Weekly update: Huskies make local sports history, smoky days, new K-12 school

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • FMCSD trustee byelection: The Fort McMurray Catholic School division will hold a byelection for a spot on the board of trustees on April 8. Information on voting and candidates.
  • 2024 New Holland Canadian Under-21 Curling Championships: Canada’s best Under-21 teams compete for the right to represent Canada at the World Junior Curling Championships. MacDonald Island Park from March 24-31. Tickets.
  • Public engagement for Draper event centre and resort: Developers of the proposed River’s Edge Event Centre and Resort are presenting their concept of the project and having one-on-one discussions with residents. Survey and schedule for public feedback meetings.
  • Alice in Theatreland: A family-friendly fundraiser for the non-profit theatre company Swamp Rat Experience. Event includes a child-friendly tea time buffet, story time with Alice and meeting the characters and indoor activities. Royal Canadian Legion on March 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets.
  • The Mad Hatters’ Ball: Join Swamp Rat Experience for a whimsically wonderous fundraiser party hosted by the Mad Hatter himself. DJ Qpid will keep the dancefloor moving as guests are encouraged to arrive in their most extravagant hats and outfits inspired by Wonderland. Tickets.
  • Royal Wood & Jeffery Straker on The Piano Men Tour: Jeffery Straker and his rootsy storytelling and captivating melodies joins Royal Wood’s unique sound and heartfelt compositions. Keyano Theatre on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets.
  • Randy’s Cheeseburger Picnic: A man’s gotta eat and Randy Bo-bandy himself from Trailer Park Boys is live at The Den on March 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. Obviously, 18+. Tickets.
  • 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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The Keyano Huskies’ men’s basketball team celebrate their gold medal victories against the George Brown Huskies during CCAA championships at Mount Allison University on March 16, 2024. Image by Daniel St. Louis of Mount Allison University

Keyano Huskies’ men’s basketball team win Keyano’s first CCAA gold

The Keyano Huskies’ men’s basketball team have won the college’s first national championship in a dogfight against Ontario’s George Brown Huskies.

The triumph of the local Huskies over Canada’s best college basketball teams follows a provincial gold medal victory earlier this month. That gold was also a first for the team, which added pressure to their performance at the national tournament in New Brunswick.

The gold medal game saw Keyano’s DJ Haynes lead with 18 points. Omeechi Williams had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds after knocking down two three-point shots. Evan Meyer followed with 16 points and nine rebounds.

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George Brown tried rallying, but an aggressive defence gave Keyano a 68-55 victory and a place in local sports history.

“We had the opportunity to create our own destiny and these guys have cemented their legacy as a team on their own,” said Huskies’ head coach Jeremy Wielenga. “The past years have had some pretty heartbreaking losses. I think that gave us the experience and knowledge to get the job done this year.”

People float off the shores of Snye Point Park in downtown Fort McMurray while the region is covered in wildfire smoke on August 31, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Wildfire smoke made Fort McMurray air the worst in Canada, U.S. in 2023

The 2023 wildfire season made Fort McMurray’s air quality worse than any other city in Canada or the United States, according to a report from the Swiss firm IQAir.

The report matches data from the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) that found the most dangerously smoky days in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region were recorded last summer. The highest concentrations of dangerous particulates were recorded during the 2016 Horse River Wildfire.

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The IQAir report found most of Canada’s worst cities for air were in Alberta and British Columbia. Peace River followed Fort McMurray, while Yellowknife finished third. Prince Rupert, B.C. was Canada’s least polluted city.

Wildfires burned more than 3,643 square kilometres of land in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, mostly around the Fort Chipewyan area. Firefighting, evacuations and the logistics of the 2023 wildfire season cost the municipality more than $4.1 million.

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École Boréale in Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood on April 10, 2017. Olivia Condon/ Fort McMurray Today/ Postmedia Network

Replacement K-12 school for École Boréale expected to open Spring 2027

The Alberta government is replacing École Boréale with a new K to 12 school as classrooms across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo swell with students.

Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord (CSCN) has 148 students enrolled in Fort McMurray, although space is limited and demand is growing. CSCN Board Chair Tanya Saumure says there are 1,085 potential students in Fort McMurray.

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CSCN has been asking for an expanded school in Fort McMurray for 19 years as demand for a Francophone education grows. Fort McMurray enrollment for CSCN has been steady throughout the 2016 Horse River Wildfire, COVID-19 pandemic, April 2020 flood and economic uncertainty in the oilsands.

Current CSCN students in Fort McMurray attend K-8 at École Boréale. Students in Grades 9 to 12 share a space at Ecole McTavish, which is run by the Fort McMurray Public School Division.

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Steve Courtoreille in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. on Augsut 26, 2010. Ryan Jackson/Postmedia Network

Steve Courtoreille, former MCFN chief and Treaty 8 Grand Chief, remembered

Chief Steve Courtoreille’s time as a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces was brief, but his wife says it was the first place he learned to build bridges. Building more bridges, at least metaphorical bridges, became key as a community and political leader.

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Courtoreille–who served as councillor and chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and terms as Treaty 8 Grand Chief–died on February 12. He was 68. A funeral Mass was held February 17 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton.

Courtoreille worked at Syncrude and mentored youth after a brief military career. He entered politics during a time of massive growth in the oilsands, as well as uncertainty about the industry among many people in his community.

He challenged the Harper government’s changes to acts dealing with fishing, hunting and water rights. MCFN lost that legal fight, but oilsands companies and governments started working closer with MCFN afterwards.

Under his leadership, MCFN opened the Kahkiyow Keykanow Elders Care Home in Fort Chipewyan. He advocated for Missing, Murdered and Exploited Indigenous People. He also spoke of his experiences at a residential school, which his wife called “traumatic.”

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“One of the lessons that Steve gave to all of us was to love each other, to care for each other, to be respectful,” said his wife, Caroline Adam-Courtoreille. “He brought together a lot of people.”

An employee with the Pathways Alliance explains how a proposed carbon capture and storage project based in the Cold Lake works during the Oil Sands Trade Show at Shell Place on September 13, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

‘A big deal’ — oilsands group set to make major regulatory application for CCUS megaproject

The president of the Pathways Alliance group of oilsands producers says it will file an application with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) for a 400-kilometre pipeline for the broader $16.5-billion decarbonization development.

The pipeline will eventually carry CO2 emissions captured from oilsands facilities to a storage hub near Cold Lake. The CCUS project’s first phase is expected to store up to 12 megatonnes annually by 2030. In the first phase of the $16.5-billion foundational project, the pipeline will connect to 16 different oilsands facilities.

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It’s the backbone of the transportation network to move emissions captured from each site to the underground sequestration hub for permanent storage, more than one kilometre below ground.

The Pathways Alliance aims to reach net-zero status by 2050. The group represents six of the largest oilsands operators in the country, including Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy and Imperial Oil. Together, they operate about 95 per cent of the oilsands production in the province.

People end their Ramadan fasting for the day at an evening meal called an iftar at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre on March 15, 2024. Non-Muslims were also invited to the annual Fast-A-Thon event to learn about Islam and promote community unity. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Local Muslims host non-Muslims at Ramadan feast promoting unity

More than 350 Muslims and non-Muslims gathered at the Fort McMurray Islamic Centre last Friday for the annual Fast-A-Thon. The event is hosted during Ramadan to promote community spirit, and offer non-Muslims a chance to learn about Islam and meet local Muslims.

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The event started in 2017 as a reaction to hate crimes in Canada and the murder of six Muslims at a Mosque in Quebec City. Inviting the community to dine with local Muslims breaking their fast was one way to show the openness of Fort McMurray’s Islamic community.

Community leaders from various sectors including council, Wood Buffalo RCMP, non-profits, education, and businesses attended the event.

Ramadan is one of the holiest months in Islam because it is when Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed. During this period, Muslims won’t eat or drink, including water, from dawn to dusk. The fast is broken with an evening meal called an iftar. On Friday, the fast was broken at 7:34 p.m.

“It instills within us that love should be kind and generous towards each other… it’s a time for self reflection and spiritual growth,” said Imam Abdurrahmann Murad. “It brings to mind those who don’t have as much as we do, so that really compels us to give whatever we can.”

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The Fort Chipewyan Winter Road, as seen from the air, on Thursday, January 16, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

Fort Chipewyan Winter Road closes next week

The winter road to Fort Chipewyan is closing on March 26 at 10 a.m. after a season that lasted just more than three months.

As an unseasonably warm winter ends, the winter road is in rough shape. There are deep potholes along the route and light vehicles using the road before it closes need to be high-clearance. All rig mats will be removed the next day, making the road impassable until next winter.

A winter that was warmer than usual caused complications for the winter road. The 2023-24 winter road season lasted 94 days after opening on Dec. 20. The road closed briefly on Jan. 30 and reopened on Feb. 3.

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said in an interview in December that warm temperatures and a chaotic wildfire season last summer has made a permanent road to Fort Chipewyan even more important to the community.

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Adam has met with the mayors of the RMWB and Fort Smith, NWT. and says there is agreement that an all-weather road is needed.

The Wood Buffalo RCMP detachment in Timberlea in Fort McMurray, Alta. on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Laura Beamish/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

RCMP, RMWB partner to form new crime prevention programs

A partnership between the municipality and Wood Buffalo RCMP hopes to help police identify and return stolen property, and record crimes across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

The Community Assisted Policing Through Use of Recorded Evidence (CAPTURE) program is a voluntary registration of privately owned security cameras. Homes and businesses with security cameras would be registered with police to help with investigations.

Police and the RMWB are also distributing an invisible glue that tags property. The ProtechDNA adhesive has hundreds of microscopic dots that police can scan. Stolen items that are recovered can be quickly returned to owners if they are tagged properly.

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Police are also encouraging people to register bicycles with their Bike Index. This program was introduced last summer. More than 30 stolen bicycles were recovered last summer, but they were not registered and police had trouble reuniting them with their true owners.

Knightley Bruno Sharphead, 4, attends Dinosaurs–The Exhibition at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton on March 21. The exhibit includes ultra-realistic animatronic dinosaurs and life-sized skeleton casts. Photo by David Bloom/Postmedia Network
  • Cop chief’s lawsuit: Medicine Hat’s former police chief is suing the city, police, three officers and a woman he had a relationship with for $2 million. He alleges they conspired to harass and defame him, and force his resignation in 2022. The allegations have not been proven in court. Statements of defence have yet to be filed.
  • Mad Hatter council: Medicine Hat isn’t intentionally being singled out this week, but their council unanimously sanctioned Medicine Hat’s mayor by cutting her salary, suspending her duties and limiting interactions with staff. The sanctions follow a heated meeting between the mayor, council and a city manager last August.
  • Rosy outlook:  As Canada struggles with an ongoing affordability crisis, an ATB  report argues Albert’s economy is in decent shape. There’s still some uncertainty, but the report predicts unemployment will rise slightly before falling below six per cent during the next two years. It also believes financial pressures will start easing for consumers.
  • NATO partnership: The University of Alberta and SAIT have joined a NATO initiative for developing new technologies with miliary and civilian uses. They are among 13 test centres serving NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA) network.
  • Party poopers: Political parties on municipal ballots could become a reality as the Alberta government plans to introduce the legislation. Alberta Municipalities, an organization representing 265 municipalities, wants the idea scrapped. A provincial survey also found most respondents opposed the idea.
  • Social studies shuffle: Alberta has unveiled its new draft K-6 social studies curriculum, intending to have it in classrooms across Alberta by September 2025. Here’s a breakdown of what’s new in the social studies draft curriculum, when it will be implemented and what happens next.
  • NDP showdown: The official candidates for the Alberta NDP leadership race are MLAs Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Kathleen Ganley, Sarah Hoffman and Rakhi Pancholi; Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan; and former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
  • Read up on the politics and culture of Alberta  with Postmedia’s subscriber-exclusive newsletter, What’s up with Alberta? Curated by the National Post’s Tyler Dawson every Tuesday and Thursday.

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