Businesses adjust to Stage 2 of Alberta relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Stage 2 of Alberta’s economic relaunch strategy and some steps that were scheduled to wait until the third stage came earlier than expected for many local businesses.

“We had a lot of calls from businesses during the closure, at phase 1, and again now for phase 2. They had many questions and we either answered over the phone and also went there to assist with adhering to the restrictions,” stated Jean Snow, protective services coordinator.

Back at the start of the closure, Hinton’s protective services contacted all businesses to find out who was open and if any needed assistance with the restrictions.  

A Community Peace Officer went to each open business to review the restrictions and deliver provincial restriction information, as well as the State of Local Emergency (SOLE) when it was declared.

When restaurants reopened, protective services staff revisited the locations and assisted with occupancy, table set up, cleaning, etc, Snow added.

“They were all very appreciative of this. Not all restaurants reopened completely and some are now going into the next phase,” she said.

Restaurants have started to call for help with the restrictions in the second stage and protective services will continue to help any businesses with adhering to the restrictions.

Public Health Inspectors continue to respond to complaints and service requests related to COVID-19 received from the public through the online portal, stated Kerry Williamson, communications for Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Since January, AHS conducted 175 inspections in Hinton, according to Williamson.

“As businesses reopen, inspectors are now moving back to normal operations by conducting monitoring inspections, which means a Public Health Inspector may show up at a business unannounced to conduct an inspection,” Williamson said.

Inspectors primarily use education to help ensure that operators handle foods safely, and enforcement is the exception.

Enforcement activities are conducted specifically in cases with facilities who are not complying with the orders by the chief medical officer of health.

On May 14, Stage 1 of the provincial relaunch strategy allowed some businesses like local cafes and restaurants to reopen.

Since stocking up on personal protective equipment and setting up their spaces for physical distancing, restrictions for these businesses have now changed again in the second stage.

The Old Grind opened later in May and only allowed customers in at half-capacity, as according to the restrictions of Stage 1.

Now in Stage 2, staff will no longer have to do head counts since capacity restrictions were lifted on June 12. 

Melanie Widenmaier, owner of The Old Grind cafe, said that physical distancing of two metres between tables is still mandatory, which doesn’t allow a lot of room to add patrons.

“I’m not sure how it will work for larger spaces but we will still be restricted at The Old Grind because of the size of our space. We might be able to add a few more seats but that’s about it,” Widenmaier said.

“I do however hope that this change in restrictions will inspire confidence in the public.”

Mr. Mikes in Hinton decided to delay their reopening until June 15, despite being allowed to open in mid-May. The restaurant began with take-out at the start of June.

Jessica Halvorson, general manager at Mr. Mikes, said bar top seating will be closed until further notice, but that patio will accommodate physical distancing nicely. 

“We don’t have a lot of concerns at this point, we are a little frustrated with the limited seating but we can technically open for 100 per cent occupancy,” Halvorson said.

Mr. Mikes has gone from about 270 seats down to approximately 140 with two metre physical distancing in place. 

“We will be relying heavily on community support once our doors do open with the travel restrictions still in place,” Halvorson added.

Stage 2 included the reopening of theatres, thus the Performing Arts Theatre of Hinton (PATH) was given the green light for operations.

Wendy Laurila, facility coordinator of the PATH, said that prior to the closure, the PATH had a fantastic assortment of entertainment lined up for the month of June and summer months. Unfortunately, these groups had made the tough decision to cancel as a precaution.

“We are extremely eager and as much as we would love to have our theatre filled with the sounds of wonderful entertainment, we will not be opening doors to the public at this time,” Laurila said.

Staff at the PATH are preparing to open, but The Home for Fine Arts Society of Hinton and The PATH staff want to ensure all safety measures are in place.

The current restriction of a maximum of 50 people indoors is not feasible for user groups of the PATH, because a live production can already have over 20 people working behind the scenes.

Aside from performers, stagehands, technicians, ushers, volunteer concession crew and staff, an audience would be very limited.

“There would also be the issue of maintaining social distancing on stage,” said Laurila.

Similarly, Hinton Movies doesn’t have access to movie premieres as the industry waits for assurance that movie-goers will return to theatres.

Laurila added that regular user groups of the PATH are starting to book for the new season and are bringing a great selection of entertainment.

Projects expedited for HCHS

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Previously approved maintenance projects by Alberta Education at Harry Collinge High School have been accelerated to be completed within six months.

School jurisdictions were asked to propose school maintenance and renewal projects following an advancement of Alberta Education’s capital portion of the Infrastructure, Maintenance and Renewal (IMR) funding in April.

Projects identified for completion at Harry Collinge High School in Hinton include upgrading to LED lighting, replacing boilers, and renovating six washrooms.

The projects will commence following the tendering and contracting process stated Dr. Kelly Harding, assistant superintendent at Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD).

The increase in IMR funding provides necessary upgrades to schools and creates jobs to help Albertans get back to work sooner, the province stated.

Provincial capital maintenance and renewal spending for the 2020-21 school year will double from $937M to $1.9B, while IMR funding for school divisions will increase by $250M.

“The advancement of these funds is intended to allow government and school jurisdictions to act quickly on projects across the province to keep Albertans employed during these challenging times, while also providing much-needed upgrades to existing schools,” stated Harding.

Proposed school maintenance and renewal projects had to align with the intent of the IMR Program and should be completed in six months. 

All accepted projects were previously submitted and approved by Alberta Education.

According to the Alberta Capital Maintenance and Renewal program approved on May 20, GYPSD will receive $2,500,000 from the provincial government.

Within GYPSD, other schools receiving funds for maintenance projects include Parkland Composite High School in Edson and Summitview School in Grande Cache.

School expected to be back in for September

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Alberta Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, said June 10 that students are expected to be back in school in September.

The provincial government will make a final decision on Aug. 1 on which scenario schools, teachers, and students can expect.

In the meantime, school authorities will plan for three different scenarios. The targeted scenario includes near normal operations with in-school classes and some health measures.

In scenario 2, in-school classes will only partially resume with additional health measures.

Physical distancing would remain mandatory and only 15 people would be allowed per classroom.

The final scenario would keep students learning from home as they have during the past three months.

LaGrange noted that all school boards will need to be adaptable for any scenario and that the direction from the province may vary regionally based on active cases in that area. School authorities won’t be able to choose which scenario they operate in, but will have autonomy of how they meet requirements within those scenarios.

Under the first and preferred scenario, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of high touch surfaces will be implemented several times per day. Staff and students will be screened routinely, they must wash their hands when entering and exiting the school and classrooms, and a strict stay-at-home policy will be in place for anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Physical distancing and grouping measures are encouraged in different ways, including reorganizing rooms to create space.

Staff and students would not be mandated to wear masks, and it is not recommended for younger students to wear a mask. Students can’t share equipment and supplies.

Scenario two will include the same measures as scenario one but will additionally only allow 15 people per classroom and require consistent physical distancing.

Students will attend school less regularly under the second scenario and school authorities will need to adjust schedules.

Any summer programming will follow scenario 2 of the re-entry plan and the associated public health measures.

Students taking diploma courses this summer will proceed to write diploma exams, unlike students in current spring diploma courses.

In the case of scenario 3 in the following school year, diploma exams and provincial achievement tests for Grade 6 and 9 may be cancelled.

British Columbia

Students in neighbouring British Columbia returned to school on June 1 on a part-time, voluntary basis.

Before re-opening, schools had to submit a health and safety plan to the provincial government that was to follow the provincial health officer’s guidelines. Anyone entering a school building must wash their hands and some schools are only allowing staff and students inside to avoid additional traffic.

Other safety measures like physical distancing are also in place, similar to Alberta’s measures.

The BC Ministry of Education said between 20 to 80 per cent of students were expected to return on alternating days, depending on the district. 

Most students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 returned to school half time, while grades 6 to 12 go to school about one day a week. At-home learning remains an option for families who decided not to send their children to class.

Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan government announced on June 9 that in-class learning for prekindergarten to Grade 12 students will resume at the start of the new school year on Sept. 1. Students in Saskatchewan will finish out this year with at-home learning. 

Public health guidelines are in the process of being developed for schools and would be shared with school divisions this week.

Quebec

Quebec was the first province in Canada to return to elementary classrooms outside of Montreal on May 11, but with strict health and safety measures.

Schools in Montreal and all secondary schools in the province will remain closed until September.

Other Provinces

Manitoba and PEI followed suit and reopened all of their schools, although optional in all cases.

Elementary and high schools in Manitoba partially reopened, which means students take turns going to class, or have small group classes.

PEI students can schedule meetings with their teachers at school or small, outdoor classes are optional.

All remaining provinces and territories have announced their K-12 schools will stay closed until September at least.

Hinton Golf Club project profit in 2020

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Kyle Crawford, director of the Hinton Golf Club, presented the club’s 2020 budget and business plan as part of a temporary reporting arrangement to the Town of Hinton and Council at the Standing Committee Meeting on June 9.

The projected profit for the Hinton Golf Club in 2020 is slightly over $8,000. 

While unexpected expenses can sometimes come up throughout the year, Crawford is confident that the club can reach the goal of an $8000 profit.

He stated the club’s focus for 2020 is increasing the number of rounds and increasing food and beverage revenue on a monthly basis, as well as providing excellent customer service.

Crawford said staff is tracking everything, including rounds, revenue, and wages, and sending data to its board members.

“This will give us a daily percentage of where we are relative to our budget that we have created for 2020,” Crawford said during his presentation.

Adjustments can then be made when problems arise right away instead of catching issues months later, he explained.

This data will also help gear marketing initiatives to get people on the property and increase rounds.

“Considering we’re only open for one month, we don’t know if data is skewed in certain areas. We’ll find out at the three month mark,” Crawford said.

That data and the budget for 2021 will come back to council as soon as possible, Crawford added.

Projected expenses in 2020 add up to $761,617.14, which are slightly higher than 2019 numbers.

Clubhouse expenses double in 2020 compared to 2019, because the clubhouse will be fully operational this year.

A fully operational clubhouse will also increase its revenue stream.

Everything within the restaurant will be done in house going forward, Crawford explained.

“The restaurant is rebranded, not just the restaurant as part of the Hinton Golf Club but as its own entity as Pano Bar & Grill,” Crawford said.

He added that one major factor of the expense increase in the club house is due to bringing everything up to code and to pass health and safety inspections. 

“We had coolers and grease traps cleaned out, hood vents, that’s why that expense is there,” Crawford said.

The cost for maintenance of the course dropped around $30,000 from 2019 numbers because of wage cuts as some employees were laid off during the pandemic and also due to snow remaining on the property.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn brought up the fact that the club isn’t eligible for the federal wage subsidy in the club’s current state related to how the municipality is involved.

Crawford added that since the course still had snow into May, they could not have opened even without the impact of COVID-19. 

“Unless we had been open on April 1, then we could have shown a loss in revenue,” Crawford said.

COVID-19 restrictions did however keep the pro shop closed much longer causing loss of revenue, but pro shop expenses are also projected to be slightly less due to wage cuts.

“We did drop some wages and have two less people on staff than last year. Trying to make sure we are somewhat profitable this year moving forward,” Crawford added.

Since moving some wages around from general administration expenses to the pro shop expenses, the expenses for general administration dropped substantially since 2019.

Crawford managed to bring down expenses even more through making deals with all vendors the golf course deals with.

“We were able to cut some costs drastically through phoning every company that we deal with and make deals with them moving forward,” Crawford said.

The club is also partnering with the Jasper golf course again this year to offer a 30 per cent discount to Jasper members and vice versa.

A two round package deal to play both Jasper and Hinton will also be available this year.

Since Jasper’s course was closed until June 1 due to COVID-19, the Hinton Golf Club generated about $2,300 in revenue by having some of Jasper’s members and the public travelling to Hinton to play the course.

Membership registrations at the Hinton Golf Club are pretty similar to last year while league registrations are down, due to the restrictions around COVID-19.

Crawford projects an increase in green fees compared to last year but said golf cart revenue has been down since more people are walking.

Some new initiatives Crawford hoped to introduce this year were leasing opportunities in the clubhouse building and music and comedy nights to boost food and beverage revenue as well as bringing in members of the public to enjoy.

These two initiatives haven’t been able to take off due to restrictions around COVID-19.

In pre-pandemic times, administration intended for the golf course asset transfer to the Town to be fully realized and a decision regarding the Club’s operational structure and parameters made by Council, said Heather Waye, Hinton’s strategic services manager.

“As this was not achievable during the pandemic, this report and the following report coming in the fall, serve to achieve the goals of oversight in the original motion as a stop gap,” Waye explained. 

This temporary reporting arrangement is an effort to ensure that the Town of Hinton, and Hinton Town Council, are aware of all current statuses and actions, she stated.

Land use, safety code, and HR bylaws approved

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Council approved all bylaws that came back to them for approval at the regular council meeting on June 16.

Mayor Marcel Michaels then brought forward a discussion item around Hinton’s third bylaw officer position, which prompted a request for an information report on the impacts of removing the position from the Town.

Council approves Land Use Bylaw

Council gave all three readings for Land Use Bylaw (LUB) 1088-14. LUB amendments include establishing the director of development services as a Planning Authority for the municipality to exercise subdivision and development powers and designate the duties to any other person.

These authorities must be provided to exercise subdivision and development powers and perform duties on behalf of the municipality, according to the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Council’s authorization of the director of development services with the required delegation authority provides flexibility to delegate duties where necessary to ensure sustainability and to provide more efficient customer service.

Peter Vana, director of development services, stated that anyone delegated that authority is required to follow policies and procedures to ensure consistency of service.

According to administration’s report, this provides Council with assurance that the municipality is prepared to support customers during difficult conditions such as the pandemic where staffing levels have been negatively affected through layoffs, sick leaves, and shifting workloads. 

Safety Codes Permit Bylaw approved

The Safety Codes Permit Bylaw 1148 is necessary for the Town of Hinton becoming an accredited Municipality for Safety Codes Services and establishing an Administrative function for permit sales and file administration.

Interim CAO Emily Olsen stated that bylaw 1148 establishes the application procedure.

All inspections for all disciplines will be performed through a contract with an accredited agency. The readings enable the Town to begin the new service by Aug. 1, 2020 and to obtain the projected revenues expressed to Council during the initial presentation.

Vana added that Hinton has taken the model that many municipalities use as a service model when contracting out to an agency.  Services of a consultant have been retained to craft a bylaw that deals with all requirements of becoming an agency.

Development Services Fees Bylaw passed

The Development Services Fees Bylaw 1104-3 provides a framework for fees and charges related to the town providing safety code services as an accredited agency.

This bylaw establishes fees for permits issued according to the Safety Codes Act, the Permit Regulations, and the Town of Hinton’s Quality Management Plan. 

Coun. Dewly Nelson added that if adjustments need to be made in the future to fees, it would be an easy amendment. 

The fees in this bylaw are consistent with those across other jurisdictions and what other agencies charge, said Vana.

Amendments to the Development Services Fees Bylaw 1104 include safety codes fees for the disciplines of Building, Gas, Electrical, Plumbing, and Private Sewage.

The Town of Hinton Protective Services Department is already accredited under the Safety Codes Act in the Fire discipline and will be incorporated into the new Town Quality Management Plan for the noted disciplines. 

Employment Principles Policy approved

The Employment Principles Policy HR-1905 was the first of four policies before council to support cleaning up outdated and noncompliant human resource policies. 

Olsen stated that the Town also has three Council approved Policies regarding Employee Principals, all three of which are outdated and in need of revision.

These Policies do not reflect MGA requirements, current legislative requirements, or best practice.

The revised Policy HR-1905 outlines these new legislative requirements. 

The revised guiding Policy will set standards, protect employees, and ensure the Town follows the due diligence required to protect the organization from liability, stated the report.

The updated Policy will help prevent a contravention of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which can apply a remedy as high as $100,000, and of Alberta Employment Standards, which can apply Administrative penalties ranging from $500 to $6,000, according to the report from administration.

The Town stated that having a Policy including the Town’s values of equal employment opportunities will be a useful attraction and retention tool and could reduce recruitment and staff turnover costs.

The average turnover rate in 2019 was 23 per cent.

Employee Relations Policy approved

The Employee Relations Policy HR-1904 ensures employees are treated in a manner that is fair and consistent, stated CAO Olsen.

The policy outlines employee relation practices and provides employees with knowledge on organizational practices, expectations, and processes.

It also sets consistent standards, improves communication, reduces conflict, and improves efficiencies, Olsen stated.

Strong parameters around employee relations helps to prevent a contravention of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which can apply a remedy as high as $100,000, and of Alberta Employment Standards, which can apply Administrative penalties ranging from $500 to $6,000, according to the report from administration.

The report also stated that this policy could positively impact the Town’s organizational culture as there has been an average of six harassment investigations per year in the past two years, which are expensive and time consuming.

Benefit Principles Policy approved

Benefits Principles Policy HR-1903 captures the current processes for introducing or modifying benefit plans or programs followed by the Town, stated Olsen.

The policy ensures that long-term cost implications and planning considerations are factored into organizational benefit decisions and outlines a set of principles to govern the analysis required, Olsen continued.

Benefits Principles Policy HR-1903 does not result in changes to current practices, but reflects current processes that the Town already follows.

Pay Principles Policy approved

Before approval, council amended a section within the Pay Principles Policy HR-1902 to state that the CAO must address budget impacts of any changes with council by seeking approval through a Request for Decision instead of through an Administrative Report or the Annual Budget Process.

Prior to the amendment, Olsen explained that the salary grid itself was approved through the budgetary process.

Nelson said he couldn’t recall formally approving the grid as part of the budget process but only approving the dollar amount for human resources.

“There’s to me some ambiguity around the ability for the grid to change and then be presented to council as a report,” Nelson said.

Nikiea Hope, human resources manager, said any adjustments made to the grid with implications to future budget years would have to be approved by council. 

Coun. Ryan Maguhn added that having the presentation of that grid on an annual basis as part of the budget process ensures it doesn’t get lost in the budget documents and offers some comfort.

The Pay Principles Policy is required to ensure legislative requirements such as equal pay are being met.

Contravention of these standards can result in penalties to the organization as high as $100,000, according to the report from administration.

According to the town, a Pay Principles Policy also impacts the Town’s ability to attract and retain competent employees by showing how their pay will be administered when they perform their jobs competently. 

Any Administrative decision regarding pay which would impact the Budget is still subject to Council approval.

Council rescinded Personnel Policy – Salaried Staff 027, Personnel Policy – Salaried Employees 060, and Personnel Policy General 017.

Council re-appoints member for 2020 Regional Assessment Review Board

Earlier in 2020, Council appointed a staff member as the Designated Clerk for the West Yellowhead Regional Assessment Review Board, but that employee no longer works for the Town of Hinton.

Council approved that Trisha Papke be appointed instead for a one-year term starting June 16, 2020.

Papke from Edson agreed to support the Town of Hinton through this role in 2020 since Hinton has no other staff currently certified to perform this function.

The Specialized Municipality of Jasper, the Town of Edson, and the Town of Hinton make up the  Inter-Municipal Assessment Review Board.

A Council must by bylaw establish a Local Assessment Review Board and a Composite Assessment Review Board.

Action Pending List Approved

Council approved the action pending list, including amendments regarding proposed dates for completion of items, the consolidation of items relating to fees and charges for recreation and park spaces, as well as clarification and a new completion date provided to the additional parking lot on Robb road. 

All items related to the recreation centre were included as status quo with no changes.

Coun. JoAnn Race questioned administration on whether town benches that are removed will be replaced in the same locations.

Olsen explained the first step is to complete the design and construction standards of these benches.

The exact location of the benches is still unknown, administration said.

Nelson said that while benches of high value should be replaced, those in low traffic locations could be removed and used as a cost saving measure. 

Information report requested for third bylaw officer position

Mayor Marcel Michaels brought forward a discussion item regarding the vacant peace officer position and questioned whether the Town could potentially remove this position as a cost saving measure.

Hope stated that many applications have been received in the hiring process.

Race questioned what the service level impact would be of removing the position.

Olsen explained there would be a definite impact, including a slower response time and reduced services.

“This would bring a lot of challenges back to department,” said Todd Martens, protective services manager of Hinton.

“Having two individuals only, we struggle with overtime, sick coverage, holidays, and burnout. Because of the burnout we were always replacing the CPO’s almost yearly.”

Martens added that adding the third position in the first place was to ease those issues the department and officers faced.

He did not reccomend dropping down to two officers especially during summer months and as the pandemic is slowing down.

Coun. Tyler Waugh mentioned that when council added the third position he wanted to have a service level discussion, and that now may be a good opportunity to have that discussion.

“I think we need to have a full discussion for the public just about the services that are offered, the timelines, and what impacts having two people would have,” Waugh said.

Council directed administration to provide an information report on service level and financial impacts of the bylaw services department at the standing committee meeting on July 14.

In the meantime, administration will keep the position of peace officer level one open.

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 hinton.ca/hkfs 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.