Top stories of 2016
2016 is coming to an end. For some, it was a good year and for some, the end couldn’t come soon enough. In a tradition of The Mail, we are listing the top 10 stories of the year. It is a great chance to look back on the year, celebrate the victories, and also hope for better things to come.
It’s the economy - like all over Alberta, Drumheller too has fallen victim to the crash of energy prices. Locally the valley is seeing more unemployment as a number of high-profile companies with offices have downsized, while others have pulled up stakes including Trican. Outside the valley much of the work in the resource sector has dried up, so even those who worked outside the area are waiting in limbo. This is compounded by uncertainty due to policies such as the carbon tax that is adding to the anxiety of those hoping for a swift recovery. The slowdown has ripple effects as crews that would use local businesses and services have also slowed down. There are some positive signs as crude is sitting at about $52 to end the year. Cenovus has announced it will be drilling about 50 horizontal wells and 60 stratigraphic wells in the Palliser block, a region south of Drumheller and the Canadian Association of Oil Drilling Contractors Rig Count has been steadily increasing since summer, and Alberta sits at about a 36 percent utilization, leading all other provinces. Energy companies are also looking toward alternative energy and there are two wind power projects and one solar project in the works in the area. While we are not privy to a crystal ball, we can only cross our fingers.
One story that begins in tragedy, in many ways showed the resilience and the spirit of community, and that was the wildfires of Fort McMurray. For many that call the northern city home, it may be years before life will ever approach normal. However, they should rest assured knowing that when the chips are down, Albertans come together. On May 3, fire destroyed about 2,400 buildings and forced the evacuation of the city. Thousands poured out of the city with little more than the clothes on their back. Immediately Albertans sprung into action to help collect the necessities of life for the displaced community. In Drumheller, collections of everything from food to clothes, and necessities were freely given. When families did arrive at the doorstep they were treated as one of the community, with children enrolling in school, individuals, and businesses doing their best to make the displaced feel at home. The wildfire not only destroyed homes, but it halted much of the oil sand production, the lifeblood of the community. It destroyed some of the camps, making many wonder how long until they could begin working and rebuilding. Phased re-entry began on June 1. For some, their homes were intact, for others, they lost everything. About 2,000 found their homes were intact, but were declared unsafe for reoccupation.
Hollywood shone its bright light on the valley this year as a number of productions looked to Drumheller to film. If you thought that a number of scenes in television and movies looked familiar, you are right. In January, a crew was in Starland to shoot a Super Bowl commercial for Budweiser, and the activity continued. In the spring, a crew was shooting Solutrean, a historic drama that is to be released this coming fall. The valley also saw the television series Tin Star, starring Christina Hendricks of Mad Men and Tim Roth. After that, the CBC series Heartland used the valley as a backdrop to mimic Mongolia in this year’s series. While Northlander was shot last fall, it has been winning awards all around the world and in December returned to the valley for a red carpet premiere. While it was not shot in the valley, Dean Kohut is an executive producer for She Has a Name and features Giovanni Mocibob, who is known in the area for his work at Rosebud Theatre. This will be screened in a Drumheller premiere January 30. Looking ahead, Beiseker will be transformed into the city of Eden Valley, Minnesota for the television series Fargo.
While no longer residents of the valley, The
Mail’s story of Ed and Marlene Grinnell winning the 2016 STARS lottery Edmonton Show home warmed many in the valley’s hearts. The Grinnell’s tragically lost their son in a vehicle accident 10 years ago. Since that time, the Grinnell’s have been supporting STARS, recognizing the value and the commitment of the Air Ambulance in how it assisted them, and all Albertans. On April 14, their name was drawn for the $975,000 show home in Edmonton.
Horseshoe Canyon has existed for literally centuries, so what could be new about it? This year Kneehill County purchased a large portion of the tourism icon that sees in the area of 150,000 visits each year. It worked with its partners to secure the majority of the site, and also raised funds to make some improvements to protect it and allow more to safely enjoy the attraction. The upper viewing area has been improved with new trees, viewing platforms and landscaping. They have also built a safe staircase into the canyon and improved
pathways to reduce erosion, so generations can enjoy it for years to come.
Last week, The Mail learned that students will be finally moving into the Wheatland Crossing School. The new, state of the art school, has been in the works for a number of years as a solution to aging infrastructure and declining enrollment in the area. In June of 2014, they broke ground on the school. However, this summer the weather didn’t cooperate with the construction schedule. While this spring they were confident the school would be open to start the 2016, school year, the date came and went. Last week Golden Hills Superintendent Bevan Daverne told The Mail, students will be moving in this February.
Another good news story for the valley is the expansion of the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The
Mail reported in April the Alberta Government’s budget included $9.3 million for an expansion, adding to the learning centre facilities as well as new space for conferences and amenities. Minister of Culture and Tourism Ricardo Miranda made the announcement official about a month later. Right now the design is being finalized with an eye to breaking ground in 2017. It is expected to be complete come 2019.
While the flood of 2013 is literally years in the past, the Town is still working on getting funding in place to mitigate the valley against future damage if high water comes again. While the town was able to secure grants under the Community Resilience Program, these are not 100 per cent funded. The Town has agreements with the province going back to the 1980’s. While the Town lobbied feverishly, the Alberta government has not honoured those original agreements. The Town continues to explore other options and is looking towards federal programs that may provide more options.
While it wasn’t the best year for tourism, the growth of sports tourism continues to be a force. This year the valley saw an increase in its numbers at the Drumheller Dinosaur Triathlon and the Gran Fondo Badlands. While many road races in the province saw declines in numbers, the Dinohalf marathon once again posted strong participation. The valley also saw the annual Tough Mudder make its mark. Another great event in the valley was the toughest two minutes in sports. The Drumheller Fire Department hosted a regional Firetfit competition in the shadow of the World’s Largest Dinosaur, bringing firefighters from across the country to take on the grueling course. These are all great events that increase visitorship and are well enjoyed by participants.
There were some scary moments for the community of Midland in October as during some roof repairs, the building caught fire. The Drumheller Fire Department immediately responded and was able to save the building. The Midlandvale Hall holds historical significance as it was the original Midlandvale Cottage School. Just as precious were the rare artifacts that were stored in the basement and the approximately 20 portraits of miners and community leaders that adorn the hall. Local artist Bonita Krueger was commissioned to paint murals, and thanks to the swift action by firefighters, all were spared.