Lake Country mayor James Baker

2015 Year End: Baker says CN corridor acquisition the biggest event of the year for Lake Country

CN Corridor, Lake Country catchments, Creekside theatre among the big events in 2015 in Lake Country

The acquisition of the old CN rail corridor by Lake Country marks the most important event in what was a newsworthy year for the district which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015.

Mayor James Baker, who’s council had to go to Lake Country electors twice in 2015 to seek approval to borrow the necessary funds to help purchase the CN corridor—in a failed alternative approval process before a landslide victory in a referendum—says the acquisition of the corridor sets the table for Lake Country’s future.

“I think it was a big step forward for us because as much as there was a negative to the purchase, we really are looking forward by that purchase,” said Baker, in a year-end interview with the Lake Country Calendar. “It will be an asset to the community and the whole valley for years to come.”

As Baker said, the year started with a bang with the failed AAP, where more than 10 per cent of the community signed a petition against the purchase of the CN corridor, which ultimately cost Lake Country $2.6 million as well as the $2.6  million it received from Kelowna. After the AAP failed, council decided to move to referendum, at about a $15,000 cost, and the borrowing bylaw was passed with about 75 per cent of voters in favour of the move.

“This was the biggest issue for Lake Country last year,” said Baker of the $22 million total purchase from CN. “We were certainly pleased that it went through.”

Amidst the ongoing CN corridor acquisition, AAP and referendum, were a myriad of other issues surrounding the community. Residents who were concerned with tax hikes saw the CN corridor purchase added to their tax bills and later in the year the Transportation For Tomorrow financial plan adopted, with its tax hit coming over a 20-year period. At the close of the calendar, council was also contemplating a 2.85 per cent tax hike in 2016.

“We’re a growing community and people want the services,” said Baker. “We have increased the assets considerably with the amount growth that we have so we don’t have to raise taxes to the extent we used to have to. The tax rate isn’t going up excessively but enough to cover the services that we have. Our taxes are still the second lowest in the valley….maybe the lowest.”

Late in 2015, Lake Country finally adopted the financial plan for its 20-year $30 million dollar Transportation For Tomorrow Plan. The document lays the groundwork for the upgrade of Lake Country’s transportation network over the next two decades and will begin in 2016. The district has also begun work on another 20-year plan, looking at the parks and recreation amenities in Lake Country and will also work to renew its Official Community Plan in 2016

Last year also saw negotiations continue between Lake Country and the Ministry of Highways on the transfer of the old Highway 97/Pelmewash Parkway to the district. There was no public movement on the issue but Baker said he thinks the deal will be complete in 2016, giving Lake County ownership of the old highway and creating the potential for a recreational loop trail all around Wood Lake.

•••

While the communities of Lake Country, Kelowna and North Okanagan Regional District went full steam ahead with plans to purchase and now develop the old CN corridor, the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) took a different stance, opting out of taking part in the purchase or the development of a corridor that passed through one of its reserves as well as much of its traditional territory.

The OKIB went to B.C. Supreme Court to ask for an injunction on the sale and purchase agreement. But the injunction was  dismissed in June making room for the sale of the corridor to go through.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Meyers ruled that the OKIB claim does not meet the three-part test that merits an injunction, rejecting it on the grounds that there would be no “irreparable harm” if the injunction were not granted and that the “balance of convenience” does not weigh in favour of an injunction.

OKIB chief Byron Louis who from the outset said his band would not support the acquisition of the rail corridor, claiming the traditional OKIB land the rail line was built on was supposed to be handed back to the OKIB when its life as a rail line was over.

“We haven’t changed our position since 1893,” said Louis. “A lot of people don’t know the history, especially in the Okanagan. There are so many different facts not settled on this issue. That’s why we filed the injunction.”

But the BC Supreme Court threw out the OKIB injunction claims. With the communities in the clear to purchase the corridor, they again invited OKIB to the table as a member of the development team. But at the close of the calendar, OKIB was holding firm on its position, saying it will not take part with the other jurisdictions.

2015 also saw the OKIB continue its efforts to have live ordinances removed from parts of its reserves in an issue that the band says has been ignored by the federal government.

OKIB land was used as a training and testing ground by the Canadian government dating back to before the World Wars and to this day there are many unexploded ordinances on OKIB land that will take millions of dollars to be cleaned up, according to OKIB.

“As far as we’re concerned we have a contract with the Department of National Defense that said they would clean up (the ordinances) once they were done with those sites,” said Louis. “This is a $200 million dollar clean up and they have been putting $1 million towards it each year. At this rate it would take 200 years to clean up and that’s unacceptable.”

Louis said there are two different areas of OKIB reserves that were used for training: A 6,000 acre site in the Goose Lake range west of Vernon and 2,000 acres near Round Lake.

•••

Lake Country parents squared off over catchment areas for the three elementary schools in the district in February at an emotional Central Okanagan School Board meeting on the topic.

After hearing from parents as well as accepting two different petitions with nearly 800 signatures combined, the Central Okanagan School Board decided to go back to the drawing board in its attempts to change the catchment areas for the three elementary schools in Lake Country.

Close to 100 people attended the regular meeting of the school board, a meeting that was moved to a larger site to field the number of expected attendees. Trustees heard presentations from parents representing the Oyama Traditional School as well as the Lake’s subdivision as the issue of how to deal with overcrowding at Davidson Road Elementary in Lake Country took centre stage.

The issue of how to solve the over-crowding at Davidson continued through the year and in November, after a series of public consultation meetings, two different options for the new catchment areas were presented to the public.

Both options are very similar and would re-direct students living in the SouthWest quadrant of Lake Country (south of Seaton Road and west of the highway) that are currently in the Davidson Road catchment to Peter Greer Elementary. Students in the Woodsdale Flats area would be sent to Oyama Traditional School as opposed to their current catchment of Peter Greer.

The school board will again here the recommendations and hold what’s expected to be a final vote in January.

•••

Phyllis MacPherson was put on this earth to feed people.

She knew it and anyone that met her knew it as well.

One of the original founders of the Lake Country Food Bank passed away peacefully in Kelowna hospital on Dec. 19, after more than 30 years of feeding people in Lake Country in her own unique and beautiful way.

“She knew it was God’s will to feed people. That was her job,” said friend Joy Haxton days after her passing.

As the face of the Lake Country Food Bank, MacPherson led an organization of dedicated volunteers to feeding as many as 600 families in a month as the food bank found its way to a variety of temporary homes over the years.

It began in a small house and moved several times to its current location in the old Winfield Elementary School where freezers were jammed with food and Phyllis made her home, taking care of her people.

After years of battling in cramped locations, the Rotary Club had finally completed the new Lake Country Food Bank building and as it made plans to hand over the building as the best Christmas present ever, MacPherson’s health took a turn for the worse.

Over the years MacPherson was honoured with many awards for her volunteerism and efforts in Lake Country and across Canada.

But she never wanted the credit and always spoke about the love she felt in her community.

“It is just awesome. My community is the best there is,” she once told the Lake Country Calendar. “It’s the best place to live. This community has always been good to us. We have plenty of volunteers. We’re a small little place here but we get a lot of support.”

MacPherson’s legacy will live on in the new and permanent home for the food bank which will be handed over to the Lake Country Food Assistance Society Jan. 6.

Phyllis MacPherson was 78 and was pre-deceased by her loving husband Ian, who passed away two years ago, also at Chrismas time.

•••

For 45 years the federal riding of Kelowna-Lake Country, and its previous incarnations, were considered virtual safe seats for right-of-centre candidates.

But that changed Oct. 19, when Liberal Stephen Fuhr not only toppled the popular long-time Tory incumbent, he also wrestled away a riding that had sent Conservative, Reform and Canadian Alliance MPs to Ottawa in every election since 1968.

 

That was the last time a federal Liberal won here, largely on the strength of what was known then as “Trudeaumania,” a national love affair with then Liberal leader Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

In October, the country experienced a more subdued version, modern version of Trudeaumania, as his son Justin, following in his famous father’s footsteps, led the Liberals back to the political promised land after 10 years in the wilderness, much of it languishing as the third-place party in Parliament.

Locally, Tory blue was replaced with Liberal red as voters here joined the rolling “red tide,” that swept across Canada on election night as voters made their marks.

But the local campaign that resulted in Fuhr’s historic win was not confined to the mammoth 11-week period between when former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s made his short walk  to Rideau Hall from his Sussex Drive home in Ottawa to have the Governor General drop the election writ and election night.

For Fuhr, a divorced 46-year-old father of a 16-year-old son and a decorated, retired RCAF fighter pilot, the bid to win a seat in Canada’s parliament  stretched back a lot farther.

He was one of the first Liberal candidates to win nomination in the country. That was in June 2014, nearly a year and a half before the election.

“I knew people would not be thinking about the election that far out, so I set out to develop relationships within the party first,” said Fuhr.

•••

Incredible and continued growth meant a season of change at the Kangaroo Creek Farm in 2015, probably the busiest and most popular tourist attraction in the Central Okanagan, let alone Lake Country.

Nestled off of Lake Country’s main street, Kangaroo Creek Farm saw some 100,000 visitors this year, forcing owners to find more parking and institute a set admission fee for the first time ever.

In November the Kangaroo Creek Farm and the District of Lake Country entered into a lease agreement for the parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Hill Road in downtown Winfield to create at least 28 parking stalls, the number required of the farm according to Lake Country bylaws.

Parking at the farm had become an issue due to its phenomenal growth since it opened in 2012.  Many people parked in businesses around the area and along Main Street but district bylaws call for businesses to have their own dedicated lot.

MacPherson says while it’s going to cost them a significant amount, she’s hopeful it eases concern of anyone who thinks parking was an issue.

Expansion plans are ongoing at the farm which will open again for Spring Break.

•••

After 16 years under the stellar guidance of long-time theatre manager Horst Jassmann, the Creekside Theatre in Lake Country saw a changing of the guard in 2015 with the announcement that Jassmann’s contract was up and the theatre was going to be under new management.

After a search for a replacement for the retiring Jassmann, Lake Country announced its new cultural development coordinator was well known Okanagan musician Ryan Donn.

Donn, a Kelowna city councillor, long-time Okanagan Valley musician and a former George Elliot Secondary School student, was hired as the person responsible for the coordination of the theatre, open air performances, public art supervision and other cultural and heritage events.

Jassmann was the first and only manager in Creekside’s 16 year history and late in the year his efforts were recognized with a surprise evening of entertainment honouring Jassmann.

At the event Donn said he would be continuing the legacy that Jassmann built in the community theatre while Jassman urged Lake Country to continue to support the arts.

 

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