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The top community stories of 2019

Airdrie's inaugural Pride Festival began with a solidarity walk June 22. Members and allies of the LGBTQ2S+ demonstrated the city's inclusiveness by marching down Main Street from City Hall to Nose Creek Park. Photo by Ben Sherick/Rocky View Publishing

Airdrie Pride Festival

The inaugural Airdrie Pride Festival took place June 22, and according to Airdrie Pride Society president Kiersten Mohr, was intended to increase awareness of Airdrie’s LGBTQ2S+ community – which she said had been largely ignored – to both members of that community and to the city at large.

The festival's theme was Putting Down Roots, which Mohr said signified that local LGBTQ2S+ people often have to travel to Calgary to find support – something she said needs to change.

“We don’t want people to have to leave the community to find their community,” she said. “We want to show our youth and anyone else in the city that Airdrie’s a safe place for them, and that it’s a place they can call home and be comfortable with exactly the people they are.”

That message was driven home at the start of the festival with a solidarity walk that saw local LGBTQ2S+ individuals and their allies march from City Hall to Nose Creek Regional Park. The walk, as opposed to a parade, is rooted in the fight for civil rights, Mohr said, and was intended to draw attention to the challenges LGBTQ2S+ people still face.

After arriving at Nose Creek, a ceremony held at the flag poles included speeches and the raising of the Pride flag – officially kicking off Pride in the Park, which saw around 30 businesses and not-for-profit agencies at booths showing their support for the local LGBTQ2S+ community, as well as a number of queer entertainers from Airdrie and Calgary.

Following the festivities at the park, Sorso Lounge, Espresso and Wine Bar hosted a Drag Night featuring three performers – Angelina Starchild, Smother Theresa and Kate Shade. The drag show drew a large crowd and the venue was at capacity long before the scheduled start.

Dr. Fozia Alvi

The atrocities Airdrie-based family physician Dr. Fozia Alvi saw and heard of during her humanitarian missions to refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017 and 2018 will forever be with her.

Alvi said she was “horrified” by what she found when she first travelled to Cox’s Bazar in October 2017.

“There was about one million people sitting with no help at all – no medical care, no clean water,” she said. “I was never trained to handle something like that. Those people were suffering emotionally and psychologically, in so many different ways.”

fozia_alvi2YIRDr. Fozia Alvi (right) has made two humanitarian trips to the Cox's Bazar Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh since 2017. The stories she heard from women and her experiences led her to form a foundation to deliver medical services and aid to refugees around the world. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing
Since returning home, she has worked to increase awareness of the crisis, speaking throughout North America on the importance of humanitarian aid – including through presentations to students, at the 2018 United Nations’ General Assembly dinner and in a one-on-one conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In May, Alvi presented “The Plight of the Rohingya People” at the Bert Church LIVE Theatre, which focused on her humanitarian work in Myanmar and Bangladesh, among other places.

Alvi and her husband opened a hospital in Pakistan to help make their efforts more sustainable, and she also supports programs to train Pakistani healthcare workers.

In June, Alvi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her humanitarian work. Though she was not chosen as a Nobel Laureate, she said the nomination has spurred her to work even harder to help refugees.

Straschnitzki returns home

With the help of one of Canada's most recognizable home renovators, Mike Holmes, Ryan Straschnitzki was finally back to sleeping in his own bed April 26.

LN-StrazReturnsHome1YIRRyan Straschnitzki returned home after 15 months of staying in hospitals and hotels after the April 6, 2018, Humboldt Broncos bus collision. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing.
After 15 long months of staying at hospitals and hotels, the 19-year-old survivor of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and his family moved back to the Prairie Springs neighbourhood in an emotional homecoming.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the April 6, 2018, collision. “The work the people have done – it’s a huge change and I’m really excited.”

The family had been out of their home since July 2018, while the house underwent renovations to accommodate Straschnitzki’s accessibility needs.

Renovations included installing an elevator in the garage, which connects to the basement and the main floor. The basement, where Straschnitzki’s room is located, changed dramatically. A notable addition is the “Jarvis” home-automation system, which allows Straschnitzki to change the temperature, dim the lights, raise the curtains and perform other tasks through a wall-mounted computer. Further refurbishments to the basement included adding an accessible bathroom and shower, as well as a kitchenette and a large TV-viewing area.

“I’ve never lived in a house like this before and it’s just incredible,” Straschnitzki said, adding it would allow for more independence.

St. Veronica opens

A year ahead of schedule, Airdrie’s newest Catholic school, St. Veronica School, welcomed students for the first day of classes Sept. 3.

StVeronicaSchool6YIRHaving finished a tour of the new St. Veronica School, a group comprising school staff, students, parents, school board officials, local MLAs and provincial ministers stopped for a photo on the school's steps. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing
Ground was broken for the new facility in June 2018, and the school was originally scheduled to open September 2020. However, when it became apparent construction could be completed early, a push was made to have the building ready for this academic year.

“Through the summer, the construction guys [were] phenomenal,” Principal Patrick Quinn said. “They started working all day, every day – Saturday and Sunday included – from around early July, and they just never stopped.”

The school comprises students from kindergarten to Grade 6, and will expand to Grade 7 next year as the oldest class ages. Quinn said around 370 students are currently enrolled, but capacity is 750.

“We’re anticipating we’ll get there shortly, in a few years,” he said.

GSA walkouts

Airdrie students joined their peers across the province in a demonstration May 3, walking out of school in protest of proposed changes to education legislation that could remove protections for gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Students at Bert Church, George McDougall High School and W.H. Croxford High School participated in the walkout, skipping the first class of the day. At Bert Church, students crossed the street to demonstrate in front of the school with flags, chants and signs.

StudentWalkoutsYIRJacelyn Hawes (second from left) and other students at Bert Church High School took part in a student-led walkout May 3 to demonstrate their opposition to changes of legislation that could eliminate protections for gay-straight alliances. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing
Similar walkouts were held across Alberta, in response to a vow made by Premier Jason Kenney in the recent election.

During the campaign, Kenney announced his intention to replace the School Act with the former Progressive Conservative government’s Education Act. The move would eliminate Bill 24, which mandates principals must immediately grant permission for GSAs upon request by students, and limits school administrators from disclosing any information about the groups other than their existence.

While the Education Act does leave room for principals to permit GSAs, it lacks the strict requirements put in place by the New Democratic Party when it was in power.

New library location

Airdrie’s Old Fire Hall, located at 805 Main Street, was selected as the preferred location for the new library, following a unanimous council vote at a meeting June 3.

Three sites were identified as potential locations, including the Old Fire Hall site, the Airdrie Mainstreet Square site (where the facility is currently located) and the Nose Creek Museum site.

The Nose Creek Museum site didn’t achieve sufficiently strong connections to the City’s downtown, according to a report presented to council, creating less of an impact to the development of a walkable community.

Site logistics were a concern for the Mainstreet Square site, as well as several long-term leases with other businesses that could have delayed construction of the new facility. Additional concerns centred on the possibility the existing library would need to be closed and be temporarily relocated during construction, and the impact construction at that site would have to adjacent businesses.

The Old Fire Hall, the report stated, serves as a “natural gateway” to downtown – an aspect that could be enhanced through improvements like a crosswalk and sidewalk treatments. Since the site is also adjacent to Nose Creek Park, the library would lead into another complementary amenity, and could allow for the creation of stronger connections to the nearby commercial space.

The next step of the project will see the City hiring a consultant to draft a library functional program plan and a project governance model, to oversee how the project will be delivered.

Bee City status

Airdrie’s efforts towards pollinator conservation were officially recognized, with the city now designated as Canada’s 23rd Bee City Canada community.

At a regular meeting April 15, council was informed the municipality's Bee City application – undertaken following a council resolution passed Nov. 5, 2018 – had been approved, making Airdrie only the second community in Alberta to receive the designation.

BeeCityYIRShelly Candel (centre) presented the City of Airdrie a certificate, poster and handmade pins in recognition of the City's designation as the 23rd Bee City Canada community. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing
The application highlighted recent projects in the community, including the creation and maintenance of numerous pollinator areas in local parks, an ongoing urban beekeeping pilot project, an integrated pest management plan and the creation of community orchards, which provide habitats to native pollinators.

Shelly Candel, director of Bee City Canada, presented City council with a certificate recognizing Airdrie as a Bee City, along with handmade felt bee pins and a poster of local native species.

“One-third of our produce section in our supermarkets would be completely gone without bees,” Mayor Peter Brown said. “If that isn’t scary, it should be. I’m very excited about this.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters finds home

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ (BBBS) Airdrie branch celebrated a new brick-and-mortar location March 4, after operating in the city without a permanent home for nearly a decade.

COMM-BigBrothersBigSistersYIRMentoring coordinator Jason Heer stands out front of the Airdrie branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters' new office space on Main Street. Despite operating in Airdrie for eight years, the new office is BBBS's first permanent location in the city. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing
Located in the Community Links building on Main Street, the new digs are all about awareness, said BBBS Airdrie mentoring co-ordinator Jason Heer.

“It helps us to show the community that we exist and we’re here,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it offers us a greater opportunity to offer better programming, offer better supports for families – especially being partnered with Community Links, because they offer so many great things.”

Prior to moving into the new space, the Airdrie branch operated for years out of various short-term locations – such as elementary schools or even coffee shops.

A mentoring program that matches adult mentors with youths who are facing adversity, BBBS Airdrie paired together 44 matches in 2018, according to Heer, and had a goal of 50 matches for 2019.

Haiti evacuees

The civil unrest in Haiti hit close to home in February as two Airdronians were among a group of Southern Albertans that were quickly evacuated following violent protest, which prompted the Government of Canada to issue an advisory Feb. 15 to avoid all travel to the country.

HaitiEvacuationYIRA video posted to Haiti Arise's Facebook page showed team members evacuating the organization's secure compound by helicopter. Three helicopter trips were needed to transport the team to the airport in Port-au-Prince, which was unreachable by road. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing
Lisa Honorat, who founded Haiti Arise with her husband Marc, and her daughter Miesha were among 26 Southern Albertans evacuated by helicopter from the compound of missionary group Haiti Arise Feb. 16.

Tensions in Haiti had been running high since the country’s last presidential election in 2016, and widespread frustration with current President Jovenel Moise continues, with protesters still seeking his resignation.

Initially scheduled to evacuate Feb. 15, backlogs and the number of trips needed to get the Haiti Arise team from the compound to the airport meant they could not be moved before nightfall and the evacuation had to be delayed until the morning of Feb. 16. The team then flew out of the country to Miami, and eventually arrived in Calgary Feb. 17.

Marc – who was born in Haiti but has lived in Airdrie as a Canadian permanent resident – chose to stay behind at the Haiti Arise compound, with the organization saying it would evacuate him if the situation continued to deteriorate.

Easter egg hunt returns

After the Living Springs Family Easter Egg Hunt was cancelled in 2018, Venue Church took up the mantel and returned the spring tradition to the city April 21.

The Airdrie Family Experience and Easter Egg Hunt drew massive crowds to Ed Eggerer Athletic Park for the free event, and featured more than 80,000 Easter eggs waiting to be found and gobbled up by hungry kids.

Other than the chocolate egg hunt, the event offered fun activities for the whole family, including a petting zoo, a bouncy castle, face-painting, an obstacle course and Henna art. There was also plenty of food available, with food trucks and cotton candy on-site.

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