Edmonton in review

<p>“I never thought it would come to this day,” Ryan Smyth said through a stream of tears as he bid farewell to the city he loved and the hockey team he always adored.</p><p></p>


A look back at the top stories and photos from 2007



Dave Pate/for metro edmonton


A firefighter battles the city’s largest residential fire that caused more than $20 million in damages in July. Over 100 people in the south-side neighbourhood of MacEwan were left homeless. Police are still searching for the suspected arsonist.

“I never thought it would come to this day,” Ryan Smyth said through a stream of tears as he bid farewell to the city he loved and the hockey team he always adored.

The heart and soul of the Edmonton Oilers, Smyth’s eleventh-hour trade in February shocked diehard fans who believed the former all-star would stay with the team for his entire career.

He had spent over a decade of NHL seasons in Edmonton, becoming a city icon as one of the hardest-working forwards in the league.

Smyth’s agent, Don Meehan, told reporters that they had been in discussions with the Oilers all season until a Feb. 27 trade deadline when he was suddenly shipped to the New York Islanders. He later signed with the Colorado Avalanche.


Police Chief Mike Boyd vowed in July that “no stone will be left unturned” in a criminal investigation after a suspected arsonist lit an historic blaze that tore apart a south-side community.

The $20-million fire destroyed dozens of houses in the MacEwan neighbourhood, leaving at least 100 people homeless. While police maintain that the case is still an active investigation, they have not made public comments on their progress in the case.

In response to the incident, fire chief Randy Wolsey delayed his retirement for another year to continue lobbying for tougher building codes. He said the use of vinyl siding in the neighbourhood allowed the fire to spread more quickly.


In the spring, the province rolled out its largest ever budget, spending a record $33-billion to catch up on years of neglect to infrastructure and to manage “growth pressures.”

Finance Minister Lyle Oberg said the massive expenditure was the “price of prosperity,” but warned Albertans to expect the long-standing oil boom to be coming to an end.

“I think we would be extremely foolish to plan on our revenue increasing,” he said.

More than 100,000 people moved to Alberta last year alone, leading to a nation-high inflation rate.


In April, the city confirmed their worst kept municipal secret that a “new arena feasibility committee” had been struck to determine if a downtown hockey arena was needed.

While the committee, stacked with residents connected to the Oilers, will report back to city council in January, pharmacy tycoon Daryl Katz has already pledged $100 million towards the new downtown rink.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called the prospect of building a new arena “ludicrous,” but Mayor Stephen Mandel told reporters during his reelection campaign that no tax dollars would be used to fund such a project.


The Guardian Angels, a controversial crime-prevention group, opened its first Alberta chapters this year in Edmonton and Calgary.

Local realtor Dave Schroder headed up the local chapter, saying their efforts will be focused on patrolling 118 Ave.

Critics have long complained that the group practises a form of vigilante justice since they intervene with crimes in-progress and make citizens arrests.

“I would just ask those people to have an open mind and do their research,” Schroder said of the criticism. “Are we vigilant? Yes. Are we vigilantes? Not at all. That’s a ridiculous claim.”

marc bence/for metro edmonton

Left: Tent city resident Judy Nadeau sits near her makeshift home in the summer. Once holding 200 residents, the site was closed down by the province by the end of August. Nadeau now lives in an inner-city apartment found by a local housing agency. Right: Glen Dumont voiced his concern over skyrocketing housing prices during one of several protests staged outside of the legislature this year. As rental prices hit record highs with a booming economy, many residents found themselves living below the poverty line.


An escalating housing crisis erupted into a handful of protests on the steps of legislature this year as angry residents attacked the government’s response to Alberta’s soaring rents and housing prices.

Opposition parties raised a ruckus when the province failed to impose temporary rent controls, as recommended by their own housing task force — even though the Tories insisted that rent caps wouldn’t work because it would discourage investors from building new units.

“The little people are getting crushed,” said Shawn McKinlay, a 26-year-old father facing a mammoth $1,200 per month rent increase. “We’re not eating right now because of what’s going on in this market.”

Housing prices eventually eased as the year progressed while the province spent millions for emergency housing and eviction funding and introduced restrictions on condo conversions.

Meanwhile, a makeshift “tent city” formed in downtown Edmonton. At its peak, over 200 homeless people called the area home before a controlled closure shut down the site by the end of summer.



“I am confident we got this right,” Premier Ed Stelmach said this fall after revealing a new energy royalty framework for the province.

The landmark move was preceded by weeks of debate and dire warnings from critics and industry leaders when a government-appointed review panel found that the current oil regime wasn’t giving Albertans their “fair share.”

Stelmach’s plan will give Albertans an estimated $1.4 billion revenue boost, a 20-per-cent increase over current rates, but falls short of the recommendations put forward by his review panel.


It didn’t take long for the smoke to clear after Ralph Klein snuffed out his political career. The province passed an Alberta-wide smoking ban in all public places a mere 11 months after the long-time smoker left public office.

The Tobacco Reduction Act, beginning Jan 1, has earned high praise from watchdogs and health critics, who credit the province with finally getting tough on a major health issue.


In an effort to curb an exploding drug house problem, police launched a city-wide program based on the in-your-face tactics of veteran officer Det. Maurice Brodeur.

“Drugs are the gasoline that powers the crime engine in this city,” he told Metro, explaining that the city has over 500 suspected drug dens.

Report-A-Drug-House uses any legal means necessary to harass suspected dealers so badly that they either cease operations or leave town.

Neighbours call in to a tip-line and police then partner with other agencies to issue fines and eviction orders.

The program has since been launched in Grande Prairie, Alta. and is being discussed by police forces around Canada.

Marc Bence/for metro edmonton

Police tactical officers prepare to enter an Edmonton home in October during one of several stand-offs in their search for accused Mountie killer Emrah Bulatci, right. The 23-year-old was eventually arrested without incident days later and is awaiting court proceedings.


In October, a nation-wide manhunt for accused Mountie killer Emrah Bulatci sent police tactical units into the streets of Edmonton.

Believed to have driven from the Northwest Territories where Const. Chris Worden was shot, Bulatci had police detachments across most of Canada searching for him.

Several day-long police standoffs in the city blocked off entire neighbourhoods after police received tips on his whereabouts, but they turned up empty.

Bulatci was finally arrested without incident in a west-end residence days later, emerging handcuffed, shirtless and wearing track pants.

He is now detained and awaiting a possible murder trial in Yellowknife.

Marc Bence/for metro edmonton

Sandy Helliker, an animal health technician, shows off two rare red panda cubs born at the Valley Zoo. The cubs will be part of a species survival program for the endangered animals.


The rare birth of two red pandas at the Valley Zoo had animal experts from around the world watching their every move.

Sandy Helliker, an animal health technician, was placed on 24-hour watch, feeding the cubs every three hours and monitoring their temperature.

“It’s sort of like raising a baby,” she said. “Actually, I think it’s more tiring than when I raised my two kids.”

The red pandas remain healthy and will become part of a species survival program for the endangered animals.


Party-goers along Whyte Avenue, the popular entertainment district, faced a renewed city crackdown on rowdiness when fines were doubled from $250 to $500 for issues like fighting and public urination.

Over $400,000 was set aside to manage the district like a giant venue, including installing cheeky street signs to prevent traffic fatalities and rolling out controversial open-air urinals.

The project is under review for next year.


In a move that shocked many political observers, newcomer Don Iveson, 28, unseated veteran Coun. Mike Nickel by a wide margin in the city’s Oct. 15 election.

“We knew we were going to do well, but we just didn’t know how well,” he said on election night.

Political analysts credited Iveson with running a slick campaign that ran against odds that are widely in favour by returning incumbents to their municipal seats.

Residents also re-elected Mayor Stephen Mandel with 66 per cent of the vote in a campaign called “uninspired” by civic critics, pointing to a low voter turnout that dipped to under 27 per cent of the electorate.

jeff cummings/metro edmonton

Tactical Sgt. Pete Cherniawsky stands in front of the Grizzly, the police’s new armoured vehicle.


City police revealed this year that a giant, tank-like car nicknamed the Grizzly will now be rolled out for use in armed standoffs and riots.

Originally used in Bosnia for Canadian peacekeeping missions, the 1973 armoured personnel carrier was donated to the city’s police tactical unit.

“This is not some type of offensive-type weapon,” said Sgt. Pete Cherniawsky.

“This is strictly a vehicle that will help us rescue injured personnel in high-risk situations like hostage takings or school shootings.”