TIBRE plans to build local tourism

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Community Futures West Yellowhead (CFWY) is ready to move into stage two of their Tourism Industry Business Retention and Expansion (TIBRE) project, which includes working with the local tourism community.

Through a provincial Community and Regional Economic Support (CARES) grant, CFWY plans to help local tourism operators get organized on what it is they would like to do as a business community, explained Nancy Robbins, general manager of CFWY.

CFWY will also develop new tourism products and business plans over the summer months to share with the community for those interested in going into the tourism industry, Robbins added.

The CARES grant was given to CFWY for projects related to creating new business opportunities for the tourism industry beginning May 2020, and an open house related to the TIBRE project will be rescheduled to September 2020 in recognition of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the TIBRE report stated.

Robbins added CFWY is a little bit behind because of COVID, but that the project will continue throughout the summer and a public launch of the project will be held once public health measures allow.

TIBRE is a community-focused economic development project to enhance tourism offerings and grow tourism businesses. It was designed to identify business retention issues and expansion opportunities for existing tourism businesses. 

“One of the interesting things about this is that we were able to capture data pre-COVID, which I think will really serve us in the long run and give us some kind of indication of what the tourism industry looked like before the COVID economic crisis,” Robbins said.

Over 100 local tourism businesses were identified and 59 agreed to participate in the TIBRE project and survey in late 2019.

“I think what we can gather from this is that Hinton is really ready to build some tourism products and is really ready to engage tourism as an industry that can really diversify the economy,” Robbins said.

Findings found that Hinton’s tourism industry is relatively mature with 41 per cent of the businesses surveyed being in operation for more than 10 years while 39 per cent were in operation between one and four years.

Participants attributed an average of 49 per cent of their business to tourism and considered an average of 57 per cent of their visitors live within 1.5 hours of Hinton. The majority, 39 per cent, of non-local visitors come from Alberta, 32 per cent come from other provinces, and 27 per cent are international.

At the time these businesses were surveyed in 2019, 36 per cent expected the number of visitors to increase in 2020, while 24 per cent expected a decrease.

When asked to identify constraints to any type of expansion, 24 per cent said there was inadequate financial return on improvement/investment, and 49 per cent cited the economic climate at the time in 2019.

Of the businesses surveyed, the majority, at 36 per cent, were food and beverage businesses, and 25 per cent were made up of retail.

Next steps to this TIBRE project in Hinton included addressing immediate issues with specific businesses as they were identified in the interview.

Reports and final analysis were shared with the community and with contributing stakeholders in early May 2020.

Pine Valley Lodge residents get gift ninja’d

Photo submitted by Danielle Burdett, PVL activity coordinator

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Residents of the Pine Valley Lodge (PVL) in Hinton received a large load of gifts last week, donated by numerous locals in the hopes of spreading some happiness.

Hannah Fitzgerald was inspired by a gift ninja group she joined on Facebook, to gather up donations and send them to the seniors home.

Ninja gifting refers to giving someone a gift who is not expecting it. Fitzgerald said a few others wanted to do something and she reached out to Danielle Burdett, PVL’s activity coordinator, to offer organizing a collection, sanitization, and drop off of gifts for the home.

“I used to work in an old peoples home and I know enough about if there’s viruses and stuff you can’t just go drop stuff off for them. That’s too much for the staff to have to deal with and everything else,” Fitzgerald said.

Burdett spoke with management who then agreed as long as proper sanitization protocols were followed, Fitzgerald shared.

Hinton locals quickly began donating and Fitzgerald scheduled to pick up items before placing them at her closed office for a week.

She then sanitized everything before bringing them to PVL, who held onto the items a little bit longer before distributing them to residents. With the help of a couple of posts on public Hinton Facebook pages, around 25 people offered to donate items.

Fitzgerald added that she could have pushed the idea even more on Facebook, but she wasn’t too sure how to deliver all the items if there was too much.

“I ended up with two big boxes of books, a box of DVDs for movies, two huge Ikea bags full of board games, and playing cards, and crib boards. Two huge shopper bags full of snacks, two huge sacks of birdseed and bird feeders so they can feed the birds. Just so much stuff, puzzles and a whole case of crossword books and word searches,” Fitzgerald said.

Some had even made homemade gifts and others put together individual gift bags for the seniors.

One person donated $40, which Fitzgerald took to get a gift certificate from Opa’s Bake Shop.

“I went and saw Helena at Opa’s and said, ‘Listen, if I get a $40 gift certificate, what will that cover?’ She said, if they call the day before and order tray buns or something that she would make sure it was enough for all the residents. She’s actually donated kind of that way,” Fitzgerald added.

All donated items were split up between residents and everybody received something, she added.

“It was really cool, it’s just something really nice to be able to do it in the moment,” Fitzgerald said.

She also contacted the hospital in Hinton to ask what the protocol was for Hinton’s Continuing Care Centre. Since they’re attached to the hospital, they’re very locked down, she found out.

“I know a few people criticized me for not doing both old folks homes, but there was a reason for that and in the future maybe we’ll do something for them when the restrictions are relaxed a bit more,” Fitzgerald said.

She added that it would be really exciting to see the reactions of seniors to the gifts next time as well.

For now, she just enjoyed the photos of residents as they received their gifts from the community and heard how it went from Burdett.

Burdett told her the acts of kindness have been heartwarming.

Rebranded visitor centre to reopen

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A new rebranded Visitor Information Centre (VIC) is set to open in the middle of Green Square, funded and supported through the Town of Hinton.

Travel Alberta announced in January that it would no longer fund Hinton’s VIC as of May 2020.

“We’re no longer a Travel Alberta centre, we are a visitor information centre,” stated Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber operated the centre for more than 20 years with funding from the Alberta government between the May long weekend and Thanksgiving weekend in the fall, while the municipality funded the remainder of the year through their service agreement.

The service agreement includes the creation and distribution of the Hinton Visitor Guide, providing visitor services, and other organizing events like the Canada Day parade.

Charlton explained that the Town is taking $31,000 from their economic development budget and topping up the service agreement to enable the Chamber to operate the centre this summer.

The Hinton VIC was in its second year of a three year contract with the province, funding $77,000 annually.

“We’re going to take this on a year to year basis, just to see how this goes. In order for us to run the centre again next year, we will be looking for more support and we hope that Yellowhead County will be in a position to maybe help us next year,” Charlton said.

She added that their funding ask to the County came at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, which may not have been the best timing.

The Chamber is currently waiting to hear from the Town of Hinton when they can open, since it is a municipal-owned building.

The tentative open date for the VIC is set for June 18. 

Due to circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic, operations of the VIC will be modified until restrictions are lifted.

To avoid too many people entering the building, a gate will be placed to allow one visitor party at a time to come into the vestibule area. 

A provincial map on the wall will allow the visitor to explain which area they are interested in receiving information on, Charlton said.

Staff can then look after getting all of the brochures together with sterilized hands.

“I’m anticipating by July and August that people within our province are going to be moving around but they will have to practice social distancing. We will have the lines out on the concrete and we’re only allowing one visiting party in the centre at a time,” Charlton said.

The VIC is part of the Chamber’s new multi-dimensional initiative to boost tourism regionally, called Explore Hinton.

Through the Explore Hinton project, the chamber hopes to showcase Hinton experiences online, and encourage locals and non-locals to explore Hinton.

The project includes a website with visuals, local content, and social media, and the new rebranded VIC.

“The town has been very very supportive in the collaboration on the website and we’re working very closely with economic development and they have been very very supportive in helping us in this process,” Charlton said.

In order to provide visitor services, Charlton explained they had to be creative in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and came up with a new website that includes a bit of a virtual experience.

Frequently asked questions will be answered via the new website and businesses, groups, community initiatives, and popular activities will be showcased.

The Chamber hired three university students to work at the centre and in the community to collect data and work in an ambassador capacity.

They’re going to wear their Explore Hinton t-shirts and frequent tourism spots to find where visitors are going and what they’re interested in.

Through the Explore Hinton initiative, the chamber hopes to send visitors to local sites like the Hinton Mountain Bike Association, disc golf, the Beaver Boardwalk, golf, and other local spots.

Charlton said the chamber has already met with a number of local tourism-related businesses to talk about how to get involved.

“The other thing, there has been some funding from Travel Alberta for product development and cooperative marketing and we’re really trying to share that with all of the tourism related businesses so that perhaps we can try to assist in collaborating to write some of these grant funds that are available,” Charlton added.

Justin Brattinga, press secretary of the economic development, trade, and tourism Minister, told The Voice in February that the decision to close a number of Alberta’s VICs was due to a drastic reduction in foot traffic and engagement over the last three years.

He added that there is a dramatic shift in visitors accessing information via various online resources. 

The chamber said while numbers dropped since 2017, there are reasonable explanations such as a drop in 2018 after free national park passes in 2017 and heavy rain in 2019, plus the closure of one of Jasper’s major campgrounds.

The new Explore Hinton project is supported by the Town of Hinton through the Strategic Services and Economic Development departments.

“Not having tourism in our town is not an option—tourism is a major economic driver in our community. Healthy tourism means a healthy community,” stated the Chamber’s news letter.

“We’ll be reaching out to many of you over the summer to talk about how we can make Explore Hinton work for you.”

To get involved with Explore Hinton or to learn more about the Travel Alberta grant opportunity, contact the Chamber at (780) 865-2777 or email natalie.charlton@hintonchamber.com.

Teck transitions to closure this month

Graphic from CRO Closure Planning Survey

Masha Scheele

Teck’s Cardinal River Operations (CRO) continues to transition to closure this month.

“The United Mine Workers of America, Local 1656, and all our employees have been informed of the closure and planned schedule of workforce reductions,” stated Nic Milligan, Teck manager of social responsibility.

Teck announced in October 2019 that workforce reductions at CRO would start in January until November 2020.

The workforce reductions were set to happen in stages as steelmaking coal production declines and the operation moves towards care and maintenance.

“The site will transition to a period of care and maintenance once operations have ended. A small workforce will remain on site for care and maintenance,” Milligan said.

A reduced workforce will also manage future closure and reclamation activities. 

Milligan added that Teck will continue to engage and work with the community to help with employee transitions and mitigate community impacts where possible. 

Closure and reclamation planning has begun, and Teck will provide updates to the community moving forward. The CRO Closure Planning Survey, which ran from Nov. 20, 2019 to Jan. 15, 2020, identified two common themes, including the economic impacts to the surrounding communities, and the need to balance returning the land for public use with environmental and conservation efforts.

Nicole Nicholas, Teck lead social responsibility, stated that those themes would be considered as closure planning progressed, while upholding previous Luscar End Use planning commitments and engaging with Alberta Environment and Parks on the Cheviot End Use planning process.

Out of 201 online responses and 30 paper responses, the majority were interested in CRO for camping, ATV recreation, and “other.” 

When the survey asked what impact respondents would feel from the end of active mining at CRO, 57 out of 188 answered it would be a positive impact attributed mainly to reclamation, environmental and wildlife opportunities, and returned land use for recreation. 

Forty-eight noted it as a negative impact largely due to lost jobs and economic and community impacts.

Top answers on preferred use of these lands after mining were wildlife conservation, camping, and fishing. Conservation, environmental and wildlife considerations, reclamation, and access were frequently mentioned in the feedback section on the development of closure plans. 

Other feedback included ensuring that Teck continues to communicate throughout the process, to consider the economic and community impacts in mitigation planning, and the timeliness of reclamation. 

GYPSD approved 2020-21 budget of $63M

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) approved its budget for the 2020-2021 school year at $63M.

The board of trustees for the division approved the budget at their public board meeting on May 20. According to their news release, the division worked with principals and central office leadership to ensure schools had budgets similar to 2019-20 levels, despite a struggling economy and the impact of the COVID pandemic.

“In our (HCHS) case, thanks in part to a small projected enrollment increase and the flat budget developed by the Division, we anticipate having the same number of staff.  I’m very pleased with the result and really appreciate the foresight and commitment of our Division,” said Glen Allen, principal of Harry Collinge High School.

Approving a similar budget will limit impacts to staffing and student programming, including the decision to maintain full-day kindergarten programming for the 2020-21 school year.

The Alberta government announced an updated funding model for K to 12 education for the first time in 15 years.

According to the province, the new model simplifies the number of grants from 36 in the current framework to 15 in order to give more flexibility to school authorities on how to invest taxpayer dollars, provides funding to support specialized learning needs for groups of students who may require additional supports from school authorities, moves to a three-year weighted average methodology rather than a one-year enrolment count after the school year has started, reduces red tape, and includes a combination of funding policies, processes, actions and evidence.

The new three-year Weighted Moving Average (WMA) methodology that replaces the per-student allocation will let school authorities know how much provincial funding is available by the end of March each year, instead of September when the school year has already started.

The WMA calculation for the 2020-2021 school year is based on 20 per cent of 2018-2019 enrolments, 30 per cent of 2019-2020 enrolments and 50 per cent of projected 2020-2021 enrolments from this Spring.

The new model should minimize the need for mid-year adjustments to budgets and staffing, create alignment between the school year and the government’s fiscal year, and give boards predictability in planning and budgeting.

The province also stated that small rural schools will move to a block-funding model to ensure long-term viability and make sure they have the money to offer educational programming.

Block funding is based on enrolment, with different amounts for different student populations.

The addition of Interim Bridge Funding and the Rural Small School grant allowed GYPSD’s funding to remain flat for the 2020-2021 school year, even in the cases of changes in enrollment numbers.

In cases where school enrollments declined, the GYPSD created an Equalization Allocation to ensure that all the schools in the jurisdiction have a relatively stable budget.

GYPSD’s finance team worked across all division departments and with school principals to complete an exhaustive analysis of past budgets, current and prospective student needs, program equity, staffing requirements, and areas for efficiencies. 

GYPSD’s release stated that school jurisdictions across the province anticipate the decrease in bridge funding for 2021-2022 will necessitate many difficult decisions.

GYPSD superintendent didn’t respond to request for comment before The Voice press deadline on the budget process, key learnings with principals, or impacts of funding changes this year.