Top stories of 2017

Looking back at the top stories both locally and regionally around Cranbrook.

2017 was quite the year for news locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.

From local infrastructure work to weekly RCMP reports to ongoing matters in the Cranbrook Law Courts, there was plenty of news happening in the Key City.

In no particular order, here are some news stories that were significant in and around Cranbrook.

Infrastructure work

The ambitious roadwork program this summer saw a budget of $14.8 million pumped into the 2017 Capital Roads Program.

City crews and local contractors had 10 projects completed by mid-August, while others, such as 2nd St. South, was finished later in the fall.

The funding for infrastructure had a massive injection of $10 million due to an Alternative Approval Process that was ratified by local residents last year.

Some projects, like 2nd St. South and Anderson Crescent, required both underlying infrastructure replacement, such as water mains and storm sewers, while others roads just needed to be repaved.

In August, the city estimated that there were seven construction contracts in place for roughly 23 roads around the city, employing 100 people on various aspects, including engineering, design, road-building and traffic control.

Kootenay Ice sold

The Kootenay Ice was sold to a pair of investors from Winnipeg in April, bringing the end of an era to the WHL franchise in Cranbrook.

Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes purchased the team from former owner, president and general manager Jeff Chynoweth, who had been running the Ice front office for 16 years.

It was his father, Ed, who had relocated the team to Cranbrook from Edmonton in 1998.

Cockell, a former WHL goaltender and Vancouver Canucks draft pick, has taken over president and general manager responsibilities, and has not been shy about putting his stamp on hockey operations and the roster.

After relieving former head coach Luke Pierce of his duties, Cockell hired former NHLer James Patrick, a veteran of over 1,000 games with an 11-year coaching career as an assistant bench boss with the Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres.

Other changes included adding a plethora of specialists into the hockey operations staff, including mental skills and sports performance.

Cockell also did not hesitate to put his stamp on the roster after taking over managerial duties in the off-season, swinging nine trades before the 2017/18 regular season opened in September.

Blackmore trial

After 27 years of investigations and legal proceedings winding through various levels of court, two Mormon fundamentalist leaders stood trial for polygamy in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Winston Kaye Blackmore and James Marion Oler were charged with polygamy in 2014 by special prosecutor Peter Wilson and were both found guilty after an eight-day trial in April.

Wilson called evidence that included the first legal wife of Blackmore, mainstream Mormon experts who testified about church doctrine and history, as well as marriage and religious records seized at a fundamentalist compound in Texas by law enforcement in 2008.

Both were found guilty by Justice Sheri Donegan in July, however, Blackmore has launched a constitutional challenge, arguing his charter rights have been violated.

The crux of Blackmore’s challenge rests on statements from the Criminal Justice Branch in the early 1990s declaring that polygamy charges would not be pursued because lawyers believed that any prosecution would fail based on a defence of charter rights.

Running alongside the polygamy issue is the child removal matter, where two Bountiful members were found guilty for their role in bringing their underage daughter across the U.S. border to marry fundamentalist leader Warren Jeffs in 2004.

Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore were sentenced to 12 months and seven months in prison, respectively, by Justice Paul Pearlman in August.

Oler, a third co-accused who faced the same child removal charge, was acquitted. The crown is appealing Oler’s acquittal, while Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore is appealing her result.

Wildfires

2017 was the worst year on record for wildfires, as over a million hectares were burned by over 1,300 fire starts all across the province.

While the interior of BC got scorched by large blazes in Williams Lake, Ashcroft and 100 Mile House, the East Kootenay region went relatively unscathed until late August. Then, seemingly all at once, three large fires broke out on a mountainside near Moyie (Lamb Creek), St. Mary’s area near the community of ʔaq’am, and the Linklater at the Canada/US border by Lake Koocanusa.

All fires touched off evacuation alerts and orders in the surrounding areas, as property owners were evacuated to the Cranbrook Curling Centre, which served as the Emergency Reception Centre.

The Lamb Creek fire was first reported on Aug. 7 and blew up to 2,215 hectares that utilized both heavy equipment on the ground, firefighting personnel and aircraft such as tankers and helicopter bucketing. Evacuation orders were issued for both the west side of the lake that eventually covered the eastern shore and the entire townsite.

The St. Mary’s fire grew up to 400 hectares and was reported at the end of August, forcing the evacuation of 30 homes.

The Linklater fire started in the U.S. but jumped across the border and burned over 1,000 hectares, also touching off evacuation orders and alerts on both sides of Lake Koocanusa. All fires were actioned and contained, eventually burning out.

Regionally, there were also some large fires specifically up near Canal Flats (Island Pond) off Highway 93 that burned 1,000 hectares while a few fires combined to form the White River complex, burning up to 24,000 hectares in a remote area west of Whiteswan. Large fires also formed in the Flathead Valley, most notably the Kenow Mountain blaze that ended up consuming 15,500 hectares.

Supreme Court ruling on Jumbo

A legal battle touched off between the Ktunaxa Nation Council and the provincial government over the approval of a development plan for a proposed ski resort in the Jumbo Glacier Valley went to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The SCOC dismissed the appeal brought forward by the KNC, who argued that the provincial approval of the resort plan violated their charter right to religious freedom, as the area around Jumbo, known last Qat’muk to the Ktunaxa, carries significant spiritual meaning as the home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit.

While there has been long-standing opposition to the development of a resort in the area for years, the legal battle began in 2012 after the province approved a Master Development Agreement.

The KNC challenged the approval in BC Supreme Court through a judicial review, which was upheld in 2014. The KNC took that decision to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the original ruling a year later. Appealing to the highest court in the land, the KNC took their case to the SCOC, which dismissed their appeal, however, it was not a unanimous ruling from all nine justices.

The majority found that there was reasonable consultation between the provincial government and the KNC, however, two justices dissented by concluding that while the province reasonably consulted with KNC, their religious rights were violated by the approval of the development plan.

Fernie ammonia tragedy

A tragic accident at the Fernie Memorial Arena took the lives of three people in what was a suspected ammonia leak in October. Two municipal employees, Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith, along with Jason Podloski, an outside contractor from Turner Valley, were identified as those who died in the incident.

Nearby homes close to the arena were evacuated for nearly a week as emergency personnel investigated the situation. A community memorial was held nearly a month later at Fernie Secondary School.

New provincial government

After 17 years of the BC Liberal Party maintaining a majority in the legislature in Victoria, there was a change in government following the provincial election in May.

While the Liberals captured a minority government, the NDP and Green Party banded together to hammer out a power-sharing agreement to oust the Liberals and rule with a majority between the two. Close to home, longtime MLA Bill Bennett retired, which kicked off a nomination race that was won by Tom Shypitka.

As the BC Liberal candidate, Shypitka captured Kootenay-East for the Liberals in the provincial election. While the Liberals won 43 seats provincially, they were one shy of a majority. The NDP and Greens forced a non-confidence vote, which toppled the Liberal minority and led to the resignation of Liberal leader Christy Clark.

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