From an investigation into a house explosion, First Nation negotiations with the federal government and two elections, news reporters at The Brandon Sun were kept busy this year.
The Brandon Sun news team has put together the following list of the stories they feel were most important out of the Wheat City in 2019 — at least, those that weren’t included in Friday’s list of stories that were the most popular with our readers.
Today’s edition also features a two-page spread of photographs selected by photojournalist Tim Smith as his best of the year, seen on pages A6-7.
Jan. 1— Vlogger shares cancer battle
A Brandon woman battling cancer for the second time is sharing her life with the world, in a video log on YouTube.
Lisa Mitchell has metastatic bone cancer, which has coursed its way through much of her body. Doctors don’t really know how long she has to live, but it could be "plus or minus five years," she said.
"At the time, I was very angry about it," Mitchell said. "But it is what it is."
Mitchell, 48, worked at CIBC for 25 years before her second battle with cancer sidelined her last April. She is now on long-term disability.
"What people don’t understand is, when you’re not ready not to be working, it’s a real shock on the system," she said. "It’s not like I’m not working because I won 6/49. I’m not working because I’m just not well enough to do so."
Feb 23— Debate rages over pipelines vs railcars
In the wake of the train derailment near St. Lazare that spilled crude oil earlier this month comes a reignited debate about shipping oil by pipeline.
An analysis of Manitoba train accidents shows that while train incidents are more common than pipeline spills, they rarely involve dangerous goods.
While pipeline spills are less common than train derailments, they account for more oil spilled each year.
In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Growth, Enterprise and Trade Manitoba recorded 12 spills from pipelines and flowlines. Flowlines are pipelines that connect a single wellhead to a manifold or process equipment.
Those 12 spills represented around 51 per cent of the approximately 3,853 barrels of spilled oil — 612,578 litres — recorded by the province that year. In 2015, 21 pipeline spills accounted for 74 per cent of the 7,553 spilled barrels recorded by the province.
The balance of spills during these years has not been a result of derailments, but of leaks in oil wells, storage tanks, trucks and the refinement process.
Prior to the Feb. 16 St. Lazare derailment, there hadn’t been a dangerous good spilled by rail in Manitoba since 2008.
March 10— Sioux Valley mourns loss of Doris Pratt
A noted Manitoba elder who dedicated her life to preserving the Dakota language has died.
Doris Pratt, from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, died at the Dakota Oyate Lodge personal care home.
She was 83.
"It’s such a loss, because, you know, she was so strong, such a strong person and she was always there to share her wisdom and her knowledge and support for everyone," Pratt’s daughter, Evelyn Pratt, said.
Pratt wrote books as well Dakota language-related materials for classrooms and home education, from the primary school level to senior advanced studies in the Dakota language, as well as serving as an official translator for the federal government and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
March 15 — Federal climate plan ‘woefully inadequate’ May says
While highlighting Canada’s potential as a global leader in the fight against climate change, Green party Leader Elizabeth May used a pair of dual appearances in Brandon in mid-March to address the ongoing political scandal involving SNC-Lavalin and the rise of white supremacy following this week’s deadly shooting in New Zealand.
Speaking at a town hall event at the East End Community Centre, May talked about the federal government’s current climate plan, calling it "woefully inadequate to the challenge we face."
But in response to a question on populist regimes, May said while she doesn’t reject the notion of populism — having given rise to the New Democratic Party and Canada’s current health-care system — she does reject "the kind of politics that are giving oxygen to white supremacists and racists."
After 49 people were killed in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March in a series of attacks on mosques, May also used the opportunity to take aim at Donald Trump.
"Even the voice of a U.S. president so far across the Pacific gives people a sense of permission, that anti-Muslim attitudes and white supremacist attitudes can rise up, and that couldn’t be more dangerous," she said.
April 4 — Sandhills losses top $9 million
The Sand Hills Casino has posted four straight years of deficits since it first opened, with total losses surpassing more than $9 million as of last year.
The casino’s audited financial statements show the gaming facility made $11.3 million in revenue as of March 31, 2018, including $9.4 million in gaming revenue, but ran a net loss of $2.3 million once expenses, interest, depreciation and amortization were factored in.
The loss is lower than the casino’s $2.5-million deficit in 2017, but is greater than the net $1.92-million and $1.3-million losses in 2016 and 2015.
Overall, the Sand Hills Casino’s accumulated loss has totalled nearly $9.4 million.
Swan Lake First Nation Chief Francine Meeches noted that the casino has common ownership among First Nations.
"However, in how business is managed and how the whole operation is, yes it’s taking a loss, yes there are some casinos that may be profitable in the first year, and it may increase or improve throughout for years to come, but it’s in this situation," she said.
April 20 — 18 years for man who shot Mountie
MINNEDOSA — A man who shot an RCMP officer in the back of the head near Onanole last August has been sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison — a sentence the victim said sets a low bar on the lives of police officers.
"To state the obvious, the conduct of Mr. Racette-Beaulieu was disturbing and abhorrent," Judge John Combs said in his decision delivered in Minnedosa provincial court. "This was reflected by the suggested sentences by both Crown and defence."
Therae Racette-Beaulieu, 19, pleaded guilty in Brandon provincial court in February to one count of attempted murder — amended from two counts of attempted murder to include both RCMP officers who were shot at — as well as breaking, entering and stealing firearms and robbery of a motor vehicle.
At a sentencing hearing in March, the Crown asked the court to consider a sentence of 20 years, while defence counsel argued a total sentence of 15 to 16 years would be sufficient.
April 26 — Groundbreaking at new south end school
By: Melissa Verge
Brandon’s new school became a bit more real, with a ceremonial groundbreaking taking place at the property.
By the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, Maryland Park School will house hundreds of students.
The addition of the new school allows the city to continue to expand and flourish, Mayor Rick Chrest said during the ceremony, which also included Premier Brian Pallister.
"Without places to put students in school, it would be difficult to keep growing, so this was very timely."
Maryland Park School is under construction near the corner of Maryland Avenue and Ninth Street. The school will have space for 450 students, with the ability to expand to a capacity of 675 students.
When it’s completed, Chrest said the new school will benefit all students in the community, in that kids who currently bus out to other schools in the area will now have the opportunity to walk to a more convenient location.
May 15 — Whiskey Jacks set to arrive in Wheat City
Slather on the sunscreen, put on your ball cap and grab a hotdog (or two), Brandon.
The city has a new team to cheer for.
The Expedition League is expanding to the community, bringing collegiate summer baseball to fans across Westman. The Wheat City Whiskey Jacks players and coaches rolled into town to Andrews Field for the summer with 32 home games beginning on May 28.
It was Christopher Bennefield’s first time in Canada. The six-foot-three, 195-pound pitcher joined the Whiskey Jacks roster this summer, hailing all the way from Oklahoma City University.
"(It will be great to) just experience a different culture that’s out of the U.S., I’ve never travelled outside of the U.S. before," Bennefield said prior to the season-opening game.
May 18— Gambler breaks ground on urban reserve
Touting it as the first step toward creating a future for Gambler First Nation’s children, Chief David LeDoux headed the groundbreaking of the community’s urban reserve in Brandon.
"This has been a long time coming," he said. "Hopefully, this property will be dedicated for a use so that Gambler is here forever, and our youth are going to be around forever. We’ll have security for hopefully seven generations."
Dignitaries from the city and First Nations across Manitoba gathered in a now-empty eight-acre field in Brandon’s north end to mark the occasion. The property itself is at 1725 18th St.
The process to get here started two years ago. It took a significant step forward in March of last year, when the city and the First Nation signed a municipal development and service agreement.
LeDoux said the reserve will be a way to make money and provide jobs for band members. The First Nation’s current land is located near Binscarth but doesn’t provide many money-making opportunities. The groundbreaking means "security" for the community’s youth.
May 18 — Lessons learned from the fire
Last year saw downtown Brandon ravaged by a fire that claimed three structures, including one of the city’s oldest businesses.
What came out of the tragedy were a few minor tips on how to improve the already well-oiled machine that is Brandon’s emergency response and yet another example of how the community steps up in times of need.
"You never like to see these things, for sure, it was a really sad tragedy for Brandon and everyone involved, but it certainly revealed the tremendous community spirit we have," Mayor Rick Chrest said. "It solidified what we have. I don’t think anybody would be surprised at the response … that’s the spirit within this community, and it was just another example of how people do come together."
Looking back on the events, it could have been worse, Brandon police Chief Wayne Balcaen said, adding that thankfully there was no loss of life.
"Property damage we can work with, we can repair and rebuild, but the loss of life is not something we can do that with," Balcaen said.
July 5— Mother gets eight years for two-year-old son’s death
A mother who admitted to killing her two-year-old son after a night of drinking has been sentenced to eight years in prison.
"It’s difficult to conceive how the act committed by the accused could not be perceived either objectively or subjectively as dangerous. This is not a matter of a child being shaken while being held or transported. The accused threw Draze (the victim) onto the floor such that Draze immediately became unresponsive. After that conduct, the accused struck Draze multiple times in the head area," Justice Scott Abel told the Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench in his decision.
"The accused surely would have known the unlawful act subjected the child to the risk of life-threatening injuries, short however of what would be required to establish the intention to kill required for murder."
Jessica Melissa Brandon, 40, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on what was supposed to be the first day of a 10-day trial last September for her involvement in the death of her 28-month-old son, Draze Brandon-Catcheway.
June 28 — Maple Leaf running at 80% capacity
Labour shortages are hampering production at Brandon’s Maple Leaf Foods processing plant.
In an interview with Reuters, Maple Leaf head of recruiting and hiring Susan Yaeger said that the pork processing plant is only at 80 per cent capacity.
According to Yaeger, this is because of labour and hog shortages, with the hog shortages being caused by labour shortages at Maple Leaf’s commercial farms.
Some industry officials and local politicians said that part of the problem is due to the way Canada’s temporary foreign worker program is structured.
"The biggest factor as far as labour shortages go is the government changes a couple years back to the temporary foreign worker program," United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 president Jeff Traeger told The Sun. UFCW represents workers at the Maple Leaf plant.
In 2016 and 2017, the federal government changed several rules for the temporary foreign worker program. This included eliminating the controversial "four-in, four-out" rule and maintaining the caps on the proportion of low-wage temporary foreign workers employers could hire.
Aug. 29 — Teen arrested in homicide investigation
By: Erin Debooy and Drew May
A 15-year-old boy has been arrested for allegedly stabbing another teen to death.
Police were called to the 500 block of Louise Avenue on Wednesday evening where a 15-year-old boy had reportedly been stabbed.
When officers arrived, the victim was unresponsive. He was taken to hospital where he died of his injuries.
Another 15-year-old boy was arrested for first-degree murder and he was lodged at the Brandon Correctional Centre to appear in court this afternoon.
Officers believe the motivation for the stabbing was personal in nature.
"It is very troubling, however in light of the amount of edged weapons we’ve been seizing and the amount of violence we’ve been seeing … it was only a matter of time," said BPS spokesperson Sgt. Kirby Sararas. "The extent that this assault went to is extreme."
Police do not believe the incident to be gang-related, Sararas said.
Sept. 9— Recovering addicts helping others
By: Bud Robertson
Brian Demas has battled demons to escape the iron grip of crystal meth, and now he wants to help others who are struggling with the addiction.
The 29-year-old Brandon man has formed a Crystal Meth Anonymous support group. Their first meeting was held at Knox United Church.
"It’s just addicts meeting with other addicts to help them and share their experiences of what they went through," Demas said as he sat at a bench during the second annual Recovery Day Saturday at the Global Market.
Unlike Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, people who attend the meetings can identify their addiction to one another, Demas said. "That’s the only difference."
Demas has been clean for 20 months now, after spending a hellish two-and-a-half years addicted to crystal meth.
That’s when he hit rock bottom.
Sept 11 — Isleifson holds on to Brandon East
By: Drew May
The winds of change that swept through Brandon East in 2016 stayed true in 2019 as the Progressive Conservatives held onto the constituency — keeping the NDP from reclaiming their traditional stronghold.
Residents voted to send Progressive Conservative Len Isleifson back to the legislature for a second term, stopping NDP candidate and former Brandon city councillor Lonnie Patterson from retaking the seat for her party.
Speaking at the local Progressive Conservative election party at the Riverbank Discovery Centre to approximately 75 supporters, Isleifson said the last three and a half years is proof that hard work pays off. He said he hit the doorstep almost daily getting feedback on his performance as an MLA and the government’s decisions.
"I think tonight’s results shows that over the last three and a half years that blue wave is gone and now people are very confident and very comfortable with our government moving forward with a plan that is going to do exactly that, and that moves Manitoba forward," he said.
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer also held onto his seat, though that was largely considered a sure thing in the lead-up to the election compared to the more hotly contested Brandon East constituency.
Sept. 19 — Elgin plagued by dirty water
By: Colin Slark
When Becky DeCosse washed her five-year-old daughter’s back-to-school wardrobe at home, the clothes took on an unpleasant brown colour.
They were ruined.
That’s because the water in Elgin contains an abundance of manganese, an element commonly found in nature in mineral form combined with iron.
Manganese is found in everything from the soil and air to the food we eat. Humans need to consume a certain amount to maintain proper bodily functions.
When concentrated in water and exposed to oxygen, it turns the liquid an unappetizing dark brown colour containing flakes as it oxidizes and gives the water a metallic taste.
A 2016 document from Manitoba’s Office of Drinking Water said that scientific evidence of the health effects of manganese is still emerging, but it recommends that people not drink water discoloured by the substance.
To avoid drinking the water, DeCosse buys bottled water and gets jugs of dispensed water from the local Co-op.
DeCosse said that she has to make the drive into Brandon to do laundry because otherwise the clothes would be stained if done at home.
Oct. 7 — Release of names ‘unreal’ for elder
By: Chelsea Kemp
Elder Eleanor Elk said that her heart ached as she watched the names of thousands of children who died in residential schools flash across her television screen.
These 2,800 names were revealed by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as part of a ceremony in Quebec last week.
"It brought a lump to my throat," Elk said. "This was so unreal."
Included among these names were 74 from the Brandon Residential School, which operated off of Grand Valley Road from 1895 to 1972.
Elk said that releasing the names of the children who died can help generate an understanding of the residential school experience, and hopefully make it real for people.
"It will touch their hearts. It did to me — it opened up a lot of things again."
Oct. 12 — Tipi Tour Legacy Project gets a boost
By: Chelsea Kemp
Tackling reconciliation at the local level, a committee sponsored by the Brandon Friendship Centre has received a grant that will help establish a legacy for Indigenous culture and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The Walking With Our Sisters committee received $50,000 from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commemorative Fund.
The money will be put toward the Tipi Tour Legacy Project of Brandon, which was inspired by the Walking With Our Sisters exhibit that visited the city in 2016.
"We needed to leave a legacy," Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council community co-ordinator Jason Gobeil said. "We needed to leave a reminder in our community as to the importance of that event and to the importance that women play in society."
Gobeil said the group hopes to have more than 20 teepees placed around the city by 2021. There are currently six that have been constructed.
He said he has seen momentum grow in the community in regards to reconciliation and the honouring of Indigenous traditions, knowledge and culture, thanks in part to groups such as the Brandon Friendship Centre.
Oct 20— Comic book fans join forces for inaugural Bran-Con
By: Kyle Darbyson
The Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium hosted a variety of colourful characters throughout the weekend for the first-ever Bran-Con comic book convention.
Over the course of this weekend, more than 500 attendees from Brandon and the surrounding Westman region, including some visitors from Saskatchewan, got the opportunity to meet up with other self-proclaimed "geeks" and celebrate their love of all things pop culture, ranging from comics to anime to video games and movies.
While Bran-Con is decidedly smaller in scale compared to similar events that take place in Winnipeg or Toronto, organizers made sure to include all the familiar trappings of larger comic book conventions — booking appearances from celebrity voice actors, professional cosplayers, comic book vendors and veteran artists of the industry.
Oct. 22 — Maguire cruises to another term
By: Drew May
Once again, Brandon-Souris voters chose to "rehire Maguire" on Monday night in an election that saw the governing Liberal party lose its majority in the House of Commons.
Supporters, some wearing T-shirts with a grinning Maguire wearing a cowboy hat on them, cheered as the Conservative candidate entered the room.
"Thank you to all the volunteer work you’ve done," he said. "Without that team approach we have here in Brandon-Souris, it wouldn’t be possible to do what we did tonight here. We just didn’t get enough teams across the country to do the same, I guess you would say."
The election saw the Conservative Party of Canada win approximately 120 seats, enough to keep the Liberals from forming a majority.
"Obviously I wish we could have formed a strong federal Conservative government tonight. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen and we’ll just have to see how that unfolds in the next weeks and months as we go forward," Maguire said. "Sometimes minority governments last quite a while and sometimes they have a short life."
2. Oct. 29 — Woman dead before blast: BPS
By: Erin Debooy
A woman found dead at the scene of a house explosion last week allegedly died of injuries inflicted on her prior to the blast, according to Brandon Police Service, and the explosion was determined to be intentionally set.
Police revealed few details during a press conference surrounding an ongoing investigation into the Oct. 22 explosion at a residence on the 200 block of Queens Avenue East.
Officers were called to the scene that night along with members of Brandon Fire and Emergency Services and — upon detecting a strong odour of natural gas — immediately set up a perimeter and evacuated neighbours as a precaution, BPS spokesperson Sgt. Kirby Sararas said.
Manitoba Hydro employees attended and had the gas turned off within an hour, and a 63-year-old resident, Robert Hughes, exited the residence on his own.
He was later airlifted by STARS air ambulance to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg with unspecified but serious injuries.
Sararas would not comment on whether Hughes sustained injuries in the blast or prior to the explosion.
Due to the instability of the structure following the explosion, Sararas said police and emergency workers were unable to enter the scene for several hours until members of Urban Search and Rescue were able to reinforce it.
Nov. 1 — Maguire made gains while Liberal support collapses
By: Drew May
A poll-by-poll breakdown of federal election results in Brandon-Souris shows Conservative incumbent Larry Maguire made great gains over his 2015 election performance.
Maguire won all but four of the riding’s 149 polls, losing three in Brandon and one at the polling area Elections Canada refers to as Oak Lake Reserve.
That’s a big jump over the 2015 general federal election, when Liberal candidate Jodi Wyman won 61 of the 84 polls located within Brandon.
Brandon University associate professor and chair of political science Kelly Saunders said the results in Brandon-Souris mirror a trend across Western Canada against the Liberal party and to embrace the Conservative party.
"I think it really speaks to the larger issues that we are seeing that push against the Liberals — rejection of the Liberal party out here in Western Canada and that is, I think in large measure, why we see what we saw happening here on election night," she said.
Nov. 4— Birdtail in treaty talks with feds
By: Kyle Darbyson
For the first time since Confederation, members of the Birdtail Sioux First Nation (BSFN) may have a real shot at obtaining full treaty rights under Canadian law.
Chief Ken Chalmers revealed as much during a conversation with the Sun, during which he presented a new framework agreement that was signed by then-Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett back in April.
In this document, the federal government concedes that members of BSFN, as descendants of the Dakota, "traditionally used and were present on the lands that would become Canada after Confederation."
This statement represents an about-face from the government’s previous position on the Dakota’s heritage, which maintained the idea that the Dakota people are "American refugees" and therefore not eligible for Aboriginal land rights in this country.
However, after years of talking with Chalmers and his associates, the government is now willing to, according to the framework, "explore and seek a mandate to negotiate a BSFN Core Treaty Relationship."
Nov. 30 — More medical services set for Brandon hospital
By: Drew May
The Brandon Regional Health Centre is set to become a new "intermediate hub" under the next part of the province’s health-care overhaul.
The changes are laid out in a provincial report called the Clinical and Preventive Services Plan. It outlines what the province is calling a new model for health care in the province, focused on care away from Winnipeg and closer to local communities.
"This is a historic moment," Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen said at a news conference announcing the $250-million provincewide investment.
The five-year road map sets out a bigger role for the Brandon hospital in providing care for western Manitoba.
The hospital will see improved intensive care unit capabilities for both adults and children and consistent treatment for high-acuity (more serious) health problems. The province will also implement 24/7 consultation for the new Clinical Teaching Unit.
The goal is also to have the Brandon hospital handle more patients who would otherwise have gone to Winnipeg for treatment.