Graduation in the time of COVID-19

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Class of 2020 faced unique pressures and uncertainties during pandemic

High School graduation ceremonies have been adapted across the country to fit with the restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic.

And much like the ceremonies had to change to adapt to COVID reality, Grade 12 students also had to adjust as they plan to move on to the next stage of life.

Joshua Litke is a Grade 12 student at Father Gerard Redmond Community Catholic School who expects to finish all his courses and begin university this fall like he originally planned.

He said everyone was initally a little worried about graduation and diploma exams made everyone nervous since in-school classes were cancelled.

“Our teachers really took everything in stride, they were able to get us on track to finish the courses on time,” Litke said.

He applauds his teachers for the work they’ve done to make sure their students have the information they need to finish each course.

“Our physics teacher got us done really early and didn’t have to trim anything from the curriculum. He did a really great job, he had a website and he put together videos,” Litke added.

Option courses like band were cut, which was disappointing, but Litke continued to take trombone and classical guitar lessons offered by his music teacher. The hardest course to finish online was social studies, Litke added, because the discussion component of the course is so vital.

Lisa Fitzgerald, a teacher at St. Gregory Catholic School, whose daughter is graduating high school at Gerard Redmond, agreed that the high school teachers did a really good job at connecting with students right away to let them know they were going to work this out.

“They have provided lots of online classes for them. Once they got into the routine of things it went fairly smoothly,” Fitzgerald said.

Gerard is having a finals week where many classes will be writing a final exam, though the weight of this will most likely not be as heavy as if they wrote an in-school final. 

Barb Marchant, assistant principal at Gerard Redmond, said Grade 12 students wrote some of their diplomas in January, which are part of their transcript.

Glen Allen, principal of Harry Collinge High School, explained that some courses will have a traditional final exam and others will finish off with a final project.

Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) staff looked at the weighting of final exams and projects and lowered the weight to a maximum of 10 per cent of the final course mark, Allen added.

Normally finals can be up to 30 per cent of the final mark, depending on the grade level.

Allen said teachers are able to assess their students’ knowledge of the course material virtually through programs like Google classroom, which locks down the computer and doesn’t allow students to access other sources when writing a test.

Project based final assessments can also demonstrate key concepts learned in the courses.

“It will be a bit more holistic and more authentic in the sense that it’s not just a multiple choice test,” Allen said.

He added that assessment and learning evidence prior to the school closures and continued remote learning will allow teachers to assess whether the students have the information necessary to grant credit in that course.

“Teachers have continued to provide lessons and learning opportunities, students have continued to try and keep up with demonstrating knowledge of those new ideas,” Allen said.

He added that the vast majority of students at HCHS are going to successfully complete the courses they were enrolled in this semester. 

The provincial government gave principals the ability to award up to 15 credits to students in Grade 12 whose program was negatively impacted by class cancellations. 

Grade 12 diploma exams were cancelled through to the end of June 2020, but under special circumstances students could still request to write a diploma exam.

“To expect that kids in Alberta are on a level playing field, we have them all write diploma exams I believe would be simply unfair. It would be unfair to the teachers who are judged by those results. The diploma exams would not be an accurate reflection of what a kid knew or didn’t know this current year,” Allen said.

Fitzgerald doesn’t believe her daughter will be at a disadvantage as she starts her Bachelor of Political Science at the University of Alberta in September.

“She only needed two courses this semester. She was very fortunate, she didn’t have a heavy workload. I think if she needed physics or math for a science degree or something it would have been more concerning for sure,’ Fitzgerald said.

The university already indicated they would be offering classes online in the fall.

Fitzgerald said a big discussion around whether her daughter should go to school in the fall was based on if it was safe to go, what the university would do for her safety, and what would happen if the virus got worse.

Since classes are online, her daughter will stay in Hinton at least for the fall semester.

“It’s not the best situation, unfortunately you don’t experience going away to college and university but it’s being done for a reason,” she added.

Litke also plans to go to the U of A after graduation for a Bachelor Degree in Science with a specialization in pharmacology, the study of drugs. 

He briefly questioned whether to move forward with those plans when COVID-19 first shut down the schools, but he’s happy he chose to forego a gap year.

“No businesses are really open so I couldn’t even work in my gap year. The university said they would make most of their courses online with some opportunity for in-class labs,” he explained.

His plan is to live at home in Hinton and take his courses online, unless labs are in person.

“I’m impressed that they seem to be able to put everything online and serve all the students they have,” Litke added.

Online learning in high school has taught him how to manage classes and his schedule.

He added that in a classroom there’s a responsibility to the teacher and other students, but learning at home requires students to be accountable to do the work and meet deadlines.

“There may be bits of information I didn’t pick up here and there but based on the habits I’ve been able to cultivate I should be still able to maintain that,” he said.

Melissa Padfield, vice-provost and university registrar at U of A said the university will support impacted applicants in recognition of school closures and cancelled exams by accepting the grades and existing interim documents that were presented at initial admission, if final and official documents are unavailable.

“Each fall, we welcome our new students and provide them with the academic guidance and support services that they need for a successful transition to university life, and this year will be no different,” said Andre Costopoulos, vice-provost and Dean of Students at U of A.

Costopoulos added they would offer online orientation programs as well as remote access to academic help and wellness services to help students settle into the new experience. 

A greater emphasis will be placed on regular tutoring efforts faculties offer to new students who are looking to refresh and strengthen the knowledge and skills they would have picked up in high school, he added.

“We’re ready to help our new students safely navigate their changing learning environments,” Costopoulos said.

Brazilian cowboy sees Hinton on epic trek

Filipe Masetti Leite during his trek through the Rocky Mountains on his final long journey. Photo submitted

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

During the last leg of an eight-year horseback trek crossing the Americas, Brazillian Cowboy, Filipe Masetti Leite, spent five nights outside of Hinton at the Old Entrance Bed and Breakfast.

This final trip will take him back from the Yukon to Calgary, arriving on Friday, July 3 — the date the Calgary Stampede would have held the 2020 Stampede parade.

Despite the Stampede being cancelled, Masetti Leite was named the honorary Calgary Stampede parade marshal for 2020.

“What are the chances that the year the Calgary Stampede gets cancelled, for the first time in almost a century, there’s a cowboy riding in on horseback,” Maseti Leite said.

His final stretch will celebrate everything that the Calgary Stampede stands for, Western Heritage, and the horse and the cowboy way of life, he added. 

“I just want to be a beacon of hope and represent this rodeo and this culture that I live and grew up in,” he continued.

Masetti Leite first saddled up to start his trek in 2012 from the Calgary Stampede’s centennial celebration.

His first destination was the Hospital de Amor in Barretos, Brazil, where a five-metre tall monument can now be found of Masetti Leite and his horse. Through his trip, Masetti Leite raises funds for this hospital that treats children with cancer and talks to people along the way of the importance of an early diagnosis of childhood cancer. 

“In Brazil and all over Latin America, we end up losing a lot of kids because they’re getting to the hospital too late and this hospital is a state of the art facility that could be found in Sweden or Canada or the U.S.,” he said.

Raising funds for the kids in the hospital is also what kept him going while he was riding through storms, hadn’t been able to shower in weeks, or while making his way through dangerous situations.

“You have to have drive, otherwise you don’t do this. Everyday is a mental war, it’s tough,” Masetti Leite said.

After his first trip to Brazil, he made his way down to the most southern tip of South America before heading back up north.

When all is said and done, Leite will have travelled more than 25,000 km. 

Steeds Mac and Smokey set out on May 20 to take him from Grande Prairie, Alta. to Calgary.

While Masetti Leite rode alone for the majority of his journey from Calgary to Brazil when he first set out in 2012, he’s had many friends ride with him along the way and his final trek is accompanied by his girlfriend.

“My girlfriend, who I met in southern Patagonia on my second trip, she’s driving a motorhome that was leant by a couple out of Claresholm, Alberta and it’s a support vehicle where we carry hay for the horses, feed, water,” Masetti Leite said.

Throughout Alaska and the Yukon, they travelled through some extremely remote areas and the support vehicle made it easier to take care of the horses along the way.

“The animals’ welfare is always number one, without them you don’t travel a single kilometre and they become your kids you know, you love them so much,” he said.

The exciting part about having company along for the trek was being able to share it with someone, he added.

“Sometimes you’re up on this beautiful mountain looking at a gorgeous sunset and it just doesn’t seem to have the same colour. It’s not the same as sharing it with someone that you care about. It’s amazing,” Masetti Leite said.

Travelling through the Yukon was a dream that very few people, even few Canadians, get to experience, he added.

Throughout eight years he travelled through many incredible places but he said Mexico still holds a very special place in his heart.

Nobody celebrated his journey like the Mexicans, with thousands of people saddling up their horses and riding with him. 

Travelling on horseback is part of their culture, and what Masetti Leite was doing was special to them, he added.

“Although I was treated amazingly well in every country I crossed, that was the best part of the trip,” Masetti Leite said.

The inspiration for the trek came from a childhood book that told the tale of adventure of a Swedish school teacher riding horseback from Argentina to New York in 1925.

As a child on the farm in Brazil he imagined what it would be like to cross those countries by horseback, swimming through rivers, and climbing mountains. At nine years old, his family moved to Canada and he grew up in Ontario where he eventually studied journalism at Ryerson University.

“My last year of journalism I thought, it feels like everything I’ve done in my life has gotten me to the point to ride back home and capture everything, film it, write about it, and share this story with people and live this dream,” he said.

Masetti Leite turned his dream into his job and started raising funds in 2010. Most of his friends and family told him he was crazy and that the trip was too dangerous, but he continued working towards his dream.

He eventually got the funding and a production company to come on board to film a reality series of his trip to Brazil. During the first trip, they posted a web series with 90 small clips.

A Nashville-based production company filmed a three season reality show, which they are currently trying to sell. Masetti Leite wrote his first book after he rode from Canada to Brazil, which took him two years and three months.

It took him another year and three months to get from Brazil to Ushuaia, Argentina.

He then came back to Brazil to write another book and plan for his trip up North.

His second book will be released this July and he hopes to publish another book about his final journey next year.

“This is my last long ride, it’s been very difficult mentally more than anything. It’s been a 10 year project that I’ve been working on, 10 years is a long time to work on anything, nevermind riding horses through continents,” he said.

His first book is now being made into a movie, which he plans to help out with once his final trip comes to an end.

Masetti Leite also plans to work with a production company on a series and maybe even a documentary as well of the real footage he shot throughout the past eight years. 

As a journalist, his dream and end goal is to own a travel show, featuring cultures in faraway places to people that may not know they exist. 

“Being from Brazil and coming to Canada at an early age, I was able to see the other side of the coin. My country is the dichotomy of those that have and those that have not is gigantic,” he said.

“I think if some people see the reality of how some people live in the world, it will change the way that they act and deal with things.”

He added that if he learned anything during the journey, it’s that there’s only a very short time people get on this earth to enjoy.

“If you’re not happy, change. If you have a dream, live it. You don’t have the money? Excuses. You don’t have the know-how? Excuses. If you want it bad enough and you’re willing to work for it, you can do whatever you want. You can cross the Americas on a horse,” he said.

Masetti Leite found himself in many life-changing situations over the past eight years and he considers himself lucky to still be alive.

During his first trip, all three horses he brought had major accidents, including getting hit by a truck, falling in a deep hole, and falling in a cattle guard. He stayed in the home of a drug lord in Honduras, saw two people shot dead in Guatemala, witnessed a man trying to kill his wife in the home where he stayed in the capital of Honduras, crossed grizzly bears, swam rivers, crossed the backcountry of Yellowstone, the Andes, and the Rockies several times.

“Once you’re in the situation you just find a solution for the problem that has risen around you,” he said.

He remembered being in the house of the drug lord who he had befriended and having beers with him.

“You’re like, ‘Wow, this guy has a petting zoo in his house, everyone has automatic weapons, and there’s a nine-year-old kid with a pistol.’ It just becomes mundane, but now looking back, yes, I’m very lucky to be alive because I crossed some very dangerous countries,” Masetti Leite said.

Elder Abuse Awareness Day highlights local resources

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Canada’s fastest growing population is over the age of 65 and is quickly becoming vulnerable to abuse that can rob them of their well-being and dignity, according to the Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Council.

Kari, who lives in Hinton, believes her adult children never disrespected her, never insulted her, and never argued with her, but she knows they were taking advantage of her.

Kari’s name has been changed to protect her and her family’s privacy.

She first spoke to someone about the difficult situation she found herself living in after reading something in the newspaper about the elder abuse prevention program being offered by Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in Hinton.

One adult child moved in with her a few years ago, while another child has been in and out of her house continuously.

“I was really uncomfortable and wondering how long I would be taking care of my kids. It was preventing me from having my own life,” Kari explained.

While she no longer wanted to take care of them, she also cared enough about them to not turn them away, especially to avoid leaving them homeless.

Since connecting with Charlene Sitar, the elder abuse prevention coordinator at FCSS, she feels more at ease and understood.

She felt Sitar had a better understanding of her situation and how everyone’s situation is different. Prior to meeting with Sitar she said her friends and family told her to kick out her adult kids, which wasn’t something she could do.

“Some parents don’t care. Some parents care until the end. When you tell a parent to kick them out, you’re actually kicking that parent out because you’re offering nothing,” Kari said.

While there’s many different ways to be abused, Kari felt like she was simply being taken advantage of and desired to have her own life.

With one child still living in her house, she still doesn’t feel like she has her own life completely.

Kari continues to connect with Sitar on a weekly basis for support, which is extremely helpful. She believes it’s important to have this program regionally as it’s not possible for some seniors to access resources in the city or explain their situation over the phone.

She said, it’s important to talk to someone in person and see the pain in their eyes.

“I have so much to say about this, I have so much that I want to say, and to bring forward that it’s essential. It’s so important and then to not have the funds to support this kind of a program. I don’t get it, it’s essential,” Kari said.

On June 15 every year since 2006, organizations and supporters raise awareness on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day about what elder abuse is and what resources are available. Typically, Sitar organizes information presentations, but that’s not possible this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sitar said with mistreatment of older adults within care facilities being a topic of conversation right now, it is a good opportunity to continue the conversation with locals about elder abuse in our region.

“COVID has certainly opened up the topic of conversation more and in a sense COVID has brought more awareness to the needs of the elderly,” Sitar said.

Loneliness, isolation, and elder abuse was there prior to COVID-19 but the pandemic has provided an opportunity for broader conversation on these topics and how elders are generally viewed.

“Elder abuse, loneliness and isolation will still be there but hopefully we will have been able to find better strategies within our communities to deal with those kinds of things going forward,” Sitar said.

Presentations on these topics were done in the past during seniors week, but seniors week was cancelled as well.

Randy Smith, services for individuals and families at FCSS, said the turnout for each event during seniors week is normally very large, making it difficult to do anything during these trying times.

“I was very sad when I had to make the decision as I know how much the seniors look forward to a jammed packed week of events,” Smith said.

Staff had at least 34 events planned, which were all cancelled. Instead, FCSS offered a Wellness Kit for any Senior that wanted one, they just had to phone the FCSS office to put in an order, which was delivered by Protective Service.

“We included water bottles, a variety of different snacks and games and some information on FCSS programs such as Home Support, Lifeline, Elder Abuse and our Friendly Caller Program,” Smith said, adding that some items donated by local organizations as well.

Sitar said it was a way to continue showing appreciation for seniors and providing them with information and resources on what’s available in the community and how to reach out for support.

Over the past few months, Sitar has seen a combination of older adults reach out who have previously been in situations of mistreatment and some new referrals to the elder abuse prevention program.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the increase in new numbers yet, I think that could potentially come as the COVID response settles down,” Sitar added.

She said experts predict a rise in elder abuse cases everywhere as the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic starts to be exposed a bit more. 

In some cases, adult children have come back home because of COVID-19 and elderly parents want to help, Sitar added.

“That’s fine but there’s a difference between helping and being taken advantage of. It’s been very eye-opening for sure,” Sitar said.

Sitar has been reaching out to seniors and caregivers in the community by phone to offer some verbal support since they’ve been forced to stay at home during the pandemic.

“There are people caring for a parent or spouse with some type of dementia and it can be quite straining. We want to watch for caregiver burnout,” Sitar added.

Over the past year Sitar has witnessed seniors becoming more comfortable reaching out for help. Some don’t say who they are but only explain their situation to ask for advice on how to fix the issue on their own.

“They’re recognizing when their situation might not be in their best interest and they are knowing that there is a program and a system to help them, there’s a far higher comfort level just to initiate conversation about what they’re experiencing or what they’re seeing,” Sitar said.

This is occurring throughout the region, in Yellowhead County as well as Hinton.

The Yellowhead Elder Abuse Network that Sitar has worked hard to build is now seen as a provincial example of how a coordinated response model should work in rural alberta, she added.

“We’ve made it a program that is effective, that provides an effective and least intrusive response to seniors who are experiencing mistreatment,” she said.

She added that the program wouldn’t be at this point if it wasn’t for the commitment and partnership of the Town of Hinton and Yellowhead County. To help out, any community member can join the friendly caller program, call FCSS for more information.

Sitar added that if residents suspect someone in the community is experiencing mistreatment, they can have a conversation with them as long as it’s safe to do so and ask them if they need some support and share what resources are available.

The senior or third-party reporter can also call 211 and share what they’re seeing and why they’re concerned.

“The best thing we can do for the elderly in our community who are living in our neighbourhoods is just to make them feel like we care and make them a priority in our life,” Sitar said.

Hinton Kids for Success opens July 6

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Instead of going to Discovery Camp this summer, kids in Hinton might be spending time with each other in the Hinton Kids for Success program.

Hinton Kids for Success re-opens to the public for full-day care on July 6 and runs in place of Discovery Camp, which Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) isn’t offering this year due to COVID-19 restrictions on group sizes, outings, and capacity. 

Hinton Kids for Success is normally an out of school program operated by FCSS throughout the school year for children aged five to 12, but this year the program will be back for the summer months.

FCSS received a lot of community feedback from parents who didn’t have much going on this summer and FCSS felt it was important to make sure they still had some care, stated Jenna Altrogge, FCSS assistant manager.

The care provided by FCSS this summer more closely aligns to the full day care or out of school care for Hinton Kids for Success.

Some of the fun Discovery Camp activities normally organized by FCSS every summer, like field trips, won’t be possible this year, Altrogge said.

“But we’re still going to try to get the kids outside and do as many fun activities as we can with the precautions,” Altrogge added.

Some creativity will be required by the staff for the kids activities, as full group activities are no longer possible, Altrogge said.

Big scavenger hunts, or games in the park also won’t be happening this summer. 

“The biggest change is just what those activities look like and finding ways to make them fun and engaging and rewarding for the kids,” Altrogge said. 

Altrogge added that the focus on developmental activities in the program remains. 

“It’s still high quality developmentally appropriate childcare with a focus on giving kids the opportunity to build relationships and have adventures during the summer. We’re just going to have to find creative solutions to what that looks like,” Altrogge said.

Hinton Kids for Success and Discovery Camp are operated by the same staff but typically use different facilities.

In previous years, Discovery Camp ran out of the recreation centre, which remains closed due to the pandemic.

Programming was moved to the West Fraser Guild for this summer, which is the regular Hinton Kids for Success space.

The program will operate during the same hours as Discovery Camp would have operated this summer.

In a normal year, Discovery Camp takes up to 60 kids, but this year FCSS can only take 24 kids in Hinton Kids for Success.

Altrogge said the days are filling up with registries but that there is still room. Parents can choose which days to sign their kids up for, which allows some flexibility.

Within the program, FCSS staff will split up into 10 person cohorts, including one staff member.

To allow more physical distancing, those groups won’t interact with other groups.

Staff normally divide kids by age groups to allow more developmentally appropriate programming, instead staff will try to keep families together to reduce contact this summer.

Extra cleaning is also part of the daily routines, like making sure the bathroom and kitchen are thoroughly cleaned after each use.

“We also require parents to do a daily check of all the kids. A daily survey to make sure they don’t have any symptoms and we’ll be issuing daily temperature checks as well,” Altrogge said.

The program will run from 7:45 am to 5:30 pm at the West Fraser Guild. Parents can register their kids online via or call (780) 865-6036.

Province initiates Phase 2 relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Not all local amenities and organizations are yet ready to resume activity as Alberta eases COVID-19 measures earlier than expected June 12

Alberta will be moving into phase two of the provincial relaunch strategy on June 12 as numbers of active COVID-19 cases continue to drop.

Premier Jason Kenney stated on June 9 that testing data shows active cases in Alberta are lower than expected, prompting initiation of Stage 2 a week earlier than expected.

“Our data tells us our active cases are low, hospitalizations are trending downward and people are taking action to protect those most vulnerable and prevent the spread of the virus,” Kenney said.

At the time of his announcement, 44 individuals were hospitalized across Alberta, six were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), and 355 cases of COVID-19 were active.

Information released by the province stated these numbers showed a decrease of almost 70 per cent in active cases since May 14 when the province began Phase 1 of the Alberta Relaunch Strategy. 

Alberta has performed more COVID-19 tests per capita than most other jurisdictions in the world, Kenney added.

Stage 2 will allow the reopening of K-12 schools for requested diploma exams and summer school, libraries, more surgeries, wellness services, personal services, indoor recreation, fitness, and sports, movie theatres and theatres, community halls, team sports, pools for leisure swimming, VLTs in restaurants and bars, casinos and bingo halls, and instrumental concerts with physical distancing restrictions still in place.

This doesn’t mean that regular in-school classes for kindergarten to Grade 12 resume until September 2020.

From the outset of the school closures, Grade 12 students were given the opportunity to request to write a given diploma exam, explained Glen Allen, Principal of Harry Collinge High School.

Unless specifically requested, the exams were, and remain, cancelled for all other students, he said.

The Hinton Municipal Library will not be opening to the public this Friday, stated Pamela Stewart, library services assistant manager at the Hinton Municipal Library.

At the last library board meeting on June 1, the decision was made to go with curbside delivery of the holds that are currently being held at the library and to reopen the drop box. 

Once the backlog of holds material has been dealt with, Library staff will be able to assist patrons by email, phone or the new Chat Feature online to assist with finding and signing out material. No holds can be placed with other libraries at this time, Stewart added.

“The library board will decide at their next meeting on June 22 on when the library will reopen to the public and what that will look like at that time with social distancing measures in place,” Stewart said.

Emily Olsen, interim CAO of the Town of Hinton, mentioned during the standing committee meeting on June 9 that the Town is not prepared to open the recreation facility to the public by June 12 and that adequate time is needed to prepare the facility.

Hinton Movies is anticipating re-opening in early September, said Ann Stewart on behalf of the Hinton Movies Board.

“For us there is no simple answer to when we’ll re-open because it’s based on numerous factors outside of our control,” Stewart explained.

The Performing Arts Theater of Hinton (PATH) is rented daily by all users and Hinton Movies is one of those users. The building is owned by the Town and managed by a non-profit group called The Home of Fine Arts (ASH), which will decide together when to re-open.

Stewart added that before Hinton Movies can open they need to be sure there is new content to show. Distributors will want at least 80 per cent of the North American/World theaters open and able to fill at least 75 per cent of these seats before they move new movies up on the schedule, Stewart explained.

Another factor is whether audiences in Hinton will come back in big enough numbers to allow the organization to at least break-even.

“Like many businesses in our town and province, re-opening and continuing to operate will be totally dependent on having an audience walk through the doors, especially our first month,” Stewart said.

Vocal concerts, major festivals, large conferences, trade shows, nightclubs, amusement parks, hookah lounges, major sporting events and tournaments are still not permitted to re-open.

Non-essential travel outside the province will not be recommended until Stage 3 of the relaunch strategy. The limit on gatherings indoors is now raised to a maximum of 50 people, while outdoor gatherings and indoor seated or audience events are capped at 100 people.

Caps on people gathering for worship, in restaurants, cafes, lounges, and bars, casinos and bingo halls has been removed while physical distancing measures are in place.

The 50 per cent capacity limit for provincial campgrounds is also being lifted and the online reservation system will be updated as sites will come online in phases.  By July 1, all camping sites will be open for reservations, stated the province. 

More flexibility is also given to ‘cohort’ groups, which are small groups of people whose members do not always keep two metres apart.

Households can increase its close interactions with other households to a maximum of 15 people, performers can have a cohort of up to 50 people, sports teams can play in region-only cohorts of up to 50 players, and people could be part of both a sports/performing and household cohort.

A new interactive map will help Albertans understand the level of risk in their community and learn about any enhanced health measures at the local level, stated the province.

Additional information on what they need to do to stay safe and protected will also be provided. Currently, no communities in Alberta need locally targeted enhanced measures.

“Stay home if you are sick. Stay two metres apart and wear a non-medical mask if you can’t. Consider downloading the ABTraceTogether app, and wash your hands often,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health reminded Albertans on June 9.

Relaunch stages include an evaluation and monitoring period to determine if restrictions should be adjusted, triggers for adjustments include the number of active cases, hospitalizations and ICU occupancy.

Waste Pilot Project results deemed succesful

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Town of Hinton considered the Hardisty Waste Pilot Project a success, said Emdad Haque,  Hinton’s director of infrastructure services. 

The modernized system was found to be more efficient, cost-effective, and a benefit to the waste management system, according to Haque.

While there are still a few concerns with the new bins, Haque said nothing unexpected came up and issues were no more significant than what was observed with the old bins.

“With the new bins, if you ask me if we have any new problems or challenges I would say no, there’s no new challenges,” Haque said.

There were evidenced opportunities for potential efficiency gains to be had by modernizing the truck, Haque added.

Positive results showed there were less opportunities for illegal dumping, and overall aesthetics of the community improved.

Data collected throughout the pilot project evidenced that the wind didn’t pose a bigger issue compared to the old bins.

“Sometimes we had a better result [with the new bins]. In a higher wind condition, the older bin when it was completely full it tipped over but these bins mostly tip when it is empty,” Haque said.

Only in a few rare cases did full bins tip over in the pilot project, he added.

The Town also received very few complaints about the smaller size of the bins compared to the old bins.

Operators observed some overfull bins, but Haque explained this was mostly due to loose and un-bagged waste, like sod, which residents are not allowed to put in the bins.

Requests for additional bins were minimal, but staff observed a need for recycling  bulky materials such as cardboard.

The volume of the new bins is 96 gallons, 20 per cent smaller than the old bins.

Another issue Town staff looked at was how to manage parked vehicles.

In some cases, residents placed their bins beside parked vehicles for ease of access on garbage pick-up day.

Haque suggested that the town could look at options of banning street parking on garbage pick up days, especially if the new bins are implemented throughout Hinton.

“Right now for snow removal you have parking bylaw in most cities and towns so that on snow removal day you cannot park on a certain street,” Haque said as an example.

He said Hinton doesn’t have these kinds of bylaws but this could be done for garbage pick up.

Residents noticed that bins were not emptied some days, which Haque explained was due to truck breakdowns leading to delays.

“We are trying to keep up a fleet of aging equipment and from time to time the trucks have unforeseen problems which can take them out of service indefinitely,” Haque noted.

He explained that an issue with bins not being fully emptied was caused by how materials were placed inside the bin.

When lighter materials or boxes are stuck at the bottom there isn’t anything to push the materials out.

It’s up to the town to educate residents on how to best use the bins, he said.

“We hope if council approves a recycling [program] that this problem will also be gone, because people will put cardboard in a recycling bin,” Haque said.

Haque mentioned the possibility of a co-mingling recycling bin, for all kinds of recycling that is shipped directly to a sorting facility effectively.

He added that co-mingling recycling is an opportunity for more cost-effective recycling and would decrease waste being generated going to the landfill.

The new bins are also more cost effective bins at $75 to $80 compared to some other heavy duty bins of $400, Haque stated.

He said the removal of the old bins, which are time consuming and costly for maintenance, and the addition of the new bins, has reduced maintenance cost for East Hardisty to almost nothing.

Haque believes the fee to residents should also not be flat but instead be based on the volume being picked up by the truck. 

“There should be some kind of encouragement of generating less. Under the current system there is no encouragement. We’ll bring some scenarios to council,” Haque said.

Haque will present different options at the standing committee meeting on June 23.

Once an option is approved by council, staff would order a new truck within a week and new bins would be introduced in other neighbourhoods.

“We cannot customize the other truck overnight. In the first phase we could order 200 or 300 new bins while we only have one customized truck,” Haque said.

The first and second phase could be implemented in five months from July and if council chooses a recycling option, it could be implemented in late fall or early 2021.

New street name signs presented to council

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council got its first look at the engineering and design standards for neighbourhood street name signs for the Town of Hinton at the standing committee meeting on June 9.

The engineering and design standards for the Town’s neighbourhood street name signs were reviewed using recognized national engineering guidelines, established by the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC). 

Existing signage standards in Hinton posed several issues such as height, location, and a lack of reflectiveness for night visibility, CAO Emily Olsen explained.

The replacement signs and the signposts are standardized with improved durability, reduced costs, and an increased life cycle. 

Coun. Trevor Haas stated that he appreciated not only the improved signage but also the height of the poles, as signs are currently lower and more difficult to see.

Council approved $100,000 in 2019 for the first phase of replacing neighbourhood street name signs and an additional $140,000 was approved in 2020 for the second phase of the project, Peter Vana, director of development services confirmed.

Vana explained this is the amount budgeted in the tendering process and not the actual amount that will be spent. 

“We are trying to save money in any way we can. Mr. Haque is also using internal forces to install the signs but there’s only a certain number of companies that we would go out for bids on to actually produce the signs,” Vana said.

Emdad Haque, director of infrastructure services, added that not every sign will be changed if the current sign closely aligns to the standard and that installation would be done in-house.

Coun. Dewly Nelson pointed out that under the current purchasing policy a report summarizing tenders must come back to council as the project is over $200,000.

Olsen stated that the purchasing policy is prioritized for review and will come back to council within the next month.

When Coun. JoAnn Race asked about mapping, Todd Martens, fire chief and protective services manager, said protective services use software from the 911 dispatch centre, the fire department is installing mapping in their truck this year, EMS has mapping from their own dispatch in Northern Alberta, and RCMP comes from the K-division, which are all different.

“The issue sometimes isn’t just the mapping, the issue is seeing the location that we’re going to. We have a ballpark idea, but the problem is at nighttime when you’re going with lights and sirens to a location and you’re driving right by a location you’re responding to,” he said.

RCMP and Emergency Medical Services advised the Town of Hinton in 2017 that current street name signs used by the Town were impacting emergency response times. The non-reflective surface of the street name signs makes it difficult for responders unfamiliar with the community to locate the street names at night or during inclement weather conditions, administration’s report stated.

Administration stated the street name sign replacement program is an asset management cost-saving measure for long term budgeting. 

The first phase of the project was delayed until the 2020 season to prepare the engineering design standards for the tendering process. 

Infrastructure Services is currently finalizing the tender documents to procure the street name signs and hardware for installation using Town resources.

No request for emergency funds anticipated

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Administration presented the financial, staffing, and service level impacts that occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic at the standing committee meeting on June 9.

Revenue lost from March 15 to May 31 amounted to $363,165 and increased COVID-19 related expenses added up to $33,270. 

Budget adjustments, including personnel savings through temporary layoffs, achieved $269,010 in COVID-19 related reductions and further operational savings of $126,830 were used to offset the overall losses, stated administration’s report.

Budget reductions were achieved without accessing the emergency reserve, and CAO Emily Olsen confirmed they don’t anticipate requesting to utilize those funds.

Olsen said there are some unknown impacts and assumptions made through the creation of the report and projections, including the reopening of the recreation centre, which the provincial government announced will be allowed earlier than expected on June 12.

“We haven’t had time as administration, as a senior leadership group, to meet and discuss those impacts and how that might even impact the information we’re bringing forward tonight,” Olsen said.

Olsen added the Town is not in a position to open the doors of the recreation centre on Friday and needs adequate time to prepare the facility. 

When Coun. Tyler Waugh asked about the annual shutdown in September of the recreation centre and pool, Laura Howarth, director of community service, explained that no more shutdowns are expected in September as some of that maintenance work is being done now. These projects will take another three weeks at least to  wrap up before the recreation centre can open again, she added.

Coun. Dewly Nelson asked for clarification on when ice would be put into the recreation centre and when user groups could book ice times.

The messaging so far has been that there would be no summer ice but that decision was made in anticipation of recreation centres not being considered for reopening until phase 3 of Alberta’s relaunch, said Howarth.

“If we do want to have ice before Sept.1, that changes the information we’ve provided council tonight. Because I have to bring staff back and we have to start building ice,” Howarth said.

She explained that parks and recreation uses the same staff, which would mean pulling staff from parks and changing the plans for parks that were created during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Howarth added that this isn’t something that can’t be done.

Hinton’s Administrative Senior Leadership Team began meeting in mid-March to create the Business Continuity Plan to coordinate reductions to core services, manage financial, staffing, and safety requirements, and to determine a projection of losses and expenditures from March 13 to May 31. 

Budget adjustments prompted by cancelled programming, closed facilities, and increased cleaning and sanitization were made to areas including travel, membership and registration, training, subscriptions, advertising and promotion, and projects or events funded from the operating budget, the report said.

Prior to the announcement of Phase 2 of Alberta’s relaunch, reductions were weighed against the shortfall in revenue and increase in expenditures to mitigate impacts due to COVID-19.

Administration prepared cost mitigating strategies to offset $422,207 in additional losses anticipated from June 1 through to Aug. 31. 

The town stated that $422,752 in reductions have been identified to be applied against those losses and increased expenditures. 

Projected revenue losses come primarily from FCSS and Community Services that remain closed, and expenditures until Aug. 31 are anticipated due to cleaning supplies and materials needed to reopen municipal buildings.

Olsen also stated that tax and utility deferment may pose cash flow constraints through the summer months.

To reduce cash flow concerns, a thorough review of capital projects showed approximately $3M worth of projects that can be deferred to later in 2020 or 2021.