‘Home rinks booming’ said the front-page picture caption in the first Lakeside Leader of 2021. The reason? COVID restrictions on use of indoor ice rinks. The Leader started looking around and found many more outdoor rinks in people’s yards than normal.
Member of the Government of Alberta were taking a fair a mount of heat in early January for having taken tropical vacations at the same time the premier was urging Albertans to stay at home to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Closer to home, Slave Lake’s town council made the unprecedented move to call publicly for the Lesser Slave Lake MLA to resign. Citing Pat Rehn’s ‘lack of engagement,’ mayor Tyler Warman said, “we didn’t think we had much to lose.” Rehn fired back, accusing council of “sowing political division.”
The Municipal District of Lesser Slave River welcomed a new chief administrative officer – actually late in 2020. Barbara Miller was featured in a Leader article on Jan. 13. She had previously served in municipal government in Drumheller and Vulcan.
More politics: Premier Jason Kenney, under fire for the above-mentioned ‘COVID vacations’ in his caucus, announced on Jan. 14 Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn was removed from the UCP caucus. He would remain as MLA, but not as a member of the governing party. Kenney said in his statement that the first job of an MLA was to represent his constituents, and Rehn “failed to do so.”
The Leader heard from Tolko’s mill manager that demand for oriented strandboard products was at an all-time high and the mill was going at “one hundred per cent capacity.” Trevor Brander, relatively new in the position, had transferred from Tolko’s Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan mill in March of 2020.
Restaurants were forbidden under provincial COVID restrictions from allowing indoor dining, but that didn’t stop one area restaurant from doing just that. Char’s Railway Café announced on social media it was open for business as usual. By Feb. 8, the province relaxed the restrictions, allowing some version of indoor dining again. But some said they weren’t ready to go back to normal and continued with take-out only.
It wasn’t business as usual for sports organizations, including the Slave Lake junior Icedogs. They had a coach – Gregg Kennedy – and a few players hanging around, hoping for permission to resume the 2020/21 season, but as of the beginning of February, they had been idle for seven weeks due to the provincial clampdown.
Town council started talking in February about a ‘drop-dead date’ for the ice in the Multi Rec Centre. It was just costing the town money, but with none coming back in. Some towns had already pulled the plug, council heard at a meeting early in the month. Meanwhile, the Slave Lake Icedogs put out the idea of a spring season, to make up for all the lost hockey during the lockdown.
RCMP Sgt. Don Racette became Staff Sgt. Don Racette in February – or at least that’s when The Leader found out about it and interviewed him. Racette was the successful candidate to replace S/Sgt. John Spaans, who had served as detachment commander for the previous five years or so. Originally from Balcarres, Saskatchewan, Racette had a previous career in the military police.
After a vigorous debate, Slave Lake’s town council renewed the photo traffic enforcement contract with the service provider. Some councillors didn’t like it at all, but they were in a minority. The majority agreed that the presence of the camera/laser operation had a positive effect on driver behaviour in certain zones.
The month began with a couple of positive COVID-related news stories. They didn’t amount to a great deal, but at that point, a little was a lot better than nothing. One was that vaccines were now available, but only for people 75 years and older. The other was that the MRC field house in Slave Lake was re-opening, on a very limited basis.
An anti-lockdown rally was held at the Visitor Information Centre in Slave Lake on March 4. About 100 people turned up, didn’t wear masks and listened to organizer Benita Pederson demand that the government remove all restrictions on businesses. The pandemic, Pederson said, is “not as severe as they make it out to be.”
Further easing of restrictions happened in the second week of March, affecting performances, recreation, banquets and retail. Step #3 in the re-opening was expected in another couple of weeks.
Many years of lobbying bore fruit (or seemed to) in March when Premier Jason Kenney announced funding for a new ambulance facility for Slave Lake. The old one at the health care centre is cramped and inadequate. “It is big news,” said mayor Tyler Warman. “We’ve been lobbying 10 years for this.” A couple of weeks later, Health Minister Tyler Shandro came to town to make the official announcement. Work in the new facility (location not identified) was expected to commence, “in the coming months,” he said. (By December, it hadn’t.)
Something else nobody saw coming was an apparent ‘COVID-effect’ upswing in the real estate market. Houses were selling like hotcakes and real estate people in Slave Lake said they’d never been busier.
Lumber and panelboard prices were through the roof in April, thanks to a pent-up demand for building and renovations. A local retailer said he had stopped stocking OSB panels, after the price shot up to $50. Plywood was cheaper, he said. Local mills were going flat out to meet the demand.
The Leader reported on two people from the area who had reached the age of 103 years. They were Mary Elizabeth Giroux of Slave Lake (in April) and Vera McConaghy of Smith (the previous November).
A proposed bio-diesel project for the Mitsue Industrial Park was approved by the province in April. Expander Energy’s plan was (still is, presumably) to turn sawmill waste into liquid fuel, in partnership with Vanderwell Contractors.
The Slave Lake Icedogs got back into action in an April-May spring season. But not in Slave Lake, as the town decided to take out the ice. The Icedogs would play their home games in High Prairie.
Not known for its outdoor dining in spring, Slave Lake nevertheless saw patio dining areas springing up or being enlarged – and people using them – as a result of the new provincial restrictions that permitted such arrangements, but not indoor dining. Nice weather helped.
‘Town launches Fix Our Highways campaign,’ said a front-page headline in the May 5 Lakeside Leader. The town was encouraging citizens to pester the provincial authorities about the state of area highways, with emails, letters, photos etc. The same campaign had produced results the previous year – or seemed to. This was in spite of 14 kms. of new pavement promised for Hwy. 2, east and west of Slave Lake, for 2021 (it didn’t happened).
Just the news nobody wanted to hear, right around the 10-year anniversary of the Slave Lake wildfires, was about new fires. But warm weather and a strong breeze caused a small fire to blow up dangerously in the Flatbush area on May 6. On the same day a fire near Bayer Rd., just west of Slave Lake was reported. However, both were brought under control before too much damage was done.
Alimo’s Pizzeria of Slave Lake was named the 2020 Canadian Pizzeria of the Year, by Canadian Pizza magazine. The news broke in early May. Involvement in the community seemed to be the main reason for the win. One example given was the ‘Random Acts of Pizza’ program; another was support for the ‘Movember’ fundraiser.
The Slave Lake Icedogs got by the Northern Alberta Tomahawks in the first round of GMHL West Division playoffs, but fell to High Prairie in the final.
Thanks to new rules regarding local elections, candidates could file their nomination papers much earlier than ever before. Accordingly, Rebecca King (for mayor) and Francesca Giroux (for town councillor) both did that, in the month of May.
The Lesser Slave Region recorded its first death due to COVID-19 in May, according to the provincial government. No other details were provided.
The first edition of June reported that no sooner had COVID restrictions eased than events “started popping up.” One was the Larry Dahlgren Memorial Walleye Tournament, at Spruce Point Park. The team of Terry Mills and Adam Robinson were the winners.
News of the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school at Kamloops, B.C. prompted an outpouring of protest and remembrance in many places, including Slave Lake. Several hundred people – many of them wearing orange – gathered at the Friendship Centre to listen to speeches, then walked to the town offices where a memorial was set up.
The Smith bridge over the Athabasca River was due for new decking in 2021, and the M.D. budgeted accordingly. Speaking of which, the budget was concluded in June – much later than usual. As a result the payment deadline for property taxes was extended by a month.
Getting back to the bridge, it is due for replacement in five to seven years. How to pay for it is the big question.
After many months of uncertainty, and a minor hockey season that pretty much didn’t happen, minor baseball got underway in June for the 2021 season with a big sense of relief. The Slave Lake U13 Heat got started on the right foot, with “three thumping victories” at home over Grande Prairie, Whitecourt and High Prairie.
The Alberta sheriffs boarded up a drug house in southwest Slave Lake. Just prior to this shutdown someone died of an overdose at the location. In 2020, someone was stabbed to death on the front lawn.
Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council held a Healing Gathering on Driftpile First Nation instead of a Canada Day celebration. This was triggered by the unmarked graves of school children at former Indian residential schools.
There were three deaths of people while recreating in the water or in the bush.
On July 1, Leard Robertson (58) was reported missing while boating on Lesser Slave Lake. They found his boat right away, but not his body.
The next day, a 39-year-old man from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation drowned in the Swan River on the Swan River First Nation. It was a swimming accident.
Mid-July, a 51-year-old man from Slave Lake went quadding by himself and didn’t come home. Searchers found his body the day after.
Someone set fire to the Kateri School in Trout Lake on Peerless Trout First Nation. The school was no longer being used.
The M.D. of Lesser Slave River had taken over two Canyon Creek campgrounds, but they weren’t open. “We need to get things done,” councillor Brad Pearson told his colleagues at a council meeting. “The public is laughing at us right now, we move so slow.”
On July 14th, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn was reinstated as a member of the UCP caucus. He was removed on January 15th.
Slave Laker Scott Iverson was awarded the Harvey Cup for all of his hard work promoting clay shooting sports.
As of July 29, 56.6 per cent of eligible people (12+) in the Slave Lake AHS Local Geographic Area had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This area includes Red Earth Creek, Slave Lake, and most of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River.
It was dry. The hay crop in the Flatbush area was about a half to a third of the normal size. Canola and grain crops weren’t looking promising.
A group of people got together to form ‘Chemo For Slave Lake.’ There was a lot of community support, but several hurdles to do with AHS requirements.
Pat Jolliffe and Ruth Reay were working on reprinting the Smith history book.
Alberta was ‘open for summer’ with less restrictions, but by mid-August the COVID-19 numbers of cases in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River (including the Town of Slave Lake and Sawridge First Nation) were climbing. The fourth wave had started.
There was a blue-green algae alert for parts of Lesser Slave Lake. Also, the wildfire situation continued to be manageable despite dry conditions.
The Slave Lake U11 Heat were the provincial baseball champions. The tournament was August long weekend in Fort McMurray. The U13 Heat hosted provincials the last weekend of August. They placed second.
The Slave Lake Homeless Coalition went through various changes in 2021. It started work on becoming a stand-alone non-profit. Part of its communication strategy for gaining support was a series of Street Stories in The Leader about individuals experiencing homelessness in Slave Lake.
The federal government added a Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a federal holiday on September 30th. However, most businesses fall under provincial holidays, so it was optional for most employers. The Town of Slave Lake, Aspen View School Division, and others decided to give their staff the day off. Others such as High Prairie School Division and Northern Lakes College were still open, but focused on Orange Shirt Day activities to increase awareness of the Indian residential school system.
Two concerts connected with the Smith-Hondo Fall Fair went ahead September long weekend. However, by mid-September, Stage North had to postpone its first concert of the season.
A Slave Lake men’s baseball team, The Dirt Bags, held an exhibition game in memory of Leard Robertson. His body had still not been found.
Incumbent Arnold Viersen won the federal election. Of the five candidates announced prior to the election (there was one surprise on the day), none of them were parachute candidates. Meaning all of them lived in the Peace River – Westlock riding. At least one, Gail Ungstad, NDP lives in Slave Lake.
An 84-year-old man flying from LaCrete to Saskatchewan crash landed in the Marten Hills. He died. The military was called in to help with the search.
The M.D. of Lesser Slave River declared an agricultural disaster because of drought and excessive heat. Both of which decreased the yield and quality of crops.
Alberta North Central Alliance held a signing ceremony. It is a regional partnership made up of five municipalities and First Nations. It is the first of its kind in Canada. The Town of Slave Lake, M.D. of Lesser Slave River, and Sawridge First Nation are three of the signatories.
The Slave Lake Icedogs hit the ice in October. They lost their first game against the High Prairie Redwings and won their first game against the Gibbons Pioneers.
The Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre held a Sisters in Spirit walk on October 4th to raise awareness about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.
The fish population in Lesser Slave Lake was ‘teetering between high and moderate risk.’ Walleye were in a bit of trouble. Northern pike were worse off. Whitefish numbers were increasing. Perch exist, but there are very few.
Mid-October, the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition gave out 15 Thanksgiving meals to people sleeping rough in tent camps in Slave Lake. However, there was no firm location for the Temporary Mat Program in the winter, which usually opened at the end of October or beginning of November.
The fourth COVID-19 wave was well under way. After only 15 days, October 2021 was poised to break the AHS North Zone monthly record for COVID-19 deaths. There had been 51 in those days. The previous highest month was September 2021 with 57.
Town of Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman was voted in for a third term as mayor. In the M.D. of Lesser Slave River, reeve Murray Kerik ran unchallenged.
The new town council consists of Warman, Steve Adams, Julie Brandle, Brice Ferguson, Francesca Giroux, Shawn Gramlich, and Kimberly Hughes.
The new M.D. council consists of Kerik, Darren Fulmore, Sandra Melzer, Brad Pearson, Nancy Sand, Lana Spencer, and Norm Seatter.
Kapawe’no First Nation and the Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8 started ground penetrating radar at the former Indian residential school in Grouard. The school was called St. Bernard’s. They were looking for unmarked graves of students. This is one of six former Indian residential schools in the Lesser Slave Lake, Whitefish Lake, and Wabasca-Desmarais area.
Roland Michener Secondary School in Slave Lake started a football program. This is not exactly the first time for football at Michener. The other time was once in the early 1970s, very briefly.
Football practices started in the fall 2020. With the potential of games in spring 2022.
A fire which destroyed a Peerless Lake church was suspicious. The church held its grand opening in August 2020. This was the second suspicious fire on Peerless Trout First Nation in 2021.
The Slave Lake Homeless Coalition had a stop-gap location to house people experiencing homelessness in Slave Lake for November. However, it was still looking for a location for the rest of the winter.
‘Chemo for Slave Lake’ didn’t succeed, but the door wasn’t exactly closed. People continue to need to go to Edmonton or Barrhead for cancer treatment. Five years worth of data from Slave Lake, High Prairie, and Wabasca showed only 550 visits per year, which wasn’t enough. The committee and local health care professionals put up a bit of a fight, but went with the decision.
The Lesser Slave Lake Regional Fire Service has a new rescue boat. It can get from its moorings to Nine Mile Point in 11 minutes, which was much better than the half hour the old boat took.
Slave Lake mill Vanderwell Contractors passed the 96 million mark for seedlings planted in the last 25 years. It plans to have planted 100 million by the end of the 2022 tree planting season.
Hondo farmers Fred and Darice Laughy and their sons Ryland and Austin received the 2021 Farmfair International Farm Family Award. Fred’s grandparents started the farm. His grandmother still lives on the farm. They have 35 head of beef cattle on 300 acres.
A 39-year-old man from Calgary died in a vehicle collision in the wee hours of November 23. The man was driving a minivan, crossed the yellow line and hit a semi truck.
Wrestling practice was underway at Roland Michener Secondary School. The school will host provincials in February 2022.
A Slave Lake and High Prairie group called REAC (Regional Environmental Action Committee) is working with the University of Alberta to figure out how to safely re-manufacture plastics on a small scale.
Flooding and washouts in B.C. forced Slave Lake Pulp to do some temporary layoffs because it couldn’t ship its product to Vancouver ports.
Social media chatter attributed slow postal service in Slave Lake and area with Canada Post’s COVID vax clampdown, but Canada Post didn’t exactly confirm this. It did however say that the mandatory vaccine protocol came into effect at the end of November. Canada Post did not expect major service disruptions.
Up until the winter solstice (one day after the final 2021 paper was printed), the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition still didn’t have a workable location for the rest of the winter. Up until then, people experiencing homelessness were housed, but at a cost which wasn’t sustainable for the entire winter.
Métis Nation of Alberta Region 5 citizens took part in a community gathering about the draft MNA constitution. The constitution is part of the Métis’ long struggle for recognition as one of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and for self-government.