea what to expect of this real-life version of the fictional sport. Let alone how to shoot it.

But once I got over the odd sight of athletes running around with a “broomstick” between their legs, the patterns and purpose of the players quickly became clear. So did their passion.

And that’s always a recipe for good photos. Even when you have no idea what is going on.

Putting the winter into the Winter Market

Snow and ice put the winter back into Saturday’s final Winter Farmer’s Market of 2016. But Jason, at Gary’s Kettle Corn, wasn’t feeling the frosty temperatures.

In fact, he was so comfortable he was wearing just a t-shirt as he hovered over the propane burners heating the 80-quart kettle where the kernels are popped full of sweet and salty flavour.

“I definitely have the warmest spot on the block,” he chuckled as his shivering assistant served a customer just outside their booth’s heat zone.

Since moving uptown and outside last year, the Royal City Winter Farmer’s Market has been anything but wintery. Oh sure, there’s been plenty of rainy and cold market days, but Saturday’s setting of snow and ice was a first for many of the vendors. And they were doing everything they could think of to stay warm.

Like Tara at Roasters Hot Sauce; she was thinking about enjoying a hot toddy in her warm apartment to take the icy edge off that her six layers of shirts and sweaters couldn’t.

Layering is the key, said Michelle and Kathryn at Kiki’s Kitchen. They each topped a half-dozen layers of undershirts and cashmere with matching orange puffy jackets. Experience helps too, said Kathryn. She’s originally from Montreal so she spent plenty of time having a good time in the snow and cold.

“You’ve got to dance around, keep moving,” she said as the pair bopped around a propane space heater at the back of their booth.

Over at A Bread Affair, Cierra’s dancing was more like rocking back and forth from foot to foot. But her kiosk is closest to the Tim Horton’s so she was able to steal away for a hot coffee and a few moments of thawing out whenever traffic slowed.

“This is better than rain,” she said, optimistically.

Many of the vendors had the cold well in hand. They had chemical warming packets stuffed into gloves and socks.

“I love that we’re all in this together,” said Amanda at Honey Bee Zen.

But for Aaron at Ossome Acres, the frigid temperatures presented a new and unexpected challenge.

“We have to keep our eggs in the coolers to keep them from freezing,” he said.

This week’s $40 haul was all about indulgence. After all, ’tis the season:

2 pieces of strudel, 2 Schrippen buns and 3 poppyseed buns from Gesundheit Bakery – $10

box of mixed cookies, that will be used as a Christmas gift, from Sweet Thea Bakery – $10 (These market fixtures have hit a bit of a financial speed bump, so they’ve started a gofundme page to help them weather the storm and ensure they can keep baking)

tuna loin from our favourite fish guy, Ron, at Wild West Coast Seafood – $20

The next Royal City Winter Farmer’s Market will be Jan. 7. So enjoy the holiday, and the treats from this week’s chilly market!