COVID causes different look for Canada Day

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Canada Day may look a little different this year as public health restrictions continue to limit gatherings, but one way Hintonites will be celebrating is with a drive-in movie theatre.

The Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce will not be moving forward with the Canada Day Parade, the Town does not have the staff capacity for fireworks and a pancake breakfast, and the Föhn Festival was also cancelled.

“It will be a very different year for our community without the Föhn and the Parade,” said Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce.

Fortunately, organizers of the Föhn Festival, a number of community members, and a few local businesses put their heads together to come up with a different way to celebrate Canada’s birthday while keeping in line with the COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead of a festival featuring different bites from across the globe, organizers are bringing a double-header drive-in movie event to Hinton on June 30 and July 1.

When the provincial government announced that gatherings up to 100 people were permitted outdoors, the Föhn Fest committee wanted to try and provide some type of celebration for the community.

While there won’t be live entertainment and cultural vendors in the regular Föhn Fest format,  Morgan Roberts, 2020 Chairperson of the Föhn Fest committee, said they were very happy to be able to do something that will work within COVID parameters and provide a fun family value to residents.

A 50 foot screen and transmitter in the parking lot of the Big Rock Dodge dealership will broadcast Top Gun and The Goonies on June 30 and Toy Story 4 and Dirty Dancing on July 1.

Roberts added that it was hard to pick movies within the short time frame since the province announced the larger gathering limit.

Through an online poll, committee members selected a number of films that residents in Hinton wanted to watch. One of the highest requests was for the Jurassic Park Movies, unfortunately these movies are very dark and due to the nature of an outdoor movie it’s difficult to see dark movies from a far distance.

The chosen movies are more colourful options for a better viewing experience. 

“Now if this continues to be as popular as it appears to be then I hope there is a group in town that wants to maybe take over and do more of these because it does seem like a fun community event,” Roberts said.

Roberts noted that the Town of Edson recently held a drive-in movie event that was successful and received a lot of positive feedback.

“The idea that other municipalities are already taking those steps, we figured this is something that should be explored,” Roberts said.

She added that the local health inspector has been helpful in providing information and resources for the committee to make sure the event falls in line with new standards. 

There will be some food vendors on site, but organizers are still working out logistics around that.

The Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce has also come on board and, in lieu of the usual parade, is hosting a car decorating contest as part of the event. Those attending the drive-in movie are encouraged to decorate their vehicles for Canada Day.

The contest will only be for the July 1 movie night, when Chamber volunteers will come around and judge everyone who has decorated their vehicles at the event in celebration of Canada Day. 

Winners will be announced at 10 pm with prizes available for first, second and third place.

“We are hoping that people will come with their vehicles decorated with balloons, banners, flags, etc. Anything goes, and it is just meant to be fun and to help celebrate Canada Day,” said Charlton.

Gift cards from local businesses will be presented as prizes in lieu of trophies in order to help keep some dollars in the community.

All vehicles will be removed from the lot and the screen will be placed up against the building and raised on top of a flat deck in order to get some extra height for better viewing. The first showing will start at dusk and the second showing will happen around midnight, Roberts added.

“It is first come, first served, that’s important. The gates will open at 8:30 pm, they will be able to line up to fill those slots,” Roberts said.

Volunteers will place vehicles where they best fit and some of the larger vehicles may be placed further back to allow for the best viewing experience for as many people as possible.

While the drive-in movie event will be free for the public to enjoy, 100 per cent of the benefits will go towards a local family, the Cudmores.

Donations will be accepted at the gates and given directly to the Cudmores, who are in need of some help due to a medical emergency. 

“We’re really happy to be able to tie in supporting a local family and really in its inception, the Föhn Fest has always been about helping out those in the community,” she said. 

For a number of years, the Nepal group that used to have a cultural vendor tent at Föhn Fest, raised money for an orphanage in Nepal. 

“It has always been a way for the community to get together and give back and to really understand the faces in our community and celebrate the diversity,” Roberts added. 

Last year, organizers made donations to the food bank through the free train ride that was available in a large circuit around green square.

This year would have been the 14th Föhn Festival in Hinton and its organizers are proud to be able to host another event this year.

“I know it’s not exactly what we would normally do but it is still a way for Canadians and for Hintonites to come out and celebrate six feet apart, together,” Roberts said.

Without the impact of the pandemic this year, Roberts believed they likely would’ve had a record number of attendees to the Föhn Festival.

When July 1 lands on a weekday, there is usually a larger turnout because locals don’t leave to go somewhere on the weekend or attend the annual ball tournament that happens on the Canada Day weekend.

Roberts stated that the volunteer committee is already brainstorming on new and exciting things for the 2021 festival. 

“Some ideas being discussed include adding an additional day to the festival, larger open air markets and as always a proud representation of the cultures that make up the beautiful fabric of our country,” Roberts said.

All movies will take place at the Big Rock Dodge lot at 186 Tocher Ave, Hinton.

Gates open at 8:30 pm and attendance will be first come first serve.

The committee is still searching for volunteers and welcome anyone interested in joining the committee, contact Morgan Roberts at (780) 740-4725.

‘I’ve got a new look at life now’

Tyler Waugh

Home and recovering from brain surgery, Rob Cudmore is grateful for community support

Sitting on his back deck, Rob Cudmore takes a sip of coffee and soaks in the morning with wife Vanessa close by and their dogs frolicking in the yard.

It’s been two days since his release from Hinton Hospital, and only two weeks removed from surgery to remove a golf-ball sized tumour from his brain.

Cudmore was in a dark place in the months leading up to his surgery, but has emerged on the other side just feeling different, more positive. 

Part of it was surviving the surgery, he says, but part of the new perspective is a physical reaction. He says the tumour was also wedged in a part of his brain that controls emotions and memory. Doctors think it may have been present and growing over the past couple of years, and Cudmore believes it’s been impacting his outlook.

“I was in a bad place. I haven’t been happy, or appreciative of people around me, I’ve been frustrated. Now, I’m sitting here and I just feel different about people in general. It’s hard to explain, I’ve got a new look at life now though,” he said.

And while the tumour may have been present for a couple of years, its effects became more impactful in March.

Rob wasn’t displaying the same focus at work. His desk at the front entrance to VARA Automotive, which he owns and operates, was a mess. He was having vivid, dark dreams. He was having irrational disagreements with Vanessa, and thinking the worst of things going on around him.

“COVID had just hit hard and I was really struggling with that … I thought for a while that it was just stress from that and the business and kind of just brushed it off,” Rob said.

But there were also some troubling physical side effects that continued to build. The Cudmores saw their doctor in March and there were a battery of tests done and bloodwork taken. Rob was diagnosed with diabetes.

“We thought, OK sure, the blood sugar levels along with stress might be behind this,” Vanessa said.

But after a couple of weeks of monitoring and controlling the diabetes, Rob’s mental and physical health continued to become more uneven. 

He was running into things at home, and kept hitting his head while walking past the lifts at the shop. He’d occasionally drop things from his left hand. He had marks on his fingers from cigarettes burning down to his skin on that same hand.

He even lost his way driving to the shop and back home.

They kept Rob away from the shop for a bit to rest, staying home at first and then later dropping him off at his mom’s for the day.

Vanessa thought there was something physical that wasn’t found yet and took initiative to get Rob an MRI on June 4.

After seeing the results the doctors rushed him to University of Alberta hospital later that same day.

Due to COVID he was forced to deal with his brain tumour diagnosis without family at his side. 

“When I got in there I was so upset, and Vanessa couldn’t be there with me. I was a mess, your mind is racing. I remember wondering if I would ever see my boys play hockey again. It hit me hard,” Rob said, adding that his roommate, Phil, helped him get through.

Phil was mobile, and pushed Rob around the hospital in a wheelchair for distraction.

“He was amazing. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Vanessa eventually was able to visit and the nurses later made the executive decision to let her stay in the room with Rob the night before the surgery. 

She walked him to the surgery room and watched him wheeled through the doors. Vanessa tears up thinking about that goodbye.

“You just … it’s hard,” she said. 

“But he was doing really good and that made it better for me.”

 She made her way to the hotel across the street where family and friends had stayed for a couple days in support. The long wait began.

Eleven hours later, Rob was out of surgery. He remembers doing a system check when he woke up in recovery, wiggling toes and fingers.

When Vanessa and his mom were allowed in the room he knew who they were. 

Rob seemed to have pulled through with minimal effects. 

He stayed in ICU for nine days before being transferred by plane to Hinton, where he stayed for a couple days before he had his more than 20 staples removed on June 22.

He was home later that same day.

“One thing I’ve learned in all this is that my frame of mind … it’s important to recovery,” he said. 

“Being home has helped and being close to everyone. I’m so grateful for all the support.”

The Cudmores are the benificiary of a voluntary donation for entry to the drive in event being hosted at Big Rock Dodge by the Föhn Festival on June 30 and July 1. 

Good family friend and Föhn board member, Bill McDonald, let them know about it last week.

Rob’s journey isn’t over, and he is due back in the city next month for six to eight weeks of treatment. The Cudmores will use the funds to cover costs associated with their stays in Edmonton for treatment, and other expenses. 

“When I get better we really want to pay this forward in the community. This means a lot to us,” Cudmore said.

Provincial Friendship Centre AGM cancelled

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

After 25 years of serving the community, the Hinton Friendship Centre Society was supposed to host the provincial annual general meeting for the Alberta Native Friendship Centre Association (ANFCA).

Unfortunately the big event everyone at the friendship centre was waiting for was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yvonne Oshanyk, executive director of the Hinton Friendship Centre, said that provincial board members decided at their last meeting that they couldn’t hold off on a decision any longer and had to cancel the event.

“They didn’t really want to cancel it either and we certainly didn’t want to but it’s more important for people to be safe,” Oshanyk said.

Back in 2004, Hinton also hosted the provincial AGM, but this year was supposed to celebrate some major milestones as ANFCA is also celebrating 50 years of serving Albertans, Oshanyk said.

The provincial AGM will now likely be held virtually, similar to the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) AGM which is set to stream live in July.

The provincial AGM was scheduled in September this year and delegates from the 21 centres across the province planned to visit and stay in the community for the event.

Youth from friendship centres across the province would have attended a youth forum at the centre in Hinton and a banquet for all AGM attendees would have been held at the Legion, said Oshanyk.

She hoped to see her provincial counterparts one more time before retiring at the end of this year.

“I am very sad because this is my last year working and my 25th year, I’ve been here from Day 1. Before day one,” Oshanyk said.

Oshanyk worked at the Edson Friendship Centre for some time and noticed the good work they were doing before she and two others got together to form the Hinton Friendship Centre 25 years ago.

After presenting at the provincial AGM, Oshanyk and the two other board members joined the Friendship Centre movement.

“We started out with three people, and there are almost 40 right now, maybe even more than 40,” Oshanyk said. 

Hinton’s centre has staff placed in Edson for a couple of regional programs, as well as in Grande Cache.

To celebrate the past 25 years and all they accomplished, staff hoped to host several events throughout the year prior to the pandemic.

June is always a big month for the Friendship Centre, starting on June 1 with Day of Friendship, which was kickstarted by the Alberta association.

Staff acknowledged the day online, but normally they would be out in the community dropping off little gifts, visiting different agencies, and spreading awareness of the friendship day, Oshanyk said.

June 21 was Indigenous Day, and last year the centre had a big event with music and dancing, which couldn’t happen this year.

“We hope to celebrate later. When? We don’t know. It all depends. Everybody is talking about the second wave and we hope that doesn’t happen but we don’t know. None of us have lived through a pandemic before, Oshanyk said about their 25th celebration.

Depending on how this pandemic goes, Oshanyk said they still may have one celebration before the end of the year but nothing is planned at this point.

“I’m really proud of the way Hinton has handled the COVID crisis, as I call it. And Alberta in general has been very careful,” Oshanyk said.

The doors remain locked to the public at the Hinton Friendship Centre but services are still being offered. Currently most of these programs are now continuing virtually in various ways.

“We have therapists, in-home support programs and they’ve been carrying on business, not face to face, but they do see each other,” Oshanyk said. 

Recently, the centre celebrated the four-year-olds part of their Head Start program that are going into kindergarten next year.

One at a time they came into the centre for a gift and then took photos outside.

“The staff has been amazing at continuing to offer services and doing all kinds of things. They’ve been out delivering hampers for the food bank, not just here but in the county. They’ve continued their services. Our youth program will be starting to do some programming, mostly outdoor stuff at this point,” Oshanyk added.

Oshanyk said she’s proud of the solid programs, the good staff, and the way the centre has expanded over all these years.

She added that her team is always willing to jump in and help out wherever they can.

“I just wanted to see the 25 years and it’s here and I’m sure everything will be great, Oshanyk said.

Hinton and Yellowhead County receive Gas Tax funds

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Hinton and Yellowhead County both received federal funds for infrastructure priorities across a wide range of categories.

Alberta received $244M through the federal Gas Tax Fund (GTF) for the 2020–21 fiscal year to fund its most pressing infrastructure needs, announced Catherine McKenna, Infrastructure and Communities Minister, on June 11.

Yellowhead County is receiving $628,933 this year while Hinton is receiving $565,267. Yellowhead County and Hinton have consistently received GTF funding. 

The funds dispensed through the GTF originally came from revenues raised by the federal gasoline excise tax and the fund was launched in the federal Budget 2005.

While the 2020 GTF applications have not been approved yet by the provincial department, Yellowhead County allocated this year’s GTF to the Long Lake Road project through their budget process.

According to GTF annual reports by the provincial government, Yellowhead County spent $1,691,118 on a project titled “Niton North Road Base/Pave from Township Road Rd 543 to Hwy 751” in 2014, and $548,816 on a project titled “Long Lake Road Upgrade” in 2015.

In those same years, the Town of Hinton spent $523,890 on the Innovista Industrial Park Water Service Upgrade and $505,357 on the Innovista Water Installation.

The only reports available cover the 2014 and 2015 calendar years. 

The Town of Hinton did not respond before The Voice press deadline with info on what their GTF will be allocated to this year.

The federal GTF is a long-term, indexed source of funding for communities across the country. 

Projects eligible for the GTF fall under 18 categories, including public transit, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, solid waste management, community energy systems, local roads and bridges, capacity building, highways, airports, short-line rail, short-sea shipping, disaster mitigation, broadband and connectivity, brownfield redevelopment, culture, recreation, tourism, and sports.

Communities can use the funds immediately for priority projects, bank them for later use, pool the dollars with other communities for shared infrastructure projects, or use them to finance major infrastructure expenditures.

In addition to the regular installments in 2019-2020, Alberta communities received a top-up to their funding, as announced in Budget 2019. This top-up was meant to accelerate progress and maximize every opportunity to ensure that communities across the country continue to see real and timely results in the renewal of public infrastructure.

“By enabling communities to plan for their current and future needs, and build or improve the infrastructure that will help them thrive through any circumstance, the GTF is a critical tool that will help ensure Alberta remains among the best places in the world to live for generations to come,” the province stated.

Town of Hinton prepares for reopening

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

As the province slowly allows businesses to open and restrictions slacken, so is the Town of Hinton preparing to open facilities and bring back services to in-person operations.

The first stage of reopening the Government Centre happened on Thursday, June 18.

The centre operated on reduced hours between 9 am and 3 pm, and was open again on Tuesday and Thursday this week.

The Town stated that this staged reopening with reduced hours will be used as an observation and response measurement period for social distancing and cleaning parameters. 

Observations from the reopening of the Government Centre can then aid plans for other facilities like The West Fraser Guild and Infrastructure Services Building, the Town stated.

“The unexpected addition of a number of our facilities to phase 2 has the Town evaluating the plans which were in place as tasks like pool shutdown currently occurring must now be completed before opening,” said Nikiea Hope, Hinton’s human resources manager

Seventeen staff members have returned to work as part of Phase 2, but the completion of plans for accelerated facility openings will determine how many more members will be recalled in the coming weeks, said Hope.

Laura Howarth, Hinton director of community service, stated during the standing committee meeting on June 9 that annual pool shutdown work activities scheduled for September 2020 are taking place now and no regular fall shutdown will be required.

Before the pool can reopen, staff must return to regular levels and it will take three weeks for training and basin fill.

The town stated drop-in programs with phased-in usage and restrictions are to be expected, and lesson registration is expected to be available at the start of operations.

The Town currently does not have all head guards in place and the lifesaving society guidelines state that all head guards must be in place before the pool can reopen, according to Hope.

“We will need to hire and train these advanced roles. There will also be a posting for an aquatic guard, this position would not start until all of our existing staff is recalled, but we’re posting now to ensure we have full manpower available to prevent that causing further delay in opening the pool,” Hope said.

Interim CAO Emily Olsen said at the June 9 council meeting that the Town was not in a position to open the doors of the recreation centre that week and needed adequate time to prepare the facility.

At that same meeting, Howarth said public messaging for the rinks stated 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.

Howarth stated that staff would have to be brought back to regular capacity levels in order to build the ice.

Training, refrigeration start-up, and ice making takes a minimum three weeks before the rinks can reopen.

The town stated online that a phased-in usage with restrictions for both public use and ice user group programming is to be expected.

While the local Junior A Hockey team Hinton Timberwolves has cancelled their 2020/2021 season, discussions and planning to come back for the 2021/2022 will be undertaken in support to resume Junior A Hockey in Hinton.

Despite the early start to phase 2 of the provincial economic relaunch strategy, it isn’t mandatory for the Town to reopen its buildings and services immediately.

Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) programs involving group gatherings remain cancelled due to COVID-19.

According to the Town’s latest update, current staffing levels at FCSS remain reduced by 60 per cent and reduced service levels are being maintained with 40 per cent capacity staffing.

Four members of FCSS & Transportation will return to work as of June 24 and July 2, stated Hope, Hinton’s human resource manager.

Parks, Recreation and Culture staffing has increased from 25 per cent to 45 per cent and current reduced service levels are being maintained with 45 per cent capacity staffing.

Six Parks staff returned to work as of June 1, Hope stated.

Ongoing training was underway for the parks crew in the first weeks of June.

That crew will address the backlog and continue to deliver essential Parks services such as cemetery maintenance, grass cutting, garbage picking in green spaces, parks and trails maintenance, and dandelion growth mitigation, the Town stated.

As of June 15, two members of Recreation and Culture returned, four staff of the Library returned as of June 22, and one staff member of Development Services returned as of June 1, said Hope.

In addition, a reduction of hours was removed in the CAO Office area, Hope added.

Outhouses, public washroom facilities and porta potties in Town remain closed until other priority services are re-established and maintained.

Safety requirements will then be determined and implemented with opening of outhouses.

Other park services are determined as higher priority and reflect current staff capacity.

No anticipated re-opening date is available for the Athabasca Riverfront Park and the Spray Park.

All outdoor Tennis and Pickle Ball courts were anticipated to open on June 22, while two courts are available at Father Gerard Redmond Catholic School.

Local Legion set to re-open after COVID closure

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

After months of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Royal Canadian Legion hall in Hinton plans to open its doors on June 25.

The hall will be open on Thursdays to Saturdays with social distancing measures in place during the summer months.

Nearly one in 10 branches across the country face closure in the coming months unless there is some sort of intervention, according to the Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters.

Irene Musselman, president of the local Legion, stated that Hinton’s Legion is in a more fortunate position than some others and they hope to make it through the summer.

While some Legions rent their space, the Hinton Legion owns their building and it is mortgage free.

Musselman noted that if they had to remain closed until September, they would have been okay. 

“After that it gets a little bit more of a concern because it costs a lot of money to be closed,” Musselman said.

It costs $5,000 per month just for the bills when the Legion is closed.

“We’re not in horrible shape like many legions but the bank account is definitely gone down, we’re hoping if we open three days per week that it will help us maybe. At least even if we break even,” Musselman said.

The Legion received the green light to open in May, but decided to remain closed to wait for gaming to be permitted.

“Half our regulars come to play pool or snooker, and without them it just wasn’t working,” Musselman said.

Musselman hopes opening the game room back up will make a difference. Beside volunteer staff, the Hinton Legion does have paid bar staff, who will return to work this week. One staff member will work one week and one will work the next week in order to keep the payroll low. 

Musselman added that the local Legion applied for funds through the national office that were meant to help out Legions during the pandemic.

“We did get money to pay a bill of $3,000, but that was it. They were saying you could ask for up to $20,000 or something, but nobody got it,” Musselman said.

Cameron McNeill, spokesperson for the minister of Veterans Affairs, said that any non-profit or charity organization providing support to vulnerable populations whose programs and services have been disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis is eligible for the Emergency Community Support Fund. Legions providing support to their communities or to Veterans “may” be eligible for funding, he said.

“Our response to this pandemic is ongoing, and we will continue to explore ways to ensure that we’re providing Canadians and our community partners with the support they need,” McNeill said.

Musselman noted that The Legion is important in any community, especially small towns for its senior population.

“We have a lot of people borrowing short or long term medical items. Especially crutches, scooters, wheelchairs, walking frames. Mobility help,” she said.

The Legion often builds wheelchair ramps into peoples homes that require it and provides space for the local cadets, guides, and brownies who have all their classes and activities at the Legion at no charge. 

“We’re lucky we can provide quite a bit for the young people to use the facility and for non profit groups to use and we don’t charge for a lot of non profit groups,” Musselman said.

Local donations to the poppy fund go directly to veterans in the community. Musselman noted that Hinton has quite a few veterans and added that it’s important to keep an eye on the community and to make sure seniors are doing okay.

“It’s hard to think about if the Legion wasn’t here because they do quite a bit,” Musselman said.

Nujma Bond, communications manager of the Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters, said 124 of 1381 national Branches face closure, while another 357 are in financial difficulty.

“For now, many Branches are turning to non-traditional ways to raise funds in order to keep the lights on, from bottle drives to Go-Fund-Me initiatives,” Bond said.

“It’s important to understand that funds raised during the National Poppy Campaign in November cannot be used for Branch operations. Those funds must go towards supporting Veterans and communities,” Bond said.

The Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters is hopeful there will be federal assistance that all Branches can access.

Westmoreland closing Coal Valley mine

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Coal Valley Mine outside Edson is ceasing operations this year, citing significant constraints and challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC and Prairie Mines & Royalty ULC announced on June 22 that it would suspend operations at its Coal Valley Mine.

The mine is a 20,660 hectare surface mine that exports bituminous coal to customers in Japan and Korea, as well as some domestic coal.

At full production, approximately 400 to 425 employees work at the Coal Valley Mine, said Elenor Siebring, director of corporate, environmental and regulatory affairs Canada at Westmoreland.

A release from Westmoreland stated that based on the latest assessment of the continuing and ongoing impacts of the COVID situation, the management team ultimately concluded that there was no other option than to place the mine into a state of care and maintenance.

As the mine transitions to a full care and maintenance schedule, Siebring said employee reductions will be carried out in a phased approach between August and December.

When the mine is in full care and maintenance, it is anticipated that approximately 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the employees will remain.

All infrastructure and assets will be maintained in a state that will allow a reasonable start-up of the mine, Siebring said.

Joe Micheletti, chief operating officer for Westmoreland stated in the release that safety has been the cornerstone priority at the operation and these actions highlight the extent to which the day to day activities at the mine have been compromised by COVID. 

He also stated that severance remuneration will be paid to all employees affected by the operation suspension.

“We would endeavor to re-hire our valued employees if restarting normal operations at the Coal Valley Mine,” Siebring said.

Given the continued uncertainty imposed by the pandemic, Siebring couldn’t answer what it would take for operations to restart again.

“Westmoreland will assess this on a continual basis as we continue to keep the health and safety of our employees our number one priority,” she said.

Westmoreland’s management team is currently working with stakeholders on a phased reduction of production operations with the transition to full care and maintenance activities expected to occur within the next quarter.

The Coal Valley Mine was opened in 1978 to supply coal to Ontario Hydro and for overseas export.

The Coal Valley announcement comes the same month that Teck Coal transitions its Cardinal River mine near Cadomin to closure.