Weekly update: No RMWB layoffs for now, local sports victories, cash for Waypoints and Local HERO

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray! April 8 is Election Day for a trustee spot with the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division. Here’s voting instructions and a Q&A that was sent to both candidates.

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  • Cinderella… If The Shoe Fits: Swamp Rat Experience’s youth theatre club presents a twist on a classic fairytale. The students, aged 7 to 11, have worked on this performance since the beginning of the year. April 7 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at King Street Theatre Composite High School. Tickets.
  • Northword Magazine’s Issue 29 Launch: The Northern Canada Collective Society of Writers launches NorthWord Magazine’s 29th issue, the Resilience edition. Guest edited by local poet and dance instructor Tineesha McKay. This free event, including an open mic, is at the Observation Area of the Fort McMurray International Airport on April 20 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Registration.
  • Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Keyano Theatre Company invites you to step into the lavish and decadent world of the 18th-century French aristocracy, where desire and treachery reign supreme. Keyano Theatre on April 26-27 and May 2-4. Tickets.
  • Northern Bout: Western Canada’s highest stakes drift competition matched with freestyle motocross, monster trucks and stunt bikes. May 3 and 4 at MacDonald Island Park. Tickets.
  • Monster Pro Wrestling’s Dirty Deeds: Monster Pro Wrestling returns to Fort McMurray on May 11 at the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. Doors open at 6 p.m. Information and tickets.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Giants: Tickets and schedule for the upcoming baseball season are online.
  • RMWB Public Art: The RMWB is looking for artists for its first Mural Fest, its banner program and social change grants. Information and deadlines is online. Arts, culture and heritage grants are open.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts all-ages weekly events.
  • MacDonald Island Park updates its website with upcoming events and programs.
  • Wood Buffalo Volunteers has volunteer opportunities for different causes and non-profits across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.
  • Obituaries: Obituaries, memorial notices and sympathy announcements.

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Protesters outside the Jubilee Centre rally against plans to cut hundreds of municipal jobs during a council meeting on March 12, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

RMWB cancels 120-day layoff notices, negotiations continuing with CUPE

The RMWB is withdrawing its 120-day layoff notices that were sent to some unionized employees on Feb. 29. However, a joint statement from the RMWB and CUPE warns “this withdrawal does not inherently guarantee that there will be no future impact on the workforce.”

The layoffs would have impacted 265 workers. The RMWB also planned to cut 134 vacant jobs and end 60 temporary positions.

Changes included outsourcing custodial services; certain functions in parks, solid waste, and fleet services; and transferring maintenance duties at the Fort Chipewyan Airport to the Fort McMurray Airport Authority. Some positions might become redundant or outsourced for efficiency.

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CUPE and its union allies were outraged. They loudly protested a March 13 council meeting and held signs protesting the layoffs at a March 26 meeting. CUPE has pointed out the last time the RMWB outsourced services was a failure.

CAO Henry Hunter says the municipality’s tax revenues have dropped drastically in recent years, while business and operational costs continue increasing. These costs include flood mitigation, rural water and sewage servicing, and an asset management plan to support infrastructure.

take back the night
Take Back the Night marchers head south on Franklin Avenue towards the Centre of Hope during a rally to bring awareness to sexual violence in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo and the services offered by Waypoints. Friday, September 15, 2017. Olivia Condon/ Fort McMurray Today/ Postmedia Network

Province announces $665,644 for 15 beds at Waypoints as demand grows

The Alberta government is giving $665,644 to Waypoints to support 15 unfunded beds at their family violence shelter. The funding is welcome but economic uncertainty has made fundraising difficult.

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In the meantime, pleas for help have been rising in the community since the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the people using their 45 beds at any given moment are children.

“When the economy’s been this bad for this long, there’s not too many places to turn other than the government,” said executive director Michelle Taylor.. “The government funding needs to be sustainable.”

A report from the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) released last week says shelters are answering 46 per cent more calls for help than they did in 2015, but with 25 per cent less spending power. Amid high levels of staff turnover and burnout, the report notes resources have not kept up with demand.

The funding is part of a larger commitment for shelters across Alberta. Searle Turton, Alberta’s children and family services minister, said he knows shelters have asked for a more long-term, strategic approach and is willing to have that conversation.

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Curlers from Team B.C. compete against Team Saskatchewan at the 2024 New Holland Canadian Under-21 Curling Championships at MacDonald Island Park on March 26, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

National curling championships a sports tourism victory for RRC

The leadership of MacDonald Island Park says the island has been on the sports tourism radar for years and is getting more attention.

Hundreds of athletes, coaches and their families just spent a week at the 2024 New Holland Canadian Under-21 Curling Championships. Baseball Canada is hosting championships in Fort McMurray during the next three summers.

Jodie Cooper, director of sports and recreation with the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo (RRC), says there are preliminary talks with existing and potential partners in the sports world.

Encouraging local sports tourism has been named a priority for the municipality and Fort McMurray’s athletic community. Kevin Weidlich, president of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT), told council at a meeting last month that building a community’s tourism reputation takes time, but the groundwork is being laid.

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Cooper said Fort McMurray’s name is starting to pick up traction slowly within Canadian sports.

local hero
A helicopter operated by the Local Helicopter Emergency Response Organization (HERO) at the organization’s annual car show outside Centerfire Place on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network/file

Local HERO Foundation receives $450K boost from Cenovus

The Local Helicopter Emergency Response Organization (HERO) received a $450,000 donation from Cenovus Energy, which will support its dedicated 24/7 medevac program.

Whenever there is a medical emergency in the region — whether that’s at a home, worksite, a rural location, in the backcountry, or on the highway — the non-profit responds with two paramedics from Regional Emergency Services. There is never a charge to the patient.

In 2022, Local HERO responded to 104 calls for help and provided 64 flight hours of service. In 2023, that increased to 110 calls and almost 88 hours. The donation will be provided over three years.

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Team Alberta North celebrates their gold medal victory at the 2024 Arctic Winter Games in Mat-Su Valley, Alaska. Image by Forestal Photography for the 2024 Arctic Winter Games

Local athletes back from Arctic Winter Games with dozens of medals

Athletes from Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo have returned from this year’s Arctic Winter Games in Mat-Su Valley, Alaska with dozens of medals in 15 events.

Team Alberta North, which included 66 athletes and coaches from the region, finished third in this year’s medal rankings with 43 gold medals, 42 silver medals and 37 bronze medals.

After being absent from last year’s games, Fort McMurray wrestlers won two golds, a silver and bronze. Gymnasts won a gold and bronze, while Fort McKay archer Tayden Shott won a bronze. Last year, the region failed to podium in both events.

Alberta’s female hockey team successfully defended the gold medals won at the 2023 games. The male team won gold after taking home silver last year.

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Everyone interviewed had kind things to say about the organization of the games. However Team Alberta North sent a smaller delegation to Alaska compared to what was featured last year in Fort McMurray. A single male futsal team, which won bronze, was sent compared to four last year. There was no basketball team. The cultural delegation was smaller.

Warming winters, the costs teams spend on travel and trouble securing funding are becoming major concerns for many teams. John Rodda, president of the international committee overseeing the Arctic Winter Games, says the AWG needs to adapt to these social and economic challenges.

The Holy Trinity Knights show off their pennant and gold medals after winning ASAA 3A boys basketball on March 16, 2024. Image supplied by Holy Trinity Catholic High School

Holy Trinity Knights win gold at provincial basketball championships

The Holy Trinity Knights are the best boys’ high school basketball team in Alberta after winning gold at the Alberta Schools’ Athletics Association 3A basketball tournament in Strathmore on March 16.

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The win is a redemption for the team after defeating Strathmore High’s team, the only 3A basketball team to defeat the Knights this season.

The victory also builds off the silver medal the Knights took home at last year’s provincial finals. Last year, they lost 103-41. This year they rallied and squeaked out a victory with an 85-84 win.

The narrow victory was won after a tough fight. The Knights were down for most of the final game. At one point they were down 17 points and were down 11 points going into the fourth quarter. The team rallied, tied the game and won in overtime.

“It’s been a long season. We weren’t guaranteed to get to the final so there’s been a lot of small milestones to get to where they have,” said Coach Grace Lokole.

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The Edmonton Police Service alleges this man illegally trafficked a firearm from a Canada Post outlet in Fort McMurray on Jan.16, 2024. Image supplied by the Edmonton Police Service

Police investigating alleged firearm trafficking through mail:

Police are trying to identify a Fort McMurray man who has been accused of illegally trafficking a restricted firearm through the mail.

The Edmonton Police Service says that on Jan. 16, an unknown man walked into a Canada Post outlet in Fort McMurray and mailed a restricted firearm to an address in Edmonton. Staff at a sorting facility in Edmonton caught the firearm and called police.

ASIRT investigating death of man in custody with Wood Buffalo RCMP:

Alberta’s police watchdog is investigating the death of a 46-year-old man after he was arrested by Wood Buffalo RCMP officers.

On March 21 at 7:50 p.m., police responded to a call of an intoxicated man at the Centre of Hope. The man cooperated with police during his arrest and was brought to the RCMP detachment’s cell block at approximately 8:20 p.m.

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Guards spoke with the man before he went to sleep and checked on him throughout the night. But the next day at 5:28 a.m., he was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.

Police investigating abandoned stolen car:

At 11:36 p.m. on March 24, police were told that a grey 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt had been stolen from outside a fast food restaurant within the 100 block of Signal Road. The vehicle was running and keys were in the ignition when the vehicle was stolen. Police say an unknown number of people smashed the car’s window and drove off.

About an hour later, police were told of a vehicle matching the vehicle’s description in Thickwood. Witnesses told police they heard a woman screaming and saw the vehicle parked near a home on Timberline Drive.

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Police found the vehicle abandoned. A police dog was used to search the area for suspects, but none were found.

Weapons complaint near MacDonald Island Park a false alarm:

Wood Buffalo RCMP says that on Wednesday, April 3 at 3:45 p.m., officers were told of a “suspicious male” walking in a parking lot near MacDonald Island Park.

A complainant told police the man appeared to be carrying a weapon sticking out of his backpack, and wearing a camouflage jacket, black baseball cap and a bandana over his face.

Police, including a police dog, arrived at the park and located the man, who was not carrying a weapon. No charges or arrests were made, and police ruled there was no risk to public safety.

Alberta RCMP stop protestors from gathering on the Trans-Canada Highway near Highway 22 west of Calgary on April 2. The protesters were calling for the end of the federal carbon tax. Photo by Steven Wilhelm/Postmedia Network

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