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Alberta

History of Red Deer’s Second Courthouse

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It has been witness to a great many events and stories in the 90 years it has stood on the corner of Ross Street and 49th Avenue in Red Deer.

The Gaetz Company building as seen in 1912. It was the courthouse for the region from 1916-1931. It is the current site of Mason Martin Homes. Canada’s first female juror served in this courthouse in 1922.  Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives photo.

As the solidly constructed anchor for both provincial and the Court of Queens Bench for 52 years, this sturdy structure has also been a sanctuary for artists, the setting for movie productions and most recently home to numerous professional offices. It also was the backdrop for the last murder trial in Alberta which saw the defendant sentenced and hanged under capital punishment in the province.

Construction of the new courthouse well underway. City of Red Deer Archives photo P2610

This readily recognizable icon celebrated the anniversary of its official opening earlier this month and is showing no signs of retiring any time soon.

View of the Lyndall Limestone columns in the Palladian Style entrance. Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

This was the second courthouse for the steadily expanding central Alberta city. The earlier one had opened in 1916 after having been converted from a coverall factory. Talk about being adaptive and creative!

Construction of the “new” courthouse was significant for many reasons. The Great Depression was in full swing so this project provided a much-needed injection of both money and jobs into the community along with a sense of pride that such a fine building would bring to the region.

Brick exterior with Lyndall Limestone detailing. Photo by Duane Rolheiser

This would be the last courthouse built in the province until the 1950s, the final version  of a series of Alberta courthouses built in the classical revival style. Both Wetaskiwin and Medicine Hat received similar structures during this era.

Testament to the quality of the design and materials used in construction of the building is the fact that it remains steadfast after more than 8 decades of use.

Constructed using hot riveted steel beams, brick and mortar, then graced with pillars shaped from the legendary Lyndall Limestone from Manitoba, this grand historical resource will stand for a great many more years to come.

Original 1912 era boiler. Converted from coal to natural gas.
Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

In the spirit of the type of practicality and resourcefulness often seen during the depression, heating for the building would be provided by a boiler built in 1912 and  repurposed from a ship!

It was converted from coal burning to natural gas in 1949 and has since been replaced by modern, efficient boilers yet it still remains in the building as evidence of a different era.

Every building of a certain vintage usually carries a story or two about otherworldly spirits or energies. Why not the old Courthouse? It was thought that the ghost of Robert Raymond Cook inhabited the building.

On one particular evening, the caretaker for the courthouse was heading into the boiler room to grab some tools. When he flicked on the lights, they popped briefly and went dark. Despite this, the caretaker walked alongside the boiler in the direction of his tools when suddenly he was slapped in the face by an unexpected soft force! Was it the apparition of the hanged murderer?

When he had regained his composure a time later, the caretaker investigated the boiler room once more to discover the source of the slap in the dark. A frightened pigeon had flown up in his face when startled in the boiler room!

Judge bench in the original courtroom. Photo by Duane Rolheiser

This magnificent building was the home of the judicial branch of the province for the Red Deer region from 1931 to 1983 when its replacement was constructed just down Ross Street to the east.

A law office has made good use of the original architecture. Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

The courthouse was the venue for a great many legal tales over the years but probably none more famous than the 1959 murder trial for 21 year old Robert Raymond Cook of Stettler, AB who was accused of murdering all 7 members of his family in a most violent manner.

RCMP mugshot of Robert Raymond Cook, 1959. Photo used with permission by Legal Archives Society of Alberta.

His trial began on November 30th, 1959 and Cook was found guilty and sentenced to hang for his crimes. His defense appealed the conviction and a second trial was held in Edmonton but his conviction was upheld on June 20th, 1960.

On November 14, 1960, Robert Raymond Cook was hanged. His death sentence was the last ever carried out in the province of Alberta.

the actual witness bench where Robert Raymond Cook would have sat Photos by Duane Rolheiser.

Numerous books were written about this trial as the murders captivated and horrified the population who followed the course of the investigation and trials.

Even a dramatic play was created, called “The End of the Rope”, reenacting this historic trial which was developed and was even staged in the actual courtroom where the all too real drama actually took place all those years ago.

exterior of the courthouse while it was home to the Community Arts Centre in the 1980s. Photo courtesy Red Deer Archives.

In 1983, the  building was sold to the city of Red Deer for a dollar and turned into the Old Courthouse Community Arts Centre. The grand structure housed painters and potters among numerous artistic pursuits for 18 years

An artist displaying his works during a Christmas arts fair in the courthouse, 1987. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

The old courthouse has seen real life dramas and reenactments of legal dramas including being the location for filming  scenes from the TV Movie, “While Justice Sleeps” starring Cybil Shepherd in 1994.

Even a dramatic one-man play was created by Aaron Coates called “The End of the Rope” in 2003, re-enacting this historic trial. It was developed and staged in the actual courtroom where the all too real drama actually took place all those years ago. Cook’s lawyer, David MacNaughton even answered questions from the crowd after the performance.

Promotional ad for the TV movie “While Justice Sleeps” starring Cybil Shepherd. Photo from IMDB

The old courthouse made its most recent transformation in 2001 when it was purchased by Jim Dixon and Dick McDonell.

Interior details.
Photos by Duane Rolheiser.

The new owners invested close to a quarter of a million dollars in upgrading the building including installation of new boilers, restored doors, energy efficient windows and new flooring  throughout. 1930s era lighting was sourced to replace fluorescent fixtures, giving the rejuvenated structure a proper historical feel.

Today this 90-year-old icon of downtown Red Deer proudly carries on as the home to numerous professional organizations from lawyers to architects and with its new owners and numerous upgrades, this beautiful structure should be proudly welcoming people to downtown for a great many more years to come.

Red Deer’s old courthouse sits as the centrepiece of Red Deer’s historic downtown and is celebrating its 90th birthday. Come spend some time downtown. Visit the city’s unique Ghost Collection, many of which are within a few blocks of the Old Courthouse.  For more information on leasing opportunities in this beautiful building, please email Davin Kemshead or phone 403-318-6479.  

 

How the Railroads Shaped Red Deer

 

 

 

 

I'm a storyteller with a love of aviation and local history. In the 1990's I hosted a popular kids series in Alberta called Toon Crew.

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Alberta

Canadian men to face Ireland in Edmonton rugby sevens quarterfinal

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EDMONTON — Canada will play Ireland in the Cup quarterfinals Sunday after winning two of three on Day 1 of the HSBC Canada Sevens.

The Canadian men, who finished sixth last week at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event in Vancouver, opened play Saturday by beating Hong Kong 21-12 and Mexico 47-0 before running into a South Africa buzzsaw in the closing match of the day at Commonwealth Stadium. The Blitzboks, who downed Kenya to win the Vancouver tournament, ran in seven converted tries in a 49-0 win.

South Africa is now 9-0-0 in the two Canadian events, which stand as a truncated 2021 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series due to the pandemic. The 2022 campaign kicks off in late November in Dubai.

Earlier, Canada’s Josiah Morra, Phil Berna and Brennig Prevost scored tries against Hong Kong with Prevost adding three conversions.

Thomas Isherwood, in his World Series debut, had three tries in the lopsided win over Mexico while Anton Ngongo and Ciaran Breen had two apiece.

Pool A winner South Africa will play Hong Kong in the quarterfinals while the U.S. takes on Britain and Germany meets Vancouver runner-up Kenya.

Germany, an invited team, scored the upset of the day by beating Vancouver bronze medallist Britain 19-10 to reach a Series Cup quarterfinal for the first time.

The U.S. went unbeaten Saturday, overcoming Kenya, Spain and Chile to win Pool B. Ireland secured top spot in pool C with two wins and a draw.

Canada is fielding a new-look team at the Vancouver and Edmonton events.

Co-captains Nate Hirayama and Harry Jones along with Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor have retired in the wake of the recent Tokyo Games, where the men finished eighth in their Olympic debut. 

Other players are taking time off in advance of the 2022 season. 

Berna, Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe are the only Olympians on the current Canadian squad although Morra has also played in the World Series. Thiel is serving as the team’s vice-captain. 

Due to the pandemic, the World Series ground to a halt after the Canadian men finished third in Vancouver in March 2020. The men got in six of 10 planned tournaments and the women five of eight before the schedule stalled. A women’s event in Langford, B.C., scheduled for early May last year was one of the tournaments cancelled. 

Only seven of the men’s core teams are taking part in the Canadian events with New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Argentina, Japan, France and Samoa among those missing due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. 

Like Vancouver, Edmonton has a four-team women’s competition that features Canada, Britain, Mexico and the U.S. 

Canada will face the U.S. in Sunday’s semifinal after drawing 26-26 in the opening match of the day. The Canadian women also defeated Mexico 40-12 and played to a 7-7 tie with Britain, the winners in Vancouver who will face Mexico in the other semifinal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2021

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Judge says unvaccinated prospective jurors in sex assault trial will be excused

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CALGARY — An Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justice has ruled that prospective jurors in an upcoming sexual assault trial in Calgary will be excused if they’re not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Justice N.E. Devlin wrote in his ruling Thursday that allowing unvaccinated people to serve on the jury could unfairly compromise the health of other jurors, court staff and anyone else connected with the trial.

Further, Devlin said an unvaccinated juror could be a distraction to other jurors by causing them to fear for their health, and he said a juror who developed symptoms could scupper the entire proceedings.

A recent decision in Ontario saw an Ottawa judge rule that all jurors participating in a murder trial would need to be fully inoculated with two doses of vaccine.

But a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled earlier this month that a juror did not need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in a Montreal fraud trial, citing privacy concerns and jury representativeness in his ruling.

Devlin, however, wrote that during juror selection for the sexual assault trial in Calgary this week, the “handful” of people who were not fully vaccinated “spanned the age, gender, and ethnic spectrum” and that excusing them would not reduce the jury’s representativeness.

“Factually, I am satisfied that vaccination is a safe and highly effective means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus, the development of COVID 19 infections, and severe illness in those who do become infected,” Devlin wrote.

“The public and judicial resources dedicated to a jury trial are both scarce and precious, especially right now. Needlessly increasing the risk that a trial run under these circumstances is aborted due to a COVID 19 infection would bring the administration of justice into disrepute in the eyes of the public.” 

A decision from B.C. Supreme Court last month did not allow the Crown to ask jurors questions about their vaccination status, citing privacy.

Devlin wrote that “judicial discretion to safeguard the proper administration of justice is paramount over any provincial privacy legislation.”

He noted that when he asked whether unvaccinated jurors should be excused from serving, neither the Crown nor the accused took a position.

In the Quebec case, Justice Mario Longpre noted that provincial jury law only allows those with mental incapacity or impairment to be exempted.

Longpre wrote that Quebec law, unlike Ontario’s, does not permit jurors to be disqualified by reason of physical incapacity “even if it were to be concluded that the fact of not being adequately vaccinated constitutes such an incapacity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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