From progress on major infrastructure projects and the legalization of marijuana to crime and personal tragedies, these are some of the stories that had people in Grande Prairie talking in 2018.
Search for Myles
The community rallied around a family searching for their missing son. Two-year-old Myles disappeared from the beach near the Canfor Bridge on July 6th and his body was found on the Peace River nearly a week later. While several agencies conducted an extensive search of the area, residents showed their support by placing teddy bears outside their homes and sharing them on social media with the hashtag #teddybearsformyles.
Local connection to fatal Humboldt Broncos crash
The Peace country showed similar support in the wake of the fatal Humboldt Broncos crash on April 6th, which counted former North Peace Navigators coach Darcy Haugan among its victims. Hockey sticks could be seen left outside of many homes, and the Grande Prairie Storm played the Broncos in one of two emotional exhibition games at the Baytex Energy Centre in Haugan’s hometown of Peace River.
Construction of Grande Prairie Regional Hospital suspended
Work on the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital all but stopped on September 10th, when Alberta Infrastructure terminated the services of Graham Construction. Construction on the parkade continued during the shutdown, as it is a separate project. Clark Builders has since been hired to take over but has not yet submitted a date for completion
Bear Creek Pool doesn’t open
It wasn’t until the middle of the fall that the City of Grande Prairie finally admitted the Bear Creek Pool would not open in 2018 as planned. In the spring, it was projected the outdoor pool would open by the end of June or mid-July, but that was pushed back several times. The city has blamed colder than normal temperatures and several days of flooding, now projecting an opening for late spring 2019.
Flooding strikes Peace country
Flooding affected several communities in the Peace country. The Muskoseepi Park and Bear Creek corridor area was evacuated on April 28th due to high water levels in the reservoir, and much of the park was closed for days afterwards. The County of Grande Prairie, MD of Greenview, Town of Sexsmith, and Village of Hythe were also dealing with flooding from early spring runoff, and then on August 1st, more than 45 millimetres of rain fell over the Town of Beaverlodge in just two hours. Both the County and Beaverlodge have been approved for disaster relief funding.
Rise in property crime
While the crime rate in Grande Prairie has dropped dramatically from when it topped the country two years ago, residents felt the effects of an increase in property crime over the summer. RCMP Superintendent Don McKenna largely attributed it to a rise in homelessness, the opioid crisis, and the time of year. Mounties have been focusing on targeting chronic offenders and problem neighbourhoods.
Parkside Inn to become supportive housing
Another measure proposed to address a crime hot spot in Grande Prairie is turning the Parkside Inn on 100 Avenue into 24-hour supportive housing with a fence and security. The motel reportedly became a problem the previous winter when people with complex needs like mental health and addiction concerns were put up there temporarily and taken advantage of by criminals. The proposal for it to be run by the Canadian Mental Health Association has been opposed by nearby residents and business owners.
Supervised consumption site approved
After ending 2017 with the highest fatal opioid overdose rate in the province, a supervised consumption site was approved for Grande Prairie. HIV North was looking at both the Parkside Inn and Rotary House as locations for the mobile unit, but once plans to change the motel got underway, that spot was scrapped. The trailer is expected to be functional by the end of January.
Slow start to retail cannabis industry
As communities across Canada tried to prepare for the legalization of marijuana, Grande Prairie city council threw potential shop owners for a loop when it implemented and then removed a cap on the number of licences it would issue. A limit of 15 was approved in June, and a lottery was held to determine the order the 27 applicants would be dealt with in. After criticism from some left without licences, the cap was lifted in September. The first shop to open in northern Alberta was in Peace River, and only one was approved for Grande Prairie before Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis froze them due to a supply shortage. GP’s first shop opened just before Christmas.
Grande Prairie woman arrested in Thailand
A Grande Prairie woman is thankful to be home after being arrested in Thailand. Brittney Schneider and a friend faced up to 10 years in Thai prison after being caught spray-painting an ancient wall in Chiang Mai. In the end, she was fined $4,000. She admits she had been drinking at the time and didn’t immediately remember the vandalism.
Thousands of people flooded Muskoseepi Park and took part in a nearly 750 truck convoy in mid-December to show support for the oil and gas industry. The event attracted Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, along with local politicians.
Premier Rachel Notley was in the Swan City two days earlier to announce the twinning of 19 kilometres of Highway 40 from the city limits at 68 Avenue to the Norbord Plant in the Municipal District of Greenview. A second bridge with a pedestrian path will also be built to cross the Wapiti River.
The construction of the Highway 43X bypass will stretch into summer 2019. All of the bridges along the route have been finished, along with the roundabout and almost all of the embankments.
The sudden closure of a gym in Grande Prairie in August led some clients to believe they had been scammed. The owner of Addictive Fitness finally spoke out in December, claiming anyone who hadn’t yet gotten a refund could apply. Several people say they are still waiting for a reply.