For eleven years, Maryann Chichak has given her time to help build a community she loves. She held a councillor's seat for one term, followed by two terms as mayor, and is now staring into the open horizon with anticipation for what comes next. "Looking into the future in the next couple of weeks, I'm excited to have the election completed and to see new people at the table to create their vision for Whitecourt."
In 2014, the first year of her first mayoral term, there were five strategic goals identified for helping enhance the community. Those goals helped shape her time as mayor, and she is proud of what Council Council accomplished. "The first one was enhancing recreational opportunities in Whitecourt. We'World Snowmobile Invasion, jet boat races, and the airshow. We've hosted mud runs, created a beach volleyball court and Festival Way at Rotary Park, and added new washrooms and sun shelters. Eastlink Park started and has expanded, and we also saw a water line come into Graham Acres, which is huge for our ball and football communities. I would say those are successes."
The second pillar was enhancing arts and culture, to which she mentioned the Children's Festival, Party in the Park, Arts in the Park and taking part in Communities in Bloom. "We even become Provincial Winners." The third was enhancing services that foster social and physical wellbeing. "We introduced public transit and expanded it. I understand that not everybody uses it, but if you talk to the families that need it, it's a necessity in our community." Other successes include Parent Link and Child Mind programs, the off-leash dog park and the Christensen Development, which will bring in additional housing options for Whitecourt residents.
Another of the five strategic goals identified in 2014 was enhancing the quality of life. "Some that come to mind are the Dahl Drive improvements, the Odor Mitigation Program with our wastewater plant, our Firesmart program, the water system upgrades, and the purchase of the rescue truck & ladder truck that provides additional safety."
One of the most significant pillars identified is aiding in the process of economic development. "There's so much to talk about there. We look at our approved vitalization plan and some of the things we've done, including the beautification along Highway 43 with planting trees up and the signs and banners that have gone up. We've spearheaded some future development in Athabasca Flats with the creation of the Ecole St. Joseph's School. We've done tons of partnerships with Community Futures Yellowhead East, the Business Support Network, Chamber of Commerce and, except for the last few years, a lot of work with our partners at Woodlands County."
She said the creation of a Tourism Committee is another big part of that. There are also several significant studies coming up for completion that will help shape Whitecourt's future. "These are going to be huge reports that I hope never sit on a shelf because they have the potential for existing businesses and new business opportunities not only within Whitecourt but within our region." Studies include the Community Training Needs and Labour Force Analysis Study, Geothermal Report, Business Industrial Park, and Targeted Industrial Base Diversification, Resiliency, and Attraction Pilot Project.
"Since I've come on Council, we've gone through two federal governments, three provincial governments and a change in our relationship with Woodlands County. We encountered the start of a recession in 2014/2015 and now COVID. We also hit many milestones. We celebrated our 60th anniversary, and a pillar of our community, Millar Western, celebrated their 100th anniversary which speaks so well to have a company that size be successful in our community for so many years and hopefully for the next 100 as this community grows!"
She tipped her hat to Council and Administration for their superb record on grant opportunities stating that "there aren't many grant opportunities that we pass up on applying for, and there's not many we were turned down for." She said she hopes the community focuses on all the different opportunities out there. "I think COVID has changed how we look at things and how we can do things and different business opportunities." For Whitecourt's future, she said the visionary lens needs to include a partner in Woodlands County. "Once this election is done, I'm hoping the councils will be able to sit down and look at that vision on behalf of all the residents."
On a personal note, Chichak, an avid wake surfer, skier, golfer, Edmonton Oilers fan, and lake-life-enjoyer, said one of her favourite memories is her time with the kids on the Mayor's Youth Committee. "They are the leaders of tomorrow. They need to be mentored and be part of the decision-making process. You can build buildings, add equipment to parks and rec facilities but knowing you helped groom the leaders of tomorrow to make this world a better place really puts a smile on my face."
Whether she is biking through Centennial Park or walking around the loop at Rotary Park, Chichak said she is forever reminded that Whitecourt is one of the greatest places in the province. "It's the people in this community that continue to make it this way. Whether that's by volunteering, sitting on a committee, running for public office, helping seniors with snow removal, or doing the littlest things, that's what makes our community great. It will continue to be that way if each and every person helps by playing their part. We are very lucky to have what we do."
To the community, Chichak says thank you. "I have treasured every single day. It was an honour getting up in the morning and representing our community proudly and doing what I always felt was in the community's best interest with the support of Council. I will miss those days, but I'm looking forward to watching the new mayor and council continue on and create their vision to bring our municipality forward." With her children, Justin and Julie, and sidekick Moguls at her side, Mayor Chichak looks forward to a new chapter in her life with countless new adventures to fill her cup.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press