Innisfail’s year of change and triumph

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INNISFAIL – It was a huge year of transition for Innisfail.

Not only did 2017 result in a change in council with four new members, but it will forge ahead with CAO Todd Becker, who arrived in August.

He came with a promise to be a Main Street man, who would engage citizens.

And walking beside him after the Oct. 16 election was Jim Romane, former mayor from 2010 to 2013, who handily defeated incumbent Brian Spiller.

For most of 2017 many Innisfailians wanted change, a new citizens-first attitude at town hall.

Residents Mary Flemming, Christa Lamboo and Jim Carroll spearheaded this mission. The latter was passionate about the plight of the firefighters, upset since September of 2016 over the firing of popular fire chief Dean Clark, and again in 2017 by the unwelcome change in their remuneration policy without adequate consultation.

Flemming and Lamboo, vocal members of the Citizens for Innisfail (CFI) group, kept the pressure on council, demanding greater transparency and communication from elected leaders. Both women ran for council. They were unsuccessful but it didn’t matter. Change arrived.

Innisfailians had a new council, including mayor, to go with their new CAO.

And the first big policy change from the new CAO and council? The firefighters got a new satisfactory remuneration policy.

2. Sinclair House

A year ago the Innisfail and District Historical Society almost threw in the towel on acquiring the 125-year-old former pioneer home of Isabella (Bella) Sinclair, believed to be the first Caucasian female to settle in Central Alberta.

The problem was funding. The society was successful in getting a $17,000 provincial grant, and the home’s owner John Thomson agreed to pay up to $30,000 to move the house, but the grant had to be matched by private donations.

And Innisfailians responded in a huge way early in 2017. Thousands of dollars poured in. But then came other issues. The structure had to be cleared of asbestos, and there were numerous delays.

But on Dec. 5 the house was successfully transported from the Thomson acreage 13 kilometres west of town to the historical village, a four- hour task. However, the society’s daunting challenge was one that really began more than two years earlier. President Anna Lenters and treasurer Lawrence Gould hatched a dream of saving an important piece of Innisfail and area history. Mission accomplished.

3. Penhold heroes

When a trio of Penhold firefighters went to Las Vegas for a holiday in early autumn it was expected they would have fun and time to relax.

But it turned out to be the ultimate horror. It was also their finest moments. They became heroes.

The three firefighters – Sean Pendergast, his fiancée Danielle Meeres and senior firefighter Max Johnston, were among the 22,000 who attended an outdoor concert on Oct. 1. And then came a murderous storm of gunfire from “lone wolf” shooter Stephen Paddock who killed 58 people and wounded 546 others.

When the shooting started the Penhold firefighters bravely helped as many injured as they could.

“I found some towels to wrap around the gunshot victim. His name was Bobby,” said Meeres after the ordeal.

When they came home unharmed the trio did not seek attention or any special accolades. But their story, published first in the Province, made news everywhere. They are bonafide heroes.

4. Demise of Big Brothers Big Sisters

For more than 30 years Big Brothers Big Sisters of Prairies to Peaks provided Innisfail and area youth with in-school and traditional mentoring programs.

But on April 26 the agency (BBBS) announced it was closing its doors forever due to insurmountable financial challenges. However, last September Red Deer’s BBBS came to the rescue to reboot the youth programs.

The agency may not have been home-based but at least the kids who benefited the most would have mentors.

“It’s just really essential, I think,” said Lana Kennedy, local family wellness worker. “I really found it (BBBS program) gave them a solid anchor.”

5. Canada 150 at the park

No one knew if it could work. The town had never before hosted a major event at Centennial Park.

For six months town staff had spearheaded a community-wide plan to hold a big party at the park on June 30 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.

“I think we were all sitting on pins and needles figuring out how many people were going to show up,” said Henry Wong, the town’s director of community services.

But hundreds and hundreds of Innisfailians came, packing the park until midnight. Citizens enjoyed perfect early summer weather, games, food, music, a huge birthday cake and fireworks.

The party was so successful there is a push to have it every year.

“I think if the weather gods cooperate it will be just as successful next year,” said Wong.

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About Author

Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.