Year in Review 2021

·6 min read

Nearly three-hundred and sixty-five days have come and gone in the blink of an eye. In just a few short days, we will find ourselves opening a brand new book with 365 blank pages ready to fill with new memories. Before we permanently close the door on 2021, let's look back in the rearview mirror and see where we've been.

One of the year's most significant announcements came in February as the long-awaited Christenson Development finally kicked off. President of Christenson Group of Companies, Greg Christenson, MLA Martin Long, Minister of Senior's and Housing for Alberta Josephine Pon, Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak and Woodlands County Mayor John Burrows came together for the announcement. The Manor is an urban village for residents to age in place rather than forcing them to move away from loved ones to receive care. "Somebody in a couple will age more rapidly than the other spouse, so, sadly, they are broken up, and one has to go, if not to another building, sometimes to another community," explained Christenson. He and his company are focused on building spaces that allow for multiple levels of service under one roof, enabling couples to remain by each other's side as much as possible.

The Town of Whitecourt donated an ageing fire engine to the Los Amigos Project earlier this year. Decommissioned Canadian emergency and service vehicles are sent to in-need communities in Mexico, and since 2011, the Los Amigos has sent 44 vehicles down, including six fire trucks. Due to insurance standards in Canada, the equipment is considered unusable. However, Mexican firefighters can get a lot of life out of it.

It's a downed transformer! No, not Optimus Prime. On Friday, March 12, Whitecourt had an issue with a voltage tapper at a transformer site. Rather than tap and keep the voltage line steady, it tapped a bit too much, sending a massive spike of voltage down the line. The zap struck the Whitecourt Water Treatment Plant. Though the plant has surge protection in place, the spike was too big to handle. Within hours, staff reached out to neighbouring communities for help to keep Whitecourt from running dry. At the peak, eighteen trucks hauled water to Whitecourt from the Town of Mayerthorpe, Yellowhead County and the Town of Edson. Town staff worked around the clock all weekend to get things back up and running.

Speaking of running, three thieves were spotted scurrying across the Scott Safety Centre parking lot headed towards the Whitecourt Food Bank in late March. Parked outside was the food bank's van. The thieves were after the catalytic converter and slid underneath to grab it. They ended up not stealing the right part for whatever reason, but their attempt still caused damage. The deductible needed to claim insurance was nearly unattainable for the non-profit, community-supported food bank. Seeing a problem they could fix, two businesses stepped forward to help. Susan King from NAPA Auto Parts and Darren Haug from MyAx Automotive Repair got the van back on the road, good as new.

DOMINOES! The M.O.O.S.E Society, Ecole St. Mary's fundraising group, turned the school's halls into a gigantic domino game on April 23. Students and staff collected 1229 cereal boxes for the Whitecourt Food Bank and celebrated their success uniquely. With students inside their classrooms watching live on Google Meet, one lucky teacher pushed the first box in the chain, which started the domino effect. One by one, the boxes fell onto each other, twisting up and down the hallways to the delight of everyone.

Rotary Park is a continually growing space for the community. This year, the Town of Whitecourt added Festival Way. The long paved path, which leads from near the gravel parking lot to the concession building, features power plugs and lights. Ivan the Goat was one of the first vendors to enjoy the paved space with his UnforGOATable Treats.

Unable to open their doors for a while due to restrictions, the Whitecourt & District Public Library offered a few different ways for residents to access their services, including curbside pick up and an outdoor table filled with free books. Staff regularly topped up the selection for residents to walk up and check out at their leisure.

Residential schools, and the atrocities within their walls, were a hot topic through the summer and continue to be to this day. Several demonstrations took place, including one outside St. Joseph Catholic Church on June 1. Laid on the pavement were 215 shoes to honour the children discovered buried in Kamloops. The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement identified 139 schools throughout Canada, including 25 in Alberta. From the 1870s until 1996, when the final residential school doors closed, more than 150,000 Indigenous children attended. The three faiths running residential schools in Alberta were Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Methodist.

Hollywood came to Whitecourt and Woodlands County thanks to an Edmonton-based crew led by Tim McKort, who chose the area to film Spearphishing. Local actors joined in, filling roles and helping behind the scenes. At the end of July, residents attended Vista Theatre to watch familiar faces on the big screen. The movie, about a police officer named Colt Hansen, centers on a small rural area that is embroiled in a foreign attempt at election sabotage.

One sport that has steadily grown in popularity is Pickleball. Following a lot of hard work and volunteer time, some enthusiasts realized their dream of having an outdoor place to play. The group rebuilt the surface at the old tennis courts beside the Scott Safety Centre, which involved thoroughly washing the old paint off. That one job alone took 130 volunteer hours. The group of about 20 people put in 500 volunteer hours to complete the project.

The Community Lunchbox announced plans for the future, including a curbside recycling program to help them collect more bottles. A grant through Pembina Pipeline is helping kick things off. Residents will have a box at home and call in for pick up once it's ready for collection. The Community Lunchbox staff are also excited to build a kitchen on the lot beside their current building. More information on that project will come in 2022.

On September 30, Canadians celebrated the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The newly-formed Whitecourt Indigenous Friends Society put together a very well-attended Orange Shirt Parade. The group also organized a performance and feast at Rotary Park featuring Chubby Cree and jingle dress dancers.

The 3rd Annual Trunk or Treat brought droves of people downtown on Sunday, October 31. Over 1500 children took part in the popular event, which offered a daytime alternative to nighttime trick-or-treating. Participation from businesses and organizations has steadily grown each year, turning it into a multi-street endeavour.

And finally, to wrap up our look back on 2021, on December 16, Millar Western Forest Products Ltd. announced it had agreed to sell the company's wood products assets to Canfor Corporation. The sale price of $420 million included working capital of $56 million. Mills in Whitecourt, Fox Creek, and Acheson are part of the deal. Once the transaction is completed in the first quarter of 2022, Millar Western will continue owning and operating the bleached chemi-thermomechanical pulp mill in Whitecourt. Millar Western has been active in Alberta for more than a century. Don Kayne, President and CEO of Canfor, stated, "Millar Western has an excellent reputation for its highly skilled employees, strong commitment to safety, efficient operations and exceptional products."

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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