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Woman with shoulder-length dark brown curly hair speaks into a microphone as one other woman and two men look on

Pincher Creek health-care forum draws large audience

Alberta’s rural health-care system needs more public funding, more efficiency and much more local autonomy, residents and esteemed panellists said at Pincher Creek’s health-care forum in late April.

Upwards of 150 people came for a one-hour discussion that saw residents, politicians and one riding candidate engage local doctors and public health policy researchers from the University of Calgary.

Between panellists who said the status quo isn’t holding and residents who said they felt ignored by the province, the conversation registered an uneasy mix of frustration and hope for the future. 

‘If you want to find someone who can fix this, find a mirror’

Drs. Gavin Parker and Kristy Penner, both of whom practise family and emergency medicine in Pincher Creek and neighbouring Crowsnest Pass, repeatedly called for more community involvement. 

“If anybody can help solve this, or at least start to work on this, it’s the people in this room,” Parker started off. 

“I do think there is hope,” he continued, qualifying in the next breath that “Clearly, what I’m doing and what we’re doing isn’t working.”

Penner’s prognosis was no less sparing.

“If we keep doing the same thing, we’re only going to be waiting longer” for routine medical services, she told the packed forum, painting graver implications for women and the elderly. 

“You’re going to have to leave [home] to have a baby — you won’t be able to get surgery in Pincher Creek or Crowsnest Pass. You won’t be able to get home care or long-term care in your community. And as a senior, you’ll have to move out of your community to access long-term geriatric care.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta is working to fast-track foreign-trained doctors’ credentials, while licensed practical nurses are picking up the slack at Pincher Creek’s medical clinic, according to Parker.

But the system can’t build capacity when there aren’t enough doctors to train med school graduates, much less foreign doctors. 

“Our voice is stronger when it’s collective,” Parker said, acknowledging the residents on Pincher Creek’s Attraction and Retention Committee, the citizen/council body that helps settle incoming doctors within the community, among other functions.

Parker also noted that Albertans who work outside of medicine make up a significant proportion of the CPSA’s board of directors.  

“So, if you want to find someone who can fix this, find a mirror. That’s who,” he said. 

It’s Friday night: Do you know where your MLA is?

Audience speakers questioned how civic participation could reverse the Government of Alberta’s concentration of authority in a sclerotic Alberta Health Services, the provincial health authority that executes government policy. 

“I’ll vote for any party that starts taking that system apart and returning power to the community so that we can make a difference with some of the things you’re asking us to make a difference on,” one speaker said. 

Another speaker noted that United Conservative MLA Roger Reid, who represents Livingstone-Macleod, was conspicuously absent. 

“Where’s our MLA?” the speaker asked, drawing groans from the crowd.  

“Is anybody from the Alberta government here?” another speaker asked. “Maybe that’s part of the problem,” the speaker suggested, drawing thunderous applause.

In the crowd were town Coun. Sahra Nodge, MD Coun. Dave Cox and Reeve Rick Lemire, and a host of doctors and nurses from Pincher Creek Health Centre. 

The NDP’s Kevin Van Tighem, the only riding candidate to show, suggested that Pincher Creek has the talent and the grit to restore the health centre to a model of rural health care. 

“Do we have to change ourselves? Or can we change medicine so it fits into our community without the community changing?” he asked from the mic. 

The UCP’s 2023 provincial budget funds public health care to the tune of $24.5 billion, a roughly four per cent annual increase. This year’s budget includes $105 million for capital projects under the UCP’s Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program. 

Don’t expect a quick fix 

Funding and educational programs need to deliver a robust, “team-based” rural health-care model that empowers Indigenous and rural learners to practise medicine, Dr. Penner explained. 

More immediately, Penner said, doctors-in-training have complained about a lack of affordable housing and limited child-care options in Crowsnest Pass.

Melissa Fredette, a registered nurse at the health centre, vice-chair of the town’s Attraction and Retention Committee and mother of three, implored the community to promote Pincher Creek as a career destination for young health-care providers. But Fredette and her colleagues need more local support.  

“We’ve just come out of a pandemic. We’re tired in health care,” she said. “We would love to have more help from the people here.”

Once it’s gone, it may never come back

Aaron Johnston, associate dean of rural medicine at the U of C, warned after the forum that many rural health-care teams are on the verge of collapse. 

An under-resourced team “works until it doesn’t work — until there’s the loss of that last one person,” he said. “Lose a rural anesthetist and say goodbye to that town’s surgical team. Lose a team, and good luck restoring the services it was designed to provide.”

“Imagine how difficult it is to recruit 10 highly-trained medical staff at the exact same time,” he suggested, “because that’s what it takes to reboot these services once they’re gone.” 

Two men pose together with a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal and certificate.

MD councillor receives Platinum Jubilee Medal

Roger Reid, MLA for Livingstone-Macleod, left, presents MD of Pincher Creek Coun. David Cox with his Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal last Thursday at Reid’s local office. Cox’s medal acknowledges his many years of service with local fire services, including the Pincher Creek Emergency Services Commission. 

The commemorative medal marks the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne as Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms.

In Canada, it is awarded to those who are viewed by their communities as remarkable volunteers and contributors, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, emergency service workers and those that go above and beyond in an effort to positively impact their communities. 

Woman with long grey, pulled-back hair, and wearing a green turtle-neck sweater is holding an old, framed photo of an RCMP officer, accepts a medal from a grey-haired man in glasses. Shannon Culham and Harold Hollingshead

Dave Friesen first investigated residential school in 1950s

The following story mentions sexual abuse at an Indian Residential School. The IRS term is used merely to reflect the relevant historical context.

Shootin’ the Breeze uses the term “Indigenous” to refer to Canada’s First Peoples in general. It is the policy of this paper to refer to First Peoples by their ancestral names wherever possible.

Help is always available for IRS survivors at the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program’s toll free number: 1-800-721-0066.

The MD of Pincher Creek posthumously honoured an extraordinary Albertan at an emotional ceremony at district chambers on Jan. 24.

Dave Friesen, who passed away in June 2022, was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal in December for his tireless investigation of sexual abuse at an Indian residential school in northern British Columbia starting in the late 1950s.

Friesen’s daughter, Shannon Culham, and her husband, Gord, attended the second service when council separately commemorated his legacy last week.

“Today’s medal recipient led rather than wait to be led,” Coun. Harold Hollingshead said, his voice breaking as he recalled his friend’s single efforts on behalf of Kaska Dena boys who survived “dehumanizing” abuse after they were forced to attend the Lower Post Residential School.

 

Shannon Culham holds a picture of her late father, Dave Friesen, as MD of Pincher Creek Coun. Harold Hollingshead presents her with Friesen’s Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal on Jan. 24. Pictured in back are Couns. Tony Bruder, left, and Dave Cox, and Reeve Rick Lemire. Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

The school was funded by the federal government and run by Catholic missionaries based in White Horse, Yukon, according to the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. As the Globe and Mail’s Patrick White reported in December 2021, Friesen faced countless hurdles as he tried to bring down the school’s lay brother and serial sexual predator, Ben Garand, derisively known as “Backdoor Benny.”  

Friesen couldn’t have known it at the time, but he was the only Mountie to formally investigate residential school abuse until the 1980s. Garand died in prison before he could be tried for his crimes at Lower Post, but Friesen went to great lengths to testify about what he knew when survivors sued the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church in the early 1990s.

 

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Decades later, Hollingshead hit on these and other of Friesen’s works as Culham wept softly in her seat.

“Dave understood that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wanted to bring us to a place where the cycle can be broken and trust can be renewed,” he said. “Dave’s first steps to take us from where we were to where we stand today will not be forgotten.” 

“He was a trailblazer,” Culham later told Shootin’ the Breeze at her family home near Cowley. 

“The Jubilee was a great honour,” but Culham said her dad especially valued his gift from the Kaska Dena — a pair of moccasins handmade by Deputy Chief Harlan Schilling.

“The message was clear: He walked in their shoes,” she said.

 

Shannon Culham, a woman with long, grey, pulled-back hair and wearing a grey and white sweater, smiles wistfully against a backdrop of snow-covered foothills.
Shannon Culham met with Shootin’ the Breeze at her family home near Cowley, AB. Photo by Laurie Tritschler

 

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

 

 

Culham was very young when her dad started looking into Garand. “I never knew about Lower Post until later on,” she said, adding, “I think he never shared it with us because he didn’t want to change our perspective on things.”

The RCMP transferred Friesen to Indigenous communities in northern B.C., the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, where, Culham said, “the RCMP weren’t the law. The church was.”

Mounties came and went through places like Watson Lake (near Lower Post) or Coppermine, N.W.T. (now Kugluktuk, Nunavut), or the 20 other detachments where Friesen served. Priests stayed, often for decades.

Friesen helped where and when he could.

When he found out the Anglican church in Coppermine tightly controlled the hamlet’s only hockey skates, he spearheaded an equipment drive and taught local boys how to play Canada’s national sport. 

When Catholic priests called on Friesen to arrest boys who’d skipped a flight bound for a residential school to the south, Friesen wryly asked if the church would pay for it.

When, predictably, they said no, Friesen quipped, “Well, then, I’m not going to arrest them.”

 

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Friesen often wondered why families never reported the abuse at Lower Post. As he found out later, parents and survivors were bullied, threatened and closely watched by the church and its enablers.

The Kaska Dena burned Lower Post’s hulking remains to the ground in the summer of 2021. The First Nation plans to open a learning centre at the site, part of which Culham said would be dedicated to her father. 

She and her family will be there when the centre opens later this year.

“That means so much more to me than the Jubilee,” she said. 

Lower Post closed down in 1975, roughly 20 years after Friesen told school administrators about the abuse that was happening on their watch. 

As of May 2022, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation had recorded the names of 4,130 Indigenous children known to have died at residential schools across Canada.

 

Roger Reid, man with short dark hair, mustache and beard, smiles and shakes hands with Shannon Culham, woman with grey, pulled-back hair who is holding an old, framed photo of RCMP officer Dave Friesen and a medal
Shannon officially accepted her father’s Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medal from Livingstone Macleod MLA Roger Reid at a ceremony held at Claresholm in December.
Photo by William Cockerell

 

An earlier article about Dave Friesen’s experiences published by Shootin’ the Breeze can be read here and his obituary can be viewed here.

 

 

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

 

 

Read more from the Breeze:

Accused drunk driver charged in crash that killed his son

 

 

Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

Alberta government 2022 highlights from MLA Roger Reid

Our communities have received significant levels of investment and support from the Alberta government, and I am proud of the role I have been able to play in this. Alberta is leading the nation in job growth, which means our neighbours are going back to work and providing for their families again. And with investment pouring back into our province across a variety of sectors, I anticipate more growth ahead.

Our government is committed to tackling this affordability crisis, fixing our health-care system, maintaining our economic momentum and making life better for all Albertans.

Even though our economy is strong, far too many Alberta families are struggling to pay their bills right now due to inflation. To help families cope with these costs, we have passed a landmark inflation-relief package that will make life better for all Albertans, but particularly our most vulnerable.

This package includes targeted relief payments to seniors and families with dependent children under 18 whose household incomes are under $180,000 per year, as well as to Albertans receiving AISH, PDD and Income Support.

We have also introduced inflation relief that is non-targeted and benefits a wider segment of Albertans through making fuel and electricity more affordable.

We are cutting the full 13-cent fuel tax on gas and diesel between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2023, regardless of oil prices. This will ensure Albertans continue to pay among the lowest fuel prices in Canada.

 

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In addition, we are providing $500 in electricity rebates for 1.9 million households, farms and small businesses. This will help Alberta households cope with high electricity prices at this challenging time of year. 

We can provide this substantial relief because our budget is back in balance and our fiscal position is strong. Alberta is succeeding again, and our United Conservative government is committed to reinvesting that success into everyday Alberta families, so they can grow and thrive. Our government has continually prioritized a balanced budget and strong fiscal policy, which has led to our thriving economic position.

Additionally, we have continued to focus on our resources and the economic growth that comes from diversifying and supporting these large industries. I am proud that our government has embraced these industries that help make Alberta the wonderful and successful province we all know and love.

Another major focus of our government is health-care reform. We have heard repeatedly from people across our province that changes need to be made to our health-care system. This is one of the reasons that our government is working to take immediate action to have AHS improve EMS response times, decrease surgical backlogs and cut emergency room wait times.

Additionally, our government knows that rural health care is unique and requires a different approach. This is why we are working to address health-care staffing challenges, particularly in rural areas, through improving health workforce planning, evaluating retention policies, leveraging the scope of allied health professionals, streamlining immigration and certification processes, and further increasing the number of training seats for health-care professionals in Alberta.

 

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We are also working with municipalities, doctors and allied health providers to identify strategies to attract and retain health-care workers in rural Alberta.

These steps are just a part of the more long-term changes that will strengthen our health-care system and ensure that everyone has access to timely high-quality care.

One of the steps we are taking to do this is looking into creating more spots in post-secondary institutions for health care related fields. This will help ensure that more Albertans are able to pursue this valuable education closer to home. We are also looking into continued long-term consultation with front-line workers to improve the decision-making processes in our health-care system.

I am hopeful that these steps will be the foundation of ensuring our province and our people continue to have world-class health care for generations to come. 

 

 

These are just a few of our major government accomplishments this past year. Our government is committed to continually taking steps to improve life here in Alberta. We are doing this by introducing legislation that is beneficial to Albertans in the most valuable ways while maintaining a strong fiscal position.

These types of policies have helped to stimulate our economy, which has led to our continued economic success. I am proud to be a part of a government that prioritizes not only what is best for our province but what is best for our people.

I look forward to seeing the continued success of our wonderful province and communities over the upcoming year. I know that this success would not be possible without all the wonderful people who call our communities home, which is why I would like to extend my sincerest wishes of a happy holiday season to you and your families. 

May 2023 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for all!

Roger Reid
MLA, Livingstone Macleod

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

Grey-haired caucasian male wearing dark suit speaks into microphone

Don Whalen seeks Livingstone-Macleod nomination

Don Whalen, an entrepreneur and lay preacher from Parkland, Alta., announced Sunday, Nov. 18, that he will seek the United Conservative Party’s nomination to represent Livingstone-Macleod in the next provincial election. 

In his first media interview Wednesday, Whalen said he would file his papers as soon as the party reopens the nomination, probably after Christmas. 

Incumbent MLA Roger Reid announced Nov. 1 that he would not seek re-election. The UCP later rejected a nomination bid and subsequent appeal by former People’s Party candidate Nadine Wellwood, citing recent social media posts in which she likened vaccine passports and other pandemic health measures to Nazi Germany.

Next spring’s election would be Whalen’s first run for public office, he said. The nomination hopeful aligns himself closely with Premier Danielle Smith, calling himself “a lifelong conservative” and a former Wildrose voter.

“I’m liking what the premier is doing: She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.” 

Whalen said he wants to serve in the legislature to be the voice of disaffected voters in the riding. 

 

 

“I’m really concerned about the direction our province and country have been going in over the last two to three years. People are being marginalized and they’re not being heard.” 

Taking aim at the federal government and former premier Jason Kenney, Whalen said pandemic health measures had gone too far. 

“Our personal rights and freedoms were just trampled on, and the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) was just a piece of paper for a couple of years.” 

Whalen said public health policy should be informed by medical science, but lamented that pandemic measures had been overtly politicized. 

“During Covid, Deena Hinshaw,” Alberta’s chief public health officer until Smith fired her Nov. 14, “was the most important person in Alberta, and we had non-elected officials basically deciding everything for us,” he said.

Looking ahead to Smith’s long-promised Alberta Sovereignty Act, Whalen said the province doesn’t need legislation to assert its jurisdiction over things like natural resources. He was also highly critical of pending federal legislation he said would “confiscate” hundreds of local gun owners to give up their guns, but stopped short of advocating separatism.

 

 

“I’m an Albertan. But, I’m also a Canadian. I am concerned that it’s going to be very hard to change things with Ottawa, so I’m stepping up to be a voice for that change in a positive way.” 

On climate change, Whalen said he opposes the federal carbon tax, but supports the development of clean-burning energy. 

Whalen said he co-owns a small buy-and-sell business with a friend. He is also a lay preacher, taking the pulpit about once a month at Fort Macleod’s House of Prayer.

 

Male youth pins poppy to Remembrance Day cross held by female youth, while another male youth stands at attention, on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze. Alberta news from Pincher Creek area and Crowsnest Pass.

Nov. 9, 2022

We will remember them

Peter Van Bussel and Abigail Rigaux receive a poppy from Walker Anderson at the MHHS Remembrance Day assembly in Pincher Creek.

Canada Day events galore!

Canada Day events in Pincher Creek

In Pincher Creek, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village will host a day of family activities starting at 10 a.m. There will be a bouncy castle and traditional picnic activities, including a three-legged race, a sack race and an egg race.

Blue Rock Entertainment will DJ the event and Noel Burles will perform live music. Admission is free, and burgers and ice cream will be sold. A beer garden will also be available.

 

Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village curator Farley Wuth grins widely as he shows off his sparkly Canada Day hat.
Farley Wuth, curator of Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek, and museum staff look forward to welcoming a big crowd on Canada Day.

 

The day will finish with DJ Stu broadcasting live from the agriculture grounds on 103.5 FM, starting at 9 p.m. Families can gather to enjoy the music and fun at the outdoor venue that will conclude with a fireworks display at 11.

Organizers request that dogs be left at home.

The duck race along Pincher Creek and the Legion’s afternoon market have both been cancelled.

 

 

Canada Day events in Cowley

Cowley hasn’t held a Canada Day celebration since the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

“It’s been a long time since people have had the opportunity to actually come to a public open event,” says Mayor Barbara Burnett. “I think it’s long overdue.”

A large turnout is expected, with some people coming from as far as Claresholm and Taber.

“There has been a lot of interest in the village,” says Mayor Burnett. “Recent house sales have gone immediately. Within two weeks they sold. One even sold for $30,000 over market price.”

“We’re just trying to make the village visible,” she says, adding that the desire to make Cowley more attractive to outsiders, and to give the community more of a regional spotlight, were primary motivators behind the decision to host the event.

 

 

The festivities will start with a pancake breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. at Cowley Community Hall, where MLA Roger Reid and MP John Barlow will make an appearance.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., car enthusiasts can display their classic cars at a show and shine by the railway tracks across from the post office.

They will also have an opportunity to take part in the parade that will begin at 11 a.m. at the corner of First Avenue and Highway 510 and circle around the northwest end of the village past the railway tracks. Parade preparation will begin around 10:15 a.m. and registration is not required.

Mayor Burnett says the event committee extended parade invitations to the Cowley Boat Club, to a provincewide gun group known as the Alberta Black Powder Association and to all Cowley residents aged 75 or older.

 

 

The community hall will be filled with a variety of activities, including a market that will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and a heritage display with historic photos of the village. Locals will have the opportunity to play cards and Rene Desjardins will provide musical accompaniment, likely country and classic rock.

There will be plenty of family-friendly activities, including face-painting, soccer and equipment demonstrations from Cowley Fire Department. The fire crew will also be flipping hamburgers starting at noon.

Children are encouraged to set up their own lemonade stands, and Cowley resident Norm Walker has arranged for free ice cream.

 

 

Canada Day events in Crowsnest Pass

Pre-pandemic events are making a comeback in Crowsnest Pass and Canada Day will start with breakfast and a parade.

From 8 to 10 a.m., folks can head over to the Coleman Legion for pancakes — $8 for anyone 13 or older, $5 for children aged five to 12, and free for children under five.

The parade will depart from Flumerfelt Park at 11 a.m. and pass through downtown Coleman. Entry applications are still being accepted.

 

Coleman Community Society Canada Day parade float
The Coleman Community Society, which puts on Canada Day activities in Crowsnest Pass, with its float in a past Canada Day parade.

 

From noon to 4, Flumerfelt Park will be a hub of activity, complete with a bouncy house, a splash pad and inflatable bumper balls. Guitarist Kevin Smith will perform live music and Harvest Spoon and Snacknhand will sell burgers, pizza cones and fries.

Cake will be passed around at 1 p.m.from 8 to 10 a.m.

The mini heritage railway train will be making rounds near the Canadian Pacific Railway line junction off 133rd Street, and children can take a free ride any time in the afternoon.

 

 

Crowsnest Cando has arranged for live musical entertainment in front of Roxy Theatre, located on Coleman’s main thoroughfare.

The lineup includes Tynan Groves, Larry Whan, Lani Folkard, Sarah Lillian,the Big Beat and On the Rox, with music starting at 1 p.m.

Raffle tickets will be on sale for a chance to win Roxy merch and a Canada Day cake.

Everyone is invited to visit Crowsnest Pass Museum to check out the newly updated exhibits on the second floor, or to stop by the Alberta Provincial Police Barracks to take part in Escape the Barracks, its latest attraction, launching July 1.

 

 

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