It was a busy 2019 for Fort McMurray and its surrounding hamlets.
From a failed moratorium on work camps to the launching of a long-awaited helipad at the hospital and the highly debated proposed Keyano College Art Gallery – here are the top 20 stories from 2019.
In January, Mayor Don Scott brought forward a motion to eliminate all work camps within 120 km of Fort McMurray.
His main argument was the moratorium would increase the community’s population which would create a boom for the local economy.
With the motion no longer moving forward, Executive Director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance Karim Zariffa says they will continue to work with Administration to address the issue of Fly-in-Fly-out.
One of the most highly contested matters of the year was Wood Buffalo Council’s approval of funding Keyano College with over $16.8 million to help them build an art gallery.
The decision was not met without scrutiny, with many members of the community questioning the need and the price tag.
Despite that, Keyano President Dr. Trent Keough says they feel this is something Fort McMurray truly needs.
2019 saw elections on both the Provincial and Federal levels.
From a provincial standpoint, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney was elected to be Premier in a majority vote.
MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche Laila Goodridge received around 65 per cent of the vote, while MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tany Yao earned 70 per cent of the vote in his riding.
Federally, while the Liberals won a majority government, ridings across Alberta and Saskatchewan told a different story.
Canadians voted to re-elect Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to once again be Prime Minister – however, voters in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake re-elected Conservative David Yurdiga.
Mayor Don Scott came under fire in October for an altercation that took place in June between him and Councillor Keith McGrath.
During an in-camera meeting, Scott was said to use profane language and attempted to physically restrain McGrath – who was trying to leave the meeting.
A formal complaint was filed by McGrath on July 4.
During an October council meeting, Scott publicly apologized.
A near six-month-long strike for Wood Buffalo Housing employees did not end happily for all involved.
In October, employees voted to accept recommendations from a mediator and in the end, only 11 jobs were saved – while 12 were eliminated, including three temporary positions.
The deal officially kicked in on October 23.
The long-awaited helipad at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre began operating earlier this year.
The hospital announced the helipad’s opening in March and experienced its first emergency situation in early April.
In a March interview, AHS Senior Operating Officer Murray Crawford called the helipad ‘a game changer’.
In August, Fort McMurrayites bid farewell to one of its most infamous landmarks.
Wood Buffalo council began discussing the dismantling of the weather catcher earlier in the year and by June, they voted unanimously to tear it down.
It cost the municipality $20,000 to dismantle it.
In April, the trial began for an RCMP officer who was charged in the 2016 death of 41-year old Tracy Janvier.
Back in August 2016, Michelle Phillips was called to reports of Janvier walking down Highway 881, around 75km south of Fort McMurray.
Janvier was reportedly walking down the road late at night, when he was struck by a pickup truck.
Following a three-month trial, a Fort McMurray judge found Phillips not guilty in relation to the incident.
One of the biggest stories from last year wound up crossing over into 2019 – as Dunvegan Gardens officially shut down operations in late June.
The organization officially closed its shop in Draper and also discontinued their landscaping business.
In an interview with Mix News in June, VP of Operations Brad Friesen said they’d be looking at other communities to begin operations again.
In October, one of the world’s youngest, most renowned climate activists made her way to the RMWB.
Greta Thunberg met with leaders of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, in Fort McMurray, allowing ACFN a chance to share the perspective of Indigenous peoples living in Northern Alberta.
Thunberg also met with leaders of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, who shared their thoughts on the future of the region and fossil fuels with the 16-year-old.
In November, it was announced Marshall House Emergency Homeless Shelter will be closing its doors early next year.
Wood Buffalo Housing said the building will stop serving clients on January 31 due to a lack of funding from the province.
WBH says they were notified by the Government of Alberta they would no longer receive funds based on the fact they haven’t been operating at full capacity over the past few years.
Both Fort McMurray school districts felt the burn of budget cuts from the provincial government.
In November, the FMPSD said cuts would result in the district losing around $4.5 million, while the FMCSD will experience a loss of $3.2 million.
Both the school boards have experienced an increase in enrollment and say they have reserve funds in place to help them over the next few years.
One of the more feel-good stories of 2019.
Cynthia Simpson was on her way back from Edmonton when she suffered a kidney-stone attack while driving along Highway 63 toward Fort McMurray, forcing her to pull into a rest stop.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Ram Marcaida, and 18-year old’s Edjustin Silva, Jhud Abuda and Amiel Panganiban were also parked at the stop – when Simpson approached their vehicle asking for assistance.
In January, former tenants of the Syncrude Towers spoke out about a cockroach infestation in the building.
The incident resulted in these tenants having no choice but to pick up their things and find somewhere else to live.
Tenants involved noted during their time there, the imagery of cockroaches followed them everywhere through their personal and professional life – affecting their ability to sleep, eat properly and live comfortably.
A collective sigh of relief was felt around the province, as earlier this month, pipe for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project has officially been put in the ground.
The company announced the milestone on social media after stating earlier in December they had plans to do so before Christmas.
Construction has been ongoing across Alberta for the past couple of weeks including work on multiple pump stations and activities focusing on preparing the land for pipe.
A former Fort McMurray pediatrician was charged back in August for possession and transmission of child pornography.
ALERT’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit arrested 47-year-old Ghassan Alnaami after starting an investigation in April.
None of these claims have been proven in court.
Alnaami had left Wood Buffalo back in 2017 noting concerns he had with the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.
Councillor Krista Balsom started 2019 off on a high note as she was allowed to remain on Wood Buffalo’a municipal council.
This all stems from Balsom voting on grant requests for multiple organizations despite her company ‘Balsom Communication Inc’ having advertising contracts with them.
Speaking to reporters in January, Balsom said it was a happy conclusion to a challenging time in her life.
Back in February, the Clearwater Horse Club announced that their finals days were fast approaching due to new provincial regulations.
The potential closure focused on multiple unauthorized wells on the property.
The province stated at the time protecting the environment was their main focus.
The community staple officially opened their doors for the first time since the Horse River wildfire back in June.
The business had been dealing with insurance issues which kept them closed for over three years.
The opening also got a big hand from multiple local residents and businesses.
Students at Father Mercredi and Holy Trinity joined others across the province back on a snowy May day.
They left for 20 minutes to protest the UCP’s proposed legislation requiring schools to tell parents if their child had joined a GSA.
Hundreds of students took part from the two schools.
-These stories were in no particular order-