Looking Back: 2019 a Momentous Year of Growth and Change for Canby Area

2019 is almost over, and it was a year many folks in Canby will not soon forget. Here’s a brief look back at the year that was.

Congratulations to Ellie Shorter, who was named our inaugural Canby Person of the Year for 2019.

Horror on Barlow Road

A family’s lives were forever altered in one tragic night in January, in a domestic violence-related mass homicide that left five people dead, including the suspect, Mark Leo Gago. The horrific details soon came to light: Gago had attacked and killed his girlfriend, Shaina Sweitzer, mother, Pamela Bremer, stepfather, Jerry Bremer, and 9-month-old daughter, Olivia Gago, using knives and an ax as his weapons. Further loss of life was prevented by Clackamas County deputies, who shot and killed Gago as he was attempting to strangle his girlfriend’s 8-year-old daughter, who also lived at the home. The deputies’ use of lethal force was reviewed and declared justified.

Community Mourns Austin Piert

More tragedy struck early this year, with the sudden and unexpected death of Austin Piert, a bright young athlete, coach and recent graduate of Linfield College. More recently, the Pierts’ neighbors on NE 12th Way sought to honor Austin and comfort his family in a unique and beautiful way this holiday season.

Dance Takes Five

The Canby Cougar Dance Team continued its streak of unbelievable dominance this year, taking home their fifth straight OSAA 6A state championship back in March. In addition to the team success, assistant coach and choreographer James Healey was named 6A Coach of the Year, and one of their members, Emma Lawless, received the National High School Heart of the Arts Award, which recognizes those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive heart of the arts. Here’s the routine that won it for them at the 2019 Dance and Drill State Championships, held at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Ferry Floats On

After spending most of the previous year studying the continued feasibility of the Canby Ferry, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners decided to proceed with a short-term solution, attempting to better monetize the ferry with a patchwork of various ideas, such as reduced hours, accepting credit cards and better marketing and promotions. The ferry operates at a significant loss, estimated at about $400,000 per year, and it will need to be replaced in the next 15 to 20 years, at a price tag of approximately $2 million. The possibility of a toll bridge at that location was abandoned after being vehemently opposed by area residents.

Canby Divided

Canby’s identity as a small, tightly knit community was tested in several ways this year, perhaps most notably by a debate over transgender rights that boiled over in March and April. It started with a proclamation request for Transgender Day of Visibility, which Mayor Brian Hodson quietly declined, and subsequent public comment by several community members that some viewed as hateful and transphobic. Dozens of speakers responded at the next meeting, many of them calling for tolerance, respect and continued dialogue — including Mayor Hodson himself. The still-simmering tensions would impact the school board elections in May, with one successful candidate calling it the most contentious campaign she had ever been part of, and ultimately led Mayor Hodson to update his policy to no longer consider any proclamations that recognize groups based on race, sex, gender, age, religion, nation of origin or sexual orientation.

Making a Splash

A splash pad in Canby — one of the most requested features by local residents for over a decade — progressed from dream to reality in 2019, as the city discussed various locations, ultimately selecting Maple Street Park, hired a contractor and settled on a design and budget. Currently, the city is inviting public comment on three different designs embodying the “Grasslands” theme meant to reflect the community’s identity as the “Garden Spot.”

To Brew or Not to Brew?

The mystery behind the code-named Project Shakespeare was revealed this year, with the news in May that Columbia Distributing, the largest beverage distributor in the Pacific Northwest, would occupy the massive facility approved for the Canby Pioneer Industrial Park. The 531,000-square-foot facility will become new Columbia’s new Portland Metro Area warehouse, consolidating three existing locations in Portland and accommodating approximately 250 to 300 employees, with plans for future expansion. Completion is scheduled for fall 2020. The distribution facility is planned to operate around the clock and the new truck traffic it’s expected to generate has caused some concerns from local residents, helping to spur the construction of a new traffic signal at Sequoia and Hazel Dell and plans for a new industrial park access road.

Rendering of Columbia Distributing’s future warehouse in Canby, Oregon. Opening fall 2020.


Plans for a quiet zone in downtown Canby also progressed significantly in 2019, from a long-discussed hypothetical to what now appears to be all but a certainty. The zone would install new infrastructure at the railroad intersections with North Elm, Grant and Ivy, making those crossings safer for motorists and pedestrians and exempting them from the need for engineers to blow their horns every time they pass through. Total cost of the project is estimated at $1.1 million and is being financed through urban renewal funds. Current status is that final notice has been issued to the various approval agencies and involved jurisdictions. If no objections are filed, the project will be cleared to proceed with construction early next year.

Marching On

A sad and unfortunate situation led to the Canby High School marching band shining on an even bigger stage last June. More than 100 members of the band, along with parents and supporters, were heartbroken one Saturday evening, when the buses that were supposed to transport them to Portland for the Starlight Parade never showed. Less than a day later, Rose Festival organizers were on the phone with Band Director Nick Luchterhand, inviting his crew to perform in the finale of the Grand Floral Parade, where they were recognized as one of the best bands in the parade.

Shots Fired in Village

A Canby man was arrested in his neighborhood, Village on the Lochs, June 30 after experiencing what police described as a mental health crisis and firing at least one shot in the direction of officers attempting to respond to the scene. Mark Andrew Hill, 49, fired a handgun toward Canby police officers shortly after they arrived in the 1600 block of South Elm Street. Hill remains in custody at the Clackamas County Jail, facing charges of attempted murder (aggravated), four counts of unlawful use of a weapon and three counts of menacing.

Second Time’s a Charm

The sale of Aurora-based Columbia Helicopters was completed this year to AE Industrial Partners, a private investment firm headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., which specializes in aerospace, defense services, power generation and specialty industrial markets. It was actually the second time in the past 12 months that a larger investor had attempted to add the privately owned company based at Aurora State Airport to its holdings. A Houston, Texas-based investment group announced its intentions to purchase Columbia for $560 million in November 2018, but the deal unraveled several months later.

Doggone Amazing

Another story from Village on the Lochs, when a miniature Australian shepherd dog was rescued from a steep, bramble-infested hillside after being stuck there for over eight days. Residents had heard sounds of the trapped animal but didn’t know it was a dog. Volunteers with the Oregon Humane Society’s Emergency Animal Rescue Team, also known as OHSTAR, who are specially trained in animal rescue techniques, rappelled approximately 75 feet down to free the animal. His grateful owner retrieved him from Clackamas County Dog Services the next day and said she would be investing in a dog tag and microchip.

Canby’s Shooting Star

Canby High School’s Issabella Berge established herself as one of the top amateur trapshooters in the country this year, being one of only seven out off 1,800 competitors to score a perfect 100 at the USA Clay Target High School National Championships, and the only girl to do it. It was a moment of such pride Head Coach Chuck McClaugherty said it almost brought him to tears. More recently, Issabella dominated the state’s fall league, along with several of her male counterparts on the Canby High Trapshooting Team, and was named the top overall female performer for 2019.

About Those Booms…

In August, the Canby School District announced that their longstanding tradition of celebrating touchdowns with a fireworks display at high school football games would continue this year, which was an abrupt about-face from the decision they’d made just two days earlier, in which they agreed to forego the aerial fireworks displays at the request of the city. The city’s request followed an appearance at the Aug. 21 city council meeting by resident Paul Ylvisaker, who lives two blocks from Canby High School and suffers from chronic pain and PTSD that the random and unexpected explosions exacerbate. The earlier announcement that the district would suspend the fireworks displays sparked a firestorm of controversy on Canby Facebook.

Welcome to Canby

Speaking of controversy on Canby Facebook, the city moved forward this year on the the construction of a gateway arch into downtown Canby at the Grant Street intersection. The arch is being designed by by Scott|Edwards Architecture, and features flagstone pillars and an arch heavily inspired by the iconic Encinitas Archway in Encinitas, Calif. The monument will include color-changing LEDs and signage that can promote various city events. Preliminary construction estimates for the project are $240,600, financed through urban renewal funds.

Follow that Truck

In September, a high-speed chase wound through Canby and ended with a rollover crash on Interstate 205, with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon City Police Department and other agencies joining the effort. It all started when a Canby police officer noticed a large, white Budget rental truck pulling an empty boat trailer, which matched the description of a suspect vehicle involved in multiple thefts of trailers and gasoline in Canby. Law enforcement attempted to stop the truck with spike strips at five or six separate locations, two of which were ultimately successful in deflating the truck’s tires. Deputies were finally successful in stopping the truck with the use of a Pursuit Intervention Technique, or PIT maneuver.

Carry On My Wayward Sub

Canby’s newest restaurant is Wayward Sandwiches, a sandwich shop and wine bar that was the first commercial business to open at the Dahlia back in October. Owner and General Manager Matt Morrissey and Executive Chef Justin Rouse combine their experience from the Veritable Quandary and other exceptional Portland area restaurants into their unique vision for Canby: high quality, locally sourced food, prepared with culinary flair, served with zero pretension.

Gather Round the Monopole

2019 will have a lasting impact on the skyline along Highway 99E, though whether folks will notice or not remains to be seen. The change will come in the form of a 130-foot wireless communications and 4G data tower disguised as a Douglas fir. The proposal by AT&T was originally denied by the Planning Commission for reasons related to public safety and the potential impact on neighboring properties, but their decision was reversed by the City Council on appeal. The monopole, “monofir” as it was sometimes called by AT&T, will be built on a small footprint near the existing Pacific Pride commercial fueling station on SW 2nd Avenue. Our completely frivolous, but quite popular, series of Photoshops on disguises the tower could have used instead was tons of fun.

Put On a Happy Face

What does The Joker have to do with Canby? Well, not much. (Fortunately.) But our own Tyler Clawson’s review of the 2019 super villain biopic was our fifth-most read story this year, so we felt it merited inclusion on this list. Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?

Ready for Some Football

Canby football was a big story this year and throughout 2019. It started with the hiring of longtime Beaverton High School offensive coordinator and first-time head coach Jimmy Joyce, and the excitement that followed. His first mission was to rebuild the team’s culture, and he set about that with gusto. Some changes were painful, like moving away from the Wing-T, which had been Canby’s standard offensive formation since the legendary Erv Garrison took the reins 40 years earlier, as was the Cougs’ 0-7 start. But they broke their 22-game, two-year losing streak with a gutsy win over Oregon City in their final league game of the season, then beat visiting Roseburg to start a brand-new streak, a winning one. The news kept coming even after the season ended, as Canby was offered, and ultimately accepted, a chance to move down to the 5A classification for at least the next two seasons.

Spike It!

The Canby Cougars were the best public school volleyball team in the state this year, something they proved that at the state tournament in Hillsboro in November, defeating West Linn on Saturday to claim third place in 6A volleyball. The two teams ahead of them — Jesuit and Central Catholic — are both private schools. Their road to third place included a sweep of 22 Grant in the opening round, an upset sixth-ranked Sprague in five sets, then a stunning come-from-behind victory over No. 3 Mountainside after falling behind two sets to none. Daley McClellan was named first team all tournament and all state and Ruby Kaiser was named second team in both.

Amazing Bella

In early December, we brought you the story of Bella Capra, an amazing Ninety-One School sixth-grader who has spent the past few years writing letters to American troops deployed overseas. This year, she organized friends and classmates to send service members care packages for the holidays. In her, ahem, “spare time,” she plays soccer and practices — not kidding — indoor skydiving. She took second place in the junior freestyle category of the U.S. Indoor Skydiving Open National Championships this year and is currently training for 2020.

Coming to Terms

The Canby School Board on Dec. 19 approved the agreement between the district and the local union representing its teachers and classified staff, averting a possible strike for at least the next two years. After over six months of collective bargaining and negotiations, the two sides reached a compromise on annual cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, a 3 percent COLA effective July 1, 2019 (retroactive pay to be dispersed in a lump sum next month) and a 4 percent COLA effective July 1, 2020. Both marks represent the highest cost-of-living increase Canby teachers have received since the 2010-11 school year.

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