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Making Brandon a better place

A Sense of Home campaign team (left to right) Karen Chrest, Gerry Walker, Kerry Auriat and Laurie Murray pose for a photo, marking the end of the capital campaign for the Murray House cancer treatment residence in December.

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A Sense of Home campaign team (left to right) Karen Chrest, Gerry Walker, Kerry Auriat and Laurie Murray pose for a photo, marking the end of the capital campaign for the Murray House cancer treatment residence in December.

I’m changing things up a bit this year when it comes to my powerful people list. For the past five years, I wrote how western Manitobans are like the Rodney Dangerfields of this province — no matter how hard we try, we get no respect.

And I produced a list of the 30 "most powerful" people in Westman, with honourable mentions that stretched the list of names to 50.

This year, I’m using slightly different criteria that results in a tightly edited list of 10 folks who really made Brandon a better place to live last year. That’s it.

This list isn’t about whose phone calls get returned and it isn’t about the size of their wallets.

It’s about people who gave their time, their energy and their soul to help build the community. It’s about folks with true passion and real desire to make the best of where they live for themselves and their family, but mostly for the Wheat City as a whole.

This list is still subjective, as I basically compiled it myself with some help and advice from co-workers here at the Sun. It’s not the official position of the company.

So after checking my list twice, I offer my selections for the 10 Best Builders and Boosters of Brandon:

1) A Sense of Home Campaign Team: Karen Chrest, Gerry Walker, Kerry Auriat and Laurie Murray showed what a few well-connected people can do in a very short time. After just 14 months of fundraising, the A Sense of Home capital campaign officially just ended. The $2.85-million fundraising was met, which will cover the cost of building the Murray House cancer treatment residence at 521 Frederick St. The campaign was completely funded by donations from the public. The residence was officially named Murray House after a major donation — $625,000 — was received from Doug and Laurie Murray of Murray Auto Group. Each week there were announcements made about donations from groups or individuals ranging from low five-figures to six-figures. Quick, powerful and impressive.

2) Bernie Chrisp: This man is a volunteer’s volunteer. He’s currently president of the Brandon Riverbank Inc. and serving as Brandon’s 2017 Canada Summer Games bid vice-president. Here are a few of his past accomplishments: 2006 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games operating committee; served on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch event organizing committee; and chaired support services for the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup. For many years Chrisp has also volunteered on the board of Sport Manitoba. He was also vice-president of Athletes’ Services for the 1997 Canada Summer Games. He’s also a very active member of the Kinsmen Club and the Brandon Rotary Club.

3) Gord and Diane Peters: The founder of Cando Contracting, Peters has taken Cando from a small railway contracting firm to international status, but maintains its head office in Brandon. In an unprecedented donation to the Brandon and Area Community Foundation in 2009, Peters and his wife, Diane, handed over $1 million worth of personal Cando shares. The Peters are also co-chairs of the campaign to help save Brandon’s historic Display Building No. 2, also known as the Dome Building. The restoration project is estimated to cost $7.2 million, of which just more than $3 million has been raised to date through a combination of private and public sector donors.

4) Glen Kruck: A school trustee, Kruck is best known as the regional director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, a man who has also slowly become not just an advocate for the homeless and homelessness in the city, but a developer of sorts, with a great talent for securing government grants.

In 2000, the CMHA developed a condemned building at 1202 Rosser Ave. into 29 units of living space for low-income tenants (it’s now being repaired after the facade started to crumble). Kruck has said that development has been used as a model by other groups across the province.

The CMHA also developed 30 units in the Massey Building, which opened its doors in September. The CMHA also just opened its first Solutions to End Poverty Permanently (STEPP) housing unit on Rosser Avenue East, with more to come. The CMHA also created the popular Global Marketplace, which opened this year on the former Perth’s site on Rosser Avenue.

This quote from a woman who moved in Massey Manor with her daughter sums up many people’s feelings towards Kruck: "You have been a tireless advocate for the homeless and poor in Brandon from the start. Very few people have the kind of dedication, empathy and commitment that you do. You are never afraid to stand up for what is right and it does not go unnoticed."

5) Mayor Shari Decter Hirst: Brandon’s first female mayor has proved to be a lightning rod, attracting her fair share of ardent supporters and vocal critics since she booted her two-term predecessor out of office two years ago. She aims high, and often right over the heads of average folks. This was witnessed with her attempt last year of pushing through a massive tax increase to fund many of her ambitious plans. She does have an inspiring vision for the city’s future — and has a modest list of accomplishments, not the least of which was leading the city through a historic flood shortly after she was elected — but she has to learn how to be a bit more of a diplomat, especially as we near the next campaign cycle. In a recent Guest Column in the Sun, SDH said she would rather have someone in the mayor’s chair who isn’t afraid of fear of failure or a fear of criticism. "The real failure would be our belief that we couldn’t do it and so didn’t try," she wrote. So I suspect the mayor will keep pushing the envelope. I’d expect nothing less.

6) Keith Atkinson: When he retires in January, this city should bid farewell to Brandon police Chief Keith Atkinson with respect. The affable and media savvy chief, who has been a cop for 33 years, oversaw a number of major changes in Brandon during his six years at the force’s helm. Though he managed to keep crime rates comparatively low, Atkinson’s legacy will be securing a new home for the force. Although built around the shell of a former grocery store and mini-mall, the new $13-million police station is a fully modern structure. Another feather in Atkinson’s hat has been the introduction of statistics-based policing, or CompStat, which allows police to track crime trends, rather than just individual crimes. In a recent in-depth interview with the Sun, Atkinson shared Brandon’s No.1 crime complaint: "Since I’ve been here, the biggest complaints that I hear — judging from mostly council inquiries and things like that — are traffic complaints! The speed of traffic, reckless driving, those types of things. I go on the talk show on the radio from time to time and people call in about traffic. That’s always a common theme. And that’s not unique to Brandon."

7) Strengthening our Core YMCA Campaign Cabinet Team: Don Kille and Ron Kille (campaign co-chairs) were originally joined by Don Penny, Blair Filyk, Nonny Cancade, Trent Sholdice, Reg Helwer, Lon Cullen, Kerri Bridges, Lois Fjeldsted and Tanya Knight.

Construction of the new $18.5-million Dood Cristall Family YMCA on Princess Avenue is on time and on budget, officials recently told the Sun. Construction is progressing well and staff should be able to move in by April or May of next year.

But it wasn’t always all that smooth. At the start of the campaign, the two men at the helm of the Y’s Strengthening Our Core fundraising campaign had to raise funds for a facility that had no finished plans, due to political wrestling during an election year. The YMCA’s board of directors was asked to hold off on advertising a construction tender for its facility until city council determined if it was going to keep the Canada Games Sportsplex pool open alongside the Y pool. The people spoke, the mayors changed and the Sportsplex remained open.

However, the delay didn’t stop fundraising campaign chairs Don and Ron Kille from continuing to move ever closer toward their campaign’s goal.

"We’re certainly not in limbo," Don told the Sun. "People recognize that there will be a new YMCA and they recognize it will be a fabulous building, a centrepiece for downtown, and it will meet the needs and requirements of the citizens of Brandon."

8) Neil Thomson: Some folks didn’t really know what to think when Thomson left his post as director of marketing and sales at Westman Communications Group to tackle the thankless job of general manager at the Keystone Centre in the summer of 2011.

But in his relatively short time there, he has done some remarkable work in stabilizing the leaky ship and setting it on a positive course for the future. For the first time in 15 years, the Keystone Centre has turned a modest profit on its operations, the Sun reported in November.

Thomson is also determined to get the amphitheatre reopened, since the 600-person venue has been closed for four years needing renovations.

A new five-year lease with the facility’s anchor tenant, the Brandon Wheat Kings, was inked this year.

Thomson is also bringing concerts back to the facility, with Heart, The Tragically Hip and Kenny Rogers all set to perform in coming weeks and months. When the Sun last checked, ticket sales were going well. There were also more people in the stands and more horses competed at the 2012 Canadian National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show. Organizers of the richy-rich event that was lured from Regina were pleased. And additional indoor venue needed for that event could also eventually provide Brandon with an indoor multipurpose field house, which could be used for soccer, football, lacrosse or ultimate frisbee.

9) Jodi Wyman: Originally from Thunder Bay, Ont., Wyman has been practising law in Brandon with Paterson, Patterson, Wyman and Abel since 1998. Her areas of practice include family law and child protection. Perhaps that’s why she is president of the YWCA and also volunteers for the Women’s Resource Centre’s free legal clinics, and became board chair of the Women’s Resource Centre in 2012.

This year was a challenging one for the Women’s Resource Centre, as it couldn’t meet new, higher rent demands from its landlord, The Town Centre, and was left scrambling to find a new home in 60 days. The resource centre made the move from The Town Centre to 731 Princess Ave. on May 1.

"It’s been a lot of work — a lot more work than we even anticipated, but at the same time it’s been really exciting for everyone," Wyman told a Sun reporter at the time.

Wyman also writes an occasional column on legal matters for the Sun.

10) Brandon Humane Society and Funds for Furry Friends: These two separate groups are headed by dedicated folks — Tracy Munn, humane society manager; Dana Grove, president of Furry Friends — who work year after year to protect those creatures who find themselves without a home or in harm’s way.

• The Brandon Humane Society has been in operation since 1946 when it was founded by Eleanor Kidd.

In 1997, the no-kill shelter moved to its current premises at 2200 17th St. East. The facility can hold 20 cats and 13 dogs.

"When our kennels are full, our dedicated volunteers foster animals in their own homes," the society says in promotional material.

Each fall, the Sun runs a front page featuring photos of the animals up for adoption to help promote the society’s largest fundraiser of the year, the Wag-A-Tail Walk-A-Thon.

• Funds for Furry Friends is also run completely by volunteers. The organization has rescued more than 1,400 dogs and countless cats since its beginning in 2001, its promo material states.

"Funds for Furry Friends is a foster home based rescue, which means our adoptable animals are in the care of a loving foster families who provide care in a home environment, until forever homes are found," the group says.

There are now some 100 families across Westman who take rescued animals into their home.

The group’s annual spring fundraiser is called Caged for Critters.

I’ll be doing a similar list next year and would appreciate any feedback on my selections this year, or suggestions for next year’s collection.

•••

I was one of the newsroom editors and news directors who cast ballots in this year’s Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year survey. It was the eighth time I’ve voted in my career — the survey first began in 1946 — and my selection has rarely coincided with my peers.

But this year it did and it sure caused a story in itself last Sunday when the results were released.

Here are the top vote totals:

• Luka Rocco Magnotta: 22 per cent

• Amanda Todd: 18 per cent

• Gary Bettman-Donald Fehr: 15 per cent

• Justin Trudeau: eight per cent

• Quebec student protester: eight per cent

Now I understood the meaning of "newsmaker of the year" when I voted. I knew it wasn’t "person of the year." It wasn’t an award or an honour.

I also knew that it wasn’t about good or bad — killer colonel Russell Williams was selected two years ago.

But the choice of Magnotta — who’s charged with killing, eviscerating and cannibalizing a sexual partner in a Montreal apartment, mailing body parts to political parties and recording the whole thing on video — hit a nerve with many people.

And since I was one of the few editors and news directors quoted in the CP story on the selection, I ended up defending the choice on social media for a good chunk of my Sunday morning.

Here’s my published quote in the wire story: James O’Connor, managing editor of the Brandon Sun, said the allegations against Magnotta "ripped the lid off the unimaginably depraved underworld" of sadistic sex, mutilation and death.

And here’s what CP reported that some folks had to say about it on Twitter:

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was among the first to express his anger and disappointment on Sunday, tweeting to 33,361 followers that the "Canadian Press reaches a new low with its naming Magnotta as ‘newsmaker of the year.’ Truly disgusting."

Well, Bob, you know what I found truly disgusting was when you went skinny dipping with Rick Mercer on his CBC TV shows and jumped buck naked with him into a lake.

Nobody needed to see that. But I digress.

Didn’t anyone notice that Magnotta was also named QMI Agency’s Newsmaker of the Year before the CP announcement (that’s the wire service of the Sun Media newspapers)?

And then, a few days after CP announced Magnotta was newsmaker of the year, it was also determined the Magnotta case was selected as Canada’s 2012 News Story of the Year by The Canadian Press — edging out the National Hockey League lockout.

Editor’s make tough decisions every day. The selection of Magnotta was just another one of them.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 28, 2012

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I’m changing things up a bit this year when it comes to my powerful people list. For the past five years, I wrote how western Manitobans are like the Rodney Dangerfields of this province — no matter how hard we try, we get no respect.

And I produced a list of the 30 "most powerful" people in Westman, with honourable mentions that stretched the list of names to 50.

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I’m changing things up a bit this year when it comes to my powerful people list. For the past five years, I wrote how western Manitobans are like the Rodney Dangerfields of this province — no matter how hard we try, we get no respect.

And I produced a list of the 30 "most powerful" people in Westman, with honourable mentions that stretched the list of names to 50.

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