Cranbrook firefighters responded to a fire at the former legion building on Sept. 1. Emergency services personnel battled the blaze in tough conditions, as heavy winds pushed the fire over to May May’s Restaurant, which was beside the property. Trevor Crawley photo.

Cranbrook firefighters responded to a fire at the former legion building on Sept. 1. Emergency services personnel battled the blaze in tough conditions, as heavy winds pushed the fire over to May May’s Restaurant, which was beside the property. Trevor Crawley photo.

Looking back on an unprecedented year

It’s difficult to quantify the events of 2020.

Indeed, it’s hard to remember what the ‘before times’ were like and how we used to live prior to arrival of a global pandemic that has fundamentally altered, you know, everything.

Cranbrook experienced its fair share of newsworthy events and milestones, both through the lens of the pandemic and beyond.

So without further ado, here are some of the top stories of the year. Feel free to send an email to the Townsman and tell me how wrong I am.

COVID-19

The undeniable top story of the year is the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it’s not even close.

The coronavirus has reached into all aspects of our social and economic lives, transforming the way we interact at home and in the workplace.

It’s a historic situation — while there has been pandemic scares in the past, particularly with SARS in Hong Kong and Toronto in 2003 or MERS in the Middle East and South Asia in 2014, there has been nothing on the scale of COVID-19 since the Spanish Influenza of 1918.

A once-in-a-century global health crisis.

As national and provincial orders and guidelines came down, designed to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, the City of Cranbrook and local businesses transitioned operations to meet those requirements.

For some, that transition has been simple, for others, it has not.

Food and restaurant services have been particularly hard-hit as a result of the social gathering restrictions. Arts and entertainment sectors such as theatres or concert promoters, or sports leagues such as the Cranbrook Bucks with the BCHL or the Kimberley Dynamiters with the KIJHL, have also had to endure tough economic situations.

That doesn’t even factor in the mental and emotional strain on the health care system, the doctors, nurses, and support staff in medical facilities or long-term care workers in assisted and independent living facilities, where the coronavirus has had tragic impacts.

Or our education systems, as teachers, education assistants, and administrative staff worked to find a balance between delivering in-class instruction and navigating the COVID-19 protocols.

It has not been easy.

Fortunately, there is glimmering relief on the horizon as vaccines begin to roll out across the world. However, the impacts caused by the coronavirus, particularly the economic fallout, will reverberate for years.

The Cuff Report reveals internal tension at city hall

A governance audit released in February revealed some internal tensions at city hall.

The report, conducted by an expert in municipal governance and operations, identified a number of issues such as a loss of trust at the council table and low morale amongst staff.

The heavily-redacted audit offered a rare and detailed look inside city hall operations, which highlighted problems with roles and responsibilities of governance, information-sharing at the council table and human resources.

“Both council and management understand that fundamental changes are in order,” read the report.

The report’s author, George Cuff, collected information through on-site interviews and surveys with staff in the latter half of 2019.

The audit made a number of conclusions, particularly around the need for a stepped up human resources function, addressing staff morale and turnover and the need to clearly define the limits and boundaries of governance and administration responsibilities.

Since the report was made public, there has been changes, particularly through the appointment of a new Chief Administrative Officer, as well as other policy developments particularly focused on human resources.

Housing and infrastructure developments

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot going on in Cranbrook this year.

Many housing-related developments in various stages of development have either begun or are nearing completion.

The largest is likely the Broadstreet Properties housing complex down on Innes Ave — a $35 million development that will feature four apartment buildings and 10 townhouse structures that will add 292 units of market-rental housing to the community.

The Chief Agnes McCoy Centre, a 39-unit apartment operated by a local housing society, is nearing completion. Construction is also wrapping up for a housing project at the College of the Rockies, which will provide 96 student beds in five cottage-style buildings.

Ground has now been broken for a 20-unit apartment just off Victoria Ave behind a mini-mall in the Laurie Middle School neighbourhood. City council also recently approved a zoning change in order to permit the replacement of three existing townhouse structures into a single apartment building that would provide 40 units.

Kootenay Street Village officially open it’s doors in December 2019, however, work has been ongoing for the independent living units over the last year. Residents were able to move into independent living suites in September, while a second phase of suites is expected to be finished by January.

While a number of housing projects either got underway or continued apace this past year, there were some other notable non-housing related developments that should get some mention.

It was a long time coming for Mike Robinson and the Kootenay East Youth Soccer Association, but an indoor sports facility. The project was finished this past fall, which included relocating an adjacent BMX track and building a foundation for the air-supported dome.

The former Canadian Tire property was sold to a Calgary-based development company in November after sitting vacant for years. Kanas Corporation purchased the property and plans to add a solar panel array to the existing building, while also intending to apply for zoning changes to allow for a mix of land uses.

Nothing firm has been announced for the property, however, potential options includes adding a residential building to the north of the property, and using the existing building as a storage, assembly and logistics hub.

A late-breaking news item this past year was the announcement of the sale of the city-owned former Tembec lands to Peak Cranbrook Properties.

The former Tembec Lands, consisting of approximately 100 acres, were acquired by the city two years ago for $3 million. The plan was to develop the property by installing deep and shallow utilities in order to make it ‘investment-ready’ for prospective companies and entrepreneurs.

However, those plans were shelved once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Peak Cranbrook Properties bought the land in November for $6 million — a deal that included the buildings and infrastructure. Peak Cranbrook Properties also previously acquired the equipment associated with a finger joint plant on the property that had been operated by C&C Wood Products, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year.

Building fires in the community

There were a number of building fires that Cranbrook firefighters responded to over the fall months.

On Sept. 1, the former Royal Canadian Legion building caught fire, and heavy winds pushed the fire over to the neighbouring May May’s Restaurant building.

Westland Insurance caught fire in the early hours of Sept. 13 and the former Kootenay Springs building also had a fire incident on Oct. 17.

The Cranbrook Hotel had the latest fire incident on Dec. 10, as residents evacuated and firefighters extinguished the flames without any injuries reported.

Each fire event had its own unique circumstances, despite some wagging tongues around the community.

Still, as a long-time resident to the city, it’s hard to recall in recent memory the frequency of as many fire events like there was over the last few months.

Pandemic provincial election

Out of the fallout from the 2017 provincial election, the BC NDP and BC Green Party signed on to a confidence and supply agreement in order to facilitate a minority government.

That agreement became null and void when BC Premier John Horgan called a snap election in September. While Horgan touted the election as a chance for people to have a say in the province’s future, critics derided it as hijacking the goodwill built up by Dr. Henry.

Buoyed by public support for the pandemic response led by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the BC NDP crushed the BC Liberals and cruised to a majority by winning 57 seats.

It was a disastrous result for the BC Liberals, which ran a lacklustre campaign that didn’t connect with voters in large urban areas of the province, however, the party remained strong in rural B.C. Both local MLAs, Tom Shypitka, for Kootenay East, and Doug Clovechok, for Columbia River – Revelstoke, were re-elected for the BC Liberals.

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson announced his resignation in the aftermath and the party is gearing up for a leadership contest in the new year.

The BC NDP will have their majority for the next four years, until the next provincially mandated election date.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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