Remembering the top 10 stories of 2021

·7 min read

COVID-19 COVID captured attention once again in 2021, though much of the focus was on vaccine rollouts and emerging variant strains. The vaccine was available in December 2020 to limited age groups, those with immunocompromised health, and health care workers. Vaccine eligibility began to open to more of the population and over 7.25 million doses have been administered as of Monday, December 20. Some 89.4 per cent of Albertans 12 and older have received their first dose while 85.1 per cent are fully vaccinated with both doses. Variants of the COVID virus were first identified in January 2021 and the Delta variant (formerly known as B.1.617.2) was first identified in April. The Delta variant quickly became the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the province. In November a fifth variant, known as Omicron, was identified in southern Africa; while research into this new variant is still in its early stages, evidence suggests Omicron may be more transmissible than previous variants, including Delta, though research is still ongoing.

Federal Election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dissolved Parliament and called for a federal election with only 36 days for candidates to campaign ahead of the September 20 election date. When the results rolled in, the Liberal Party retained a minority government, with a total of 160 seats, up from 157 in 2019; the Conservative Party remain official opposition with 119 seats, down from 121 in 2019. Members of Parliament Damien Kurek and Martin Shields were re-elected in their respective ridings of Battle River-Crowfoot and Bow River.

Municipal Election The federal election was not the only ballot eligible voters had to cast this year, as voters returned to the polling stations only a month after the federal election for the October 18 municipal elections. Along with municipal council and school board trustees, voters also answered two referendum questions about moving to permanent summer Daylight Savings Time hours and changing equalization payments, and for their chosen Senate candidates.

Truth and Reconciliation The bodies of 215 children were discovered in unmarked graves at the former grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. in May, sparking an outcry for truth and reconciliation across the country. The last residential school closed in 1997. Drumheller RCMP held a blessing and land acknowledgment in June to recognize they serve on the traditional grounds of the Treaty 7 First Nations peoples-the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee). Students at Greentree Elementary participated in activities on National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) to honour, celebrate, and learn about Indigenous peoples, and area schools participated in learning activities and wearing orange shirts to honour residential school survivors. A smudge and prayer were held on September 30, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, by local Indigenous liaison Lynn Fabrick and Elder John Sinclair at the powwow site behind the BCF. Staff and inmates from Drumheller Institution donated tipis to two area schools in December as part of their path to reconciliation; a third tipi will be donated in spring 2022.

Agriculture disaster 69 municipalities across Alberta declared states of agricultural disaster after high temperatures and minimal rainfall spurred stunted crop growth and low yields, including nearby counties of Kneehill, Starland, and Wheatland, and the Special Areas Board. A total of $340 million in provincial and federal supports were announced in August to help producers in drought-affected areas; an additional $100 million in immediate relief for livestock producers and beekeepers to purchase feed, water, or fencing was also provided by the federal government. Harvest progress was ahead of both the five and 10-year averages according to the final October 12 Alberta Crop Report. In the Central region, which includes the counties surrounding Drumheller, harvest progress was up some 30 per cent over the five-year average and 20 per cent over the 10-year average.

Ambulatory shortages and concerns Ambulance shortages and redistribution to larger centres like Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton, paired with staff shortages has caused concern across the province. Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) EMS began posting about these issues on social media and “comes from HSAA members currently working in EMS within Alberta.” The page announces when municipalities go into Red Alert, with no ambulances available to respond to calls, when ambulances are dropped from the schedule due to staffing shortages, and when ambulances have been dispatched to other centres. This has been an ongoing issue for several months. Most recently, on Monday, December 27, ambulances in Drumheller, Hanna, and Linden were dropped from schedule and shut down due to short staffing, and Kneehill County went into Red Alert with no ambulances in Three Hills or Linden.

New Delia School

The new Delia School opened only 13 months after ground was first broken on the project, and some five months ahead of schedule, in October. Delia School Enhancement Society fundraised over $1.2 million to support additional projects, including a multi-purpose room that will act as a community hub, expanding the gymnasium and adding bleachers, as well as expanding the library. Shortly after theschool opened to students, the Delia Bulldogs senior girls volleyball team won their first tournament in the new school, and a public open house was held on Wednesday, December 22.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife premiere Drumheller became the stage for something strange in the neighbourhood on the big screen as the town and surrounding areas became the fictional town of Summerville, Oklahoma for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The film premiered on November 19 after several delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A VIP gala and premiere, with some 300 people in attendance, were organized by the Economic Development Advisory Committee; members of the Calgary Ghostbusters volunteer non-profit cosplay group also attended the premiere with props and costumes.

Flood Mitigation changes, petition, and Municipal Affairs A group of concerned Drumheller and area residents began a petition in May asking Municipal Affairs to inspect the flood mitigation program pertaining to full disclosure of property buyout prices, the fairness of tendering and award process, and the appropriateness of municipal, federal, and provincial grant funding. The Town of Drumheller announced in June it had parted ways with the program’s communication team and project director and had extended an invitation to Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver to inspect and review the program. A response was received from Minister McIver in November noting there were some deficiencies, though the town had shown it had taken steps to address these concerns through hiring a new communications team and project manager, and that these concerns were not sufficient for a full investigation. It is estimated the cost to the municipality was somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000 in time and resources, though a much lighter cost than the estimated $60,000 to $70,000 for Municipal Affairs to conduct a full investigation.

Return of community,fundraising events Although many community events and fundraisers faced cancellations in 2020, numerous long-standing events returned in 2021, with some changes. The Rotary Club of Drumheller’s White Elephant and Radio Auction both faced cancellations in 2020 and returned in 2021 with new venues and new restrictions, including reduced occupancy capacity and the implementation of the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP). Santa’s Christmas Dinner also returned after a hiatus in 2020 and followed the Restrictions Exemption Program, while also giving the option to participate through order pick-up or delivery. The Drumheller Festival of Lights committee decided to change their event from a single-day to a month-long event beginning with the lighting of the big tree on November 20 and wrapping up with a kid’s shopping event on December 18; surrounding municipalities also found ways to spread the festive spirit through outdoor and socially distanced activities. Rather than implement restrictions, some events chose to move to virtual or online formats. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes held a virtual campaign with local participants finding ways to don the signature red heels and fundraise for the local temporary domestic violence shelter Colton’s Place, and Alberta Association of Communities Against Violence (AACAA). The Hussar Stag Auction also moved online, raising over $30,000 to support operations at the Hussar Arena.

The Drumheller Mail will begin publishing ‘Year in Review’ stories for surrounding communities and municipalities in the New Year.

Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail

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