Weekly update: Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo looks back at 2023

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • Fort McMurray Oil Barons: MOB face Camrose Kodiaks at Centerfire Place on Jan. 29 and Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and schedule are online.
  • The Craze on New Year’s Eve!: MacDonald Island Park welcomes 2024 with a day of family fun. Fireworks will end a day of face painting, bouncy castles, wagon rides, skating (including a sensory-friendly skate), curling lessons and more. Events run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, fireworks are at 5:30 p.m. A schedule of events is online.
  • Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival: A selection of films from the festival in Banff plays at Keyano Theatre. Films take take viewers to the world’s remote corners, discuss environmental issues, and bring an up-close and adrenaline-packed action sports experience. Jan. 11 and 12 at Keyano Theatre. Tickets are online.
  • HeartSpark’s Breaking Barriers: For females 12+. Experience confidence, friendship and learn some self-defence with HeartSpark and Theresa Stanley, black-belt executive director of Phoenix Tae Kwon Do Club and creator of Girls on Fire Confidence Workshops. This is a fundraiser for HeartSpark’s free youth programming. Jan. 14 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Unifor’s office. Tickets online.
  • Fe Art Exhibition: Fe Art Gallery is exhibiting a tapestry of contemporary Indigenous African Art at the Grand Ballroom of Shell Place. Jan. 27 and 28. Tickets are free.
  • Roller derby try-it night: Anyone 7+ is invited to try roller derby with the Fort McMurray Roller Derby League. No experience needed. Feb. 1 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at MacDonald Island Park. Instructions on what to bring and what to expect are on Facebook.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts plenty of events every week. These all-ages events can be found online.
  • MacDonald Island Park regularly updates its website with upcoming events and programs.

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Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter. Obituaries can be viewed online.

hindu temple
Worshippers attend the third day of Murti Pran Pratishtha, which are the opening ceremonies of a Hindu temple, at the Sanatan Mandir Cultural Society in Fort McMurray on May 22, 2023. The temple is Canada’s most northern Hindu temple. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

The stories that shaped Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in 2023

Well, that was something.

The past summer was the busiest wildfire season for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo since 2016. There were problems with encampments and housing. The opioid crisis claimed the most victims in 2023.

But there were also events to celebrate. The Arctic Winter Games was a celebration of northern sports and culture. Construction began on massive transportation projects and the Northside Arena, and continued on flood mitigation. There were plenty of cultural, artistic and religious events that were hosted.

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Have a great 2024, everyone!

A choir sings Christmas carols in Malayalam, a language commonly spoken in the Kerala state in southern India, at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Hundreds of guests, volunteers welcomed at 29th community Christmas meal

Healthy helpings of community, food and Christmas cheer were served to hundreds of people as the Fort McMurray Knights of Columbus made sure as few people as possible felt forgotten on Christmas Day.

Between 300 and 350 people gathered at the gymnasium of Our Lady of the Rivers Catholic School for a turkey dinner at the 29th annual Christmas meal. Guests could take home bags of potatoes, carrots, onions, milk, eggs, gloves, hats and winter coats. Leftovers were sent to Waypoints’ Unity House Emergency Women’s Shelter, the Salvation Army and the Centre of Hope.

“When you see a gathering like this on Christmas Day, it makes you feel good to know we’re coming together to help the community,” said Stanley Bartlett, one of the organizers with the Knights of Columbus.

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“I know the Knights are spearheading it, but it’s the community working together on Christmas Day.”

Mark Hancock, superintendent of Wood Buffalo RCMP, speaks to Muslims at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on Friday, January 27, 2023. The meeting was held as part of a National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia, which is held on January 29. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network jpg, FM

Wood Buffalo RCMP ready for 2024 after challenges, successes in 2023

Superintendent Mark Hancock says police in Fort McMurray will enter 2024 with more resources compared to previous years.

Rates have held steady for assaults, break and enters, crimes against people, property crimes, robberies, and vehicle thefts. Sexual crimes are rising, as are calls involving mental health. There have been four murders across the region, as opposed to one murder locally in 2022.

A program partnering police with nurses during mental health calls has been a success. Restorative justice,  a voluntary program prioritizing forgiveness and understanding between victims and perpetrators, has also done well.

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Tackling crime will involve working with community groups and leaders. Hancock says Wood Buffalo RCMP have positive relationships with First Nation and Métis leaders in the region.

Ties with the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, religious groups and multicultural associations also deepened this year.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley and UCP leader Danielle Smith shake hands as they pose for a photo prior to their debate at CTV Edmonton, Thursday May 18, 2023. Photo by David Bloom

Premier Danielle Smith and NDP Leader Rachel Notley on the year ahead

Premier Danielle Smith says her election victory was an important validation after a hard-fought campaign.

In a year-end interview, Smith talks about her plans for health care, particularly on addictions, wait times, mental health and primary care, and staffing. She also discussed her position on parental rights in schools.

“It took a little while for people to get to know me, to understand that I’ll be a little bit of a different person as a premier than I was as a talk-show host,” she said.

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Meanwhile, Rachel Notley of the Alberta NDP was non-committal in a year-end interview. When columnist Don Braid asked about her future. But when asked if that means she could stay to fight another election, Notley said, “Absolutely.”

Notley doesn’t see the election as a bitter defeat. Rather, she views it as a campaign the NDP could have won if it hadn’t been “abbreviated” by the wildfire crisis. She is proud votes went up slightly in rural Alberta, that most Calgary seats voted NDP and all of Edmonton went orange.

She critiqued Smith’s climate change policies and raised concerns about taxation.

fort mcmurray court house
The Fort McMurray Court House on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray pair charged with first-degree murder after September homicide

Two people arrested in connection with the homicide of a Fort McMurray man have had their charges upgraded to first-degree murder.

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Charlotte Mackey and Matthew Thomas Cooper are accused of murdering Norman Lineham, 43, in September.

Police were called to Lineham’s Timberlea home on Sept. 21 at 7:45 p.m. Lineham had not been seen in a few days so an individual who knew him visited his home to see if he was alright. The individual found Lineham’s body in a basement suite of the house and contacted police.

Police arrested Cooper on Oct. 2. Mackey was arrested on Oct. 27. Both people were charged originally with second-degree murder. They remain in police custody. Cooper and Mackey are scheduled to appear in Fort McMurray’s Alberta Court of Justice on Jan. 15.

The sunrise lights up the eastern sky behind the George C. King bridge in Calgary on Friday, December 22, 2023.Gavin Young/Postmedia

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