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Looking back on the top 2019 stories for Athabasca, Boyle and area - Part 2


ATHABASCA – From provincial and federal elections, to new infrastructure here’s a look back at some of the top 2019 news and sports stories for Athabasca, Boyle and area. Be sure to check back as this series will run over three days online.

June 4

Calling Lake opens doors to evacuees

20190529-Wabasca evacuation, Calling Lake-AB-1Thousands of people from the hamlet of Wabasca and Bigstone Cree Nation – Wabasca #166 registered in Calling Lake after an evacuation order was called May 29. Chipewyan Lake Village was also ordered to evacuate May 30.
Thousands of people from the Hamlet of Wabasca and Bigstone Cree Nation - Wabasca #166 registered in Calling Lake after nearby wildfires led to an evacuation order May 29. 

At 8:44 p.m. May 29, the Hamlet of Wabasca and Bigstone Cree Nation – Wabasca #166 were put under an evacuation order. On May 30 at 3:40 a.m. an evacuation order was placed on Chipewyan Lake Village, and at 12:19 p.m., the Hamlet of Marten Beach was also put under an evacuation order.  

M.D. of Opportunity Reeve Marcel Auger said as of 8:30 p.m. May 30, 3,700 people from the Wabasca, Sandy Lake and Chipewyan Lake Village areas had registered as evacuees. 

June 11

MMIWG inquiry releases final report

20190611-20181004-Sisters In Spirit-3Gloria Gladue’s son-in-law Guy Weesemat, her son Keanu Gladue, Athabasca Native Friendship Centre employees Renee Sibera and Charity Jardine, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette and Rose Houle led about 60 people in the Sisters in Spirit walk down Mainstreet in Athabasca Oct. 4, 2018.
“This truth is undeniable.”  

This is one of the first lines in the introduction of the final report from the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls national inquiry.  

On June 3, the inquiry released the report, titled “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.”  

In an email, Athabasca Native Friendship Centre executive director Laureen Houle-Grell stated she hopes people can find some way to act upon the recommendations, “no matter how small they think it might be.”  

“I hope everyone reads it with an open mind and becomes a little more educated on the atrocities that have been inflicted on our Indigenous women,” Houle-Grell said.  

The report is a two-volume 1,200-page account detailing the inquiry’s final findings of fact and making their recommendations for how to move forward with 231 calls for justice.  

These calls are the means for Canadian society — from police services, government, media and all Canadians — to end and redress what the report states is a genocide.  

Readers can find an electronic copy of the inquiry’s report at

June 18

County fined $300,000 for environmental damage

Athabasca County will be paying $300,000 to Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund after they damaged 2.5 hectares of the Meanook National Wildlife Area during unauthorized road construction in 2017.  

Appearing in Athabasca Provincial Court June 10, defence lawyer Anthony Purgas said the county pleaded guilty to conducting commercial or industrial activity in a wildlife area.  

Speaking with county manager Ryan Maier at his side, Purgas said it was an “unrepeatable mistake” that was not malicious, but a confusion of permits.  

“I’m sure the residents will not be very happy about this,” Judge John Maher said about the public dollars going into the fine.  

Five other charges were dismissed relating to destroying or molesting animals or carcasses, nests or eggs in a wildlife area.  

In determining the fine, federal Crown prosecutor Dawn Poskocil said the county had caused persistent damage, had been intentionally reckless and failed to take reasonable steps. 

A press release from Athabasca County states the sentencing order recommends “all or part of the fine be paid to Athabasca University” for purposes related to protecting, conserving or restoring the environment.  

Purgas said the county had been in communication with Athabasca University to make sure the funds would be going back into the area.

July 2

Randy Potskin found guilty of manslaughter

20190702-Chantelle Hole 2On June 24, Randy Greg Potskin was found guilty of manslaughter in Chantelle Hole’s 2017 death after a judge determined that his claim of a home invasion was “illogical” and lacked corroboration.
Randy Greg Potskin has been found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 stabbing of Chantelle Hole near Smith after a judge determined that his claim of a home invasion was "illogical" and lacked corroboration. 

About 30 people were in the courtroom as Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Graesser read his almost two-hour ruling in Edmonton June 24. 

Graesser said he believed Potskin had attempted to destroy evidence and then made up a home invasion story, which the judge called "incredulous" and "seriously flawed." 

"The story, in my view, is a fabrication," Graesser said, adding later that “it lacks any corroboration.” 

"To put it another way — there is no air of reality to this version of events," he stated later in the reading. 

Court heard that on April 28, 2017, Chantelle Hole, Potskin and another man were at the Potskin residence, where her body was later found. The man was there to see about a plumbing problem and left the residence. Court heard that during the witness' testimony, he stated Potskin had been more intoxicated than Chantelle Hole at that point.

Aug. 6

The fight against Bill 9

20190729_Bill9_MI04Two dozen public sector workers picketed against the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, or Bill 9 outside the Athabasca Healthcare Centre, July 29.
A provincial labour issue reached local streets July 29, as about two dozen public sector workers protested the Alberta government’s attempts to halt wage arbitration talks.  

The local voices — which chanted “solidarity forever” and “kill the bill” — joined concerned citizens across Alberta supporting an injunction against the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, formerly known as Bill 9. The Court of Queen’s Bench granted the injunction July 30.  

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees chapter 32 chair Brenda Lussier — who also works at Westlock’s Continuing Care Centre — said the government is breaking its promises to workers as well as the collective agreement. Chapter 43 includes Athabasca and surrounding areas from Barrhead to Trout Lake.  

“This government is balancing their books off the backs of the of the public workers while giving the richest in the province a tax break. So, workers in small communities such as Athabasca, Westlock, Slave Lake, Barrhead, feel the most attacked,” she said at the protest.

Aug. 20

Happy Treaty Day

20190816-Treaty Day Calling Lake-AB-2Kasei Johnson-Auger and Okanees Johnson play at the Calling Lake Recreation Complex Aug. 16 before they performed a dance to “Cheerleader” during the talent show.
Meals, songs, surprise draws, and fireworks drew around 900 people to the Treaty Day celebrations in Calling Lake Aug. 16.  

The day of events included a parade, a sack race, a nail pounding contest, a pancake breakfast, lunch, bingo, dinner and a talent show.  

Victoria Hicks helped organize the events through the day in Calling Lake, even driving a float in the parade.  

“It’s important for all the community,” she said, speaking after the dinner at the Calling Lake Recreation Complex. “It’s important for us to get together like this on a happy occasion ... This is something to enlighten us, to make us have more pride in our community.”  

Hicks pointed out that this was the first Treaty Day where the Bigstone Cree First Nation and the Municipal District of Opportunity partnered.  

“This year, something special happened now,” she said. “Now, they’re partnering up with everything. That’s why it’s bigger. That’s why it’s better.”

Sept. 3

Burning up the phone lines

20190831-Comms Tower Fire-Submitted-02The fire danced just out of reach of the water hoses at a communications tower fire north of Athabasca Aug. 31. Fire crews had to wait for the fire to burn itself out.
Telus and Bell cell phones in the Town of Athabasca were disconnected from the world after a fire at the local communications tower Aug. 31 knocked out the service. 

Eagle-eyed residents called 911 reporting smoke, which led the Athabasca Fire Department to discover a structure fire at the large communications tower on the north side of the Athabasca River near the Athabasca Ag Society grounds.  

“It was initially thought to be a transformer fire,” said Athabasca Fire Department chief Travis Shalapay, who called in the Colinton Fire Department for assistance.  

“We have no idea how it started, and it is not suspicious,” he said. “However, provincial fire investigators have been called in and it is currently under investigation. “  

Shalapay said the building at the base of the tower was the first structure seen on fire and the combined efforts of the departments were able to get that blaze under control.  

“There was significant damage to the infrastructure,” he said.  

He said the fire spread into the wires running up the tower to the satellite dishes. 

Update: Service was restored Sept. 7.

Pilot killed in Smith plane crash

A local pilot is dead after a plane crashed during an air show at the Smith Fall Fair Aug. 31.  

An RCMP press release states two small planes were conducting aerobatic manoeuvres when one of the planes disappeared east of Smith.  

Police and emergency services received a call regarding a small plane crash around 12:30 p.m., according to RCMP Const. Chantelle Kelly with media relations. Speaking in a phone interview, she said the air show had started around noon, and it took police about one hour to find the plane.  

“There was only one occupant in the plane at the time of the crash and (he) was pronounced deceased at the scene,” the release continued. Kelly said the occupant was a male in his 40s.  

“Our thoughts are with the family of the deceased at this time,” the RCMP release states. “The name of the deceased will not be released.”

Sept. 17

Rural crime forum brought out MP, others

20190910_COP Forum_HS_01Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken and Justice Minister and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer watch Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs speak at the Citizens on Patrol forum held at the Seniors’ Centre Sept. 10.
It was standing room only in the Athabasca Seniors’ Centre on Sept. 10 as area residents faced off against their elected officials. 

Citizens on Patrol (COP) organized the event and was able to have Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken, Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer, Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs and Athabasca RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Gilligan on the panel. 

Gilligan opened the speakers stressing that his detachment does not have the resources to handle all the crime in the large area they have to cover. 

Stubbs spoke next and told the crowd about her own concerns with being alone sometimes in her rural home, even with her in-laws close by, “I’m wondering if someone is there, (if) someone’s gonna break in and I had this moment I thought like, ‘What the heck am I going to do about it?’” 

van Dijken then took to the podium and stated he is aware of the increase of crime in his constituency and that he is very concerned, “Over the last four years, I’ve seen an increasing concern throughout my former riding, and in my current riding, with regards to individuals that are being faced with life circumstance, that they don’t feel safe on their properties, as they once did.” 

Justice Minister Schweitzer was the last to speak and reiterated a lot of what his colleagues had said and included, “I’m sure many of you have seen as well, recent reports is the fiscal situation in Alberta, how tough it is financially for us and some tough financial decisions are ahead. Well, let me assure you that we are dedicated to implementing fully our campaign platform to tackle real crime. That is something that is not negotiable to our Premier, he’s given me clear marching orders that is something that’s not we can’t compromise on (and) that my mandate and direction is to implement that platform fully.”

Sept. 24

Quarter-century milestone for Rotary Trail

20190921-Rotary Trail Anniversary-02This group were among the 87 participants who registered to take part in a walk to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Rotary Club Trail within the Town of Athabasca. An option of two starting points was offered, one at the Athabasca County office, the other at the Athabasca Regional Multiplex. A barbeque lunch was served at Riverfront Park.
How does one celebrate a quarter century of the Rotary Way trail system? By taking a leisurely walk along the trail of course. 

The Athabasca Rotary Club held its 25th Anniversary Celebration Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., with the dual starting points being the Athabasca County office at the town’s east hill and at the Athabasca Regional Multiplex at the west hill.  

Organizer Diane Morrison said about 87 participants registered for the event, with about an equal number starting at each end of the trail as they made their way to Riverfront Park for a free barbecue and some prizes. 

“We had walkers from all ages, from young people in strollers to older people including some line-dancing ladies,” Morrison said. “At the Riverfront Park event, we had the Athabasca Rotary Club’s president, Howard Peterson, address the crowd, along with (Town of Athabasca) Mayor Colleen Powell and (Athabasca County) Deputy Reeve Travais Johnson. 

The first path was installed back in 1994, and it continues to expand to this day.


June 4

Boyle brightens the day

20190601-Boyle Colour Run-BT-06Grade 7 students McKenna Burt (left) and Kara Mitchell throw dye as they volunteered at the Fourth Annual Boyle School Colour Run June 1.
Lots of colour could be seen June 1 in the Village of Boyle, as Boyle School hosted its fourth annual Colour Run. 

The run, which was up to five kilometres long depending on the participant, saw about 75 people register from Boyle and the surrounding area. 

One of the organizers, Huyana Turner, said this was one of the smaller turnouts they have had for the event. 

But despite the lower turnout, Tara Laroue, one of the other organizers, said they were still happy with the showing.

July 30

Flash flood hits Boyle

20190728-Boyle Flooding-BT-01The Village of Boyle experienced some strong winds, rain and hail July 27. Deputy fire chief Brad Beaulieu said the “Welcome to Boyle” sign at the south end of the village was ripped off its supports.
A serious downpour around 4 p.m. July 27 caused a flash flood in the Village of Boyle, covering Railroad Avenue covered in about four feet of water. 

Brad Beaulieu, the deputy chief of the Boyle Fire Department, said it took about five hours for the water pump trucks to have the street completely cleared of the river of water. 

“With the way the community was situated, (all the water) ended up flowing along Railroad Avenue,” Beaulieu said. “From what I was told, there was three inches of rain on the ground in just the first 20 minutes. The road was covered all the way from Taylor Road to Highway 831.”

Thieves dampen Boyle Rodeo by stealing dunk tank

20190728-dunk-tank-3This dunk tank setup was stolen from the Boyle Rodeo early July 21.
“There was just a big puddle and a bunch of mud where the dunk tank had been.” 

Those are the words of Boyle & District Agricultural Society president Ashtin Anderson after someone hooked up to the group’s rented fundraising dunk tank and rolled off with it during the Boyle Rodeo over the weekend. 

“I still cannot believe that our dunk tank was stolen,” Anderson told the Lac La Biche Post on Wednesday afternoon following an RCMP press release asking for any information regarding the theft.

Aug. 6

Water levels continue rising

20190801-Boyle area Flooding-BT-01The rainfall during the summer season has caused Skeleton Lake to see higher-than-normal water levels and has even buried have of this dock located at the end of Skeleton Narrows Road at the northwest side of the lake Aug. 1.
Wet weather around the region has seen water levels rising higher than long-time residents can remember. 

According to Alberta Environment and Parks, the Amisk River has seen its levels rise 1.5 metres since July 1. Over in Skeleton Lake, water levels are so high docks along the shoreline are at least partially submerged in water. 

A pair of long-time residents at Amisk Lake, Albert and Pirkko Karvonen, said they were stranded after a record rainfall caused Cricket Creek to flood and collapse and wash out the road in the area. Amisk Lake is located about 15 kilometres east of the Village of Boyle. 

“We had no telephone connection, and no internet as a result,” Pirkko Karvonen said. “We were so thankful that Athabasca County’s Rob Mentz and his crew were able to come out and fix the road July 30.”

Sept. 17

Millview Rec Complex packed Sept. 6 for big-time country concert

20190913-Boyle Concert-01Boyle Deputy Mayor Shelby Kiteley strikes a pose with country music star George Canyon at the Millview Recreation Complex Sept. 6 just prior to the start of the George Canyon Hit after Hit Part 2 concert. More than 800 people packed the arena to see Canyon, Doc Walker, Charlie Major and Don Amero perform.
The Millview Recreational Complex in the Village of Boyle was packed Sept. 6, as more than 800 fans turned out to see some great country music. 

The Boyle and District Ag Society played host to the George Canyon Hit after Hit Part 2 concert that featured Doc Walker and Charlie Major, with Don Amero both opening and performing with the band.


June 18

Three locals compete at provincials

20190612-Athabasca Rapids-BT-01Benneit Hall practices some laps at the Athabasca Rapids’ practice June 12 at the Athabasca Regional Aquatics and Fitness Centre.
Three Athabasca swimmers took part in the Long Course Provincials June 14-16 at the Brookfield Residential YMCA at Seton in Calgary. 

Fourteen-year-olds Zak Sikora and Taylor Sheppard, along with 11-year-old Kyra Sheppard, all currently swim with the Athabasca Rapids Swim Club that is now based out of the Athabasca Regional Aquatics and Fitness Centre. The club was one of 47 across the province who were able to send competitors to the event. 

Assistant coach Amy Zacharuk, who accompanied the three swimmers to Calgary, said she was very proud of how each of them performed. 

“None of the three finished in the top three in any of their events, but Zak and Taylor did finish in the top 10 in their events,” Zacharuk said. “Zak scored a personal best in the 100 metre butterfly, and he also made it to the finals in the 100 m backstroke as well. Taylor made to the finals in the 50 m butterfly over the week.”

July 9

Heading to the City of Angels

20190709-Garrett BerubeGarrett Berube of Boyle raised cash through GoFundMe for his travel and accommodations to play with the All-Star Alberta basketball team in Las Vegas in July.
A 17-year-old basketball player in Boyle can play as part of the All-Star Alberta basketball team in Las Vegas in July.  

But only if he can fund his way there.  

Garrett Berube of Boyle has been offered a spot on an All-Star Alberta basketball team during a series of tournaments taking place in Las Vegas later in July.  

Berube said the opportunity came up from the impression he made two years ago at a two-day basketball camp in Athabasca. 

“I was remembered at the camp,” Berube said. He said he got a call offering him a spot on the team, no try-outs.  

“I had very little time to fundraise for it, so then, I had to go around asking for sponsors,” Berube said.  

In response, Garrett’s brother Brenden Berube created the GoFundMe.  

The goal is to reach $4,000 to cover the expenses for travel and accommodations. Berube will be taking part in the Las Vegas Live tournament and the Las Vegas Classic tournament.  

He leaves July 7 to train for the tournaments and heads to Las Vegas July 14.

Sept. 10

Through the trails and up the river to Riverside camp they went

20190907-Kapawinihk Wilderness Triathlon-BT-02Tina Biro of Athabasca drags her 65 lbs. canoe up to the finish line at Riverside Park Sept. 7 as part of the first-ever Kapawinihk Wilderness Triathlon. Biro took part in all three events, including the run, bicycle and canoe.
It was a bright and sunny day outside as the first-ever Kapâwinihk Wilderness Triathlon took place in the Athabasca region Sept. 7. 

Sixty-five participants between the ages of nine to adult started the race at Riverfront Park with a 12 kilometre trail run along the TransCanada Trail. This was followed by a 10 km mountain bike around the Muskeg Creek Trail and concluded with a stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding or kayak north up the Athabasca River over to the Riverside campground area. 

Organizer Janene Kargus said it was great to see such a high number of participants take part in this year’s off-road triathlon. 

“My goal was to see about 50 people participate, but with 67 registering we more than exceeded that,” Kargus said. “Although two had to bow out due to unforeseen circumstances, we still had 65 show up.”

Oct. 1

Coaches Contest Winner

20191001-Taekwondo Master Harvey StromeMaster Harvey Strome has had Taekwondo as part of his life for 44 years and is a 5-degree black belt and international referee.
The winner of the Coaches Contest is Master Harvey Strome who has had Taekwondo as a part of his life for approximately 44 years. He is a 5-degree black belt and an international referee.  

He is also a Dogang Coach for the National Coaching Certification Program. 

From the submission: 

“Master Harvey is so good with teaching children and adults of all ages and abilities. He lives what he teaches and at all times expects his students to uphold the five tenets of Taekwondo. These are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. 

He is especially good at teaching self-control and courtesy to young, head strong children and does it with courtesy and respect. The cost paid monthly is reasonable and the benefits are lifelong values. Thank you, Master Harvey!” 

Commenting on being told he won, Strome said, “I'm just absolutely honoured to have been nominated by parents of the students that I teach. It's wow…this is amazing!”

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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