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Murder of Mountie: Cold case beginning to freeze

Police no closer to solving double homicide of Mountie and his girlfriend

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The murders of Peter Sopow and Lorraine McNab rocked the small town of Pincher Creek. The ripples were felt in all parts of the country when it was learned Sopow was a much-admired member of the RCMP.

Without diminishing the impact McNab’s death had on her community, it can be said when a police officer— a person who has sworn to uphold the law and protect his fellow citizens — is murdered, the public is horrified and those in law enforcement typically pull out the stops in finding the killer.

It was no different in this case; officers from around the country offered to help in the investigation and police, who were handling the case, would later accept some of those proposals and even solicit experts in the US to help them solve the double homicide.

Still, now nearly 25 years later, police have not arrested anyone for the killings

They have a prime suspect, but with scant evidence — most notably, the lack of the murder weapon — and no witnesses, investigators are unable to lay charges.

••••

Pincher Creek is a little piece of paradise tucked away in southwestern Alberta, just more than a two hour drive southwest of Calgary.

Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Pincher Creek lies in the heart of some of the finest rangeland in the world and supplies more than 3,600 residents with awe-inspiring mountain vistas and stream water so pristine it need only be cupped in the hand and sipped.

The air is as pure and chaste as the moment in time before people arrived. It’s that very air that’s made Pincher Creek the wind power capital of Canada — the powerful gusts that can upset buildings and snatch words from lips is the very thing that muscles a series of windmills to generate clean, green power to the rest of the province.

And nowhere are those attributes more evident than here in this cowboy town with a heritage dating back to the 1800s. That’s when a farm was set up by the Northwest Mounted Police and, in 1868, a pair of hoof-trimming pinchers was found on a creek bank, a discovery that gave a budding town a name.

These days hiking fishing and camping are still only a holler from the downtown district and a 15,050 sq.-ft, two-bedroom home can be purchased for about $190,000.

Pincher Creek is a place where townsfolk give warm greetings to strangers and newcomers leave with new best friends after only a short visit.

Its values like charity, trust and friendliness that speak volumes about the western way in small town Alberta.

But that bucolic peace was shattered the night a gunman executed a respected Mountie and his new girlfriend.

Fort Macleod RCMP Sgt. Peter Sopow, 52, and his 45-year-old school teacher girlfriend, Lorraine McNab, certainly were given no chance by the coward who waited in ambush and then gunned them down on McNab’s acreage just outside Pincher Creek.

Sopow and McNabb. Courtesy CBC

The couple arrived at the teacher’s mobile trailer — temporary digs on her new dream property until she could afford to build a house — about 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13, 1997.

The acreage was a fulfillment of one of Lorraine’s dreams: a small farm with enough land for some cattle and horses.

A westerly wind was blowing that wintery night and although Environment Canada records indicate it never exceeded 24 km/h, locals remember it howling through the hills and gullies.

The dark sky held high, thick clouds; enough cover to dim the light of the stars and an almost full moon.

For the assassin who lay in wait to kill the cop and his girlfriend, the darkness of the night that helped conceal him and the rapid winds that muffled reports from his rifle couldn’t have been more perfect.

The only visible light was the dim glow of a 100-watt bulb that illuminated part of the back porch of Lorraine’s trailer.

As the killer waited, the headlights of Sopow’s truck could be seen pulling off the gravel road onto McNab’s property.

The seasoned Red Coat eased his red Ford three-quarter ton beside Lorraine’s half-ton and the pair got out.

They possibly talked of a planned trip to the States as they made their way to the back door.

The killer heard the couple’s boots crunch the gravel until just moments later his eyes verified what his ears heard — the porch bulb began to illuminate and outline the two people he was about to shoot dead.

The killer tensed, his index finger took up the slack on the trigger of his .22-caliber weapon and he waited for the perfect moment ….

Lorraine had no way of knowing she would, in just a few terrible seconds, witness the murder of her boyfriend then run in a vain attempt to save her own life.

Hers was a life worth living and a bright future was finally in the cards.

In fact, she had Sopow as a new love leading them to the altar and many of her other dreams were finally becoming reality.

Sopow. Courtesy CBC

“Lorraine would have liked to have been a rancher’s wife,” said sister-in-law Sharon McNab, a firebrand of a woman who doesn’t easily believe BS unless she witnesses it drop from the back of a bovine.

“That’s the life she loved.”

Lorraine was born in 1952, the second eldest of a fourth generation to to live on homestead land in Fort Macleod.

That’s when Lorraine, who had a special connection with her baby brother, Grant, began loving horses and taking long rides in the countryside.

“I remember as a boy I’d climb onto the back of the saddle with my sister and we’d just go,” said Grant, who makes his living in the beef industry, buying and selling cattle.

He’s a soft-spoken, salt-of-the-earth type with a solid body forged by the elements, rough play and hard, honest work. The laugh lines on his tanned face express a history of life in the outdoors, long days on the range and a joy of living.

Now the same face shows something else; an unbearable grief that cannot be concealed.

His unwavering eyes become soft and they moisten when he talks of his murdered sister.

“I was probably closest to Lorraine,” the 44-year-old said while reaching for a smoke.

“She was the stone of the family, she bound us together,” he said.

“If anyone had any problems they’d go to Lorraine and she’d smooth things out — she was a peacemaker.”

Lorraine had been married for 17 years, a union that produced two children, a girl, Lesley, and a son, David.

But like so many others in volatile times, the marriage soured and she and her hubby separated in the 80s.

But that didn’t signify an end for the spirited woman; indeed, it was the beginning of something new.

Before the couple separated, Lorraine went to the University of Lethbridge to earn a teaching degree.

She worked liked a dog, taking both day and night courses in an effort to get her teaching degree in a short time.

Her first job was teaching kids at the Pincher Creek Hutterite School.

She also taught a bit in Brocket before she eventually landed a job in Lundbreck and at Canyon School in Pincher Creek.

“She’d work a half day at one school and make the 15 mile trip to teach the other half day at the other school,” Lorraine recalled.

But fate decreed it was the school in Lundbreck where her life would be forever changed.

The little school where she taught the three Rs was the place she would meet the man who would be the prime suspect — the only suspect — in her and Sopow’s murders.

It was there she would meet a fellow instructor, Grade 4 teacher Wally Sparks, of Cowley, Alta.

During their friendship McNab saved his life during a canoe trip.

Months later in an ironic twist, police would identify Sparks as the prime suspect — the only suspect — in the murders of McNab and Sopow.

For the time being, however, Wally was a quiet man who grew lonely and isolated following the loss of his wife who lost her battle with breast cancer.

But Wally never really let the world know how he felt.

Wally didn’t talk about his wife or the loss he felt. Instead he went about his days, teaching at Lundbreck School during the week and fishing when he had time off.

“Wally was someone who was a misfit,” said Judy O’Sullivan, a fellow teacher and tight pal of McNab’s.
“I believe he was quite depressed.”

You can call it fate, kismet or dark destiny, but whatever was in the works, it conspired to let lonely Wally and vivacious Lorraine become friends, though that may be stretching it a tad, as far as Lorraine was concerned.

Finding a chum was a stroke of luck for friendless Wally, who quickly glommed onto Lorraine and used their camaraderie to suck her into a world where he pulled the strings.

As time moved on, Lorraine let Wally know where she stood on the subject of advancing their relationship.

“I told him I only could be his friend, there’s no way we’d have a relationship,” Lorraine confided to Sharon.

If nothing else, however, Wally was a persistent suitor.

He would often buy her flowers and try to take her out for dinner and drop fish at her door.

Lorraine wasn’t home several times when Wally dropped by with a full creel, so he’d simply hang the trout on her doorknob and leave. Wally seemed unaware, or did not want to accept the fact, Lorraine sought only his friendship.

Still, Wally wouldn’t give up and, finally, soft-hearted Lorraine agreed to go on a canoe outing with him on a local waterway.

“He told Lorraine he was experienced in a canoe,” said sister-in-law Sharon.

It wouldn’t be long until Lorraine knew Wally’s claims were, to say the least, a bold exaggeration.

“I guess they got into some trouble in the water and the canoe upset,” Sharon said.

Lorraine was treading water and looking to Wally for help, but none was offered.

“I had to turn that canoe over by myself and then get him in to save his life,” she told Sharon.

After the botched river trip, Lorraine finally told Wally plainly and simply there was no hope of a romantic relationship. Wally was undaunted and started to telephone her at all hours.

It was during that time in 1997 Lorraine met Sopow at a policeman’s ball in Lethbridge.

Although Peter — a veteran officer who worked in 16 Alberta communities and became the ranking Mountie at the Fort McLeod detachment — was there with his girlfriend, he and Lorraine connected and danced the night away.

They dated several times afterward and Lorraine made it clear from the get-go he was just what she was looking for in a man.

“She was going to make him a cowboy and even took him out on horseback trail rides,” said brother, Grant.

Sopow was smitten.

Unfortunately, so was Wally — even when Lorraine and Peter began dating in earnest, the man couldn’t let go.

“He would follow Lorraine and Peter around, he was stalking them,” Sharon said.

“Wally would phone and say, ‘I need you, I need you now’ and every time Lorraine said she was busy, he’d say ‘I’ll jump.’”

On the last day of their lives, just 12 days before Christmas, the Mountie and the teacher were having dinner with Lorraine’s dad, Jim, and his wife, Helen, in their Twin Butte area home.

The talk was light and the foursome enjoyed each other’s company as they ate and talked of possible hikes along Oregon’s coast and the mountains in Crowsnest when spring winds could be counted on to warm the land.

Just after 10 p.m. the four said their goodbyes and Peter wheeled his big truck west, back to Lorraine’s acreage in Pincher Creek. No one really knows what the couple talked about during the drive or what dreams they discussed.

What is known is Peter Sopow and Lorraine McNab would have less than a half-hour to live.

It was just after 10:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 1997 and the couple were comfortably tired. It’d be good to kick off their shoes and relax before bed.

Lorraine’s 18-ft. wide mobile home was dark and not even the bright stars and almost full moon could offer much illumination, blotted as they were by the heavy cloud cover.

The wind was gusting, as it often does in that part of southwestern Alberta, and the couple got out of the vehicle.

The night was perfect for murder.

Lorraine’s son was at his dad’s place in Monarch and her daughter was with her boyfriend. The sky was dark, murky enough for an assassin to lay in wait undetected by his targets or nosy neighbours.

The sounds of gunshots would be quickly lost in the raging wind that swept over Lorraine’s property.

The killer waited until the couple was near the back door of Lorraine’s porch and then stepped from the shadows and raised his .22-calibre weapon, most likely a rifle.

The .22 is an odd weapon for an untrained killer to use; it’s a small calibre weapon commonly used by mobsters and others who kill at close range.

Unless the shooter is extremely skilled from a distance, a head shot is the only way to positively kill using it.

It’s favoured by assassins especially for that reason; it’s a close range weapon that offers little in the way of a loud report associated with larger calibre weapons. A head shot from a .22 means there’s little possibility of an exit wound — the slug will enter the head at high speed and ricochet inside the skull, causing much damage to the brain before it stops travelling.

Investigators don’t believe Sopow and McNab’s killer was a pro, in fact their best bet is the weapon was used because that’s all the murderer had at hand.

Police are tight-lipped about how many shots were fired that night or how close the killer was to his prey, but utilizing material gleaned from interviews, information from confidential sources and physical evidence at the scene, what follows is the most likely scenario.

The killer shot Sopow at least once in the head. His blood-spattered glasses found near the scene days later would confirm this.

Lorraine was startled by the presence of the killer and the weapon in his hand.

Murder scene. Courtesy CBC

She heard the muted pops of the rifle and, in a surreal instant of utter disbelief, saw her boyfriend collapse to the ground. Somehow, despite the suddenness of the attack and her terror at witnessing it, instinct took over and Lorraine turned and ran for her life.

The killer raised the rifle and fired twice.

One slug hit Lorraine in the back; the second, almost simultaneous shot, hit her in the blade of her left hand, along the back of her palm. Neither shot was fatal and it’s unlikely Lorraine felt anything more than a punching sensation as she was struck by the bullets.

The kindergarten teacher made it to the side of her home and was trying to take shelter under Sopow’s truck when the killer fired again.

At least one bullet hit near the right temple, killing her.

The killer then dragged both bodies to a nearby horse trailer and laid them side by side, face down.

Almost as an afterthought, the murderer positioned one of Peter’s arms across Lorraine’s lifeless body.

RCMP at murder scene. Courtesy CBC

It’s unknown how long the assassin stayed at the scene, but with the only other occupants of the trailer — McNab’s children — gone for the night and no chance of anyone else arriving, he had plenty of time to perform a last task.

The killer meticulously picked up all the items Peter and Lorraine had been carrying and, using a garbage bag he brought himself, put the items inside, then tossed the whole works beside the bodies in the horse trailer.

After a final look around, the gutless murderer left the property.

The bodies of Peter Sopow and Lorraine McNab would not be found for two more days.

McNab’s son returned home after a weekend at his dad’s place, but didn’t have a clue as to where his mother was, even though Lorraine and Peter had their trucks parked in the front yard.

The family later learned Sopow was scheduled to drive to Edmonton Monday with a fellow Mountie, but never showed at the arranged rendezvous point.

Concerned, Sharon made arrangements to meet a Pincher Creek RCMP officer at Lorraine’s place.
She made the 25 minute drive in about 10.

Arriving at her sister’s property, Lorraine’s son, David, told her a cop had come and gone but left a message he’d be right back. The officer did come back, but he wasn’t alone. Several Mounties arrived with other officers, dogs and video cameras.

By that time Grant arrived at the scene, but police stopped him from going anywhere near the horse trailer around which they were stringing familiar yellow police tape.

Not long after Grant and Sharon got home, their phone rang — police asked them to go to the Pincher Creek RCMP detachment.

“The police sat us down and dropped the bombshell — they said they found two bodies they had to ID,” Grant recalled.

Police said they hadn’t made a positive identification, but through his tears Grant offered to identify his sister — an offer that was refused.

Hockey player Grant put on a game face and went to the school where he collected his two daughters and Lorraine’s son.

The only sound in the vehicle was emanating from the radio.

“I didn’t talk on the way back,” Grant said. “I didn’t know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it.”

Once home, Grant, who knew no other way, just told it as it was.

“I said, ‘Lorraine is dead,’” he recalled.

“The kids collapsed to the floor, I collapsed to the floor.

“We were in a state.”

More than 40 cops began to take direction from a core group of eight major crimes officers, each of whom was an experienced RCMP homicide investigator.

Sopow funeral. Courtesy CBC

With two bodies — one a man that many of the investigators personally knew — everyone thought the killer or killers would soon be in cuffs. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Cops were scrambling to come up with hard evidence: witnesses who last saw the pair and, most importantly, a suspect who had a two-day head start on them.

The latter was the easiest task and police began to dig into Sparks’ recent past.

They learned he’d played hooky from his teaching duties the day before Sopow and McNab were murdered, but returned to classes the day the bodies were discovered.

He was teaching the day investigators interviewed his son who told cops his dad had a .22 calibre rifle, but it mysteriously disappeared days before the killings.

Later cops would interview an electrician working near Lorraine’s property. He told police he recalled seeing a red or maroon-coloured car similar to a Mercury Cougar on the road near the murdered woman’s property only a few hours before the killings took place.

Officers pay their respect

He described the driver as a slightly built man with grey hair who wore a light brown coat.

A red Mercury Cougar was parked in Wally’s garage — RCMP would later confirm they eliminated all other known similar cars in the province except that one.

Three days after the murders, police arrested Sparks and took him in for interrogation.

After several hours of questioning, Sparks was admitted under warrant for a psychiatric examination at Lethbridge Regional Hospital.

Unknown but to just a few, the Mounties had installed an undercover policewoman as a nurse in the hospital. Unfortunately, the attempt revealed nothing new about Sparks.

He was released several weeks later and has refused to talk to cops ever since.

The only other person to have words with Sparks was former Calgary Sun crime reporter Peter Smith.

“I once chased him across a children’s playground in his hometown of Cowley, near Pincher Creek to talk to him,” Smith recalled from his retirement oasis on the west coast. “He told me to F-off then ran and hid in his house.”

No charges have ever been laid against Sparks in connection to the murders, but police said he is the prime and only suspect in the killings.

In the months and years following the double-homicide, RCMP launched one of southern Alberta’s biggest manhunts and have since used everything at its disposal to find hard evidence to lay murder charges.

A squad of 40 officers, spearheaded by the Calgary RCMP major crimes unit, utilized RCMP K-9 units that searched fields near the murder scene as teams of forensic experts worked on gathering evidence in the yard.

Officers search river for murder weapon. Courtesy CBC

Investigators went door-to-door in Pincher Creek, Cowley (where Wally lived) and Lundbreck, (where he used to work with McNab) and investigated close to 1,000 separate tips.

An ex-FBI metal detection expert from the U .S. and another from Calgary were brought in to search the murder scene.

A forensic soil expert from Winnipeg police was brought in to take samples from the murder scene for future matches against suspects.

RCMP purchased hi-tech satellite images to try and find evidence against the killer and searched trains passing through town the day of the shootings, leading investigators as far away as the U.S. to search for the murder weapon — the single, vital piece of evidence they’ve never been able to locate.

RCMP also used highly-sensitive equipment and ordinance detection specialists from CFB Suffield, near Medicine Hat, to conduct a third scan on McNab’s acreage for the murder weapon.

What they found other than shell casings from various firearms is being held close to the chest; “hold-back” information, in police lingo

Perry Kuzma was the lead investigator in the double-homicide.

Long-retired now, he said he still thinks about the case and believes the killer had only one victim in mind when he hid on McNab’s property.

“This was not a random act … because it was on her property, I believe Lorraine was the target,” he said years after he retired.

Whether the murderer killed Sopow because he had to or wanted to remains a mystery.

In an investigation comprised of many ambiguities and one particular aspect of the assassin’s behaviour puzzles Kuzma.

“Why did (the killer) even take the time to move the bodies and clean up?” he said.

“Only the person who did it knows for sure.”

One possible theory is the killer tried to create a perfect crime scene, one bereft of even the barest clues.

If that is indeed what he wanted to do, he failed.

“It’s not a perfect crime scene – it was cleaned up, but not perfectly cleaned up,” Kuzma said.

“It did yield useful forensic evidence, DNA evidence, which points to the killer.”

Despite the failure to nail a suspect, police have many times revisited the case.

But even the RCMP’s famed cold case squad — which has gone over the evidence and every facet of the case — was unable to find anything new.

Earlier in the investigation cops said their only chance at getting the killer was to find the murder weapon — or if he confessed. Now they say it’s only a matter of time before science catches up to the evidence. much like it did when DNA was first used for identification and the results accepted as evidence by the courts.

When that day comes, cops say they’ll have a double-murderer behind bars.

If you know anything about the murders, no matter how trivial you may believe it to be, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Mike D’Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief for the Western Standard. For years he was an investigative crime reporter for Sun Media.
mdamour@westernstandardonline.com

Mike D'Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief and Copy Editor for the Western Standard. He worked as an investigative crime reporter at the Calgary & Winnipeg Suns. mdamour@westernstandardonline.com

Features

FILDEBRANDT: How I beat City Hall over a ticket for shovelling my already cleared sidewalk

Calgary bureaucrats tried to bill me for (not) clearing my cleared sidewalk. They did not expect me to lawyer up & go to Court of Queen’s Bench.

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George Carlin once said, “You can’t fight city hall, but you can goddamn sure blow it up.”

I disagree with Carlin. You can fight city hall, but only if you have the resources, and sustained anger to do so.

This winter, a local Karen took it upon herself to make dozens of complaints against me and my neighbours for failing to shovel our sidewalks. At least half-a-dozen times, City of Calgary by-law officers paid a visit to my house to inspect my sidewalk and that of my neighbours. They normally pointed out that it wasn’t perfect, but was generally in good shape. Under questioning from me, they normally admitted that there was a serial complainant in the neighbourhood wasting everyone’s time.

City of Calgary Invoice dated March 6, 2021

On March 6, 2021 however, I received an “invoice” of $215 for the cost of the City to come and clean up my sidewalk, ostensibly covered with ice and snow.

It was a curious fine levied by the City. I was in Banff with the family that day, enjoying the high of 6 C. I shovelled the sidewalk before leaving that morning and, when we returned home that afternoon, we didn’t notice anything different about the sidewalk.

We only knew that anything had been “done” when we received the $215 invoice in the mail. Surely, some error must have been made.

Not content to pay the City for doing nothing, I appealed the invoice. On April 6, 2021, they responded in writing. The letter, and attached evidence, sent me in to rapturous rage.

City of Calgary denial of appeal, dated April 6, 2021

The City’s Community Standards Panel had reviewed my appeal, denied it, and ordered me to pay the invoice post-haste. To support their decision, they attached a series of photographs taken by the by-law officer.

The photos didn’t show a morsel of snow or ice on the sidewalk. They didn’t show the sidewalk obstructed in any way. They showed my beautiful sidewalk so clear and clean that one could eat off of it, if one was so inclined.

The evidence used to convict me of failing to clear my humble sidewalk was evidence I could submit to a lower court judge to prove the City was incorrect. Any sober judge would agree that the City was clearly trying to fleece me and my family for no wrongdoing, and no work done.

Unfortunately for me, there was no further means of appeal through regular channels. Unlike regular by-law infractions, which have tickets appealable in a court, this was an “invoice” and could not be appealed to the municipal courts.

The next morning, I had a meeting with the Western Standard’s lawyer and former Alberta Minister of Justice, Jonathan Denis, about an unrelated issue. At the conclusion of our meeting, I told Denis about the fiasco and showed him the pictures. The otherwise dignified man nearly fell out of his chair with laughter. He proceeded to pass the pictures around the law office, asking people what they thought was wrong with the sidewalk. The only answer was “it’s cracked.”

Himself long frustrated with city administration, he informed me he would take on my little $215 invoice pro bono (for free). We would wage nuclear war with the City over this molehill.

Back at the Western Standard’s Calgary office, I called the inspector listed as the contract on the denial of my appeal. She politely repeated the letter’s notification that my appeal had been denied, and that I was ordered to pay up.

I, in turn, informed her I had retained Jonathan Denis as counsel for the matter and would be appealing the invoice to the Court of Queen’s Bench immediately, and requested the contact information for the appropriate city lawyer.

Baffled at the response, she said that she would get back to me later in the day.

She did. Without request of a formal re-appeal the same panel — that decided days earlier that photos of my spotless sidewalks was enough to make me pony-up $215 — reversed itself and graciously found “there were sufficient ground to grant the [re-]appeal.”

No formal re-appeal was actually made.

On April 6, I was guilty, and my appeal was denied. On April 7, I was innocent and my second appeal, that was never filed, was accepted.

There is only one reason that this ended well for me. I fought back against a process which is not accustomed to people fighting back against.

An “invoice” of $215 isn’t cheap, but it certainly isn’t a sum that would justify a full-blown court fight.

Since there was no municipal court with which to directly challenge the invoice, my lawyer would have had to file the appeal through the Court of Queen’s Bench at a application fee of $250. Without any other cost whatsoever, it would have cost $35 more than the ticket itself just to be heard by a judge.

With affidavits and other minimal legal fees, costs would easily have exceeded $2,000-$3,000, not including the application fee itself.

When a ticket or invoice is $215, and the cost of fighting it is $3,250, not many Calgarians would bother. But not many Calgarians have the former minister of justice as a friend, willing to drag the City into court just to make a point.

We decided to make this point because I am not the only city taxpayer that deals with ham-fisted bureaucrats, impervious to the real lives of the people paying their salaries.

If our case had gone forward to the courts, we would have required the testimony of the dozen-or-so by-law officers who had their time wasted visiting our block to respond to Karen’s complaints over the winter of 2020-21. We would have used the City government’s own photographic “evidence” as our own to prove that the sidewalks were clear. We would have required the testimony of the contractor who did the backbreaking labour of cleaning up, well, nothing.

It would have been an embarrassment for the City administration as we probed into how they operate. Surely, the judge would be unamused with the City for wasting his time, and punitively fining taxpayers to fill its coffers.

The $215 may have been a relative mole hill, but we felt it was worth making a mountain over because the City of Calgary does this to its people, and the vast majority of them have no real recourse. It may not be a serious criminal matter, but it is a matter of access to justice nonetheless.

The City bureaucrats dropped the case because they know this.

The easiest way to correct this kind of imbalance of power is to remove the appeals process from the self-appointed prosecutors (bureaucrats), and give regular taxpayers access to the municipal courts.

It was admittedly satisfying to fight city hall, but I would have been better for the City’s taxpayers to goddam blow it up.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

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Features

65 signs that you might be an Albertan

Crackmacs, prairie oysters, Stampede, rat genocide, caesars, and weird small town kitsch are just a few of the signs that you might be an Albertan.

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Albertans are a special breed. There’s no one quite like us anywhere else in the world.

What makes us unique as a people? That’s the question the Western Standard Editorial Board has been contemplating since going to a bar after work is illegal.

We spent some time on the project, and with the help of some brilliant friends across the country, came up with a still-growing list of some of the things that make us just a wee bit different.

“Crackmacs” in Calgary

65 – Crackmacs

You should avoid going there.

Prairie oysters

64 – Prairie Oysters

You have to try them before you can become one of us.

63 – Newcomers

You are a more fanatical Alberta patriot if you weren’t born here.

62 – Quebec

You don’t know why, but you really don’t like it.

61 – Saskatchewan

You don’t know why, but you like it.

60 – Newfies

They might talk funny, but they’re the best Albertans around. 

Toronto

59 – Toronto

You may not like Quebec, but you hate Toronto. 

58 – Vancouver 

You both love and hate Vancouver.

57 – Ottawa

A place your money goes to be spent somewhere else.

56 – Getup

You wear a decent pair of cowboy boots, a Stetson, and a pair of Wranglers on at least one day during Calgary Stampede or whatever Klondike days is calling itself these days. 

Cowboy boots


55 – Boots

You can pull off cowboy boots at a downtown office any time of the year. 

54 – Rodeo

It’s not your first one.

53 – Cowboys

You think you’re one because you dressed up for Stampede and have been to the Last Chance Saloon outside Drumheller. 

52 – Calgary Stampede 

It’s redneck Oktoberfest.

51 – K-Days

Something Edmonton does because it doesn’t have Stampede.

A “Rat Patrol” propoganda poster

50 – Rat Genocide

You live in the only place on earth (other than Antarctica) with zero rats because your government has an actual department called the Rat Patrol. Killing them is a civil duty, and you don’t think this is weird at all. 

Main characters of the Trailer Park Boys

49 – Trailer Park Boys

What you think the East coast is really like.

48 – Hail Caesar 

You drink caesars, not bloody Marys. And you drink them with pride knowing they were invented in Calgary by Walter Chell, at the Owl’s Nest in the Westin Hotel.

47 – The Metric System 

You’re still not completely sold on it.

Ginger fried beef

46 – Prairie Chinese food

You’re proud that the best Chinese food in the world comes from the other side of the planet from China: prairie ginger beef.

45 – Chinese and Western

You don’t think there’s anything strange about a small village’s only eatery being a ‘Chinese and Western’ restaurant that serves ginger beef alongside hamburgers and fries. 

44 – Breakfast beer

You don’t see anything wrong with pouring some Clamato in your beer to take the hair off the dog. 

Ian Tyson

43 – Four Strong Winds

You tear up when listening to Four Strong Winds, by Ian Tyson.

42 – Four Strong Winds (II)

You burst into rage after listening to Four Strong Winds, by Neil Young.

41 – Alberta Bound

You’re unable to remain composed or resist singing it at the top of your lungs whenever it comes on. 

Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson (photo credit: Big Sugar)

40 – All Hell for a Basement

You stand up proud at attention as Big Sugar’s Alberta national anthem plays on the radio.

39 – Nickelback

You either want to forget about it, or think that it’s our greatest cultural export. 

kd lang

38 – k.d. lang

When she belted out Hallelujah during the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver, you were sure she’s Alberta’s patron saint. 

37 –Cal-gree”

You know when someone isn’t originally from here, because they pronounce it ‘Cal-ga-ree’ not the proper ‘Cal-gree’.

Banff National Park

36 – Banff

The reason Calgary thinks it’s better than Edmonton.

35 – Jasper

Where Edmontonians go to pretend they’re in Banff.

34 – The River Valley

The reason Edmontonians think their city is better than Calgary. 

33 – Red Deer

It’s neutral meeting ground for Calgarians and Edmontonians. 

Head smashed in buffalo jump

32 Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

An actual place.

31 – Tar Sands

You’ll murder anyone in cold blood who calls them that.

30 – Fracking

Something you do to extract oil and gas, or with your significant other. 

29 – Separatism

You want to separate from Canada when you’re 10 beers deep, but sing O’Canada when you sober up. 

28 – Canada Day

A day off to get ready for the Calgary Stampede

27 – MPs

People we send to Ottawa to forget about.

Courtesy dailiyxtra.com

26 – Anyone named Trudeau

You, your parents, and grandparents hate everyone with the name.

25 – National Energy Program

You will never forget. 

24 – Petro Canada

You remember when for decades the Petro Canada Tower was the largest building in Calgary, and you hated everything it represented. 

23 – The government

You worked for four years to vote out the NDP, and still hate the government.

22 – Federal elections

You, your parents, and grandparents federal voting history is a straight line. 

21 – Your provincial vote

You don’t care that you voted for the Conservatives federally and voted Wildrose or NDP provincially.

Spring camping in Alberta

20 – Spring blizzard camping

You’re so sick of winter that you don’t care if there’s a snow storm when you go camping on the May long weekend. 

19 – Patio season

You take the patio furniture out of the garage and hit the local bar patio as soon as the temperature soars to a high of 10C.

Summer in Calgary. Courtesy CBC

18 – Summer

There is no such thing. Only construction season.

17 – Labour Day

You know Labour Day has been set aside as a CFL Battle of Alberta. And winter starts tomorrow.

16 – Winter BBQ

You don’t think there’s anything strange about firing up the BBQ to grill some steaks when it’s -30C. 

15 – Cabins

You go away for the weekend to a cabin, not a cottage.

Image Credit: CBC

14 – Gun Control

You think ‘gun control’ means being able to shoot a moose at 100 yards with iron sights. 

13 – Lindsay Park

You refuse to call it the Talisman Centre.

The Big Beaver in Beaver Lodge, AB

12 – Weird, giant small-town kitsch 

Your idea of a romantic first date is to drive to Beaver Lodge to see the big beaver. 

11 – Ukrainians

You don’t really know why the Ukrainians in Alberta are the word leaders of weird small-town kitsch, with the giant pysanka (Easter egg) in Vegreville, the World’s largest kielbasa sausage in Mundare, or the massive perogy in Glendon. 

Bow Island Pinto Bean

10 – Pinto Beans

You’ve seen the Bow Island Pinto Bean, and it scared the hell out of you as a child.

The USS Enterprise in Vulcan, Alberta (Image Credit: Travel Alberta)

9 – Vulcans

You don’t have to be a Trekie to make pilgrimage to Vulcan and take in the small town’s fanatical devotion to Commander Spock, and its own weird, giant small-town kitsch: a massive model of the USS Enterprise.

8– More Aliens

You know that there’s an actual UFO Landing Pad in St. Paul, and you don’t think there’s anything weird about that. 

UFO Landing Site in St. Paul, AB

7 – French

‘Poutine’ is the extent of it.

6 – The Great Ones

You know who Gretz, Mess, Lanny, Iggy and Kipper are.

The Greatest One

5 – Vegetables

Your potato salad on the side of your beef-on-a-bun is sufficient. 

4 – Brooks

A place where cattle go to die.

3Valhalla 

A place where the glorious dead feast, and a few guys farm wheat. 

T-Rex in downtown Drumheller

2 – Dinosaurs

You think you know all about them because you went to the Drumheller.

1 – Deerfoot Trail

You agree that it is one of the worst-designed roads in the history of Western civilization.

So that’s a less-than-scientific rundown on what makes Albertans. But have we missed any? Let us know at dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com and we will run a list of some reader-inspired “You know you’re from Alberta when …?”

Western Standard Editorial Board

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SLOBODIAN: Winnipeg mother who lost two children to overdoses speaks out

In 2020, drug-related overdoses claimed 372 lives in the province, a disturbing increase of 87% over 2019.

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Winnipeg’s Janis Gillam vividly recalls walking into her daughter Phoebe’s Grade One classroom on the parent-teacher night and seeing a wall decorated with pictures of turkeys, coloured by the students. One rainbow-coloured turkey stood out. She immediately knew it was Phoebe’s.

With so many colours, there was no need to just use brown, orange and black like everyone else, explained Phoebe. Admiring her own creativity, she added: “So beautiful, it can’t help but make you smile, mommy.”

So, what happened to the joyful little girl who coloured a rainbow turkey all those years ago? She grew up to become a statistic in the grim findings recently released by Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

In 2020, drug-related overdoses claimed 372 lives in the province, a disturbing increase of 87% over 2019. The majority of these deaths involved opioids, including fentanyl. Death by methamphetamines came in second.

These are preliminary findings. The number of deaths in the age 10-19 category is pending confirmation. One victim was over 81.

Manitoba’s hike was particularly sharp, but drug deaths in 2020 increased across Canada. Experts agree that COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, coupled with increasingly toxic street drugs laced with fentanyl, contributed to this crisis.

The ravages of addiction took Gillam’s daughter away from her, long before last July 26, when mother of two Phoebe Wilson, 31, died of a fentanyl-related overdose in the apartment of someone she’d met hours earlier – one day before she was scheduled to enter treatment.

“This addiction takes over and they aren’t your child anymore. She wasn’t my baby anymore. She was a different person,” says Gillam.

At 18, Phoebe injured her back and used opioids to ease the pain. When the prescriptions stopped she fed her addiction with easily available street drugs.

It didn’t take long for the personality of the beautiful, bubbly, gifted artist, who won an art award in her senior year, to disappear. Her abstract works became dark and sad, then ceased when she could no longer use her hands to draw.

Those with loved ones struggling with severe addictions pray, try to help, cling to hope, yet fear the day that dreaded phone call may come.

Police didn’t call. They arrived in person to tell Gillam her daughter was dead and handed her a Ziplock bag with Phoebe’s ring in it.

“She led a torturous life because she was using. Someone looked down on her and said enough,” says Gillam.

“Phoebe fought hard. She was a warrior. She fought a tough battle with addiction and mental health issues. She was in and out of programs and rehab many times. She was a crash-and-burn type of addict. She could be clean for a year or longer, then use.”

Still reeling from Phoebe’s death, another drug overdose death shattered Gillam’s family last December when her stepson Chris Read, 37, a father who lived in B.C., died of a fentanyl-related overdose. No one knew he was using drugs.

Chris Read

“He was at a party. They were in a circle, drinking and having a gay old time. He just collapsed. We lost two children in less than five months,” says Gillam.

On holidays, Gillam decorates a tree in her front yard and sets up a memorial for Phoebe and Chris. Many people stop to talk about someone they know battling addiction, or someone they’ve lost to overdoses. So, the 87% increase in deaths in 2020 doesn’t surprise Gillam.

She belongs to Overdose Awareness Manitoba, a support group lobbying the province to offer medically-assisted detox and long-term treatment, as well as, set up safe consumption sites.

Premier Brian Pallister recently said the province is investing more resources into dealing with wellness and healing, but safe injection sites are not planned for Manitoba.

The government isn’t alone in its opposition to safe injection sites. Many argue they support drug use and infringe on the rights of area residents, posing a threat to their safety by attracting drug users and predators.

More resources are definitely needed to help people heal their emotional wounds enough to find the hope and strength to beat addictions.

More police resources are needed to crack down on the thriving illegal drug trade.

Until greedy dealers, who lace drugs with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to increase their profits, are mercilessly hunted down, the problem will prevail.

Until then, more current addicts, as well as innocent little ones now safe in classrooms, will eventually become statistics on a medical examiner’s report.

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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