Nanaimo This Week: Gone boys

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Anyone who’s lived in Nanaimo for a long time knows the story of Lisa Marie Young, a beautiful 21-year-old woman who went missing in 2002 and was never seen again. Those newer to the city may have also seen the posters of Lisa that still hang in many shop windows, or heard about the yearly walk in her memory that still goes on to this day.

I’ve reported on Lisa’s disappearance over the years, and recently took the time to listen to Where is Lisa?, the first season of Island Crime, a new podcast by award-winning former CBC journalist Laura Palmer. It’s a must-listen for anyone curious about Lisa’s story or true crime in general, especially the most recent episode which came out on Jan. 21 and offers some shocking new potential leads on the case. 

A business card is pinning on a tree inviting tips on Lisa Marie Young's disappearance.
Community members continue to distribute business cards in an effort to locate Nanaimo’s Lisa Marie Young. Photo by Cyndy Hall/Facebook

The new season of her podcast, Gone Boys, started on Monday and strikes a wider focus on men who have gone missing on Vancouver Island.

“When I was doing my research into Lisa’s story I joined a whole bunch of (Facebook) groups here on the Island, some generally about crime and unsolved cases and some about missing people, and because I was part of those communities I kept seeing people saying, ‘Why isn’t anyone talking about the missing men? Where are the men? Why aren’t these stories getting more attention?’ 

“And I had seen a couple of articles done over the years but I felt like that there was enough there that I just wanted to dig in a little bit deeper. I don’t have the daily deadlines, I don’t work in a busy news department any more, so I can take the time,” says Palmer from her home in Port Alberni. 

“I also felt like because they’re all men, and men who have some measure of disability or trauma or addiction in their lives, they’re not going to be the people that necessarily the public is going to connect with and empathize with… they look at these missing person posters and sometimes they’re mugshots, and sometimes they’re scary looking guys, or disheveled and down on their luck and I just thought there was probably more to their stories than what was out there.”

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Because the vast majority of missing person reports are solved within the first year and most within a week (about 88 per cent, according to the National Centre for Missing Persons), Palmer ended up narrowing down her search into the cases of men who had been missing for more than one year.

I asked her if Vancouver Island was home to more missing people than other areas of Canada, as it is sometimes rumoured to be. Palmer responded that there isn’t an easy answer to that question, because getting a baseline for what is “normal” is tricky. 

Federal and provincial data that goes back for any significant amount of time on missing people can be spotty, and breakout data specifically for the Island is hard to come by, among other challenges, she said.

However Palmer did discover that in 2019, B.C. had the highest number per capita of missing person reports in the country.

“The RCMP will say, ‘Oh well some of that has to do with tourists who come here unprepared and our climate draws people from across the country, but the men I’m looking at are not tourists. They’re guys from here, from the Island, so that’s not the answer,” she says.

In Gone Boys she focuses on the stories of five men from Port Alberni, Duncan, and Campbell River. The first episode, “The Boy Who Loved Christmas,” looks at the story of Brandon Cairney, a handsome young man from Port Alberni whose life is changed forever after a car accident that leaves him with a brain injury. 

One night in 2017, he disappears and is never seen again. Palmer interviews his family and friends to try and piece together what might have happened.

Community shout-out

“Many of our youth face persecution daily from bylaw, police and other members of the public if they are visible, so they have chosen to remain anonymous in this magazine for their safety,” reads the magazine. Photo by Anna McKenzie/Indiginews

Nanaimo’s local journalism initiative reporter Anna McKenzie wrote a great piece for Indiginews this week about Place, Literacy Central Vancouver Island’s new youth publication that focuses on the stories of Nanaimo’s unhoused youth. McKenzie’s article, A Love Letter to Unhoused Youth, was also republished in the Toronto Star.

Good news

  • Nanaimo will get 20 new publicly funded treatment and recovery beds as part of a wider push to address substance use challenges in the province. On Tuesday, B.C.’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions announced that 14 organizations across the province will get more than 100 beds in communities across B.C., including Nanaimo’s John Howard Society, which will get 15 beds, and the Edgewood Treatment Centre, which will get five beds.

  • On Monday, BC Housing submitted the development permit applications for two new supportive housing developments for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the community. According to the city’s announcement of the joint project with BC Housing, since 2018 “a combined total of nearly 730 affordable and supportive housing units are under construction, completed, in-progress or announced.” These are in addition to the 60 units anticipated with the new navigation centre aimed at supporting local residents experiencing homelessness.

  • Nanaimo’s Foodshare Society is now selling premade curried squash, carrot ginger, and potato leek soups at Superette Foods in Nanaimo on Albert Street. The sales of their soup support the employment of people with diverse abilities and contribute towards building a healthy, sustainable, affordable, accessible food system.

What’s going on?

Saturday, Feb. 20Saturday Night Sessions at The Queens nightclub offers a variety show of Island-based hip hop artists, rock n roll and comedy, live online. Featuring performances by Matt Billon, Loretta, Details, The Paper Dolls, and 5to10. 

Wednesdays in February, ongoing: Drop-in Zoom recruitment events for Vancouver Island University every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for anyone interested in becoming a student or learning more about VIU programs. 

Wednesday, Feb. 24: Free outdoor silent dance party with headsets at Maffeo Sutton Park in the Nanaimo Harbour, hosted by Collective Groove. Open to friendly dancers of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of skill or talent. The dance music sets are curated by local artists and DJs, featuring a diverse range of music from disco/house to drum ‘n’ bass and world music. Dancers control their own channel and volume. All COVID restrictions in place.


I often receive insightful letters in my inbox, like this one from local author, longtime community activist, teacher, and Diamond Jubilee and Order of B.C. recipient Carol Matthews, who runs a lovely little blog you should check out, and gave me permission to share this with you.

Dear Julie,

Thanks for what the Discourse is writing about. The issues of homelessness in Nanaimo and of the need for a Front Street-lift up are both important questions to follow. 

Many of us feel waves of sadness when we witness the unfortunate situations of homeless people in our city. As well, we are dismayed to see the degradation of Front Street, which was once such a beautiful and welcoming part of town. I’m sure that people are working hard to address these difficult issues, but the progress is slow. 

Thanks too for the What’s Going On? section.

Keep up the good work.


Carol Matthews

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated the City of Nanaimo signed an MOU with BC Housing on Monday to build affordable and supportive housing. The story has been updated to reflect that on Monday BC Housing submitted the development applications to advance supportive housing projects in Nanaimo.

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