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.
This readily recognizable icon celebrated the anniversary of its official opening earlier this month and is showing no signs of retiring any time soon.
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.
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.
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It was converted from coal burning to natural gas in 1949 and has since been replaced by modern, efficient boilers yet it still remains in the building as evidence of a different era.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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The old courthouse made its most recent transformation in 2001 when it was purchased by Jim Dixon and Dick McDonell.
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.
'Life consuming': Alberta Crown stays charges against parents in toddler's death
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Crown prosecutors have stayed charges against parents who were facing a third trial in the death of their toddler in southern Alberta.
Shawn Buckley, a lawyer for David and Collet Stephan, said Tuesday he received a letter from the Crown about the decision.
“The Crown dropped the charges,” Buckley told The Canadian Press.
“Obviously they’re very relieved that the Crown is not proceeding against them to try and convict them.”
A copy of the letter from Chief Prosecutor Shelley Bykewich directs the Lethbridge court to stay charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life against the Stephans.
No reason for the decision was given and Alberta Justice did not immediately respond to a request to explain why.
David Stephan said it has been nine years since his son Ezekiel died and it was eight years ago he and his wife were charged.
“It has been absolutely life consuming,” Stephan said in an interview.
“It’s somewhat of a relief in relation to not going back to trial again although there was a part of me as well that would have liked to go back to trial and been able to dig in more to the missing evidence and all that we still haven’t had provided to us eight years into it.”
Stephan successfully represented himself at the second trial.
The Stephans were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in 2012.
Over the course of their trials, the Stephans testified that they initially thought Ezekiel had croup, an upper airway infection, and treated him with natural remedies, including a smoothie with tinctures of garlic, onion and horseradish.
They said he appeared to be recovering at times and saw no reason to take him to hospital, despite his having a fever and lacking energy.
They called an ambulance when the boy stopped breathing.
A jury convicted them in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that verdict and ordered a second trial. A judge hearing the case without a jury found them not guilty in 2019.
The Alberta Court of Appeal granted a request by the Crown earlier this year to overturn the acquittal and ordered a new trial.
Buckley said the Crown’s decision caught him off guard and the matter isn’t over.
“Actually it’s a little surprising because we still have an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Buckley said.
“Both David and Collet want to proceed with that because they think it’s very important for the law to be clarified so that other parents don’t face the type of uncertainty that they have been facing.”
David Stephan said he’s not expecting to celebrate.
“I think it’s a little early to celebrate now,” he said.
“We’re still involved in the battle. We’re still moving forward to the Supreme Court and it’s still going to be a bit of an uphill journey.”
Stephan said he will also seek to be repaid by the courts for the “tremendous amount of money” they spent over the past eight years.
The report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021.
— By Bill Graveland in Calgary.
The Canadian Press
Wildfire forces evacuation of an area in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton
EDMONTON — A wildfire has forced the evacuation of an area in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton.
An Alberta Emergency Alert message says the evacuation order affects people along Highway 16 between Evansburg and Wildwood.
It says the order also applies to people who are in the Lobstick resort area.
The order says all people in this zone must leave immediately.
The province says an evacuation centre is being set up at the Evansburg Arena in Evansburg.
The wildfire danger in the area is listed as very high and there are six airtankers, four helicopters, six pieces of heavy equipment and 30 firefighters working on containing the blaze.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021
The Canadian Press
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