It always seems like a big news year every year in the Battlefords.
But 2018 was a bigger year than most. The Battlefords saw some major political changes, major sporting events, major court cases and also major tragedies inside and outside the community this year. In fact, the year was so overwhelming that a lot of people are glad to put it behind them and focus on 2019.
Here is a look back at the stories that highlighted the past year in our area.
New faces on the political scene
It sure seems like he’s been in the job longer, but Scott Moe isn’t even done his first year as Premier of Saskatchewan yet.
Moe won the Saskatchewan Party leadership over five other contenders on Jan. 27, defeating Alanna Koch on the fifth and final ballot.
Moe, who had served in cabinet as environment minister and other portfolios, represents the nearby Rosthern-Shellbrook constituency, which borders on the Battlefords. His biggest issue throughout the year was dealing with the challenges related to pipelines and carbon-tax policies of the federal government.
Moe wasn’t the only new face taking prominence on the provincial scene: Ryan Meili was elected as the new leader of the province’s NDP in March.
As for federal politics, in January Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Rosemarie Falk was sworn in to take her seat in the House of Commons.
Gerald Stanley trial
The Battlefords made national headlines in 2018 with the trial of Gerald Stanley for the second-degree murder of Colten Boushie. The shooting took place on Stanley’s property in the RM of Glenside on Aug. 16, 2016. Boushie was a young Indigenous man from Red Pheasant First Nation.
The case drew national attention over the issue of the treatment of Indigenous people by the justice system in Canada; it also prompted debate on the issue of property rights in the province.
The trial took place over a span of two weeks at Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench. During the trial, Stanley’s defence lawyer Scott Spencer made his case to jurors that the shooting was an accident.
On a cold Feb. 9 evening, Stanley was acquitted by the 12-person jury, prompting protests across the country the next day by Boushie supporters.
One of those protests happened in North Battleford across from the provincial court house.
In April, Stanley returned to the Battlefords to plead guilty in provincial court to unsafe storage of firearms; he received a fine of $3,000. A civil suit has since been filed by the Boushie family against Stanley and the RCMP.
Saskatchewan Winter Games
The much-anticipated Saskatchewan Winter Games took over the Battlefords from February 18 to 24. Hundreds of athletes and even more visitors came to the community for the week of athletic events.
Michael Landsberg in the Battlefords
The year 2018 was marked by tragedy in the Battlefords with the suicides of young people in the community.
Word of the tragedies made their way to TSN personality Michael Landsberg, who offered his own support by bringing his #SickNotWeak charity to the Battlefords.
The event in March, focusing on the issues of mental health, drew over 2,700 people to the Civic Centre and included big names such as the CFL’s Weston Dressler, TSN personality Tessa Bonhomme, and the musical group One Bad Son.
Humboldt Broncos tragedy
The entire nation was rocked by the bus crash tragedy involving the Humboldt Broncos on April 6.
The Broncos had been on their way to an SJHL playoff game when the collision happened, with 16 people on the bus losing their lives. The public responded overwhelmingly to a GoFundMe campaign for donations to help the victims, with $15 million raised.
There was a Battlefords connection to the story: Kaleb Dahlgren, an assistant captain on the Broncos, had formerly been a standout player on the Battlefords AAA Stars.
He survived, but for SJHL fans in the Battlefords and across the league it was a hard year. At the first Battlefords North Stars game of the season in September, a moment of silence was held for the 29 people on the bus.
Husky in court
An ongoing story in 2018 was the environmental charges faced by the companies of Husky Oil related to the oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone in July 2016. Husky faced 10 counts under the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Environmental Management and Protection Act.
The first court appearance took place in March in Lloydminster and disclosure took up much of the early portion of the case, with lawyers going through upwards of 10,000 pages of documents. The case has now moved to the case management phase at North Battleford Provincial Court.
Battleford Post Office reopens
A good news story to emerge in 2018 was the return of Canada Post to the historic post office building in Battleford. Their return came after Fieldstone Holdings Corp. bought the building in December 2016 and completed renovation work on the property.
The post office finally re-opened in June of 2018 on 22nd Street, after spending years located in temporary trailers on 35th Street.
Construction in the Battlefords
It was a big year overall for construction in the Battlefords, with construction commencing on both the new downtown movie theatre as well as a new Giant Tiger store on 102nd Street. It was also a year of hotel construction with the new Comfort Inn opening to guests in the summer and with a new Holiday Inn beginning construction in the fall. Both North Battleford and Battleford saw big increases in building permits issued in 2018.
Brandon Stucka sentenced
One of the more prominent criminal cases of recent years wrapped up in July at Battleford Queen’s Bench Court. Brandon Stucka was sentenced in connection to a Highway 16 crash that killed three Edmonton women Sept. 22, 2017. The women were members of Edmonton’s Liberian community.
Stucka was sentenced to 10 years in connection to nine counts in the case, including three counts of criminal negligence causing death.
Ashley Morin missing
An ongoing story throughout 2018 was the search for Ashley Morin, who has been missing since July. A search was conducted of Finlayson Island in September, and an awareness walk took place in October in the streets of North Battleford.
As the year ends the efforts to find Morin go on. She is described as 31 years old, 5’ 2”, 110 lbs with dark brown hair, and was last seen July 10 in North Battleford, wearing grey sweatpants, black shirt with white writing, black hat and sunglasses. A $5,000 reward is being offered for solid information on her whereabouts.
A scary situation for local residents happened Sept. 16. That night an Amber Alert was issued when a vehicle containing a six-year-old girl was stolen from a strip mall in North Battleford. A massive search took place in and around the community, with local residents taking part in searching for the girl.
Happily, the girl was found safe the next morning. An arrest was made of the suspect; sentencing is due to happen in January.
The reputation of North Battleford took a major hit nationally in late September when CTV aired the documentary “Crimetown” on W5, focusing on the city’s crime issues.
Mayor Ryan Bater blasted W5 for making it sound as if eight people were responsible for 38 per cent of all crime in the city, when that number only referred to calls for service in the downtown. It was “really irresponsible for it to have been framed that way,” and an “insult to people’s intelligence,” Bater said at city council.
Concerned members of the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce responded to the city’s reputational woes by forming Action Battlefords. Their efforts focused on turning the city’s reputation around by recruiting new members to Citizens on Patrol and setting up programs for youth in the city, as well as hiring a PR firm to promote the good news in the Battlefords.
The much-anticipated federal legalization of cannabis took place later than expected: instead of on July 1, the legalization happened on Oct. 17 with two retail outlets opening in the Battlefords. Much of the news in the Battlefords was connected to preparation for legalization, with both Battleford Town Hall and North Battleford City Hall developing and approving their zoning requirements for the new retail outlets.
Saskatchewan Hospital nears completion
There were some hiccups with the new Saskatchewan Hospital-integrated correctional facility construction in 2018 including the liquidation of Carillion, one of the partners in the Access Prairies Partnership P3 consortium. The completion date of the project was also pushed back a few months.
By October, the finish line was in sight, and the media were invited to take part in a tour of the large and impressive-looking new psychiatric hospital. Patients are now in the process of transferring over to the new facility and a grand opening is expected to happen in the new year.
Revival meetings at the Field House
Controversy swirled in the community in November when the NationsWEST Field House was closed to the public for the first two weeks of the month and turned over to a private religious event.
The “Battle for Canada” revival event drew large numbers of people to the Battlefords, but also drew criticism from regular Field House users who were upset with losing access during that time.
Brydon Whitstone inquest
The last major news story of 2018 was the inquest that took place into the shooting death of Brydon Whitstone on the night of Oct. 21, 2017. Several police and expert witnesses were called to the stand for the inquest, which took place at Queen’s Bench court in Battleford. The witness testimony recounted the events leading up to the shooting of Whitstone by an RCMP member that night.
The six-person jury ruled the manner of Whitstone’s death was “undetermined.” The jury made one recommendation directed to the RCMP: use of a Taser gun or other intervention to immobilize or stun the suspect first prior to the use of a gun. The ruling failed to satisfy Whitstone’s family attorneys, who called for an independent investigation to answer the remaining questions on what happened. Earlier, the ministry of justice had decided not to file criminal charges in the case.