Annual bird count brings out citizen scientists

Photo submitted by Gary Gulash

Masha Scheele

The annual Christmas Bird Count enters its 120th year in North America and the 33rd year for Hinton and Brule.

The longest-running citizen science census returns to Hinton on Dec. 26 and to Brule on Dec. 27. Locals go out during the bird count each year to record the number of birds and the different species they spot. 

Coordinator of the project, Beth MacCallum, collects that data and puts it into a national database to help assess winter bird population trends and distribution across North America.

The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants now forms one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data and the results are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists, explained Laura Trout, West Fraser senior biologist.

“If declines are detected it helps to implement conservation actions. Or the opposite is to detect increases which would be conservation success stories,” said Trout about the data.

The project started in the 1900s, and the tradition of the count continues in over 2000 localities throughout the Western Hemisphere.

“A lot of that came down to naturalists and enthusiasts who not only went out to appreciate the birds [but] also to count them and that became a popular thing to do in the 1900’s,” said Trout.

Participants can count the birds from their living room windows or they can actively go out to count the birds.

Counts are carried out within a 24-km diameter circle from Green Square in Hinton, which stays the same from year to year. 

“I have a long standing route I take in my truck with different observation points along it. It covers probably 15 kilometres somewhere inside that 24 km radius,” said Trout.

Participants don’t have to be expert birders to take part in the census, added Trout.

“Even people who just give it a try, they actually end up finding that they know more birds than they realize,” she said.

She added that the count doesn’t have to be perfect and whatever is counted is just part of the process.

“They don’t have to ID everything, even the amount of ravens is useful information,” she added.

Last year, 32 Hintonites drove, walked, and watched backyard feeders for the Christmas Bird Count held on boxing day, 2018. 

Mild weather helped contribute to a solid bird count of 2,184 birds and 34 species, the third highest count on record. 

The highest count in Hinton was in 2001 when 2,601 birds and 38 species were recorded, while Brule’s record count was in 2007 when 811 birds and 27 species were counted.

Twenty participants walked 42 kilometres around Brule in 2018 to count 798 birds, the second highest count on record.

Observations of a Northern Shrike, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl helped set an all time record for Brule with 34 species.

For more information on the count or to see last year’s data go to

Contact Beth MacCallum at or 780-865-4906 to participate.

Helping Hands cooking up some Christmas cheer

Masha Scheele

Tickets for this year’s Community Christmas Eve Dinner have been going quick, with early indications that the event will draw significantly more people than in 2018.

Last year the free dinner welcomed 90 community members, but organizers with Hinton’s Helping Hands hopes to see at least 150 people come through the doors this year at The Venue in the valley.

Taking on a different approach when it comes to distributing tickets, the Hinton Library, the Share Shop, and FCSS were instructed to only give out tickets to those who asked in order to attract the people who plan to attend.

“We have space for 170 people, we put out a 150 tickets. We asked people to not give them out to anybody and wait until they ask,” said Tia Weber, 

Hinton Helping Hands has organized the dinner for three years in a row now, raising funds for the event through their second mud run on June 8 this year.

“This year we really didn’t have to do much fundraising at all because the mud run generates a lot of money for it. That’s why we call it Hinton’s dirtiest fundraiser,” said Weber.

Families were asked to register their children’s ages and names in order to provide appropriate gifts for them at the dinner. Gifts are then labelled so that Santa Claus and his elf can give each child the right one.

Last year, the food bank received around 80 packages of leftover food to give out and any extra food will go to the food bank again this year.

Hinton’s Helping Hands was also able to provide Santa’s Anonymous with some extra gifts.

Entertainment will be part of the evening and a full turkey dinner will be served for the community. Jo-Ka Taxi is providing rides home for anybody that needs one.

Doors open at 5 pm and dinner is served at 6 pm. Hinton Helping Hands is solely run by a group of volunteers and they’re always looking for more. For more about the community dinner and about the group in general, please visit their Facebook page.

Funds for 2020 golfing society season approved

Masha Scheele

Operating funds for the Hinton Golfing Society to head into the 2020 season of $86,501.57 were approved by council under ongoing conditions, oversight and support by the Town of Hinton.

Council approved the transfer of assets from the Hinton Golf Club to the Town of Hinton on Oct. 29, as well as a conditional advancement of up to $250,000 to the Hinton Golfing Society.

“The remaining funds from the $250,000 that was approved in October is just over $86,000. Immediate oversight will be provided through a letter to the society to outline the approved uses for the funds that include things like payroll, fuel, power, maintenance, incidentals, and supplies,” stated Emily Olson, interim CAO at the regular council meeting on Dec. 17.

The Society provided an overview of regular expenditures for the first three months of the year, including payroll, benefits, fuel, power, equipment repair/maintenance, incidentals and possible hiring costs.

New purchases, sales and revenue generation will be reviewed by the acting CAO or corporate services director for approval. 

The town will provide approval for decisions around hiring of a manager and staff, rental of facilities, sale of any assets, and any expenditures of incidentals to maintain the golf course into the first three months of the 2020 season.

The report from Dec. 17 also stated that amounts incurred by the Hinton Golf Society from the approved $250,000 have been captured in the Town’s accounts receivable for potential repayment if the Golf Course sees a profit in 2020. 

“I’d like to say that the golf society through Mr. Howard Nowicki has been very cooperative over the last two months with continued communications with the town and due to this good working relationship we can work together on additional support and oversight with an ad hoc group comprised of admin, Coun. Maguhn as a position on the golfing society board and Mr. Nowicki,” added Olson.

Administration is still working on an arrangement for the transfer of assets between the Town and the Hinton Golfing Society. 

The report on Dec. 17 stated that an anticipated additional $50,000 – $60,000 will be required to cover what has been anticipated to be required until the end of December, leaving unspent funds from what was approved on Oct. 29.

“This is procedurally part of the process to ensure we have some longevity, stability, and sustainability with the golf course,” said Coun. Ryan Maguhn.

Members of Hinton’s golfing society initially made administration aware of its poor financial projections in June of this year, which was followed by a letter to council in October indicating that the society was no longer able to manage its financial commitments.

Interim budget for 2020 approved

Masha Scheele

An interim operating budget for 2020 was approved based on the operating expenditures from 2019 of $31,261,055.

Council also approved to carry-forward capital projects from 2019, that were approved in the 2019 budget process but not yet completed.

“As we work on budgets, legally we have to have one to move forward to do the business of the town while we work on the next year’s operating budget,” stated Coun. Ryan Maguhn at the regular council meeting on Dec. 17.

According to the report in the agenda, the approval of an interim budget delays the 2020 Capital Plan, and could result in 2020 capital projects to be put on hold pending final approval of the five year plan.

The five year plan will impact administrations ability to meet commitments and timelines. 

By the end of January 2020, administration will bring back a report and recommendations including a taxation requirement reduction no less than $1.6M of the previously presented budget.

Council asked administration on Dec. 3 to provide a report and recommendations for the 2020 operating budget with at least one third of the recommendations coming from operations besides transfers to reserves. 

If the approval of the three-year operating budget is delayed past March 2020, the approval of the tax rate bylaw could also be delayed. 

Tax notices are traditionally sent out by May 15 and the taxation collection due date is at the end of June. 

The Interim Operating Budget will allow for Town business to continue until the final 2020- 2022 Operating Budget is approved.

The five-year Capital Budget and 2020 Capital Budget were not presented for decision at the regular council meeting on Dec. 17, as administration requires more review to meet the direction set by Council.

During four public meetings in November, administration presented a draft 2020 budget of $2 million dollars more than the 2019 budget, representing a 16.64 per cent overall increase.

During these meetings, administration explained that $14.7 is required to cover current service levels, pay into reserves after years of depletion and to cover unplanned expenses that occurred in 2019 that will carry over into 2020.

After taking into consideration last year’s half million dollar surplus due to increased property assessments, the budget represented an actual 8.24 per cent taxation increase to citizens.

Three new positions approved in 2019, legal costs of more than half a million dollars, reserve fund increases, a total reserve reduction, and inflation were responsible for the jump in the budget. 

The 2020 interim budget will allow for additional time to review budget 2020.

Impact dominate for ringette gold

Ringette file photo

Tyler Waugh

The Hinton Impact U14 ringette squad capped off a perfect weekend Dec. 6 – 8 in Calgary with a 6-1 win to garner gold in the South Calgary Ring In The Holidays tournament.

Maggie Kempin and Danica Hills led the way with two goals each, while Paityn Best and Meghan Gallagher had one goal each. Dakota Bishop, Logan Sweet and Ashlyn McDougall had one assist each in the win.

The final was a rematch of an earlier round robin contest that saw Hinton win 10-2. Hills had a hat trick in that one, Bishop had a pair and Addison Klaver, Makena Hills, Best, Kempin and Gallagher had one goal each. Paige Pero and Ayla Goupil had one assist each.

  Kempin had the hat trick to lead Hinton to a 10-3 win over the Sherwood Park Sizzle to open the tourney. Kempin and Klaver had a hat trick each. 

Hinton’s closest contest was a 6-3 win over the SC Toxic Rampage. Kempin had four goals and Klaver had the other two.

Silver medals in Hinton boxing debuts

Hinton boxers Caleb Dircks and Jace MacPhee spar at the Hinton Boxing Club.

Masha Scheele

Hinton boxers Caleb Dircks and Jace MacPhee brought home two silver medals from a Sub-Novice Tournament in Cochrane this November.

Coach Chris Murphy stated they represented Hinton proudly in what was the first sanctioned event for competitors from the Hinton Boxing Club.

“It was lots of fun and I learned a ton. It was the first tournament. We both won one fight and lost in the finals, we came home with silver,” stated MacPhee, who boxed in one weight class below Dircks.

MacPhee’s first match was against Damian Lexington from the Rival boxing club in Cochrane. Lexington came out super fast against him for the first minute and gave some hard shots.

“It was pretty much smooth sailing for me after that, he was pretty tired for the rest of the fight,” said MacPhee.

Each boxing match has three two-minute rounds, which are scored by three judges on a 10-point scale. Judges scored in MacPhee’s favour unanimously and he advanced to the finals the following day.

“Jace used his boxing skills and no quit attitude to win a unanimous decision over the hometown boxer,” stated Murphy.

Dircks also had a great first match against Levi Stafford of the Shadowbox Boxing Club in Lacombe. 

Dircks admitted he had a lot of nerves leading up to the fight, but was only in the ring for eight seconds when he won by way of a technical knockout, advancing him to the finals.

In the finals on the following day, MacPhee was up against an opponent from the Calgary Boxing Club, Alejandro Flores.

“Jace showed grit through the entire match coming up a bit short and losing a decision,” said Murphy.

Dircks matched up against Laurence Trayhorn from the Goldenstars Boxing Club in Calgary for his final match. 

The decision could have gone either way after a really close fight, stated Murphy.

Dircks fought through all three rounds and lost a split decision to Trayhorn, meaning two judges voted in Trayhorn’s favour. All the boxers at the tournament were brand new to competitions, creating a perfect venue to be introduced to competitive boxing. 

During a Sub-Novice Tournament, each boxer has up to two fights with a maximum of one fight per day as per the rules for amateur boxing.   

MacPhee explained that the two boxers hope to go to another tournament in January, but that it isn’t confirmed yet, but both plan to head to provincials at the end of January.

Brule evacuated after natural gas leak

Masha Scheele

Brule residents were free to return to their homes mere hours after an evacuation of the hamlet due to a natural gas leak on Friday, Dec. 13.

A contractor working on the Brule Community Hall redevelopment project inadvertently struck and ruptured an unknown gas line around 9:30 in the morning, stated Christopher Read, director of community services for Yellowhead County.

“It was a construction incident, unfortunately that can occur. It was a calm response but it was a measured response,” said Read.

Fire departments from both Yellowhead County and Hinton, alongside RCMP members, responded to the call to evacuate the community.

Gas to the hamlet was turned off for safety while crews isolated and repaired the leak.

An emergency reception centre was set up at the Dr. Duncan Murray  Recreation Centre in the meantime where residents could register, in accordance to the emergency response plan between Hinton and Yellowhead County. 

An emergency evacuation registration and information line was also established.

“I made two calls and all of the Town of Hinton staff were immediately responsive. The reception centre was set up so quickly with incredibly happy staff who were knowledgeable and knew what to do,” said Read. 

“It is very much a gold star for the Town of Hinton response and Yellowhead County appreciates and thanks them extremely.”

Read later confirmed that half a dozen people registered, and that the whole hamlet was evacuated. 

The order was lifted amid reports the leak had been contained at 11:45 am. Once residents returned home, emergency services personnel and Yellowhead Gas Co-Op Ltd. personnel made themselves available to help relight furnaces and water heaters.

One resident, Kate Hanson, said it took about two hours for the furnace to come back on once the order was lifted.

Neither she nor her husband were at home during the evacuation but Alberta Emergency Response staff was in contact with Hanson about her dogs still on the property.

Most residents didn’t have their gas back on until later that afternoon.

According to reports by the Edmonton Journal, Yellowhead Gas Co-Op Ltd. confirmed a contractor was installing new services for the Brule Community Centre when the low-pressure gas line was struck.