2017 - A year in review

Years from now, people will look back at 2017 as a year that the eyes of the nation focused on the Battlefords.

The year started with the nation glued to their sets for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling, shown live on Sportsnet to curling fans across Canada.

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It ended with Maclean’s declaring North Battleford “Canada’s Most Dangerous Place” in a piece focusing on the city’s crime problems.

In between, there were triumphs and tragedies, some great highs and unbelievable low moments. The moments included championships by the Battlefords North Stars and NBCHS football Vikings; the preliminary hearing for Gerald Stanley for the second-degree murder of Colten Boushie; a provincial budget that landed with a thud with municipal officials and others; and a crime-filled fall that included an incident in which an individual was killed in a police shooting in the city limits.

The political scene was also active in 2017, with both Premier Brad Wall and federal member of parliament Gerry Ritz both announcing their departures, and with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making his way to North Battleford this year. 

Here is a look back at how the past 12 months unfolded in the Battlefords.

The first big event of the year in North Battleford was the Meridian Canadian Open, part of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. The event saw packed houses at the Civic Centre and drew praise from organizers who were impressed with the enthusiasm of local fans and volunteers.

The event also filled the coffers for the host Twin Rivers Curling Club, who later on that year would present a cheque for $100,000 to the city towards their share of the cost of building the Northland Power Curling Centre. 

The month also saw Robyn Silvernagle’s rink have a dominating week at the provincial Scotties. Unfortunately, the effort ended with a 10-7 loss to Penny Barker’s team in the final.

February began on a somber note as members of the community gathered at the Battlefords Islamic Centre on Feb. 3, in response to the shootings at a mosque in Quebec City earlier that week. The ceremonies drew a large turnout of both Muslims and non-Muslims, with Mayor Ryan Bater among the dignitaries showing up.  

The big news took place later on in the month as it was announced that Magic Lantern Theatres had acquired the Capitol Theatre. Magic Lantern had previously announced plans for a new cinema complex in the downtown.

The Capitol was immediately closed for three months of major renovations to restore the theatre to a single-screen venue, as well as to add comfy new chairs, a new sound system and many other amenities.

The upgrades would continue even after the theatre re-opened for business, as new signage was added outside. 

March saw some grim crime news from the Wilkie area with the death of educational assistant Heidi Veit. Her estranged husband Wesley John Veit was charged with first-degree murder; his case is still in the courts with trial dates expected to be set this month.   

March was a massive month for news as finance minister Kevin Doherty brought down what proved to be a controversial and unpopular provincial budget in the legislature. The deficit budget included a PST tax increase from five to six percent, the end of the PST exemption for insurance, as well as funding cuts to libraries and municipalities.

Funding for libraries were eventually restored, following major blowback from supporters, but municipal officials weren’t as fortunate.

North Battleford City Hall was left reeling as they faced a $1.1 million dollar provincial cut to SaskPower and SaskEnergy payments-in-lieu to the city. The estimated overall budget hole was $2 million, according to city officials.

City council ended up having to reopen its own budget and passed revisions in late April. The revisions included a number of cutbacks as well as a new three-percent “Government of Saskatchewan downloading levy” to reflect the impact of the provincial cuts. 

The budget also resulted in the closure and windup of STC, whose final departure at the North Battleford bus depot took place on May 31. 

April was a massive month of news in the city, starting and ending with the Battlefords North Stars who won the Canalta Cup that month. The team finished its best season ever with an undefeated 12-0 mark in the SJHL playoffs, clinching the cup with a win in Flin Flon to clinch their spot in the Western Canada Cup in Penticton.

The month also saw the biggest news of the year connected to the case of Gerald Stanley, accused of the second-degree murder of Colten Boushie on private property in the RM of Glenside in 2016.

The preliminary hearing for Stanley took place at the North Battleford courthouse, under tight security and with a massive presence of media as well as Boushie supporters in attendance. Stanley, who was still out on bail, was seen walking in and out of the courthouse with his lawyer Scott Spencer throughout the week.

Following three days of testimony, Stanley was committed to stand trial. Later that year, trial dates were set in the case, with the trial due to start Jan. 29 and scheduled to run until Feb 15, 2018.

In May, local attention again turned to the Battlefords North Stars who were in action at the Western Canada Cup. Unfortunately, the tournament did not go as well as the team hoped, as the club struggled against tough competition and were eventually eliminated in the playoff round by the Penticton Vees by a 4-0 final score.

On a happier note, there was some exciting news in May from the town of Battleford.

The old post office building on 22nd Street in Battleford was sold to Fieldstone Holdings Corp., led by Jesse Crozier and Cassandra Germsheid, who planned to renovate the building so Canada Post could return to the facility. The new owners completed their renovations by the fall and the expectation was that Canada Post would move in sometime in the new year, once their own work was finished.

The entire year of 2017 was a major one of preparations for the Saskatchewan Winter Games in 2018, but May was a particularly notable month towards that effort.

It was the month when the tripartite agreement between the City of North Battleford, the local games organizing committee and the Saskatchewan Games Council was formally signed at the NationsWEST Field House. That agreement solidifies the responsibilities of each of the parties in hosting the games. 

The summer months were highlighted by some major construction activity downtown as the city’s downtown revitalization efforts kicked into high gear.

101st Street between 11th and 12th Avenues were closed throughout the summer and into October for downtown roads and sidewalk reconstruction. 12th Avenue from 100th to 102nd Street was also closed for reconstruction.

June was a frightening month in North Battleford due to two major incidents.

A major fire burned two homes on Centennial Crescent in North Battleford. Fire and emergency crews cordoned off the area so that crews could battle the blaze.

The other scary incident took place on the morning of June 24. Two men were arrested and charged after a police standoff on 101st Street that lasted for several hours. Several firearms-related criminal charges were laid in connection to that incident. 

The year 2017 was a big one for political activity in the Battlefords, with July being a particularly notable month for local New Democrats.

Federal leadership candidates Niki Ashton and Guy Caron both held separate events in North Battleford as they sought support for their leadership campaigns.

Ultimately, it was Ontario provincial politician Jagmeet Singh who wound up victorious in that NDP leadership contest. The Conservatives had previously held their federal leadership vote in May and it was Andrew Scheer who ended up winning that race.

July also marked the annual release of the StatsCan numbers putting North Battleford on top of the Crime Severity rankings again for communities over 10,000 population.

Also in July was the first-ever “Pride” march in the streets of North Battleford.

August was a month of wild weather in North Battleford. A one-in-25 year rain event hit on Aug. 8 that saw several homes flooded as well as the North Battleford Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in the library building.

North Battleford was declared an eligible assistance area under the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program, enabling local residents to apply for funds.

It was also a month of major political departures. The first came Aug. 10 when Premier Brad Wall announced he would be departing from politics. A leadership vote was called for January 27, 2018. 

The second came at the end of the month when longtime Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Gerry Ritz announced he would be resigning his seat in Parliament. The former agriculture minister had represented the area in Ottawa for 20 years.

The fall would be an active one as several individuals announced they would be joining the race to succeed Brad Wall as Saskatchewan Party leader. The five candidates who would stay in the race for the long term were Scott Moe, Ken Cheveldayoff, Alanna Koch, Tina Beaudry-Mellor and Gord Wyant. All of them would eventually make their way to the Battlefords area for campaign stops.  

The leadership race meant a shuffle of cabinet positions and resulting promotions for Battlefords-area MLAs. Cut Knife-Turtleford MLA Larry Doke was elevated to cabinet as Minister of Government Relations.

Later that fall, Battlefords MLA Herb Cox was appointed Minister of Advanced Education following the departure of Kevin Doherty from the position. 

September was a month of some scary incidents in and around the Battlefords and region. Students at John Paul II Collegiate ended up evacuating on Sept. 21 following a bomb threat at the school. A sweep of the school was conducted; fortunately, nothing was found and the incident ended peacefully.

The other major news of the month was the mayhem in the western portion of the province, with Brandon Stucka of Lloydminster facing criminal charges following a collision Sept. 22 on Highway 16 in which three women lost their lives. Stucka was remanded in custody and his case has continued to make its way through the North Battleford provincial court. 

A particularly frightening and unsettling incident took place Oct. 21 in North Battleford, when a police pursuit ended near 15th Ave. and 105th Street with a fatal shooting by an RCMP member. Brydon Bryce Whitstone, an Onion Lake resident, pronounced dead.

The investigation was taken over by the Regina Police Service; the case is still under review and there has no further word about any findings.

“We are not used to this kind of incident, we are not used to this kind of activity,” said Mayor Bater to reporters in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

On a more positive note, the BBEX awards were handed out in October with Ilta Grain Inc. being named Business of the Year.

November was a month jam-packed with news items. The high point of the month from a sports standpoint came when the North Battleford Comprehensive High School Vikings defeated Yorkton 14-7 to win the provincial 3A football title at home Nov. 11.

It was also a big month of political campaign activity. On Nov. 6, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the federal by-election for Battlefords-Lloydminster, forcing the political parties into a mad scramble to find candidates.

The most competitive nomination fight came from the Conservatives. At the Tropical Inn in North Battleford on Nov. 11, Lloydminster resident Rosemarie Falk was declared the nominee, defeating four other candidates for the party’s nomination in a vote staged at three different venues over two days.

It was also a major month of activity for various provincial leadership candidates. On Nov. 16, the five Sask Party leadership contenders braved a howling snowstorm to debate at the Dekker Centre.

The two NDP leadership candidates, Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili, also were in the Battlefords to stage campaign events during November.

The news story that had everyone talking in the Battlefords in November was, unfortunately, not in the News-Optimist. It was the Maclean’s magazine article that declared North Battleford as “Canada’s most dangerous place” due to its crime problems.

Mayor Ryan Bater admitted that city officials had co-operated with the Maclean’s reporter on the piece, hoping to steer the story in a different direction. Bater wasn’t satisfied with the end product, however, saying the sole focus on crime was “unfair to the community.”    

Soon after that article came out, major violence erupted in the city with the bulk of activity taking place near the end of the month. A 34-year-old male was found with stab wounds on Nov. 28, and then on Nov. 29 police responded to a number of shooting incidents in the city, with RCMP members briefly engaging a vehicle in a pursuit at one point.

December got off to a particularly scary start with numerous reports of shootings, with one car being chased and shot at by another vehicle on city streets.

Not long after, police reported several arrests in connection to the recent rash of criminal activity. Among the arrests were five youths/young adults facing theft, weapons and break and enter charges, as well as four adults facing charges that included trafficking crystal meth and cocaine.

Another incident happened Dec. 8 when two individuals were arrested for trying to steal a vehicle from a work site, but the effort was foiled when they both ended up stuck in the snow. More criminal activity and more arrests dominated headlines in the month of December. 

While that mayhem was ongoing, a federal political campaign was winding down in Battlefords-Lloydminster.

A big highlight of the final days of the campaign was the appearance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a campaign event for candidate Larry Ingram at the Dekker Centre on Dec. 7. Trudeau had flown all the way from China to be in the Battlefords for the event.

However, while Trudeau’s appearance created excitement, it produced few votes for the local Liberals.

Rosemarie Falk easily won for the Conservatives in a landslide victory on Dec 11. Falk took almost 70 percent of the votes cast in the federal by-election, and expects to be sworn in as the new MP for Battlefords Lloydminster later this month.  

Another election result of importance in December came from Innovation Credit Union, who announced that 82 percent of their members had voted “yes” to their proposal to become a federally-registered credit union.

It had been an intense effort; Innovation had actively held meetings throughout the year including in the Battlefords, informing members about details of their plans to go federal.

December marked another milestone: the end of the Prairie North Health Region, with the new Saskatchewan Health Authority taking over for the 12 existing health regions on Dec. 4.

December was also a month of budget deliberations in North Battleford as administration presented a proposed budget calling for a three per cent property tax increase and a hike of 4.5 per cent for water and sewer. The final votes on the city budget are expected in January.

Finally, the much-anticipated, and privately-run, new Sobeys Liquor store in Battleford opened for business in December in the Battleford Crossing area.  

That is a summary of just some of the stories that made news in the Battlefords and area in 2017.    

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