Manitoba

From playoffs to pot, trials to tornadoes: 12 stories that mattered to Manitobans in 2018

Winnipeg was awash in a whiteout, gripped by meth-fueled violence and spent a lot of time debating the merits of letting people cross an intersection in the past year.

Whiteout parties, legal cannabis and acquittal of man accused of killing Tina Fontaine captured our attention

Whiteout street parties were part of the celebration of the Winnipeg Jets' remarkable 2018 playoff run. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg was awash in a whiteout, gripped by meth-fueled violence and busy debating the merits of letting people cross an intersection this past year.

Fears and fandom dominated CBC Manitoba's headlines in 2018.

These feelings were captured in some of the stories that mattered most to readers from every corner of the province.

Manitobans mourned when a tornado claimed a life in a small Prairie community, lined up for the historic opening of legalized cannabis stores and cheered when Churchill regained the transportation lifeline it lost in 2017.

People marched when the man accused in Tina Fontaine's death was acquitted, while some of those who searched for Thelma Krull found closure when her remains were found.

Here's a look back at the year that was, and the stories that defined Winnipeg and Manitoba in 2018.

Acquittal in Tina Fontaine's murder

After the verdict was read out in the trial of the man accused of killing Tina Fontaine, the great-aunt who raised the girl from the time she was three crumbled under her grief.

"My baby, my baby, my baby," Thelma Favel cried out, before she broke down in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Tina Fontaine's 72-pound body was recovered from Winnipeg's Red River in 2014, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks.

The acquittal of Raymond Cormier on Feb. 22 in the killing of the 15-year-old was met with despair and anger from family and Indigenous leaders. The next day, more than 1,000 people huddled in the cold to protest the jury's decision.

Fontaine's death years ago drew attention nationwide and prompted calls for an inquiry into the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, a concern heard acutely in Manitoba.

Raymond Cormier was acquitted in February of killing Tina Fontaine, 15. (Tina Fontaine/Facebook )
 

The acquittal came just weeks after Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley was found not guilty in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.

The two verdicts spurred accusations that the the justice system is stacked against Indigenous people.

The scourge of crystal meth

The proliferation of meth — a cheap and destructive drug — in Manitoba was described this year as a crisis.

The effects of methamphetamine have been felt on the streets, in the justice system, inside emergency rooms and through the everyday lives of families.

"It's starting to keep me awake at night," Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said in February.

Among the crimes police linked to the drug this year were a kidnapping, a police-involved shooting and various robberies.

The effects of meth use have been felt across the province. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Hospital emergency departments have recorded a 1,200 per cent surge in meth-related hospital visits, while emergency staff have been physically assaulted by patients under the influence of methamphetamine.

There have been calls for the province to develop some kind of supervised injection site to help address the issue — a call Premier Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government has thus far rejected. Instead, the government has opened walk-in clinics, added treatment beds and promised mobile withdrawal services.

'Inseparable' boys killed on way home

The community of Nelson House, Man., was rocked this April when three boys who were walking and biking down a gravel road never made it home.

The trio of friends — Keethan Lobster and Mattheo Moore-Spence, both 11, and Terrence Spence, 13 — died on April 28 when they were hit by a car. They were described as inseparable.

Todd Linklater was charged with impaired driving causing death. The families of all three boys have reached out to the family of the accused, to heal together.

Keethan Lobster, left, Terrence Spence, top, and Mattheo Moore-Spence, bottom, died after being struck by a vehicle near Nelson House on April 28, 2018. (GoFundMe)

"Deep down inside my heart, I forgive him," Anthony Spence, father of Mattheo Moore-Spence, told CBC.

On a hillside along the sole access road where the crash occurred, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on April 30. 

Winnipeggers relish Jets' success

Winnipeg's pep rallies outside the city's downtown arena, and the performance of the Jets inside, were the talk of the town this spring.

Revellers draped in white brought the traditional "whiteout" to the streets outside Bell MTS Place, where tens of thousands of excited supporters cheered on the Winnipeg Jets as they advanced to the NHL's Western Conference final. The street parties became so popular they became ticketed-only affairs. 

On the ice, Winnipeg came closer than ever to lifting the elusive Stanley Cup, making it to the final four teams in the race for the cup. They were knocked out in five games by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Winnipeg Jets fans cheer on the team as they hit the ice during Game 1 of their playoff series against the Minnesota Wild. The Jets would make it all the way to the Western Conference final. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

This season, the Jets are poised to make another lengthy playoff run. They're the top team in the Western Conference at the Christmas break.

Fire guts downtown Brandon

More than 150 people lost their homes when a devastating fire tore through downtown Brandon in May.

Police believe the worst fire the city has experienced in modern history was likely human-caused, though it's not known if it was set intentionally.

On May 19, crews began fighting flames billowing out of an office supply store. The fire spread across the street to Massey Manor, an apartment complex, and a neighbouring strip mall containing a boxing club.

The fire began at the Christie's Office Plus building in Brandon on May 19. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Wind spread the flames farther afield, destroying a beer vendor and vacant nightclub. 

The blaze caused roughly $25 million in damage. 

Since then, the owner of the boxing club has found a new location for his members to train, and there's hope the four-storey apartment building will be habitable again.

Forest fires force evacuations

More than 1,000 people from two eastern Manitoba First Nations lived out of their suitcases for a month after a raging fire encroached upon their homes and knocked out power.

Nearly everyone in Little Grand Rapids and nearby Pauingassi, about 260 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, was airlifted to the province's capital on May 25. 

Provincial numbers say the fire covered around 25,000 hectares of land. 

With most of the communities' members airlifted to Winnipeg, firefighters extinguished the blaze, Manitoba Hydro restored power and the Red Cross replaced the fridges and freezers that had to be disposed of after the power was cut.

A water bomber heads toward a wildfire near Pauingassi First Nation in Manitoba in May. (CBC)

"I'm just glad to go home and sleep in my own bed," said Terry Boushie on June 23, as he awaited a flight home. "It's been kinda lonesome in the city."

Powerful tornado kills senior

A powerful tornado that brought a path of destruction up to 800 metres wide claimed the life of a 77-year-old man in August.

Jack Furrie was killed when the tornado, with recorded speeds of up to 310 km/h, struck his home in Alonsa, Man., on the night of Aug. 3. 

Wreckage from the twister, which damaged homes and uprooted trees, was scattered in fields, along the shores of the beach and into Lake Manitoba itself. The tornado spun through the Alonsa, Silver Ridge, and Margaret Bruce Beach areas, around 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Just before he was killed, Furrie's family said, he thought to call at least two relatives and warn them of menacing weather ahead.

RCMP say Jack Furrie's body was found outside of his home, which was destroyed by an Aug. 3 tornado. (CBC)

"I should have said, 'Come over to the house here,'" Earl Eyolfson, Furrie's brother-in-law, said.

In the aftermath of the storm, Furrie's grandson questioned whether a lack of cellphone service prevented Furrie from receiving an emergency alert that would have warned him of the storm's severity.

Officer shot in ambush 

A tense, dramatic search in western Manitoba in August ended with the arrests of four people, including an 18-year-old accused of shooting of a RCMP officer.

Police embarked on a manhunt after a RCMP member, later identified as Cpl. Graeme Kingdon, was ambushed while responding to a break-in on Aug. 29 near Onaole, Man., outside Riding Mountain National Park.

Residents were on high alert from the harrowing shooting — the first time an RCMP member was shot in the line of duty in Manitoba since 2015. 

The RCMP emergency response unit arrests a suspect in Neepawa, Man., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, following the shooting of a RCMP officer in Onanole. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The manhunt came to an end the next afternoon in Neepawa, Man., when the fourth suspect was apprehended.

An October bail hearing revealed that Kingdon was shot in the back of the head and suffered a fractured skull. He's recovering outside of hospital. 

Buzz in the air as pot legalized

Who saw Manitoba having one of the smoothest rollouts of legalized cannabis anywhere in the country?

While other provinces grappled with product shortageshalted the issuing of store licences or even temporarily closed stores already opened, Manitoba gradually opened more pot shops and has so far granted permission for 16 of them to operate.

But it's hardly been a free-for-all since recreational use of the drug was legalized nationwide on Oct. 17. 

Shoppers at a Winnipeg Delta 9 cannabis store on Oct. 17, the first day of legalized recreational marijuana use. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Critics say there are too many regulations in place. Stringent rules prohibit toking almost any place in Manitoba you don't own, while six communities rejected legal stores outright.

Iconic corner debated

In a civic election that lacked intrigue, the question of reopening the famed Portage and Main intersection to foot traffic became a defining issue.

Proponents of tearing down the cement barriers saw the Oct. 24 plebiscite question as an opportunity to shape a more walkable downtown, and one kinder to businesses and people with disabilities.

An overwhelming 65 per cent of voters saw it differently. The potential of traffic jams and a projected $11.6-million price tag apparently outweighed the touted benefits.

Winnipeggers voted overwhelmingly in October to keep the Portage and Main intersection closed to pedestrian traffic. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

While voters rejected the idea, they convincingly relected the mayor who wanted to reopen the intersection. Brian Bowman garnered 53 per cent of the vote for a sophomore term as the city's mayor.

He trumped his closest rival, Jenny Motkaluk, who received 36 per cent of votes.

Rail service restored

Residents in Churchill breathed a sigh of relief in late October when they saw a train roll in for the first time in more than  a year.

The northern community's only land link to the rest of the province was severed by flooding in spring 2017.

Omnitrax, the Denver-based owner of the railway, said it could not afford to pay tens of millions to repair the track, and that the railway should be treated as a public utility since it was no longer commercially viable.

For the first time in 18 months, tourists are riding the rails to Churchill, Man. 1:44

The railway was eventually transferred into Canadian hands, through a partnership of several First Nations communities, Fairfax Financial Holdings in Toronto and AGT Food in Regina.

Ottawa made a $117-million commitment to resurrect both the rail line and Canada's only deep-water Arctic port.

Search for Thelma Krull ends

After more than three years of searching, Thelma Krull was found last month.

The discovery of her remains by a hunter in a wooded area southeast of Winnipeg brought some closure, but questions remain about who killed her, and why.

Police are treating her disappearance as a homicide.

Krull's sudden disappearance on a sunny summer morning in 2015 prompted searches by both her loved ones and complete strangers. Investigators kept the case in the public eye by periodically releasing updates.

Thelma Krull, 57, seen here in an undated photo, went missing on July 11, 2015. In November, police said her remains had been found. (Submitted)

Sgt. Wes Rommel of the Winnipeg police homicide unit hopes someone in the public will still be able to provide information.

"One of the things that we wanted to get out to you today is that location," he said on Nov. 29. 

"As you drive out, it's a lot of prairies with nothing around, and all of a sudden you get to these areas where it becomes wooded and more desolate. I think that's a very significant piece."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Manitoba reporters

now