Weekly update: MMEIP a bigger local crisis than people know, FMWBEDT changes

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • Fort McMurray Wildlife Festival: The Wildlife Festival returns to Fort McMurray with new animals and some old favourites. Macdonald Island Park from May 10-12. Tickets and information.
  • Monster Pro Wrestling: 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.
  • Rainbow Action Week: Pride YMM joins hundreds of other Queer organizations in Canada to support 2SLGBTQI+ people and urge elected officials to address hate crimes against 2SLGBTQI+ people. Events begin May 11 with a rally outside the court house for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. Schedule of events.
  • Robbie Burns, A Night to Remember: A traditional evening celebrating the life of Scotland’s bard. Featuring the talents of Highland Dancing and music by the Legion’s Pipes and Drums Band. May 18 at 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Tickets available at The Armoury Grill at the Royal Canadian Legion in Waterways. Information.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Giants: Tickets and schedule for the upcoming baseball season are online. Opening day is May 24 against the Edmonton Prospects.
  • River’s Edge Resort public engagement: Developers of the proposed River’s Edge Event Centre and Resort in Draper are presenting their concept of the project and having one-on-one discussions with residents. May 30 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion. Information on the project.
  • Rock the Rails: Rock The Rails is BACK! Featuring legendary punk band Authority Zero and more than a dozen other acts from across Canada and the United States! June 7-8 at Syncrude Athletic Park. Information.
  • Take the Pledge: Want a chance to win a helicopter ride AND reduce wildfire risk? Pledge to reduce wildfires in the Fort McMurray Forest Area by August 16 and you’ll be entered to win a helicopter ride! Take the pledge today online.
  • 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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mmeip
A woman marches through downtown Fort McMurray while carrying the names of with the names of Amber Tuccaro, Sherri Flett and Ellie Herman on Red Dress Day on May 5, 2024. The day honours missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous people. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Hundreds march through Fort McMurray on Red Dress Day

Hundreds of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as they marched through downtown Fort McMurray for Red Dress Day.

Every May 5, Red Dress Day honours the memories of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people (MMIWG2S). In the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region, some organizers have embraced the MMEIP acronym—missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous people.

Jes Croucher, president of the Nistawoyou Association Friendship Centre, says the crisis is much larger in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo than people realize. A local database dating back to the early 1970s has the names of 55 Indigenous people who are murdered or missing in the region.

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The most recent Statistics Canada data from 2022 found Indigenous people represented 27 per cent of homicide victims reported that year. The National Inquiry into the MMIWGS2 crisis found perpetrators are often “partners, casual acquaintances and serial killers.”

“I hope people realize how much of a hotspot Fort McMurray is for this,” said Mitchel Bowers, chair of Pride YMM and a two-spirit Metis person. “There’s always more work to be done.”

More photos of the gathering are in the article.

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Councillor Keith McGrath at Shell Place for the swearing-in ceremony of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s council on Oct. 25, 2021. Photo by Greg Halinda of Greg Halinda Photography for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo jpg, FM

McGrath chairing interim FMWBEDT board, Weidlich out as CEO and president

Councillor Keith McGrath has been elected chair of an interim board for the region’s economic development group after council unanimously voted last month to fire the old board.

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Kevin Weidlich, who served as president and CEO of the group since 2018, is no longer with Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT).

“I don’t think there’s been a more critical time that we actually not just promote our community, but use the assets we have,” said McGrath in an interview. “The old board had a wonderful bunch of people but it was time for council to take some responsibility for a return to our ratepayers.”

It was McGrath who proposed the motion to fire the previous board of directors at an April 9 council meeting. In recent years, McGrath has accused FMWBEDT of underdelivering on promises to bring investment at a time when it’s desperately needed for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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In an April interview, Weidlich defended FMWBEDT’s economic record. He also argued building relationships with investors and promoting the region’s brand is a long-term process. Many councillors, however, said they were frustrated with FMWBEDT’s progress during the April 9 meeting.

Councillor Stu Wigle will be vice chair. RMWB CAO Henry Hunter has been appointed director. Mayor Sandy Bowman is ex officio director. The board will continue reporting updates to council. Dennis Vroom, an RMWB senior strategic advisor, is guiding operations on an interim basis. McGrath says a permanent board will be appointed “in due time.”

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An aerial view of Suncor’s tailings pond 5 at their oilsands mining and upgrading facility north of Fort McMurray, Alta. on June 18, 2013. Ryan Jackson/Postmedia Network

Tany Yao chairing committee to hasten reclaiming oilsands tailings ponds

A committee to hasten reclamation efforts of oilsands tailings ponds will be chaired by Tany Yao, UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, and include Jim Boucher, the former chief of the Fort McKay First Nation.

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The committee has been tasked with studying and proposing policies to allow tailings reclamation to be done as quickly and safely as possible.

“I’m going to be doing a very thorough and very robust investigation into tailings pond water and how we remediate that,” said Yao. “Water is such a valuable resource and we need to treat it like gold.”

The Alberta government says oilsands operators have cut the amount of fresh water used per barrel by 23 per cent since 2017. All operators came in below approved volume limits in 2022. But for now, the ponds hold roughly 1.6 trillion litres of liquid waste and cover roughly 300 square kilometres, or nearly half the size of Edmonton.

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A delivery truck with the Wood Buffalo Food Bank outside the food bank’s Centennial Drive location in downtown Fort McMurray on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Scott McLean/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network jpg, FM

Wood Buffalo Food Bank hosts 10th spring food drive as demand rises

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The Wood Buffalo Food Bank collected enough food to equal the weight of one of the municipality’s public transit busses during their annual spring food drive. So far this year, the food bank has handed out enough food to people to equal the weight of roughly two more busses.

Volunteers outside grocery stores across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo collected 20,503 lbs of food and raised $20,730. The annual food drive comes as the food bank faces record demand for its services in the region.

Since January, 40,313 lbs of food has been given to 12,146 people. About 34.46 per cent of recipients are children and 11.04 per cent are seniors. The monthly value of the food given out to people is roughly $141,901.

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Burnco said Thursday that it has entered a share purchase agreement with Brookfield Business Partners to acquire Calgary-based Hammerstone Infrastructure Materials Ltd. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Network

Calgary-based Burnco acquires large Fort McMurray limestone quarry

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One of Western Canada’s largest limestone quarries is now owned by Calgary-based Burnco Rock Products Ltd. after the company announced Thursday that it had acquired a Calgary-based company owned by a New York-based private equity firm.

Until Thursday, Hammerstone owned the Hammerstone Quarry, a limestone deposit located north of Fort McMurray.

The quarry has more than 750-million tonnes of limestone reserves, “representing generations of supply,” BURNCO said in a release.

Burnco, a private company, did not disclose the sale price or financial details around the acquisition. However, the acquisition means a Canadian company will be in full control of Hammerstone Quarry.

Hammerstone currently employs 110 people.

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Suncor Energy’s base plant with upgraders north of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Wednesday September 27, 2017. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network Photo by Vince Mcdermott /Vince Mcdermott/Today Staff

Suncor aims to gain ‘unique’ advantage from Trans Mountain pipeline

Suncor says it hopes to remove middlemen and directly negotiate with new customers for a “unique” advantage once it starts shipping to new markets through the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The Alberta-based company recently reported net earnings of $1.6 billion and an all-time high in oilsands production during the first quarter of 2024.

Dave Oldreive, Suncor’s executive vice-president of downstream, said the company has leased vessels operating in the Pacific Ocean, which will give it an advantage in terms of shipping costs.

He expects crude oil in the pipeline to reach markets in California and Asia. He added Suncor’s trading offices are working to “strengthen relationships” with those markets so the company can directly negotiate with customers and get better deals.

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Other oil producers including Cenovus, MEG Energy and Canadian Natural Resources have also said they expect the pipeline to improve conditions for Canadian companies.

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One of 27 municipal bus shelters that were damaged during a weekend vandalism spree in Fort McMurray. Image by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Police investigating weekend vandalism spree to 27 bus shelters: The RMWB says this type of vandalism is becoming more common and repairs will get more expensive. The RMWB has spent more than $63,800 repairing vandalized bus shelters during the last two years.

Man pleads guilty to making threats about planes arriving at airport: Bradley Love, 65, plead guilty to uttering threats. Love was arrested in August after making threatening comments about planes arriving at the Fort McMurray International Airport. Love, who has a history of hate crime and harassment convictions, was angry Indigenous people fleeing wildfires were coming to the community.

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Shots fired near Fort Chipewyan Airport actually from pellet gun: No one was injured in a shooting at the Fort Chipewyan Airport last week because the incident allegedly involved a pellet gun. A 19-year-old man has been charged.

RCMP investigating weekend armed robberies at liquor stores: Police are investigating two armed robberies at the Ace Liquor stores on Real Martin Drive and Signal Road. In both incidents, no injuries were reported. Images from security footage are in the story.

Police seize $60K in drugs, vapes in traffic stop: Reports of a suspicious man who had flown into Fort Chipewyan triggered a traffic stop, where police say they found crack cocaine and vapes worth roughly $60,000 in the vehicle that picked him up.

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One man arrested after early morning shooting: A 54-year-old man on the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation has been arrested after police say he shot at a home on the First Nation. The man had shot the home after midnight and ran away. A police dog tracked him down and an emergency response team contained the area. The man surrendered to police without incident. No injuries were reported.

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Premier Danielle Smith shares in some multicoloured celebrations during the Hindu celebration of Holi in Calgary on Sunday, May 5, 2024. Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia Network
  • Doggone hero: Craig Campbell was hiking with his Doberman outside Cochrane when they accidentally bumped into a grizzly bear and her cubs. Campbell, 70, had bear spray but it was stuck under his jacket. His dog, Night, silently charged the bear. The bear and her cubs left. Campbell rewarded night with an extra raw chicken leg. Alberta Fish and Wildlife warns hikers and hunters that bear spray and other deterrents should always be easy to grab in an emergency.
  • Bag ban banned: Calgary’s city council has repealed a bylaw charging customers for plastic bags and other single-use items. The 12-3 vote ends a bylaw that was passed in January, although private businesses are still allowed to charge people if they choose. The RMWB passed its ban on most plastic bags in 2009.
  • Painful realization: The 2022 plan to buy five million bottles of Turkish acetaminophen and ibuprofen cost Alberta $80 million. But by the time the medication arrived, the shortage in medications had been resolved. It turns out AHS warned the Alberta government about this exact scenario. AHS also told hospitals to stop using the medication last July because of quality concerns. The province does not know what to do with the surplus, most of which expires in January 2026.
  • Election timing: Alberta’s fixed election date could move to October. Current legislation calls for provincial elections to be held between March and May. But this means elections could happen during wildfires or floods. Last year’s election occurred as Alberta dealt with wildfires and evacuations across the province.
  • 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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