I am not omniscient, but from where I sit I get a good view of the doings in Cranbrook, and people’s reactions to them. I have been reflecting on some of these events from the past year. Every year is unique, and different things happen of great importance that change things for all of us, but 2018 will go down as an especially tumultuous year.
I’d like to offer you, dear reader, my selection of the five most important news stories of 2018. They are in no particular order, although I went on longer in the last one because I think the way it will play out will have the most historical significance for Cranbrook and the people who live here. Each of the others is important for various reasons — for political reasons, for what it says about our city, for what it says about us as humans, or even for the noise the story made.
And may I take the opportunity to wish you all a prosperous 2019, with peace in your lives, work and homes.
And so, onward …
• A proposal to build an indoor sport facility, headed up by the Kootenay East Youth Soccer Association (KEYSA), was going great guns with fundraising and lots of public awareness and support. But the project encountered a lot of turbulence when it met City Hall. The City offered the project a site in Moir Park, as opposed to Balment Park — the spot that KEYSA desired. One is fairly far-flung and hard to get to, the other centrally located. The issue raised questions about transparency and how decisions are made at City Hall and on Council.
Since the municipal election, Mayor Lee Pratt has said this issue will be revisited, and so the project, with accompanying politics and public acrimony, is carried forward into 2019.
• Any death in an accident is a tragedy, but the deaths in February of Clayton Murrell, a prominent and popular firefighter, and his wife Joan MacKinnon, a beloved staffer at the Aquatic Centre, was a great loss and sorrow to the community. A public memorial at Western Financial Place, proceeded by a procession of firefighters, police, City staff and emergency personnel from around the province, was the most sombre event of the year in Cranbrook. Every year in review list anywhere includes prominent passages, but we carry thoughts of Clayton and Joan with us into 2019.
• The culmination of a long, precedent-setting legal journey resulted in the conviction and sentencing of the leader of a polygamous community in 2018. Winston Blackmore, of Bountiful, B.C., near Creston, even launched a Constitutional Challenge upon conclusion of the initial trial (in 2017), but that challenge was rejected by the judge in the spring of 2018. Blackmore was then formally convicted of a polygamy charge, and subsequently sentenced to house arrest. It had been well over 100 years since anyone was prosecuted for polygamy in Canada, and the case drew nationwide attention.
• A Cranbrook resident was captured on video in the midst of an angry rant against the occupants of a neighboring table in a Lethbridge restaurant — a tirade sparked by those diners speaking another language. The video of this woman went viral, of course, and caused a furor on social media and made the news at home and around the country, The ongoing revolution in communications technology and that ravenous monster that is social media can suck anyone of us in, exposing all our faults, flaws or missteps to the world before we can realize what’s going on. In this case, the viral video of a racist rant put Cranbrook on the map, as they say, for all the wrong reasons, affecting a prominent business, and tarring us all a bit with the same brush.
• The Kootenay Ice arrived in town just over 20 years ago, and it didn’t take too long after that before rumours started flying that they would be moving. It seems like a yearly ritual that surrounds our Tier 1 Junior hockey team. As a rumour, its hard to call it a news story, perhaps. But there is certainly something different about the 2018 version of the rumour, two seasons after new owners took over the Ice. Ongoing stories in the Winnipeg Free Press, based on anonymous “sources,” are persistent in their belief that the owners are moving the team to the Winnipeg area to start next season. With the owners neither confirming nor denying — in fact, saying nothing at all — the supporting Green Bay committee just ceasing their activities, and with widespread frustration and anger among the fans, the Kootenay Ice have the potential to be our top story of 2019. And not like they were the top story in 2002, the Memorial Cup championship year.
Twenty years ago, Cranbrook was in the midst of a heated referendum about whether or not to build a new arena as a home for our brand new team and new WHL era. Like the Kootenay Ice, I too was newly arrived in town, and I was in favour. I argued that in the brave new age of 1999, one couldn’t just be a sleepy small town anymore, and that the WHL’s location here was a symbol of Cranbrook’s regional and provincial importance, a key to our economic and cultural diversification, and something for us to rally behind and support as our community became more prominent nationally going into the new millennium.
Twenty years later, our arena is a money pit, and while our community has grown, it hasn’t grown as much as the Canadian Hockey League. Our market has become too small to support a sports team at that level.
Well, that’s just the way it goes. But as a result, there is a listless miasma surrounding our team and its fanbase this year. And if it does prove to be the case that the Ice leave town after the 2018/19 season, then considering all the colourful and exciting history of the Kootenay Ice in the past 20 years, it will be a a whimper, not a bang. Fitting for 2019 after the tumult of 2018.