2011: The year in review in Abbotsford

2011 in Abbotsford was a year filled with numerous achievements, changes and captivating events.

JANUARY

• The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce recommends that the city drop out of the Fraser Valley Regional District. In an eight-page report, the chamber says the move would save the city $2 million a year. The chamber says the value Abbotsford gets back from being a member of the FVRD is dubious. It cites only the 911 and fire dispatch services as the main benefits to the city’s membership in the FVRD. Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross says while she respects the chamber’s perspective, she doesn’t agree with its conclusion.

• Abbotsford Police announce the city is likely to lose its title of “murder capital of Canada” after a dramatic drop in homicides in 2010. Const. Ian MacDonald says new initiatives targeting gang violence helped to curb the city’s murder rate. There were four homicides in Abbotsford in 2010 compared to 11 the year before. Statistics Canada reported that Abbotsford had the highest number of murders per 100,000 people in both 2008 and 2009. MacDonald says the rate of violent crime dropped dramatically after police formed a gang suppression unit.

• A report on FVRD’s transit needs reveals the city must raise transit expenditures from the present level of $10 million per year to $80 million by 2040. After reviewing the report, council votes in support of a staff recommendation that future transit planning in the city focus on local investment. Lynne Harris, vice-chairwoman of the Abbotsford-Mission Transit Commission, says 80 per cent of trips begin and end in Abbotsford. She contends that the city needs to develop a strong transit system serving the area.

FEBRUARY

• The University of the Fraser Valley announces it is operating above capacity after higher unemployment rates send more people back to school. UFV vice-president Eric Davies says it’s up to the provincial government to step up and provide more post-secondary funding. Students left on long waiting lists aren’t graduating on time, further delaying their entry into the workforce.

• A deadly mid-air collision occurs over Mission as two planes tangle wings. One aircraft manages to land safely. However, the other crashes into the Nicomen Slough, killing the pilot, Don Hubble. A passenger in the plane, Patrick Lobsinger, dies after being transported to hospital.

• Council votes in favour of a pay raise. Effective Dec. 1, councillors receive a seven per cent increase while the mayor gets a nine per cent bump. Councillor’s annual paycheques go from $34,700 to $37,200, while the mayor’s increases to $94,500 from $86,600. Coun. Dave Loewen says he voted for the pay raise in order to attract quality candidates to run for the municipal elections in November. Coun. Bill MacGregor says he would not vote for a bump in salary until the city’s tax system is fixed.

MARCH

• A Good Samaritan pulls an Abbotsford man from a vehicle submerged in the Sumas River. After Bryan Volden’s vehicle veers off No. 3 Road north of Highway 1 and into the river, an unnamed rescuer smashes a window on Volden’s car and pulls him from the frigid waters. The Good Samaritan proceeds to perform CPR on Volden until emergency responders arrive. Volden dies in hospital two days later.

• Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Hawks girls’ basketball team walk away as provincial AAA champions for the first time in school history. The players take on the Claremont Spartans of Victoria in their bid to win it all at the tournament hosted at Capilano University. The Hawks originally build a 20-point lead over the Spartans by the second corner, but the Victoria team manage to cut that lead down to just three points with only a minute to go in regulation time. The Abbotsford girls hold steady and hang onto the lead to walk away as first-time champions.

APRIL

• Abbotsford council votes in favour of pursuing a private-public partnership (P3) to create a new water supply and treatment plant at Stave Lake in Mission. Couns. Patricia Ross and Lynne Harris are the lone representatives to vote against the proposal. Ross says she voted against the plan after Mission opted not to participate in the P3 plan. She says for Abbotsford to go at it alone feels “like a hostile takeover” against the city’s neighbours in Mission.

• The number of homeless in Abbotsford drops in half compared to 2008. Results from a survey from the FVRD and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) shows the number of homeless people plunged from 235 in 2008 to 117 in 2011. Volunteers visit local shelters, soup kitchens and homeless service providers over the course of a day in order to count the number of homeless. Ron Van Wyk of the MCC says volunteers conducted lengthy interviews, asking homeless people their age, home community, sources of income and reasons for being homeless.

MAY

• A new report from city staff reveals that the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre ran a deficit of $3.4 million in 2010. The deficit includes an anticipated payment of $1.2 million to the Abbotsford Heat AHL team. The arena also ran a deficit of $2.6 million in 2009. The 2010 operational costs for the arena were originally pegged at $4.3 million, but ended up being just over $5.8 million. As part of the deal to bring the Heat hockey team to Abbotsford, the city signed a supply fee agreement with the hockey team guaranteeing $5.7 million in revenue. The city is on the hook for the difference if the team doesn’t bring in the expected revenue.

• Abbotsford MP Ed Fast is named to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s newly formed majority government cabinet. Fast serves as Minister for International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. Fast was elected Abbotsford MP in 2006, but this is the first time he’s served in cabinet. Fast says he was surprised when Harper called him. “It’s gratifying, but also humbling,” says Fast. The minster joins nine other new faces in cabinet following the federal elections.

JUNE

• The impact of the Stanley Cup riots reaches out to Abbotsford as 70 police officers from the city are dispatched to downtown Vancouver to help with riot control. The officers were already on standby in the event that any problems broke out in Abbotsford, but the situation here remains peaceful as thousands of fans gather along South Fraser Way. A local woman who left her car parked downtown the day of the riots returns to her vehicle to find it flipped upside down. Crystal Ratvay, who has suffered from post-traumatic migraines since 2005, breaks down in tears when she discovers the car that an aunt had given to her is totalled by rioters. A replacement car – a 2003 Chevy Cavalier – is later donated to her.

• A tractor-trailer bound for Maple Ridge smacks into the Sumas Way overpass leaving debris on the road. The truck, which stands at a height of 4.8 metres, barrells into the overpass where signs indicate a height clearance of 4.62 metres. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says the driver received a permit to drive the route he was on. However, the permit should not have been issued in the first place.

• A tireless volunteer at W.J. Mouat Secondary passes away after a nine-month battle with cancer. John “Opa” Smeysters was best known as the equipment coach for the Hawks’ football team. Smeysters also served as a paymaster at bingo fundraisers, a frequent chaperone at dances and even a guest lecturer for social studies classes where he recounted his experiences during the Second World War.

• Legendary rock band KISS performs at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, wowing a sold-out audience. A film crew also shoots several scenes in town for lead singer Gene Simmons’ reality television show Family Jewels.

JULY

• A hit-and-run accident takes the life of a star athlete from W.J. Mouat. Desmond Bassi, 17, was walking down Blueridge Drive when a driver ran into him. The driver, who is also 17, turns himself in after the incident and now faces criminal charges. Bassi was a star receiver for the Hawks as well as a key member of the basketball team.

• An Abbotsford religion teacher is found guilty of sending suggestive text messages to a female student. Martin Careen, a 51-year-old former teacher at St. John Brebeuf Catholic School, initially sent texts to the student regarding an upcoming exam. The messages eventually turned sexual in nature.

AUGUST

• Ex-NHL player Ryan Walter takes the reins of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. Walter, who replaces outgoing Heat president Tom Mauthe, says the job is “a wonderful opportunity.” The new president previously served as a Vancouver Canucks assistant coach under Alain Vigneault from 2008 to 2010. He also played in the NHL for 15 years with the Washington Capital and Vancouver Canucks and won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.

• Abbotsford gangster Jonathan Bacon is killed outside an Okanagan resort in a gunfire attack that leaves four others injured. Bacon, who grew up in Abbotsford but was residing at an undisclosed location in the Lower Mainland, was a prominent figure in the Red Scorpions gang. He had just left the Delta Grand Hotel in Kelowna with a Hell’s Angels biker and a member of the Independent Soldiers gang.

• Abbotsford’s historic Sikh temple officially turns 100 as a special celebration is held to honour the longest-standing Sikh temple in North America. Prime Minister Stephen Harper joins B.C. Premier Christy Clark and hundreds of dignitaries and guest to celebrate the centennial of the National Historic Site. Events are held throughout the year to celebrate.

SEPTEMBER

• The decrease of Fraser Valley sockeye salmon is investigated after an inquiry announces that 600,000 perish from disease each year. Two researchers, hired by the Cohen Inquiry, come to contrasting conclusions, with SFU biologist Larry Dill suggesting the growth in disease may be linked to more virulent strains of pathogens caused by fish farms, while Dr. Don Noakes from Thompson Rivers University says that was unlikely.

• Brent Parent is charged with multiple road-rage related charges, including criminal negligence causing death, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident. Parent was in a collision with a Chevy Silverado that he allegedly ran off the road. The events of that night led to the death of 21-year-old Silas O’Brien.

OCTOBER

• The city gets federal approval for up to $65 million in funding for a public-private partnership to develop a new water source at Stave Lake. The decision confirms that there will be a referendum for the $291-million initiative during the next municipal election on Saturday, Nov. 19.

• Abbotsford is no longer the nation’s murder capital. In the Statistics Canada’s 2010 national homicide rates, the metropolitan area that includes Mission, is ranked eighth, with a rate of 2.28 homicides per 100,000 population.

• A trial begins for Jarrod Bacon, charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. A police informant takes the stand and states that Bacon was interested in purchasing the narcotic from a Mexican supplier because of a shortage of high-quality product in the Fraser Valley, and due to an opening in the market created by divisions in the UN Gang.

NOVEMBER

• Council and mayoral candidates debate whether Abbotsford should pursue a departure from the Fraser Valley Regional District. The city votes on Nov. 7 to seek permission to leave the FVRD, citing cost-saving opportunities. Mayor candidates Bruce Banman and Meghann Coughlan are against the plan, and fear that joining Metro Vancouver would cost more.

• Incumbent mayor George Peary is voted out of office during the Nov. 19 municipal election, with Bruce Banman taking his seat. The P3 water referendum is defeated, with 75 per cent of voters saying no to a public-private partnership plan to develop a new water source at Stave Lake.

• Abbotsford is listed among the top cities for investment in a real estate study that ranks the city as fourth in B.C. The report, called Top British Columbia Investment Towns 2011, analyzed the current and future prospects for real estate investment opportunities in the province, within geographical regions.

DECEMBER

• Bruce Banman is sworn in as mayor on Monday, Dec. 5 along with the eight elected councillors, including Patricia Ross, John Smith, Henry Braun, Les Barkman, Simon Gibson, Bill MacGregor, Dave Loewen and Moe Gill. Banman announces a new task force on economic prosperity during his first address at a Chamber of Commerce event  held on Thursday, Dec. 1.

• For the ninth straight year, Abbotsford is named as Canada’s most generous city. Statistics Canada shows that people in the Abbotsford/Mission census metropolitan area gave a median donation of $620 to charities.

• A new low-rise apartment complex near Jubilee Park that will provide micro-suites (about 300 square feet) for seniors in the downtown area is given approval by council, despite concerns raised during a public hearing. The proposal includes two rental apartment buildings to be constructed on Braun Avenue.

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