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Author: Shannon Peace

Shannon Peace is a woman with a passion for community news and the connections it fosters. She created Shootin' the Breeze in 2011 to share positive stories from southwestern Alberta. Shannon writes from the heart and has earned awards for her editorials, feature stories, news stories, local columns, health writing, advertising design, special feature production and photography.
Rhonda Maynard Collins Obituary Photo Pincher Creek

Obituary | Rhonda Maynard Collins

Rhonda Maynard Collins (née Boughton), age 105, passed away peacefully in her sleep on May 3, 2024, in Lethbridge, Alta.

Rhonda was born in Yorkton, Sask., on March 17, 1919. She had four siblings, Lorraine (deceased), John (deceased), Glenn (deceased) and Ardeth.

Rhonda grew up in Saskatoon, where she attended King George Elementary School and Bedford Road Collegiate. She attended the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan, where she received a bachelor of arts with a certificate in medicine in 1940.

She then transferred to the University of Manitoba Medical School, in Winnipeg, where she was one of only a handful of women in her graduating class. She graduated with her medical doctor degree in 1943, cum laude, and was also presented with the Dr. Charlotte W. Ross Gold Medal, for the highest standing in obstetrics.

She did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, then immediately started working as an obstetrician/gynecologist in Winnipeg, where she worked during and after the war.

Rhonda met a dashing young surgeon, Lorne Collins, while they were both in training in Winnipeg. They were married on Feb. 23, 1943. Lorne was already part of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and went overseas in 1944 to serve in England, Holland and Germany during the war. He returned in 1946 to Canada and his bride.

After the war, Rhonda and Lorne moved to Pincher Creek, Alta., where Lorne started a general medical and surgical practice, and where they started and raised their family. They had four children: Shelagh (George Torbiak) Stefan, Ruth Collins-Nakai, Elinor (Paul) Hobbs and Peter (Elizabeth) Collins; her seven grandchildren, Sean, Rachel, Natasha, Joshua, Sunil, Erin and Monica; her two great-grandchildren, Wesley and Sam; and many nieces and nephews.


Rhonda Maynard Collins Obituary Photo Pincher Creek


In 1963, when her children were all of school age, Rhonda returned to a clinic-based medical practice.

Rhonda was a faithful member of the Pincher Creek United Church, sang alto in its senior choir and was matron, Castleview Chapter, of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Rhonda served on the local school board for nine years, was a member of the local library board for many years, and also served on the board of governors of the University of Lethbridge, from that university’s founding in 1967 until 1973, and thereafter on the University of Lethbridge senate. Her involvement in these key governance positions reflects her dedication to the advancement of education and her commitment to community service.

Rhonda and Lorne had a very social life — golf league, curling, the Pincher Creek Community Band (where they both played clarinet), frequent dinner parties and community events.

Rhonda and Lorne retired from medical practice in 1979. The early retirement years were full of frequent foreign travel, and motorhome trips to Alaska, across Canada and to various parts of the United States. Rhonda and Lorne eventually purchased a unit in a retirement park in Mesa, Ariz., and spent many happy winters there, hiking, golfing and socializing with their many friends.

Rhonda was an elegant, graceful and beautiful woman; a fine mother; the town’s “women’s doctor”; an advocate for the advancement of women; an avid reader; a musician (voice, piano and clarinet); a knitter; and a good friend to many.

There will be no public memorial service for Rhonda; the family will have a private remembrance for her, when her ashes will be interred at the Pincher Creek Cemetery alongside those of Lorne (who predeceased her in 2019).

The family thanks the staff at Adaptacare Personal Care Homes – Cedar Creek for their kind and compassionate care of Rhonda in her final years.


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Security-camera footage of a grizzly bear inside Pincher Office Products. It is approaching the back door

Black bear breaks into Pincher Office Products

Editor’s note: This story has been updated as we have confirmed that the culprit was a black bear, not a grizzly bear.

When Patti Mackenzie arrived to work Friday at Pincher Office Products, she was surprised to find a ringing alarm and Const. Val Dennis minding a smashed window.

Pincher Creek RCMP responded to an alarm call around 2:30 a.m. at the Main Street business, finding a gaping hole in the glass but no overt signs of vandalism or theft.


Smashed front window of Pincher Office products with glass lying on the floor


Unable to reach business owner Christine Lank by phone, an officer remained on-site to ensure security.

Christine, who was out of town, learned of the vandalism from Patti. Exactly what happened, though, was a mystery.

Thinking she might find images of the culprit on the recording from the store’s video surveillance cameras, Christine took a look when she returned to work on Tuesday.


Security-camera footage of a grizzly bear inside Pincher Office Products. It is looking in the front window of the store.



Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta


What she saw was astonishing — the break-and-enter suspect was not a human intruder but a 300-ish pound black bear!

Christine jokes that it must have been a female doing some window shopping.

Images show the bear looking in from outside the building and next capture it casually ambling down an office supplies aisle. The bear tours to the back of the store to look out the door before turning around and exiting the same way it came in.

The suspect’s prints are not on file and no evidence of blood or hair was found at the scene.




Security-camera footage of a grizzly bear inside Pincher Office Products. It is walking down a store aisle
Security-camera footage of a grizzly bear inside Pincher Office Products. It is looking out the windows in a door.
Security-camera footage of a grizzly bear inside Pincher Office Products. It appears to be checking out an envelope display.




With the exception of the broken window, no damage was done inside the building. Considering it could have been a bull-in-a-china-shop type of scenario, Christine is relieved as the store is filled with giftware and other breakable merchandise.

Still chuckling about it Wednesday morning, Patty and Christine were busy creating a wanted poster as customers stopped in to ask why the front window was boarded over.

Pincher Creek RCMP say the suspect is unknown to police but is believed to be responsible for other property crimes, including break and enter to commit theft from a beehive and theft of a picnic basket.

Police advise to use caution and not approach him if he is located, as “he has just awoken from a long winter nap and is likely to have something rumbly in his tumbly.”

On a serious note, having a bear wandering Pincher Creek’s downtown core in the wee morning hours is less than desirable.

Shootin’ the Breeze is awaiting a call back from local Fish and Wildlife.


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Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.




Voting sign for Revive the Roxy

Your vote could make $100K difference for the Roxy

The stakes have doubled for Roxy Theatre supporters, as an anonymous donor has offered to match the $50,000 prize if Roxy wins the Next Great Save competition.

The vision is for the theatre to become an arts hub for Crowsnest Pass and surrounding area. Roxy programming will include live theatre, movie screenings, community concerts, cultural events and youth activities.

The goal is to have something for everyone and to revive not only the theatre, but also downtown Coleman.

Supporters look forward to how things will unfold when the Roxy, once a large part of Coleman’s then bustling downtown scene, opens its doors as a performing arts centre.

The building’s legacy is steeped in cultural history and is one of only three surviving quonset theatres in the country.


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The $50,000 prize would be a huge bolster to Roxy Cando’s efforts. Doubling this to $100,000 would be incredible.

Roxy Cando members hope this will encourage community members from Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and the surrounding area to take a few minutes to post their votes online.

Voting in the Next Great Save opened last week, with the Roxy Theatre restoration project among 12 finalists.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Roxy had just over 5,500 votes, putting the project in fourth place.

While voting online in the Next Great Save, take a few more minutes and check out the Painted Violin Auction at More than 30 per cent of Revive the Roxy’s $15,000 goal has been achieved.


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Line drawing of hands shaking in front of contract

Town of Pincher Creek fills CAO position

Konrad Dunbar was welcomed to the position of chief administrative officer for the Town of Pincher Creek on Monday. Interim CAO Doug Henderson will work with Dunbar through the transition period.

Henderson has provided administrative leadership since former CAO Angie Lucas was relieved of that duty last December. Pincher Creek’s mayor and council searched for a replacement in that same period.

According to a statement released Thursday by the town, Dunbar brings with him 15 years of private- and public-sector experience, including service with 10 municipalities. During this time, he “has had great success building trusting relationships with councillors, mayors, administrations and community groups.”

Dunbar’s experience covers municipal services such as engineering, planning, capital project delivery, project management, strategic planning, asset management, operations and service delivery.


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Already holding a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering, Dunbar is currently working toward a certificate of public administration through Athabasca University.

Married for 24 years, Dunbar and his wife have an adult daughter.

“They enjoy curling and camping,” the town statement says. “Other than that, he says they are kind of boring.”

If you would like to connect with the community’s new CAO, he can be reached by calling 403-627-3156 or 403-632-6039, or emailing



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Three women, the middle one holding a decorated violin at a Revive the Roxy event.

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – April 17, 2024

A bid and a vote – two ways to support the Roxy

There are two winning ways to support efforts to revive Coleman’s Roxy Theatre — a violin auction and a vote for the project in the Next Great Save. Bids are at your discretion and votes are free!

 Jennifer Batiuk, left, and Stacey St. Jean, right, joined Pat Rypien, fundraising director for Crowsnest Cando, on the red carpet to kick off the auction Saturday at Country Encounters in Coleman. Their donation of violins crafted by their grandfather, Ovila St. John, sparked a unique project that will aid in the restoration of the historic theatre.

These one-of-a-kind violins, personalized by local artists, are now up for auction. The distinctiveness of the violins can be viewed online, with bids accepted until May 15.

 The story of the violins and further contest details will appear in next week’s issue of the Breeze. | Photo by Shannon Peace

Collage of photos at Castle Mountain Resort ski hill near Pincher Creek on front page of April 10 issue of Shootin' the Breeze

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – April 10, 2024

That’s a wrap

The vibes were good and a bit of fresh snow was welcomed as Castle Mountain Resort wrapped up its season over the weekend with a retro theme. “It was a tale of two seasons,” says Cole Fawcett, sales and marketing manager for CMR. “The first half of the year was challenging with low snow and high temperatures, but the back half was exceptional and we had the busiest March in history.” He also noted that the resort’s recent investment in snowmaking equipment paid off as it prevented prolonged closures in December and January when the weather didn’t co-operate. The hill is now closed but season pass holders have until the end of the month to renew at this year’s rates. | Photos courtesy of Castle Mountain Resort

Jay Reischman and the Jaybirds band

John Reischman’s roots music coming to Empress Theatre

Toes will tap in time April 19 when John Reischman and the Jaybirds take the stage at Fort Macleod’s Empress Theatre.

The group’s musicianship is tight with Reischman on mandolin, Trisha Gagnon on stand-up bass and vocals, Nick Hornbuckle on banjo and bass vocals, Greg Spatz on fiddle, and Patrick Sauber on lead guitar and vocals.

Lively instrumental solos pass from one musician’s nimble fingers to the next without dropping a beat, and no individual part outshines another.

Together since 1999, John Reischman and the Jaybirds have produced seven albums and earned national acclaim.

The group has two Juno nominations in the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year (Group) category, along with nominations for the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Concertgoers can look forward to an evening of finely balanced melodies and harmonies accented by a tone that can be found only when people truly enjoy playing together.


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Reischman started playing mandolin in the 1970s. Before joining the Tony Rice Unit, he was a standout soloist with the Good Ol’ Persons, a bluegrass band from the San Francisco Bay area.

True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe was named Bluegrass Album of the Year at the 1997 Grammys, with Reischman among the musicians playing on the tribute album.

His first solo album, North of the Border, was released in 1993 and his third, New Time and Old Acoustic, in 2021. A Juno nomination for Traditional Roots Album of the Year came with the latter.

The new album includes a refreshed version of “Salt Spring,” one of Reischman’s best-known compositions. Recorded with the Jaybirds in 2001, the song has become a jam-session staple for mandolinists worldwide. While you might not know it by name, there’s a good chance you will recognize the melodious picking at the Empress show.

Give the Empress Theatre box office a call at 403-553-4404 to reserve your seat, or purchase tickets at



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Crowsnest Cruisers bus

Crowsnest Cruisers hit the road

Seniors and others with mobility issues need affordable and assisted transportation to get to and from medical appointments, social services, shopping, and social events. Accessing these services is essential for day-to-day living and for personal well-being.

A new travel option is now provided by Crowsnest Cruisers.

“A simple trip across town or to Pincher Creek or Lethbridge can be a challenge for seniors requiring physical assistance and can quickly become prohibitively expensive,” says Pauline Desjardins, who co-chairs the non-profit Crowsnest Cruisers project.

She and a small group of community members have been developing the program since last year, with help from the Peaks to Pines Residents Association in Coleman.

Crowsnest Cruisers provides suitable and affordable transportation to make it easier for seniors to access health-care and other services, to remain independent longer, to meet with family and friends, and to attend more social events.



“Crowsnest Cruisers uses a bus and a van to help those seniors access services in ways that most of us take for granted,” says Pauline.

Trips within the municipality of Crowsnest Pass are offered in a wheelchair-accessible van that seats four including a wheelchair.

The van is receiving final touches and is anticipated to be on the road by mid-April.

Local trips are available between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, and from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Passengers using the local service will be picked up at their door and transported to their destination.


Marie Swann

Marie Swann wears many hats for the Crowsnest Cruisers, including booking appointments and driving the bus.

Submitted photo

A 13-seat bus with a wheelchair ramp is available for monthly trips to Pincher Creek and Lethbridge. The next scheduled trips to Pincher Creek are April 10 and May 8, while Lethbridge runs will be April 18 and May 16.

The group anticipates the number of Pincher Creek trips will increase as more people become aware of the service.

Transportation rates are reasonable. When travelling locally, a one-way trip is $5 and a return trip is $10. Stops along the way are $1 each. Return trips from Crowsnest Pass to Pincher Creek are $25 and $75 to Lethbridge.

The Cruisers wheels are on the ground thanks to financial assistance from Healthy Aging Alberta and Calgary United Way.

Transportation co-ordinator Marie Swann registers those wishing to use the service, schedules trips and books seats, liaises with local senior services and drives the van for local trips.

She is a longtime Crowsnest Pass resident with many years of driving experience and says she’s excited to be working on such a worthwhile project from the ground up.

To register with Crowsnest Cruisers, call 403-583-5598. Medical appointments will take priority when bookings are scheduled.


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Young men practise lifesaving techniques on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – April 3, 2024

Future lifesavers

River Clark, left, Adam Noel and Lincoln Sommerfeldt pull Alex Yagos from the water on a spinal board during a training session at the Pincher Creek swimming pool. The young men are working toward Bronze Cross status, which, once achieved, allows them to move forward to attain National Lifeguard certification. For more information on courses available at the local pool, call 403-627-2565. | Photo by Brenda Shenton

Somya Lohia

From aspiration to achievement: my journey as an immigrant

In the dimly lit confines of my basement, I was drawing a bright picture of my Canadian dream in my mind. Amidst the shadows, I envisioned myself interviewing a celebrity. However, the abrupt scurrying of a rat and a resounding thud from above snapped me back to reality, reminding me that it was time to prepare for another day at the local retail store.

Six months had passed since I moved to Canada, leaving behind a safe job as a journalist and my life in India. With my dreams packed neatly into suitcases, I arrived in Toronto. I felt hopeful as I stepped out of the airport. The towering skyscrapers, the impressive office buildings, the pristine roads, intricate flyovers and the luxury cars passing by — each sight nourished the seed of confidence within me that I was on the cusp of a successful career and a future filled with prosperity and luxury.

However, that “seed” of hope was quickly crushed as I reached the rented basement in Brampton that has become my home in this foreign land.

Perhaps you wonder why I chose to rent a basement studio. The answer lies in the exorbitant housing costs in Canada, especially in major cities like Toronto. Renting a basement emerged as the most economical choice for a newcomer. Little did I know that this economic choice would come with its own set of challenges.

Prior to my arrival, my social media feeds were brimming with videos showing everything about Canada — the food, the stores and the extensive list of attractions to visit. But the reality of residing in a cramped basement with compromised safety, steep rent, tough landlords, lack of natural light, and crawling rats and worms was never revealed in any glossy video. The constant thumping and noise from the floor above have become the soundtrack of my new life.


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Isolation was another significant challenge. I soon realized that the landlords and people nearby were polite but they didn’t want to be friends. They thought that newcomers like me were only temporarily dwelling in such accommodations, aiming to move into condominiums once we secured stable employment.

The solitude, cold days and the darkness of the room began to take a toll on my mental well-being, and the daunting task of building a career from scratch exacerbated my anxiety.

If you find this alarming, brace yourself, for this was merely the beginning; the real challenge emerged as I began my job search.

Having been a journalist for eight years in four reputable media houses in India, I initially pursued opportunities in my field. From scouring job boards online to reaching out to editors via emails and even knocking on the doors of their offices, I did everything possible to land a job. However, negative responses made it clear that I needed to be flexible to survive in this new environment.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts, I set aside my laptop and decided to explore job fairs — the bustling carnivals of employers offering opportunities in a vast hall showcasing promising careers.

Dressed in my finest attire, I headed out to attend one such event in downtown Toronto. As I navigated the city, rehearsing the lines I had meticulously prepared for potential employers, I could feel my anticipation building with every step. Having completed the initial formalities, I stepped inside a large hall with hope rekindled and that persistent “seed” of ambition in my heart — albeit for only a few fleeting moments.



Inside were hundreds of people like me, all vying for a chance at a career breakthrough. I stood in queues for every company to submit my resume, and hoped that at least a few companies would respond. I rarely got to utter my well-rehearsed lines, as the recruiters were busy piling up resumes, politely stating they would get in touch with the most promising candidates.

I have since ventured to several job fairs with the same hope and determination, each time depositing my professional aspirations onto stacks of paper, delivered to waiting hands. The much-anticipated calls and emails never came.

Amid the gloom of my basement and the seemingly unyielding career challenges, two things keep me going: nature and people. From sunny afternoons to breezy evenings, nature always succeeds in cheering me up. The surrounding pine trees, colourful flowers, lush parks, trails and serene lakes have become my lifeline. They provide solace and rejuvenate my spirit to face the hurdles ahead.

Equally uplifting are the diverse people I encounter in this culturally rich country. Every evening as I venture out I know that some people will greet me. In parks and during chance encounters, people from various backgrounds offer kindness and support, unknowingly bolstering my resolve to face another day in my modest dwelling.


Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion


Months passed, and, despite my best efforts to secure a writing job, I had no choice but to accept a position in retail to make ends meet in this new land. Engulfed in the whirlwind of hourly payments, weekly schedules and battling the elements to reach the store on time, I found myself far from the direction I had envisioned.

The computer, once a tool for crafting impactful articles, assisted me in processing orders and handling billings. My interactions had shifted from reporting on the public’s grievances to helping customers find the right outfit.

While the store job differed greatly from my original aspirations and I was facing immense challenges, the “seed” of aspiration remained firmly planted within me, nurturing the hope that one day I would achieve my dreams in this country and once again write to bring about a positive change in Canadian society.

And now, as I pen these words, a new chapter unfolds. I am thrilled to announce that I have secured a position as a reporter for Shootin’ the Breeze, a Pincher Creek-based newspaper.

With this opportunity, I embark on the path towards realizing my dream of becoming a renowned journalist in Canada. With gratitude in my heart and optimism in my soul, I step forward, ready to script the next chapter of my Canadian adventure.



Brock Ramias, wearing his trademark number 23 yellow and green LCI Rams jersey in 2011.

#LiveLike23 football tournament carries a legacy

Many young men have a passion for football, and a love of the game and all it entails becomes part of who they are. This was the case for Brock Ramias.

As a student at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, Brock stood out for his prowess on the field, his leadership, and his support of his teammates.

From the LCI Rams, he went on to play for the Calgary Colts, primarily as a running back or defensive back. He played both sides of the ball and on specialty teams.

Brock’s jersey number was 23.

His football family was very important to him and some of his best friendships were forged on the field. He was known for his hard work, competitive drive and sportsmanship. He left everything out on the field every time he played and he was always working to be better. While Brock worked at a number of jobs, his life’s occupation was football.

These words are from Brock’s obituary. He died Oct. 18, 2015, at the age of 20.

“His superpower really was relationships,” says Brock’s mom, La Vonne Rideout.

She and Brock’s grandparents, Tom and Carol Ferguson, are well known for their community service in Pincher Creek.


Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.


Sharing laughs and memories over a day of football and a Mexican fiesta has become a way to celebrate a young man who made a difference in the lives of many.

Funds raised after his death created a base for the Brock Ramias Citizen Athlete Scholarship.

The $1,000 bursary is presented annually to an LCI student who shares Brock’s undying passion for their game, his kindness and determination to positively face challenges and influence others, and who values the importance of relationships with friends, family and all individuals.

“Brock was so committed and passionate about doing well, he really put all of his energies and efforts into being his best and helping those around him be their best,” says La Vonne.

“He recognized that most sports are not individual; when every member of a team does well, the whole team thrives.”

She loves the idea of a scholarship in Brock’s name. It is awarded to students who care about doing their best while helping everyone around them thrive and be the best they can be.

In 2016, the family asked people to do random acts of kindness, which led to a friendly football scrimmage. The next year, the family began hosting the Brock Ramias Memorial Flag Football Tournament, with proceeds raised to support the scholarship fund.



From an adults-only game — people who played with or knew Brock and his brothers — the tournament has grown to three divisions.

Last Sunday, six adult, six bantam and two peewee teams came together for a day where the gathering of people, both players and spectators, and a motto of #LiveLike23 was as important as the game.

Cougars teams, with players mostly associated with Catholic Central High, took the top spot in all three divisions this year.

The event is like a family reunion where the family keeps growing and all are welcome.

La Vonne says it’s a labour of love for her oldest son, Brett.

“He is the one who spearheads the tournament and I try to be the best sidekick I can be.”

Family members come from all over the province and friends pitch in as well. Donations and sponsorships are beyond what La Vonne thought would ever be possible.

“I can’t thank them enough for holding Brock in their memories and hearts,” she says. “It’s not just the game, it captures the essence of a big part of who he was.”

La Vonne believes more people are understanding the “why” behind the event as it grows — the importance of relationships and of eliminating the stigma around opioid addiction.

While carrying Brock’s legacy forward, La Vonne encourages people to find something they love and do it well.



Shown at the Brock Ramias Memorial Flag Football Tournament are Pincher Creek players Ben Poloni and Will Schoening. Also donning blue Mustangs jerseys for the Sunday games at the Servus Sports Centre in Lethbridge were Brady Bonertz, Boston LeJan, Cody Querengesser, Rigdon Perry, Austin Norris, Layton Bailey and Keaton Tipple. They won the first game against the Coaldale Spartans but took a loss to the Cougars after being tied for much of the game.


Row of windmills near canola field in the MD of Pincher Creek with mountains in the background

Hay permit changes in MD of Pincher Creek

The MD of Pincher Creek is altering its hay permitting process for the coming spring.

The permits, which allow for grass harvesting on the sides of municipal roads and rights-of-way, are traditionally issued in June. This year, however, applications will be taken in May.

“We had a landowner approach us back in January asking us to consider changing the dates,” says Jessica McClelland, the MD’s communications director.

“What they found last year was that by the time they had their permit the hay was almost burnt. So to allow for longer cutting and an earlier season, we bumped the dates up.”



As is customary, adjacent landowners have the first chance at applying for permission to hay near their property. They’ll need to do so by May 15, though, as a day later, on May 16, it can be permitted to someone else.

“As part of the policy changes, we’re asking that haying not be performed during a local fire ban. We’re also now requiring proof of $2 million in vehicle liability insurance, which will need to be brought in with the permit application,” McClelland says.

“The reason for that is if you’re operating along a municipal roadway, we want to ensure that the person is covered for any incidentals, like a rock hitting a windshield, for example.”

Information on the process and how to apply can be found online at



Raegan and Daina Lazarotto with brown-bag snacks

A small idea leads to food security for LRSD students

Last spring, Raegan Lazzaratto noticed some classmates at Livingstone School bringing lunches that lacked nutritional substance — sometimes only a banana or an orange. Recognizing a problem, the Grade 5 student set out to find a solution with help from her mom, Daina.

What began as a small mission to help other kids at her own school led to a $75,000 donation to the Livingstone Range School Division from Northback Holdings.

Last spring, the mother and daughter’s first plan was to overpack Raegan’s lunch. This provided an opportunity to share extra food with anyone needing it. Despite the best of intentions, Raegan learned that accepting generosity wasn’t always as easy for others as it was for her to offer.

“Then we thought, hey, let’s start this thing so everyone else can have food,” she says, reflecting on the shift from a small gesture of kindness to one with greater impact.

“It’s the first time I’ve actually wanted to do this,” she noted after the program was unveiled Monday. “It feels good that I could do something like that.”

What she did is definitely something Raegan, her family and her community can all appreciate and be proud of.

Her drive to support as many youths as possible led to an amazing outcome after Raegan and her mom put their heads together and came up with a proposal.

“I think I started noticing it [students in need of nutritious meals] around this time of year and we worked on it up until now,” says Raegan, who is now in Grade 6.



They hoped to have assistance in place for September, but there was considerable legwork to do. Daina researched food insecurity in the school division and eventually requested a financial gift from her employer, Northback Holdings Corp.

She proposed a $75,000 donation and says CEO Mike Young got behind the project right away. The hope was that a donation of this size would meet Raegan’s goal of helping many students.

In December, the ask was made to Hancock Prospecting, Northback’s parent company. It was approved immediately and the money was available to Livingstone Range School Division in early January.

“They loved the proposal, in which I shared Raegan’s story, and jumped on it right away, no questions asked,” says Daina.

An announcement was made in early February and officially presented to the Livingstone School community during an assembly on Monday. The Sabres’ gymnasium was filled with teachers, the kindergarten to Grade 12 population and several special guests.

Raegan felt good about herself afterwards. Before the presentation, only a select few knew it was her idea and passion that had put the wheels in motion.

“I think they were a little bit shocked that I had done that but I think that they felt like, ‘Wow, we’re actually going to get some food,’ ” she says.

Northback’s donation will be an annual one for what Daina says is an undetermined amount of time. With the rising cost of groceries and the cost of living in general, knowing schools have nutritional resources could reduce food security stress for many families.

Northback has handed the reins to the school division, believing the administrators know best what resources are needed and where.

“There’s no catch,” Daina says. “The division has the opportunity to use the finances as it sees fit to offer nutrition programs to its schools.”

According to LRSD, the donation will provide food for about 1,000 students. Most schools in the division receive provincial nutrition grants from the Breakfast Club of Canada.

This new funding will support seven schools not receiving Breakfast Club dollars. Along with Livingstone School in Lundbreck, these include Canyon School in Pincher Creek, Horace Allen and Isabelle Sellon schools in Crowsnest Pass, West Meadow Elementary and Will Creek Composite High in Claresholm, and Stavely Elementary.



While Livingstone School makes food available in the classrooms, it does not have a formal breakfast program.

“In talks with our nutrition co-ordinator, she would like to implement a full breakfast program — that’s the kind of change we’re hoping to see,” says Daina.

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Chelsae Petrovic said Raegan’s story left her speechless and almost in tears. She believes children will have a greater opportunity to thrive and focus on academics and sports.

“I know the importance of what it truly means for the kids,” she said after Monday’s presentation. “I think, too, for parents to know that if they are facing food insecurity, to know that their children are going to be fed at school.”

“When we look at the small wins in life, even if we’re feeding one child or two children, that’s two less hungry children,” she added. “To feed 1,000 is a huge win.”

As evidenced by his expression in the front-page photo, Northback CEO Mike Young is excited about the project.

“We often underestimate the impact of a seemingly simple, yet essential, element — a nutritious breakfast,” he said Monday.

“By supporting the LRSD nutrition program we’re not merely providing a meal, we are investing in the future of our children.”

Twelve-year-old Raegan Lazzarotto has demonstrated that she understands this concept and that she is willing to do the work required to instigate positive change.

“I think she deserves so much credit for caring about her classmates and her school and wanting to make sure everybody is fed,” says her mom.

Raegan’s friends at Livingstone School and all other LRSD schools can be inspired by seeing a peer’s small idea generate a big outcome.




My Little Corner Editorial Feature Heading

#InspireInclusion: Celebrate women with us

It has become a tradition for Shootin’ the Breeze to celebrate local women in March, the month that begins with International Women’s Day.

The IWD website says, “International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.”

It belongs to each of us, which means not only to women. We can all benefit from inspiring inclusion, which is this year’s theme. IWD explains it this way:

When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion,

we forge a better world.

And when women themselves are inspired to be included,

there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment.

Collectively, let’s forge a more inclusive world for women.

This year’s Celebrate Women special feature provides the perfect opportunity to share appreciation for the women in our personal lives and in the community. The March 27 issue will focus on the contributions of women and girls in our communities and the amazing things they do.

On March 8, make time to say thank you to the women in your life.



Front page of March 6, 2024, issue of Shootin' the Breeze. Northback donation to LRSD.

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – March 3, 2024

$75,000 Northback donation aims to fight food insecurity

Northback Holdings CEO Mike Young and community relations advisor Daina Lazzarotto give Raegan Lazzarotto a big thumbs up for her role in bringing awareness to food insecurity at Livingstone School. Raegan and Daina came up with a plan that led to an ongoing annual donation of $75,000 to support nutrition programs in the Livingstone Range School Division. A presentation was made Monday at the school and students were offered bagged takeaway snacks and yogurt to celebrate.

Photo by Shannon Peace

Woman and grandson slide down a snowy hill at Matthew Halton High School in Pincher Creek

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – Feb. 21, 2024

That was fun, Grandma!

Eleven-month-old Roan MacKinnon enjoys a trip down the Halton Hill with grandma Diane Bowen-Oczkowski, Monday afternoon. There were warm temperatures but still lots of snow on the ground for Family Day activities.

Photo by Dave Lueneberg

Brenda Shenton, a woman wearing a two-tone blue jacket and ski pants, walks in the snow on frozen Beauvais Lake.

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – Feb. 14, 2024

A beautiful day for a winter walk

Brenda Shenton enjoyed a stroll on the frozen surface of Beauvais Lake last Wednesday.

Winter Walk Day is a Safe Healthy Active People Everywhere (SHAPE) Alberta event that encourages Albertans to be more active outdoors and to be active travellers.

As an MD of Pincher Creek resident, Brenda typically comes to town and joins the combined Winter Walk and Jersey Day crew, but she tried something different this year.

Photo by Shannon Peace

Map of Canada indicating percentage of CEBA funding distributed by province.

The CEBA loan repayment — how will it impact Alberta business?

With the deadline now past, the president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce is worried that a large number of her members simply weren’t able to pay off their Canada Emergency Business Account loans in time to take advantage of the program’s key incentive.

According to the agency overseeing the funding, 125,015 Alberta-based businesses were granted CEBA loans of up to $60,000. For those able to repay $40,000 by Jan. 18, the remaining $20,000 was forgiven.

“Prior to Christmas, we did a quick call button survey to see where businesses were at and we had over 500 respondents,” the Chambers’ Shauna Feth said. “Of which, 41 per cent were saying they weren’t anticipating being able to repay the CEBA loan. And that, for us, is a really high number.”

Feth said the key piece for most is the forgivable portion.

“The extension has been applied for three years to actually repay the loan, but when you look at a small business, in a lot of these cases they’re not evening getting the five per cent refinancing. They’re having to refinance at much higher rates,” she explained.



Feth said there’s a substantial impact when you think of interest payments on the $20,000 and the additional burden that it places on a small business.

“We also surveyed those same 500-plus respondents through our data research, and out of those, 42 per cent of them anticipated being in poor financial health, actually paying or refinancing the CEBA loan.”

Topping the list of businesses struggling to pay the loans back were ones that were forced to shut down during the pandemic, including personal services, housing and accommodation, as well as travel and tourism.

“Any kind of those industries that had no recourse or a way to recoup their losses,” Feth said.

Even more detrimental in all of this — according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, nearly 50,000 businesses that were granted a loan were later found to be ineligible.

According to the CFIB website, businesses that applied for a refinancing loan on or before Jan. 18, 2024, through their financial institution, qualified for a special extension to March 28, 2024, to keep the forgivable portion. But it points out there are terms and conditions.





Torsos of three medical staff with crossed arms. One in a white coat and two in blue scrubs.

Alberta’s health-care future front and centre at engagement sessions

The Alberta government is looking at changing the province’s health care, a system many describe as broken.

A series of in-person engagements began last week, hearing from health-care providers and community members on what the government called some of the challenges Albertans are facing.

Two of those gatherings were held Jan. 24 in Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek. Unlike a packed town hall meeting in August 2023 at Pincher Creek Community Hall, last week’s sessions can be best described as roundtable discussions.

“I think any time that there’s change there’s an opportunity, and with opportunity a chance for folks to participate, to contribute,” said Sarah Murrant, speaking on behalf of the province.

“What I understand, and why we’re running this entire process, is not every answer is there.”

Discussion during the two-hour event centred around topics including experiences and outcomes, but also on a proposed unified health-care system the current government says will enhance local decision-making and lead to early detection and intervention. Just what that might look like is yet to be determined.

Chelsae Petrovic, MLA for Livingstone-Macleod, feels any conversation must include patient care outside of the larger centres.

“It’s extremely important that we look at rural health. That we start to see the unique challenges and some of the unique solutions that, maybe, can be brought forward,” she said.



A former nurse with 13 years in the field, Petrovic knows all too well about the challenges.

“I think it’s great to meet with front-liners, coming from that experience and understanding where they’re coming from. Being able to, I guess, sympathize,” she said. “And it was only seven months ago that I was in those same positions, so I really do understand.”

Some health-care providers at the Pincher Creek event, who didn’t wish to go on record, felt the agenda items lacked details and “weren’t sure what they were signing up for” in any future plan.

Dr. Gavin Parker, a local physician, agreed engagement is important, however.

“I think we have a system that has long failed Albertans, in particular the lack of investment in primary care and rural services. But if these conversations lead towards improving that, then it was time well spent,” he said.

One of the talking points zeroed in on Alberta’s burgeoning population and the added stress it’s putting on the health-care system.

Parker acknowledged there’s more at play.

“I think what you’ve seen in the last few years is not only an exodus of family physicians in the province or people going into early retirement, but also changing the scope of their practice.”



He said the end result is less focus on primary comprehensive care and more doctors working toward a niche practice.

“Until we train, pay and support rural family physicians better, the situation won’t change,” he said. “The problem is we’re running into a dearth of physicians who are trained as rural comprehensive physicians, and when they are trained they aren’t compensated adequately.”

Parker also noted a drop in specialty practices, like maternity, declining to less than 50 per cent in the south zone compared to when he started his training.

“So, these young doctors that want to provide comprehensive rural care, including maternity, feel utterly unsupported to do that right now because of the current situation,” he said.

The sessions in Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek were the second and third of more than 40 visits scheduled to communities across Alberta.

Although there aren’t further meetings scheduled for the southwest region, a complete list of the remaining sessions can be found online and you can have your say here.



Map showing Pincher Creek, Alberta, and the number of hours the ER was closed in 2023.

Alberta ERs closed for 38,000 hours in 2023

Emergency departments in Alberta were forced to close for more than 38,000 hours, or about 4.3 years, in 2023.

Disruptions ranged from a few hours without a physician to communities losing ER services for months on end. Of the 26 emergency departments that shut their doors in 2023, more than half had closures lasting 20 days or longer.

In almost all cases, these service disruptions were caused by staffing shortages, and the communities left without access to emergency care were in rural Alberta.

This data comes from biweekly hospital service disruption updates published by AHS, which were collected, analyzed and mapped by Great West Media.

Compiling and quantifying the extent of emergency care disruptions shows it is more than a random event, said Dr. Warren Thirsk, president of the emergency medicine section of the Alberta Medical Association and a practising emergency physician.

“It is evidence of the resource gap between what Albertans need from an emergency health-care system and what is being provided,” Thirsk said.

“I think that is important to understand that there have been cuts throughout the health-care system — in terms of personnel, in terms of training of personnel, in terms of facilities and infrastructure building — that have been going on for a long time.”

As the cuts go deeper, and the gap between the population and available resources widens, emergency rooms close as a last resort, Thirsk said.

“Then it just becomes more obvious that the system is not doing well. And it’s not funded adequately or resourced adequately to meet the needs of Albertans.”



Total length of emergency department closures in 2023

David Shepard, Alberta NDP rural health critic, said it’s troubling how access to care in rural parts of the province has been impacted, and called it “a direct result of a lot of decisions that were made by the UCP government, going back to the war on doctors in 2020.”

Since then, Alberta has lost not only clinic staff but those providing training as well, Shepard said, creating deficits in the professionals needed to keep ERs open.

“People should be able to expect that their emergency department is going to be there when they need. It should not be running like a fast-food restaurant where it closes in the evening,” he said.

Cost borne by rural Albertans

People in rural Alberta are often far more likely to turn to the emergency department for care, and the temporary loss of these care centres is a sign of deeper problems in the health-care system. Communities like Lac La Biche, Consort, Boyle and Swan Hills all went several weeks, or even months, without an ER last year.

The local populations also have emergency visit rates for semi-urgent or non-urgent problems between 2.8 and 6.5 times the provincial average, according to Government of Alberta data released in 2022.



“There are people who rely on that emergency department for every other gap in the health-care system,” Thirsk said.

If their family doctor or specialist is unavailable, the ER is often the only alternative.

“I think that is a cost borne more by the rural communities in terms of time. Because it’ll take them a lot longer to get to the next care facility that might be open,” he said.

Researchers from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine have estimated that rural patients pay an extra $450 out of pocket every time they have to travel to Edmonton to see a specialist.

Taking a patient out of their community also removes them from their support network and puts additional pressure on already-strained hospitals in larger centres, said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

During Covid when hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton were overrun, they were overrun with Albertans, not just Calgarians are Edmontonians, Parker said, because the high-level resources and intensive care required didn’t exist anywhere else.

“It all started right back where there was no community care in the areas that needed it most, that are hours and hours away,” he said.

Every year, Parker said, he sees a loss of front-line professionals. The cheapest fix would be to take care of staff that are already hired who are “the experts in the system.”

“Covid devastated our health-care system to the point where people cannot come back to work anymore. And the response from government is that we’re going to reduce hours, we’re going to reduce people, and we’re going to privatize services.”



Promises to recruit, promises to cut

“Work is currently underway to attract more doctors to rural communities. This includes increasing the number of physicians educated and trained in the province, strengthening programs to attract and retain physicians, conducting targeted recruitment campaigns, streamlining registration processes for international medical graduates to work in Alberta,” Alberta’s Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The province is also establishing regional training centres for physicians in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, which will serve as hubs for the surrounding communities, the statement said.

“Once developed, the training centres will include interprofessional teaching clinics and the ability for medical students to complete most of their medical education outside the metropolitan regions.”

Thirsk said health-care professionals are highly skilled and the time frame to train and subspecialize new workers is measured in years.

“And we make decisions, and budget cuts are made, on a very short-term basis. And that’s where the gap is happening. It’s happening to our nursing colleagues right now,” he said.

A recent AHS memo, obtained by the United Nurses of Alberta, asks management to cut nurse overtime by 10 per cent and reduce the use of private agency relief staff — a move the union has said could put additional strains on remaining workers and worsen patient care.

Shepard said it is almost a universal truth that if you train people in a rural area, they are far more likely to return to work in a rural area. But the rural physician recruitment incentives and new training programs “mean nothing in an environment and in a province where health-care professionals know they cannot trust their government.”



What the data doesn’t show

The AHS data used to map ER closures gives some indication of the health-care crisis in Alberta. Missing from these statistics, however, is the dire situation faced by staff and patients in the ERs that have stayed open.

Alberta Medical Association president Paul Parks has said ERs are critically overcrowded, with patient wait times hitting record lengths this winter.

Last year, 190 Calgary doctors signed an open letter calling for the government to respond to “collapsing” emergency departments, which they blamed on a combination of pandemic aftermath and government policy that destabilized primary care and caused critical labour shortages.

“It is now common to have 40 to 50 people waiting to be seen by a doctor at any given time in any of our emergency waiting rooms. Frail, elderly patients languish on stretchers in hospital hallways. Patients with mental health crises are housed in the emergency room, often for several days, while awaiting inpatient beds,” the letter reads.

Hidden behind the number of hours each department was closed is also a personal cost that data can’t capture, Thirsk said.

“It’s the cost borne by every patient who’s suffering in a waiting room anywhere or driving another two hours in pain down the road,” he said.

“I challenge you to go into any emergency department in any facility or find any Albertan waiting for any aspect of health care. And to actually ask them how much they’re suffering as they wait.

“That’s where the real cost is. Because it’s not really dollars. It’s humans and human suffering that we’re missing.”