The stories of 2012
By David Willberg
From elections to meetings, triumphs to tragedies, 2012 was another memorable year in southeast Saskatchewan. The October civic election brought change to many councils, including Estevan's. The region's growth continued; new facilities and services opened, to both the delight and frustration of residents; milestones were achieved; and some moments proved to be unforgettable. Here are some of the highlights from the past 12 months:
Ludwig is the new mayor: Estevan residents went to the polls on October 24 for the civic election. And for the first time since a byelection in 2005, voters would pick a new mayor.
Speculation over the identity of Estevan's new mayor began as far back as 2009, when former mayor Gary St. Onge said that he would retire from civic politics in 2012. Roy Ludwig, who had been a councillor since 1994, was the first to declare his intentions for mayor. Lynn Chipley, who had been on council since 2006, and Jim Halladay, who had no previous council experience, also filed mayoral nomination papers.
Ultimately, Ludwig would win the race by a lopsided margin. He captured 1,813 of the 3,024 votes cast, or about 60 per cent of the votes, and nearly doubled Chipley's total of 912. Halladay's 299 votes left him in third place.
Greg Hoffort, Dennis Moore, Chris Istace, Brian Johnson, Lori Carr and Kevin Smith were elected as councillors. Moore, Istace and Johnson were incumbents, and Carr was on Council from 2003 to 2009. Smith and Hoffort are in their first teams on Council.
There wasn't a race in Estevan for the public or separate school boards.
Pam Currie and Janet Foord were returned as Estevan's trustees on the South East Cornerstone Public School Board by acclamation. Karen Melle and Bev Hickie were acclaimed as Estevan's representatives on the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Board.
Acclamation was also the theme for the RM of Estevan election. Reeve Kelly Lafrentz, and a couple councillors, were unopposed in their respective bids for re-election. In Subdivision 2, Del Block beat incumbent Richard Gervais to join the RM's council.
Tragic accident near Midale: Perhaps no story in southeast Saskatchewan drew more provincial and national attention than the fatal collision in August outside of Midale. An SUV that was driving through a construction zone, where speeds are restricted to 60 kilometres per hour, struck and killed a flag person.
The flag person was Ashley Dawn Richards, an 18-year-old woman who was pregnant. Richards was originally from New Brunswick, and was on her first day of work.
The accident drew criticism from a number of different organizations. Law enforcement organizations and construction safety advocates urged people to slow down while travelling through highway construction zones.
It also motivated the provincial government to create stiffer fines for people who are caught speeding in those zones.
A 44-year-old Regina man was charged in connection with Richards' death. His case, which is being heard in Weyburn, has been adjourned until April.
Transloading controversy: A source of controversy early in the year was the oil transload facility that has been operated by CP Rail. Transporting oil by rail car is becoming increasingly common, and CP Rail announced late in 2011 that it would capitalize on the strength of the southeast Saskatchewan oil patch by offering transload services in Estevan.
It was the location that drew the ire of residents, as the facility is in central Estevan.
Opposition was fierce. Local residents voiced concerns over safety. They pointed to an expected rise in truck traffic, and they were worried what would happen if there was a fire at the transload centre. They wanted the transload operations moved outside of city limits.
People still want the service moved outside of the city, but the opposition has simmered down. Transport Canada is the only entity that can tell CP Rail that it has to relocate the transload centre.
Energy Training Institute opens: The much-anticipated Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute opened up in late January. The state-of-the-art institution was built to be a place for energy training courses, but it has since expanded to be more.
Among the highlights are modern technology, spacious classrooms, a 250-seat auditorium that can be used for community events, and labs that can be used for confined space classes and other training purposes.
A grand opening ceremony was held in late May. Representatives of the college, the provincial government and other groups who attended the celebration marvelled at the facility.
The Southeast Regional College announced in the summer that it would be shifting all of its programs and courses to the SETI. It is also home to the Estevan campus' administrative team.
Community growth: The numbers from the 2011 Census were released in early February, and they showed that Estevan's population was 11,054, which was an increase of 970 people, or 9.6 per cent, from the population recorded in 2006. The numbers were disappointing for many, who expected that Estevan's population would be in excess of 12,000.
Many communities in southeast Saskatchewan showed growth, led by Macoun, whose population increased by more than 44 per cent. Some towns and villages enjoyed a population jump of 20 per cent.
A lack of housing remains Estevan's biggest growth impediment. Reports in April and October by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation show the city continues to have the lowest vacancy rate in the province. Estevan's rental rates are Saskatchewan's highest.
Estevan City Council approved a couple new subdivisions during the year to address the housing crunch. The first, by Trimount Developments in the north-central area, is already under construction. The other, by Essex Developments in northwest corner of the city, has progressed slowly.
Another positive development came in October, when it was announced that six new townhouses in the Westview area would be rented out as affordable housing for low-income families.
Saskatchewan's population also continued to grow, as it surpassed 1.086 million, as of September 30. The province grew by more than 23,000 people from October 1, 2011, to September 30, 2012.
Boundary Dam project continues: Carbon capture and storage projects were in the news throughout the year.
The integrated carbon capture and storage project at the Boundary Dam Power Station continues to be built. A stripper was installed in January that will play a pivotal role in the carbon capture technology.
Construction continued at the carbon capture site throughout the year, with as many as 400 people on the job.
A big announcement came in late December, when oilfield company Cenovus reached an agreement with SaskPower to purchase all of the carbon dioxide (CO2) captured at the plant. The CO2 will be used in Cenovus' enhanced oil recovery efforts in Weyburn.
The Boundary Dam project is on budget and on time. Construction on the carbon capture structure will continue. Work on the retrofit for Unit 3 at Boundary Dam will begin in 2013. As many as 800 people are expected to be in Estevan at the peak of construction.
Meanwhile, SaskPower and Hitachi announced in March that they would partner to construct a $60 million carbon capture test facility (CCTF) at SaskPower's Shand Power Station near Estevan. The CCTF will allow international developers to come to Shand and evaluate the performance of their systems to capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired thermal power plants.
Credit union seeks a merger: Spectra Credit Union announced in February that it was seeking a merger partner, citing a desire to offer current and emerging products and services, the ability to offer services to members throughout the province, the ability to access asset and capital capacity, and the impact of the strong southeast economy.
Spectra's board revealed in August that it has chosen Affinity Credit Union as its merger partner for several reasons: an emphasis on co-operative values; a governance structure that includes community councils; an equity position with $2.8 billion in assets; and a commitment to community giving that extends to smaller communities with Affinity branches.
Spectra's members must approve the merger before it can proceed; the vote is expected this year.
Oxbow derailment: A collision between a moving CP Rail train and a northbound pick-up truck at a rail crossing seven kilometres east of Oxbow in January caused 22 rail cars to derail. One of the rail cars leaked thousands of litres of oil into a neighbouring field. The motorist suffered minor, non-life threatening injuries.
Abnormally warm weather: Estevan experienced an abnormally warm year in 2012. It started in January, when the average daytime high was the second-highest on record since 1945. The trend of above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation continued through the first eight months of the year, except in May, when nearly 100 millimetres of rain were recorded.
The weather was greeted by some after the flooding of 2011, as it allowed for some standing water to evaporate. And it meant minimal spring run-off for local reservoirs, a dramatic shift from the record releases from a year earlier.
But snowfall was well above normal in October and November, and the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency has started to release water from Rafferty Dam and Alameda Dam.
Concerts drew many to Spectra Place: The first full year of operations at Spectra Place resulted in a number of concerts coming to Estevan. The largest was in February, when Canadian pop-rock group Hedley performed in front of more than 3,000 people. It was one of the largest concerts in Estevan's history. There were also visits from country music singer Paul Brandt in March, classic rock singer Burton Cummings in June, pop-punk band Simple Plan in August, and hard rock groups Theory of a Deadman and Big Wreck in December.
Estevan supports Telemiracle: The 2012 edition of Telemiracle was a big success, thanks in part to the contributions of local residents, and the efforts of Estevan's Kinsmen and Kinettes Clubs. Several local entertainers were also a part of Telemiracle. The 20-hour telethon set an off-air record with a little more than $5.9 million raised. The money will be used to meet the medical needs of Saskatchewan residents.
Ross family recognized for farming: The Ross family, which operates the Ross L-7 Ranch south of Estevan, was recognized for their commitment to agriculture, and more specifically the beef sector, when they were presented with Estevan's Farm Family of the Year Award during the Farmer's Appreciation Evening in March. The Ross family has been involved with farming for several generations.
Radiothon for Life: St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation's inaugural Radiothon for Life in March was an overwhelming success, as it raised more than $100,000 for the foundation. Late in the fundraiser, there was an anonymous donation that pledged to match all donations, to a maximum of $50,000. The event was broadcasted on Golden West Radio's local stations. The money was directed towards the purchase of two new anesthetic machines at the hospital.
Be the Change at ECS: Estevan Comprehensive School students were encouraged to "Be the Change" during two editions of the Challenge Day at the school. The first in March was offered to Grade 9 students. The second in October was also for Grade 9s, but some Grade 11 and 12 students were also included in the activities. Challenge Day encourages students to view their peers with empathy and respect, and it helps students realize they have many shared experiences.
Budget chops SSEER and tax credit: The provincial government discontinued funding for the Saskatchewan South East Enterprise Region, and other enterprise regions in Saskatchewan, when the budget was tabled in March. SSEER had been active in trying to address Estevan's housing crisis. They were also an advocate for a trade corridor with the U.S. that would run through the southeast. Also chopped in the budget was the Saskatchewan Film Tax Credit, which provided incentives to movie and TV productions that were filmed in the province.
Truck route progress and setbacks: The truck route that will run north of Estevan was included in the provincial budget – an announcement that was applauded by many locally. Among the goals for the truck route 2012 was to acquire land from those who live north of the city. But property owners have been asking for more money than what they were offered, which has delayed the project. The provincial government has since increased the value of its offers.
Regional nursing home support: The Hearthstone Community Campaign, which is trying to construct a new nursing home in Estevan, enjoyed considerable support this past year, and it has now surpassed the $5.7 million mark in fundraising. The big boost came in March, when several municipalities stepped forward with more than $3 million in financial support. The campaign has to raise $8 million – which is 20 per cent of the project's estimated cost – before construction can proceed.
Wall speaks to Chamber: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall delivered the keynote address at the Estevan Chamber of Commerce's annual general meeting. Wall's speech came a week after the provincial budget was released. It was one of a number of topics that he covered. Wall also discussed the response to last year's floods, the construction of the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute, the future of coal-fired generating stations and the province's growth.
The fight against bullies: Estevan and area residents had a number of opportunities to show their support for the campaign against bullying. Among the highlights was a Pink Shirt Day Walk through downtown Estevan. Supporters donned pink shirts and carried placards to show that they won't tolerate bullying in the community.
Viewing the STARS: Estevan was the site for the first educational outreach for the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) Air Ambulance helicopter in April. STARS officially launched in Saskatchewan a few days later. The first call for STARS' service in Saskatchewan came from Arcola, and the helicopter has been dispatched to southeast Saskatchewan on several occasions. A new helipad for the helicopter will be constructed near St. Joseph's Hospital next year. The helicopter will significantly reduce the travel time when transporting patients from Estevan to Regina.
Women of Today Award recipients: The SaskPower/Quota International/Lions Club of Estevan Women of Today Awards were handed out in April. Linda Murphy won the SaskPower Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Workplace, Dr. Sarah Sliva received the Ida Petterson Memorial Award for Outstanding Entrepreneur, Kelci Little was presented with the Shirley Orsted Memorial Award for Outstanding Young Woman of Today, and Wanda Harron captured the SaskTel Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community.
Woodlawn Regional Park update: The Woodlawn Regional Park's campground opened in May, to the delight of tourists and local campers. Campers had the option of staying at refurbished sites in the park, or going to the Boundary Dam location. Woodlawn announced in September its plans to proceed with 160 new campsites in the park. New sites will be constructed along the Souris River and at the old chuckwagon racing track. They are also looking at constructing cabins.
It was a year of celebrating for Woodlawn, as in July, the Estevan Chamber of Commerce feted the park's 50th anniversary with a Beach Bash at the Boundary Dam site. Hundreds of people turned out for the festivities.
Tweddle disappeared in May: Estevan Police Service members have spent the last seven months searching for Gordon Tweddle, who vanished in early May. His disappearance wasn't reported for more than two weeks. Foul play is not suspected. Tweddle is described as a very thin and frail man who stands six-foot-one, and has blue eyes. He has short, white, thin hair, and a white beard.
City receives PDAP claim: The City of Estevan received more than $2.1 million through the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program in June, and proceeded to put it to good use: a resurfacing of Fourth Avenue south of the city, which provided fresh asphalt for a road that has long been in shabby condition. But the City needed to appeal its claim in order to get that much money. Other individuals, municipalities and organizations affected by last year's flooding have voiced frustration with the amount of money they received from PDAP, saying that the offer was too low, or that the offers didn't reflect higher cost of business in southeast Saskatchewan.
The one-year anniversary of the floods was in June, and standing water remains an issue in many parts of the region.
Relay raises over $60,000: This year's Relay for Life in Estevan attracted 11 teams and about 150 participants, and it raised more than $60,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. The all-night fundraiser, which was held at the Civic Auditorium, also had a strong contingent of volunteers and entertainers.
Federal committee visits Estevan: A federal committee – the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities – was in Estevan in June to learn more about the job shortage facing southeast Saskatchewan. Souris-Moose Mountain MP Ed Komarnicki is the chair of the committee. He brought members of the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP, as well as committee staff members, to Estevan. Estevan was one of eight stops across Canada for the committee, which is part of a parallel study addressing labour shortages in high demand occupations, skills and trades.
Priest killed in crash: Father Joel Rama, who has been the priest at the largest church in Estevan, St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, died due to injuries sustained in a collision with a moving train, at an uncontrolled intersection in Macoun in June. The Philippines-born Rama had been a popular minister since his arrival in Estevan.
Eighth anniversary for Struble's disappearance: The eighth anniversary of Courtney Struble's disappearance was in July. Struble vanished in the early morning hours of July 9, 2004. The RCMP Historical Crimes Unit has taken over the investigation, and has been treating her disappearance as a homicide. But the investigation has gone slower than expected.
Cugnet hired as CEO: It was announced in July that Marga Cugnet had officially been hired as the CEO of the Sun Country Health Region. Cugnet had been the interim CEO since September of 2010. She has been with Sun Country, and one of its predecessors, the South East Health District, for more than 30 years.
Traffic numbers surge: The committee that is trying to twin Highways 39 and 6 from North Portal to Regina received a boost in their campaign, when highway traffic numbers were released in late July. Highway 39 from Estevan to Bienfait experienced a significant surge in traffic, from 4,600 vehicles per day in 2009 to 6,200 a day in 2011. There were more vehicles per day on Highway 39 east of Estevan, than on Highway 1 west of Moose Jaw.
Fly ash facility opens: SaskPower celebrated the opening of its flyash facility at the Boundary Dam Power Station in August. Fly ash is a fine powder byproduct of coal combustion, and is used in ready-mix concrete operations, pre-cast structures such as bridge decks and pipes, and concrete products like bricks and paving stones. The facility will allow SaskPower to sell all the flyash generated at the plant, and double its net income from flyash.
New fire truck arrives: The new T-Rex aerial fire truck arrived for Estevan Fire Services in early September. The fire truck features an articulating aerial platform that will enhance firefighter safety, while giving them the ability to combat fires from different elevations. The platform extends as high as 115 feet above the ground, or 30 beneath the surface, which means it can be used in confined space emergencies and other situations.
School division enrolments up: Another sign of growth in southeast Saskatchewan was seen in the enrolment numbers for local school divisions.
The South East Cornerstone School Division saw a jump in the number of students. In fact, the growth was substantial enough that the Ministry of Education granted Cornerstone more money to meet the needs created by more students. The Estevan Comprehensive School played a significant role in the enrolment increase, as they had 861 students, which is 46 more than what was projected.
Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division has 1,066 students in Kindergarten to Grade 12, and another 49 in pre-Kindergarten programs, between their schools in Estevan, Weyburn, Radville and Wilcox.
Theatre begins their rebuild: The Souris Valley Theatre made progress on repairs following the floods of 2011. New seats have been installed at Frehlick Hall, where the productions take place, and repairs have been completed at the theatre's concession-washroom building. They have also announced that they will have three plays in 2013, starting with the return of "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline" in June.
Showcase 2012: The 2012 edition of the Estevan Showcase business expo was the biggest one yet, as there was a record number of exhibitors. Most were located inside Spectra Place. A few were in the Lignite Miners Centre and the Leisure Centre's forecourt. More than 3,000 people attended the event.
Estevan's No. 1 again: The United Way in Estevan retained its status as No. 1 in Canada, as it became the first United Way in Canada to reach its goal for the 35th time in the 36-year history of its telethon. The off-air total for the 33-hour telecast was $347,953, which was nearly $13,000 better than their goal of $335,000. The funds raised during the telethon will be directed towards 17 member agencies and three community projects.
St. Onge chairs final meeting: The October 15 meeting of Estevan City Council marked the end of an era, as it was the final open meeting for Gary St. Onge as Estevan's mayor. St. Onge had been the mayor since June 2005, and his consecutive tenure is one of the longest for a mayor in Estevan's history. During his tenure, he was at the helm of a community that went through substantial growth.
Facing the Dragons: Former Midale residents Natasha and Elysia Vandenhurk, representing the Three Farmers' camelina cooking oil, made an appearance on the hit CBC television series "Dragon's Den," and came away with a handshake agreement from marketing guru Arlene Dickinson. The Vandenhurk's made their pitch in May, and the episode aired in October. The Vandenhurks agreed to part with 20 per cent of the company for $150,000.
Speed limits will be lowered: The divisive debate over speed limits for most roads in Estevan appears to have found some resolution, as residents voted in favour of 40 kilometre per hour limits on non-arterial and non-industrial roads during a plebiscite on October 24. The margin of victory for lower speed limits was less than 30 votes. It's expected that Council will pass a bylaw on the issue early in 2013, and that the lower limits will take effect in the spring.
Warm Welcome at St. Paul's: Several different organizations have come together to support the homeless in Estevan through the Warm Welcome program. The shelter, which is located at St. Paul's United Church's auditorium, opened on December 1, and has been operating from Thursday to Sunday ever since. People who need the shelter's services report at the Estevan Salvation Army each time they're going to use the service. The shelter has also received financial support and donations from many in the community.
Prestigious honour for King: Former southeast Saskatchewan resident Ross King was presented with the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in November for his book, "Leonardo and the Last Supper." It examines Leonardo da Vinci's life at the time he painted his "Last Supper" masterpiece. This is the second time that King has won the award. King was born in Estevan and raised in North Portal.
Foord new SSBA president: Janet Foord was elected as the new president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association during the organization's annual meeting in November. Foord has vast experience with school boards, ranging from the local school board in Macoun, to the South East Cornerstone Public School Board. She was also involved with the school boards association before becoming president.
RM of Estevan: The RM of Estevan held a couple of meetings to discuss its new community plan and changes to its zoning bylaw. The measures are needed because there is a fair amount of development taking place in the RM right now, and the RM wants growth to happen in an orderly manner.
Golden Jubilee medal recipients: The 60th anniversary of the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II occurred in 2012, and to mark the milestone, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medals were handed out at ceremonies throughout the country. One ceremony in Estevan in November saw 18 people receive medals. Those who were recognized have found many different ways to better their community and country.