Some photos of the big events and news stories in southwest Saskatchewan in 2011


2011 was another exciting year in Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan, and we are taking a look back at some of the major local news stories over the past few months.

For many, this year was one where we lost a legendary voice and a dear friend... Former CKSW radio personality Art Wallman passed away in June at the age of 82. He spent four decades entertaining and informing thousands of listeners, and received numerous accolades and acknowledgments from his peers. In February, he received a Scotiabank Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement, along with Dr. Lawrence Reimer. At that event, he said receiving that award was a highlight of his life: “It's such a thrill that I don't think I can describe it, but I was just totally blown away from that. It was fabulous.”

Art was also awarded the Saskatchewan Country Music Association's Legend and Legacy Award, as Swift Current hosted the SCMA Awards Gala, which brought our province's best in country music together over the first weekend of April. One of the big winners was Shaunavon's own Catherine Lewans, who took home the award for female vocalist of the year, and she said winning it so close to home made it even more special. “We'd come to Swift Current on the weekends for our 'big trips', and it really is my backyard, and it's just so special.” Codie Prevost took home six awards, including male vocalist of the year and fan's choice entertainer, and Glenna Switzer, who helped start the southwest chapter of the SCMA last year and was instrumental in bringing the awards to Swift Current, was named Country Music Person of the Year at the gala. The southwest chapter of the SCMA will celebrate its second anniversary with a special performance at the Lyric Theatre in Swift Current in January.

The Lyric, meanwhile, will celebrate its centennial in the new year, and a push was on to raise money to restore the facility. The caretakers of the theatre set a goal of $500,000 by the end of September, when they would apply for a matching federal grant. The Lyric would reach that goal through various corporate and individual donations, and a conditional grant from the city worth $250,000. Gwen Uher, President of the Southwest Cultural Development Group, was hopeful that it would send Ottawa a message, saying “we feel that we've done everything that we possibly could do, and so now we just have to hope that there's money in the government and that they can see for themselves that it's a very good project and reward us with a nice, healthy grant.” News on whether the Lyric will receive the grant is expected later in the new year.

Back in January, members of Innovation, Conexus and Synergy Credit Unions had their say in a proposed three-way merger, that would have created a single credit union with $6 Billion in assets serving close to 200,000 members. But when the votes were counted, the proposal was defeated, with Synergy Credit Union in West-Central Saskatchewan the only one of the three institutions who did not get the amount of votes needed for approval. Innovation Board Chairman Gord Lightfoot said he was extremely disappointed with the result, but also not surprised: “We were aware that there were issues that were arising with the members of Synergy Credit Union... our vote of 76.5%, I think, is a pretty strong endorsement.” Lightfoot said Innovation Credit Union is very strong and financially viable but this merger would have allowed them to be even stronger. Later in the year, an amalgamation proposal with Mankota Credit Union was approved in an unanimous vote, and will take effect on January 1. Another southwest co-operative was involved in an amalgamation this year, as members of Herbert Co-op and Pioneer Co-op voted to amalgamate, with that merger taking effect in the new year.

2011 was an election year, both in Saskatchewan and across Canada. A federal election was called for May 2nd, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minority conservative government was defeated on a question of ethics, but the Harper government was returned to parliament with a majority, and incumbent Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP David Anderson easily won his seat, saying that night “it's an exciting night for Canada, and for conservatives across Canada... it's been a long road.”

The federal election win allowed the Harper government to move forward on several pieces of legislation that they couldn't pass with a minority, including legislation that would remove the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on grain sales, which was passed into law in December. David Anderson was a key person in fighting for change, saying “farmers are the ones who spend money on inputs, the ones who do the seeding, fix the machinery, go out and spray early in the morning and bring the crop in at harvest time, and then farmers are the ones that are told that they're not capable of selling their own product. We have never believed that for a single minute.” While many farmers celebrated marketing freedom, others who supported the Wheat Board were devestated. Swift Current area farmer Stewart Wells was removed as a CWB farmer-elected director when Bill C-18 became law. He and seven other former directors launched a legal challenge on the validity of the legislation, and the case will be heard in a Winnipeg courtroom in January.

On November 7th, voters in Saskatchewan went to the polls and gave Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party a huge mandate, as they took 49 of 58 seats in the legislature. Wall addressed a large crowd of his supporters at the Palliser Pavillion in Swift Current that night as he won a second term as premier. NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter resigned after his party's defeat, and his own defeat in his home riding of Regina-Douglas Park, and John Nilson later took over as interim leader.

On August 23rd, the town of Kyle held arguably the biggest party it's ever had, as they won a spot on TSN's 2011 Kraft Celebration Tour. SportsCentre broadcasted live from the community with co-hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole on hand, and they also brought along a $25,000 community award from Kraft for the volunteer-run Kyle Community Sports Centre. Kyle and District Recreation Director Jaclyn Davis, who wrote the essay to enter Kyle for the tour, says the day was absolutely perfect. “We're glad that everybody's had a fantastic time, Jay and Dan are an absolute blast, they've really gotten everybody into a really good sense of community pride.” Davis later said the money helped get the rink ready for this winter, including installing furnaces for the lobby and mezzanine areas.

Graham James returned to the headlines in 2011, as the former Swift Current Broncos coach and convicted sex offender faced new sex-related charges involving more of his players. James pleaded guilty in December to sexually assaulting two former players, including NHL star Theoren Fleury, who publicly accused James of abusing him while he played for the coach in the 80s. In May, Fleury was the special guest speaker at the annual KidSport Charity Breakfast in Swift Current. After James' guilty plea, Fleury called it a call for action against sex abuse. “These people... the rapists and their defenders alike, need to take notice that victims, survivors, and victors of sexual assault will stand together, and we are going to change the world.”

James previously served three and a half years in prison for sexually assaulting former Bronco Sheldon Kennedy and other players. Kennedy testified to a US Senate hearing about the prevention of sexual abuse against children a week after his former coach pleaded guilty to the new charges, saying “In every case of child abuse, certainly in my own, there are people who had a gut feeling that something was wrong, but didn't do anything about it... that's what keeps child abusers in business, and that, Senators, is what we have to address.” Kennedy was also recently announced as a recipient of the 2012 Scotiabank Humanitarian Award for Lifetime Achievement, along with long-time healthcare volunteer Esther Sigurdson, which will be presented in February.

For the City of Swift Current, it was a positive year. The summer saw the opening of the new Market Square on Central Avenue North and Chaplin Street which, despite a washout on the planned opening day in June, had tremendous support, with great attendance figures every Saturday and a solid spin-off to other downtown businesses. Council is already making plans for next year at the Market Square.

Public consultations opened this past year on a new Integrated Facility Concept for Swift Current. The concept started in late-2010 when the city, Chinook and Holy Trinity School Divisions, and Cypress Health Region announced they were pursuing a facility plan encompassing a new public and catholic school, a long-term care centre, and various recreation facilities in the city's northeast. The first public meeting was held in July and Swift Current Mayor Jerrod Schafer was pleased with the turnout. “It gave the partners a chance to stand up and address some of the concerns... talk about what our objectives are, which is essentially doing the best that we can for the residents of our city.”

And in the fall, Mayor Schafer unveiled a special tribute to the men and women who fought and died for our freedom, with the re-dedication of the Highway 4 bypass as “Memorial Drive” during the city's Remembrance Day services on November 11th. Signs marking the new route are expected to be installed in the new year.

Perhaps one of the events that really brought the community together was the fight against flooding in Swift Current Creek in April, as higher than normal spring runoff levels caused increased flows along the creek through the city, with Watershed Officials expecting flood levels similar to the spring flood in 1997. But careful planning and a prompt response from city officials, emergency personnel and hundreds of volunteers helped keep the rising waters at bay and flood damage to a minimum. Swift Current Chief Administrative Officer Susan Motkaluk, who was hired by the city late in 2010, helped co-ordinate the flood protection efforts, and was amazed with how everything came together. “I know with the community's efforts, we were in great shape and we could have faced anything... I'm proud to be in the city of Swift Current.”

We want to know what you think was the top local news story of the past year... You can make your choice on a poll set up on Swift Current Online's Facebook Page.