2014: A look back at history for the Central Okanagan

It was a year of fresh faces with the Bernard Avenue upgrade, new Kelowna General Hospital buildings and the youngest mayor ever elected.

  • Dec. 25, 2014 3:00 p.m.

JANUARY

 

• The year started with Central Okanagan Search and Rescue warning outdoors enthusiasts to be cautious in the backcountry due to avalanche conditions.

• Neil Snelson was in court early January to request a new trial after he was convicted for manslaughter in the strangulation death of Jennifer Cusworth in 1993. One person in the courtroom happy to see him was Jean Cusworth, Jennifer’s mother. After her daughter’s murderer had remained unknown for 18 years, that Snelson had been spending time in jail for the crime had renewed her confidence. However, Snelson’s 2011 conviction was overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal because of an error made by the trial judge. He was freed on $75,000 bail in June. A new trial was set for Kamloops court in the spring of 2015.

• Peachlandradio.com started up with ‘golden oldies’ streamed to listeners over the Internet.

• Sopa Square, the mixed-use retail and residential development on Pandosy Street, went into receivership for a third time.

• In January, construction of the Sneena Road underpass was well underway in West Kelowna. Drivers would deal with months of being rerouted through the construction zone.

• Interior Health dealt with the H1N1 flu virus with 35 confirmed cases in the Interior and one death in the Okanagan.

• The first 3-D X-ray computer tomography microscope in B.C. came to UBC Okanagan. It was hailed as the way of the future, allowing lighter weight but stronger materials to be used in manufacturing. With magnification up to 1,000 times, internal structures of materials are made visible and their defects revealed.

• One of the most majestic buildings in Kelowna was celebrated for serving the community for 100 years. Nicknamed the Grand Old Lady of Richter Street, Central School opened its doors to students in 1914. The building remains an architectural model of its times, utilizing the distinctive red brick of the Okanagan. Generations of Kelowna’s children attended classes in the building and it continues to serve the local school district.

• City council members loved the idea of building an iconic tourist information centre on the waterfront at the foot of Queensway in the heart of downtown Kelowna. They did not foresee the backlash from the public not only for the apparent grandiosity of the plan but for taking up valuable lakefront property for, essentially, civic staff office space. Tourists, members of the public pointed out, seldom visit a physical space to get their travel information these days, preferring to do their where-to-go, what-to-do searches online. It was suggested a simple kiosk somewhere in the downtown would suffice.

• Direct flights between Kelowna and Fort McMurray were announced by WestJet, to start in May 2014. It was concrete  evidence of the growing economic importance of Alberta oil exploration to the Okanagan Valley.

• The 12 city-owned residential properties in the Cedar Avenue area were back in the spotlight as plans to create park space in the neighbourhood were discussed. In January the city planned to consult with ‘stakeholders’ about how to balance public access to the lake and open space with commercial enterprise to off-set expenses. By May, neighbours were happy the property would not be divided by a re-alignment of Abbott Street, but were soon up in arms again when some of the properties were handed over to the exclusive use of the Kelowna Paddle Centre.

• The few businesses which depended on the CN rail spur line to transport materials in and manufactured products out of the Central Okanagan forecast the end of their businesses if rail service was discontinued. Others in the community quickly saw another opportunity—a world-class rail/trail tourist destination for walking or cycling along some of the most scenic yet largely unpopulated parts of the valley through Lake Country and along the shores of Kalamalka to Coldstream. It took until December for a financial deal to be worked out between local governments, some in cash and some in donation tax receipts. By the end of the year due diligence was well under way. The Okanagan Indian Band started to deal with its claim to parts of the corridor separately. In July OKIB asked the federal government to buy the Kalamalka Lake portion for inclusion in the band’s reserve.

• Kelowna ranked 316 out of 360 cities surveyed globally for affordability. The Deutsch Bank study compared the median price of a house and the median gross household income and overall showed that Canada had the most overvalued housing market of 20 OECD nations.

• Ballet Kelowna proclaimed success with unprecedented audience support a year after a former board chairman declared it defunct, with too much red in the ledgers and the founding artistic director about to retire. A new board and resounding community support swept away the naysayers and the professional ballet company, supported by a stellar dance school, performed to full houses.

• The Fitzpatrick family sold its CedarCreek Estate Winery to Anthony von Mandl of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.

• District of West Kelowna shortlisted some Westbank area sites for a new municipal hall. Detractors said Westbank is no longer the centre of the West Kelowna area and is not an appropriate location for district business.

• In a Vancouver courtroom late January, two full-patch Hells Angels admit their role in the 2011 murder of Kelowna family man Dain Phillips. They pled guilty to manslaughter in the baseball bat and hammer beating death of Phillips who was met by the men as he attempted to smooth over a minor dispute between his son and some school friends who had gang connections. The pair were sentenced to 15 years in prison less time served.

 

FEBRUARY

• A new building for the Kelowna Yacht Club starts to take shape in February just to the south of the old building along the Water Street lakefront. It would house member facilities upstairs with the Cactus Club contracted to manage the public access restaurant on the ground floor. It was December before it was ready for members.

Fred Steele

• Glenmore apple grower Fred Steele won the vote to head up the BC Fruit Growers’ Association. Steele said the members wanted more rejuvenation than they had been seeing in the organization with the focus put back on promoting B.C. fruits and polishing the industry’s image.

• A Westbank Centre RapidBus Exchange was the impetus to remodel some downtown streets in West Kelowna. Elliot was closed to traffic for months as the work progressed.

Hotel model

• Colourfully rendered drawings of a soaring, 24-storey elliptical hotel tower were released by Westcorp developer Phil Milroy in February. The developer had already paid for and built a public pier and commercial marina on Okanagan Lake directly in front of the site for the new hotel. The city would later sell Mill Street, from Queensway to Bernard, to Westcorp to be turned into public green space and a walkway joining the property with Kerry Park.

• Kelowna city councillor Andre Blanleil called a new building to house the local detachment of the RCMP a necessity not an “extra.” He urged residents to approve borrowing for the construction rather than taking it out of the city’s tax funds.

• West Kelowna gave first reading to amend a section of Campbell Road to medium density multiple family housing from agricultural. The Blackmun Bay Village project proposal was downscaled from 14-storey apartments to townhomes, a restaurant, a 268-bay commercial marina and public beach. Councillor Rick de Jong expressed concern saying the ALC had called the property ‘class one land’—some of the best agricultural turf in the province.

Crystal Mtn

 

MARCH

• Crystal Mountain ski area shut down after four chair lift riders were thrown to the ground and injured when an empty chair bounced precariously causing the cable they were attached to, to jump from its track. The small local hill remained closed for the rest of that season with no re-opening in sight.

• The cost to build a bridge on Lakeshore Road over Mission Creek jumped to more than $11 million. Construction began in April and traffic was flowing again in late November.

• Three students were hit by a car at Gerstmar and Graham streets in Rutland, on their way to Springvalley Middle School. They suffered minor injuries but it raised concern over lack of sidewalks and enough cross walks in the area.

• Deer were a big problem to orchardists who wanted a plan to deal with the ungulate population explosion. The animals were accustomed to living near people and habitually ate tender branch shoots and bark off commercial trees.

• Townhome and apartment complex owners were urged to add water sprinklers onto the balcony portion of their dwellings, after balcony barbecuing caused fires and put people out of their homes.

• Kelowna city council decided medical marijuana growing would be considered on some industrial zoned land as well as on some agricultural land on a case-by-case basis.

• Merchants at the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market on Springfield Road disagreed about relocation plans. Some supported a move to a location in the north end of the city while others wanted to stay put. A schism resulted with the two factions warring with each other.

 

APRIL

• The Okanagan Mission Residents Association fretted over the steep angle of the Lakeshore Drive bridge over Mission Creek. They said drivers would not be able to stop in time at Treswell Road after cresting the top of the bridge.

• In April, the Soles4Souls charity that collects shoes shifted direction slightly to supply donated footwear to needy locals as well as those in far-away countries. The call for donated footwear was embraced by the community with 400,000 pairs of shoes distributed since 2010.

• Residents were urged to bombard their MLAs with correspondence to get them to move on setting up viable ways to stop the infestation of quagga and zebra mussels into local waterways.

• At the trial of Matthew Foerster, accused in the murder of Taylor van Diest on Halloween night 2011, an emergency physician was close to tears as he recalled treating the battered teen who could not be saved from the severity of injuries she suffered. Foerster was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was back in court in May to face unrelated charges on a home invasion in Cherryville and an assault on a sex trade worker in Kelowna.

• WFN residents were told to expect a tax increase of 1.4 per cent, less than half the 2.95 West Kelowna residents were told to expect.

• A Saskatchewan man got three years probation and a $5,000 fine for letting a Kelowna friend celebrating his birthday ‘surf’ on the top of his vehicle. Christopher Gerald Bezaire pled guilty to criminal negligence in the death of Jody Rud.

• The provincial government announced it would spend $2 million over the next three years in planning for a second bridge to cross Okanagan Lake.

• Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick re-enters the Christy Clark Liberal government cabinet as Agriculture Minister, while retaining his responsibilities for intergovernmental affairs and French speakers within B.C.

Rock slide

• The man who murdered the grandparents and parents of two girls who he then imprisoned and raped for a week in 1982, before murdering them as well, just wouldn’t go away. David Shearing, who now calls himself David Ennis, came before the parole board as he has the right to do every two years, to plead the case for his release on parole. Only dedicated petitioning from friends of the remaining family members, who fear the man will come after them if he is released, keeps him in jail. A few months later Ennis withdrew his request for both parole and temporary day parole. He’s eligible to come back before the parole board as early as 2016.

• Businesses fight the provincial government’s plan to change the method and the cost of recyclable materials in B.C. The Multi Material BC system would transfer recycling costs from all taxpayers onto the businesses which generate the most packaging and printed paper.

• A major upgrade of Kelowna’s main downtown street—Bernard Avenue—afforded the city several learning moments. One was the importance of communicating. A liaison officer was hired to keep the talk open between the city and businesses affected by the phased closing of the street, block by block while underground utilities were replaced, sidewalks widened and street furnishings installed. Shops stayed open even though customers had to park and pick their way over catwalks and past machinery. The $14.3-million, 21-month project was completed in June.

• The Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market split into factions as a plan to move to the north end of downtown came to light. Many long-time vendors at the two, half day-a-week market from spring through fall on Springfield, were adamant they would stay in the parking lot rented yearly from Orchard Park Mall. The proposal for a new location would let the marketplace be indoors and operate six says a week, all year round.

• In West Kelowna, the Sncewips Heritage Museum opens to house Westbank First Nation and Okanagan First Nation artifacts.

• Colin Basran was first out of the political gate, not just announcing he would run for a second term on Kelowna city council, but that he would go for the mayor’s job to replace Walter Gray, who announced  he would retire from politics at the end of his mayoral term in November.


MAY

• A seniors’ hockey club in West Kelowna celebrated their health after a teammate dropped to the ice from a heart attack during play. They had previously quibbled over the expense of buying an automated external defibrillator and spending time training on how to use the device. It all worked out for the best not just once, but twice, getting teammates’ hearts pumping with the device, giving emergency workers the gift of time to get them to hospital.

• A Lake Country scientist spent time on a Hawaiian mountain peak in a simulated Mars mission. The experiment, funded by NASA, was intended to learn what obstacles people on such a venture would come across.

• A Kelowna man was charged with arson for setting fire to the historic Westbank Lions Community Hall. He was seeking revenge on a girlfriend who was to be a bridesmaid at a wedding at the hall the day he set it on fire, and had not invited him to be her date. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years.

• A UBCO water resources professor’s review of a new federal Water Sustainability Act shows expert input was asked for and given, but ignored by drafters of the Act, which seemed primarily intent on the pricing of groundwater going forward.

• Municipalities and developers were seen as the driving force behind proposed changes to B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve. A UBCO economics professor suggested changes to land and water acts to be intent on getting them in line for gas and oil exploration.

• The blueprint was unveiled in Kelowna for a technology innovation centre to be built at the corner of Doyle and Ellis, where new ventures will be incubated into businesses.

• The model airplane club gets the OK from a higher court to continue flying the aircraft on ALR land. Lake Country residents near the field objected to the noise.


JUNE

• A study is initiated to consider the cost/benefits of building a highway bypass around Peachland.

• A local company got a three-year lease from the city to use part of Kelowna’s waterfront to create an inflatable water park on Okanagan Lake.

• A location on Elliot Road was chosen by district council for a new $8.9-million West Kelowna municipal hall and civic centre to be built. While the Greater Westside Board of Trade loved the location, some residents objected, saying the old town centre is no longer central to the far-flung West Kelowna District.

• Kelowna held a workshop with input from fewer than five residents selected in a draw, to find out what they thought City Park should look like in the future. The workshop came after heated resentment at the city’s proposal to build a tourist information centre inside City Park and the $800,000 price tag for new washrooms.

• CMHC said Kelowna is one of the most difficult places to find rental accommodations in the country. The reasons were a rebounding real estate market, higher employment in the area, increasing university enrolment and fewer purpose-built rental units.

• A group of business owners, unified as The Rutland Unified Stakeholders’ Team, unveiled a logo and motto to brand the community. Kelowna had plans to spend $100,000 to improve Rutland’s core area.

• Of the 10 most accident-plagued intersections in the province, Kelowna was home to nine of them, ICBC reported.

• The ‘love-in’ at city hall continued as council approved selling Mill Street, linking Queensway with Bernard, to Edmonton-based Westcorp to become part of the 24-storey hotel. Various councillors dubbed the hotel “iconic” and a “landmark” building, while Mayor Walter Gray said it would “set the bar for developments in the future.” The final approval was granted in August with Kelowna city council approving a height variance over the 19-storey maximum on the Official Community Plan.

• Kelowna-based Argus Properties proposed a 26-storey hotel tower in the North End of Kelowna, at Manhattan and Sunset Drive. The project would be put on the backburner by the end of the year.

• The Westside regional Wastewater Treatment Plant left a lot to remember it by—smell mostly. West Kelowna council said the cost of eliminating odours was prohibitive. As well, solid waste byproduct was shipped away at $1,500/truck load and residents would see the hit on their next tax bill.

• A contract to design, build and lease the Kelowna Community Health and Services Centre, was awarded to Urban Solutions Group. The five-storey building at Doyle and Ellis would provide offices for about 800 health care workers, with a projected completion date of summer, 2016. The city would expand existing and build new parking facilities in the area.

 

JULY

• Food production is the top line of any history of the Okanagan. But it took more than a century to turn the locally grown produce into delectable repasts to be enjoyed by locals and culinary tourists alike. Farm-to-table has been embraced by Okanagan chefs who know their food producers as well as their patrons.

• Simone Orlando took over the helm of Ballet Kelowna, succeeding founding artistic director David LaHay. Orlando not only took the AD role but the functioning CEO of the professional dance company as well.

• A massive rock slide shut down Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland.

• Less than a week after offering tips to prevent forest fires, West Kelowna Fire Chief Wayne Schnitzler was point-man fighting two on his turf. First up, a campfire got away in Smith Creek, followed closely by a fire on Mt. Boucherie. The Smith Creek fire, fanned by strong winds, led to evacuations through the area.

• Focusing on prolific offenders helped Kelowna RCMP get a better handle on crime in the region, bringing overall statistics down.

• Centre of Gravity and Keloha summer sports and music festivals looked to amalgamate the events for 2015. Organizer Scott Emslie said hosting successful events was a challenge and pooling resources was a better idea.

• A forest fire started above Peachland on Draught HIll near the Okanagan Connector and MacKinnon Road. Air tankers dropped water on the blaze as it moved uphill, away from populated areas.

 

AUGUST

• Local RCMP enrol a remote-controlled drone into the ranks, to assist with traffic accident reconstruction and analysis.

• A voting snafu saw the Rutland Park Society have to say no to $800,000 from Kelowna to buy the park from the society, with the money used to fix up the aging Rutland Centennial Hall. There were not enough society members at the meeting to make up the 75 per cent required to accept the deal. The city had another $400,000 ready to make improvements on the park, which had fallen into disrepair and some disrepute in recent years. Opponents to the sale were adamant the deal would ruin the park, turning it into a bus loop for public transit. A second vote passed in October and the park was sold to Kelowna.

• Following the tailings pond breach at Mt. Polley mine near Likely B.C. this summer, it was made clear that Brenda Mine above Peachland is under provincial rules that require it to inspect, make a report and have the findings independently verified. Though Brenda has been closed for decades, its owners are required to inspect the dam every year as part of its permit to treat the water it contains.

 

SEPTEMBER

• Robert Barr appointed executive director of the Okanagan Symphony Society.

• At its AGM, an environmental lawyer told the Okanagan Basin Water Board that First Nation water rights supersede all municipality and water licences issued in B.C.

• A 52-hectare piece of land, encompassing Goat’s Peak on the Westside and 900 metres of Okanagan Lake waterfront were made a regional park in September. It preserves kokanee spawning areas and forms part of a continuous trail between W.R. Bennett Bridge and Peachland.

• United Airlines commences daily, year-round, non-stop flights to San Francisco from Kelowna International Airport.

• The Central Okanagan unveiled its 31st regional park— Black Mountain/Sntsk’il’nten. At 510 hectares, it will be co-managed by the regional district and Westbank First Nation.

 

OCTOBER

• A plan to redevelop the Capri Centre mall shows an outdoor skating rink, public plaza, park, a mix of 2,200 residences in six- to 26-storey buildings as well as commercial and retail businesses. The 220-room Capri Hotel would remain the same. R.G. Properties owns the mall.

• Breaking the $50,000 barrier in just three hours, the Maxine DeHart United Way-Ramada Hotel Breakfast Drive-thru came through again in support of the United Way fundraising campaign.

• Two of three people involved in hijacking cars and shooting at police during a July 2012 chase north along Westside Road received their sentences; Ashley Collins was found to be a drug addict in with the wrong people but did not take part in the shooting. She was given an 18-month suspended sentence and 18 months probation. Shawn Wysynski was wearing gloves during the event so could not be directly associated with a weapon and was given a nine year sentence. Michael Ellis faced 22 charges including attempted murder and appear in court in December. Testifying at Ellis’s trial, Wysynski changed his story, saying he was in control all the time and threatened his accomplices with being shot if they didn’t obey him. Having already been convicted he was immune from further prosecution other than perjury.

 

NOVEMBER

• Cesar Rosales, an employee at Kelowna Flightcraft, was murdered on a Kelowna bus. It was a random attack. Tyler Jack Newton was charged with second degree murder.

• Long-time Kelowna city councillors Robert Hobson and Andre Blanleil both retire from politics, joining Mayor Walter Gray on the sidelines for the November civic election. And on Nov. 15, a new era in Kelowna opened with the election of one-term city councillor Colin Basran as mayor. Incumbent mayors Doug Findlater in West Kelowna and James Baker in Lake Country were re-elected.

• Retiring Kelowna mayor Walter Gray was rewarded by the province for his civic service by being appointed chairman of ICBC.

• Mental illness played a pivotal role in the trial of Conor Frederick Grossman for the hammer bludgeoning murder of his mother in 2012. He was found not criminally responsible due to his psychosis and was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam.

• Residents of Peachland were furious at power outages after a severe storm swept through the area. Out-going mayor Keith Fielding said BC Hydro had to get its act together.


DECEMBER

• As construction continued on the Interior Heart and Surgery Centre at Kelowna General Hospital, the foundation needed a few million dollars more in donations to fully equip the high-tech ORs.

• After a few years of being chased by the Okanagan Basin Water Board, the federal government stepped up with funds to stop invasive mussel species from being introduced into B.C. waters, carried on boats trailered in over border crossings.

• Controversy brewed in Lake Country over how much residents there will have to pay toward the purchase of decommissioned CN Rail tracks which wind along the shorelines of valley lakes between Kelowna and Vernon.

Crash

• After bad motor vehicle accidents along the Duck Lake stretch of Highway 97 between Kelowna and Lake Country, plans begin for traffic medians to be installed between opposing lanes.

 

Kelowna Capital News