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Year in Review: More significant stories of 2012

About 200 Sons of Freedom Doukhobor children were forcibly taken to a residential-style school in New Denver in the 1950s.  - Courtesy Walter Swetlishoff
About 200 Sons of Freedom Doukhobor children were forcibly taken to a residential-style school in New Denver in the 1950s.
— image credit: Courtesy Walter Swetlishoff

Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.

The New Denver Survivors: In January, the BC Human Rights Tribunal heard the complaint of Doukhobor children removed from their families in the 1950s and sent to a residential school in New Denver.

Filed in 2004, it alleged discrimination by the provincial government in its response to an ombudsman’s report that recommended they receive an apology and compensation.

Things got off to a rocky start when the lawyer for the group, known as the New Denver Survivors, quit at the last minute for unexplained reasons. Complainant Walter Swetlishoff then conducted the case himself.

The tribunal heard testimony from the group that they were offered several million dollars for a research project to unearth documents related to their seizure as children. However, a retired bureaucrat refuted the claim, saying while such a project was considered, it had no firm price tag.

The tribunal also heard from former attorney general Geoff Plant, who insisted that for liability reasons, a “statement of regret” was the best he could offer the survivors, rather than the apology they wanted.

The tribunal’s decision is still pending.

 

Skate park or emotional roller coaster? Nelson’s outdoor skate park project experienced extreme highs and lows this year — par for the course in one of the city’s longest-running and most frustrating sagas.

The good news came in March when the society learned a $400,000 provincial grant had been approved. “I just laid down on the carpet in the sun and stayed there for a bit,” society chair Rob Levesque said. “It’s a lot to take in.”

The society still had to raise another $100,000 but felt it could be done. More money rolled in through a variety of fundraisers.

But then the bad news: the proposed site at the recreation complex would cost nearly $200,000 more than initially believed. To salvage the project, city councillor Paula Kiss suggested it be built in Rosemont’s Art Gibbon Park instead. Although further from the city’s core, the society’s Chad Hansen looked on the bright side: the facility could be much bigger.

“It boils down to: do we build a really big, awesome park that maybe doesn’t have the ideal location? Or do we fight for an amazing location and not build a very good park?”

Hansen was optimistic the project would be finished long before the provincial grant’s 2015 deadline.

 

DFO office in doubt: Local waterways suffered another blow this year with word that Nelson’s federal Fisheries and Oceans office would close with two staff biologists reassigned or laid off.

The feds were reluctant to be provide regional breakdowns, but confirmed 130 positions would be lost across the country — a cut of about 25 per cent to habitat management staff.

“We will ensure we have the resources and capacity needed under the new redesigned program,” a spokesman insisted.

Local politicians didn’t buy it. Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko and Andy Shadrack, chair of the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments, both protested.

Atamanenko said the closure was especially troubling coming soon after BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program closed its Nelson office.

He was concerned that removing habitat and protection staff would result in “after-the-fact enforcement and fines rather than beneficial enhancement and protection of important interior fish populations that aren’t tied to the ocean.”

Shadrack noted Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the lead agency in developing a partnership on Kootenay Lake between various groups and Columbia River Treaty talks are heating up.

He never received a response, although the office remains open for the moment.

 

Commemorating an injustice: Seventy years after the Japanese Canadian internment in the Slocan Valley, permanent monuments were finally unveiled at Lemon Creek and Popoff farm.

Between 1942 and 1946, about 3,000 people were interned on the two sites, which contained houses, streets, and schools. Now empty hay fields, until this summer there was no indication of the injustice perpetrated there.

That changed thanks to an initiative by the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society, which erected signs in both places in June. Author Joy Kogawa, who was interned in Slocan and partly set her acclaimed novel Obasan there, unveiled the sign at Lemon Creek.

“What we have here is the will of the people to remember and make significant the lives of people who have to a large extent disappeared,” she said. “We are all here in this act of memory.”

Kaslo’s Aya Higashi, 92, unveiled the sign at Popoff, where she was once school principal.

Rory Lindsay of the trails society felt the commemoration was long overdue and said it was significant the project wasn’t initiated by those who directly suffered: “What it’s saying is this event is not just a story that belongs to Japanese Canadians but to all Canadians.”

 

The Meadow Creek Cedar saga: The fortunes of West Kootenay’s most infamous forest company fell further this year, but ended on a hopeful note.

In February, Meadow Creek Cedar’s license was suspended and it was fined $42,000 for failing to meet its reforestation obligations. The company was later fined another $13,500 for other violations, while the province began legal action to recover over $50,000 in back wages. The Forest Practices Board also declared Meadow Creek’s work in the woods “unsound.”

But amidst this mess, a South Slocan company saw an opportunity: Blue Ridge Timber Management signed a deal with Meadow Creek owner Dale Kooner to assume management of the license. They would deal with the liabilities in hopes of eventually having the suspension lifted and securing the timber supply — about 30 per cent of which they plan to use for their own operations, with the rest to be placed on the open market.

Although some residents are disappointed Meadow Creek’s idle sawmill isn’t part of the package, Blue Ridge manager Trevor Kanigan (seen at right) says he’s received lots of positive feedback.

The company has hired some staff and opened an office in Kaslo, while the license suspension has been relaxed to allow for small-scale harvesting.

 

Seeking answers in a tragedy: Nearly 17 months after Nelson Search and Rescue volunteer Sheilah Sweatman (seen at right) drowned in the Goat River near Creston, a coroner’s inquest into her death got underway in November.

A jury watched two videos of the tragedy and heard five days of often heart-wrenching testimony from Sweatman’s family and peers. It revealed that while trying to attach a tow line to a submerged car, Sweatman’s leg got caught in a steel cable, pulling her overboard.

The jury made nine recommendations directed at Emergency Management BC and the BC Search and Rescue Association. They included standardized training and equipment for swift water teams, and a review of funding models to better support operations.

The jury also called for an audit of BC search and rescue groups to ensure each is properly equipped, and development of a standardized risk assessment tool for swift water operations.

BC Search and Rescue president Don Bindon called the recommendations “an excellent road map,” and pleged to implement them.

Sweatman’s father Wynn was hopeful they would prevent similar fatalities. “There’s nothing happy about this for us, but I think Sheilah’s legacy will be a big improvement in standards,” he said.

 

Green light for Jumbo: In March, the long-debated Jumbo Glacier Resort received government approval.

“I respect that there have been differing views on this project, but after 20 years of this extensive review it was time to make a decision,” said Forests Minister Steve Thomson.

The green light allows the proponent to move forward on a 5,500-bed, $450 million ski resort in the Purcell Mountains (seen below, right). However, it has no shortage of critics. Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall called the approval “mind boggling.”

“I’m disappointed the Liberal government has made a clear choice to ignore both the First Nations and the residents who have been opposing this proposal for over 20 years,” she said.

The Ktunaxa oppose it because of the area’s spiritual significance, tied to its grizzly population. The West Kootenay EcoSociety said the fight was not over.

“I think we’ll see everything from continued participation in the political process to civil disobedience,” said executive director David Reid. More than 200 people showed up for a candlelight vigil at Nelson city hall, while a rally in Kaslo drew 300.

In November, BC’s strangest municipality was born: the province appointed a mayor, council, and administrator for Jumbo Glacier Resort, despite the fact it has no residents.

 

Heritage committee axed: Two City of Nelson advisory groups received controversial overhauls this year.

First, the community heritage commission learned its budget was being cut by more than half and longtime design consultant Robert Inwood (seen right) was being let go.

“Budgetary considerations necessitated we do not have a design consultant as part of the team, but some flexibility to hire as needed,” senior city planner Dave Wahn said.

But the commission was aghast. “I just find it a step backwards,” said member Patricia Rogers, calling it a “death knell for heritage.”

Soon after, the commission itself was dissolved and rolled into the cultural development commission in response to concerns raised by city councillor Paula Kiss, who felt there was too much overlap between the two. “I just didn’t think heritage interests were being efficiently and properly represented,” she said.

While councillor Robin Cherbo was unhappy with the move, his colleagues insisted they were not turning their backs on heritage. “I know some people are concerned the city is abandoning heritage, but that’s just not true,” said Donna Macdonald. “What’s changing is how we manage, preserve and celebrate heritage and its central role in our future.”

A new heritage working group is to be formed in January.

 

Jumping over barriers: In April, Rick Hansen’s Many in Motion tour passed through Nelson, marking the 25th anniversary of the athlete’s round-the-world journey for spinal cord research.

The relay, which began last year in Newfoundland, passed through more than 600 communities and involved almost 7,000 participants.

Nelson’s honourary medal bearer, Ed Natyshak (seen right, in yellow), recalled Hansen visiting him in hospital after he suffered a cycling injury that left him wheelchair-bound: “I only saw him for five minutes but he set the wheels in motion for me so that I knew I was going to jump over barriers.”

Natyshak says he has never given up. “I’ve always wanted to drive forward and express my passion to have a good solid life even though I’m dealing with a pretty catastrophic injury.”

The relay entered Nelson from the North Shore and then proceeded downtown. Each participant carried the specially designed medal 250 meters until they reached the recreation complex, where Natyshak pushed his way on stage with the crowd behind him.

Another notable participant was Carl Catton, 97, of Crescent Valley, who rolled down Highway 6 in his scooter. Catton, who died a few months later, was the oldest person in the relay.

 

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