Cooler weather and rain have made it safer for crews to directly attack several wildfires burning in northern Saskatchewan.
“We have actually been able to shift our suppression efforts from more of an indirect manner that we’ve been using, which you do when hazards are extremely high, to direct, which means we’re actually able to get folks directly on to the fire line, heavy equipment backing them up, as well as helicopter support tight into the fire,” explained the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency’s (SPSA) Steve Roberts.
As of Friday, there are 20 active wildfires in the province. Five of them are not contained.
This includes the Shaw fire between Buffalo Narrows and Ill-a-la-Crosse – the largest of the fires at over 133,000 hectares. The SPSA says crews are working to contain the fire around major highways and by powerlines around the Niska channel.
The Vermette fire, southwest of Dillon, is about 65,500 hectares.
While these fires remain uncontained, Roberts said leadership from many nearby communities have allowed evacuees to return home unless they have health concerns.
Patuanak, however, is still under an evacuation order.
“Even though there remains some smoke hazard, the physical threat to those communities has been reduced,” said Roberts.
The SPSA is still supporting 52 evacuees from Buffalo Narrows in Lloydminster and 131 people from Patuanak in North Battleford.
Other wildfires include the Wistigo fire southeast of Pinehouse Lake, which is over 60,000 hectares. The Sharp fire has grown to nearly 18,000 hectares north of La Ronge, and the KPIR02 fire south of Deschambault Lake is over 4,600 hectares.
Over a thousand people from Deschambault Lake have evacuated to Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Flin Flon and Creighton.
“All of the communities that were threatened, we have been successful in keeping the fires from entering and damaging those communities,” said Roberts.
He added that some remote values, such as cabins and sheds, have been damaged.
Hundreds of wildfire evacuees in northern Saskatchewan are now able to return home.
According to council in Buffalo Narrows, Dillon, St. George’s Hill and Ille-a-la-Crosse, the evacuation orders have been rescinded based on guidance from local health professionals and the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA).
According to the update, priority one and two residents who wish to remain evacuated will still have access to emergency resources. These residents include the elderly, children and people with respiratory conditions.
The SPSA did not host a media update on the wildfires on Thursday. The next update is scheduled for Friday morning.
In its media briefing on Wednesday, vice-president of operations Steve Roberts said most of the fires of concern received little precipitation. However, the rain has led the SPSA to lift the provincial fire ban.
The Vermette fire, burning southwest of Dillon, has grown to over 65,000 hectares. The SPSA says crews are continuing to work at the perimeter of the fire, and have begun to fight the interior in the northeast area.
The other fire in the region is the Shaw fire between Buffalo Narrows and Ille-a-la-Crosse. As of Thursday, it’s listed as over 133,000 hectares.
Crews are continuing to work around hotspots, securing powerlines and using water trucks to work their way into the fire’s perimeter.
Several of these fires are not contained, including the Vermette and Shaw fires, the Wistigo fire southeast of Pinehouse Lake, the Sharp fire north of La Ronge and the KPIR02 fire south of Deschambault Lake.
A few weeks ago, Cindy Smith was walking up to the Cornerstone McDonalds in Prince Albert to grab breakfast. She was alarmed to find out that she had to ring a doorbell.
At first, she simply thought the door was broken. After conversations with a manager, she found out that the doors were locked in order to prevent homelessness and drug activity inside of the restaurant.
“Denying access, it’s just too prejudicial. It sends the wrong message and it could escalate to violence,” she said.
“All of these red flags are going off in my head.”
Smith said she was concerned about safety issues. If the doors are closed, she said, it could be a fire hazard, and that the only door you could enter is right by the drive-thru.
The Prince Albert Daily Herald spoke to a man who identified himself as a manager of the Cornerstone McDonalds over the phone, but he would not state his name.
He admitted that the doors were locked one-way and that you could still exit the building like normal. When asked why they were locked from the outside, he said he was “not allowed” to say.
The man also said that the doors are now entirely unlocked.
Smith said she understands that they don’t want drugs entering the restaurant, but that locking the doors isn’t the right solution. She suggested having a security guard or calling a community van who can re-direct people to shelters.
“If they were continuing to perform those behaviours, I would definitely boycott because I think it’s unjust.”
McDonalds isn’t the only fast food restaurant being criticized for its response to homelessness and addictions.
For Dave Marion, it’s more about a lack of response.
Two weeks ago, he and his 13-year-old son stopped at the Burger King on Second Avenue West after his baseball game in Shellbrook. The pair were driving through the city before heading home, north of Kinistino.
Marion said when he went into the washroom, there was a man washing his clothes in the sink and using the hand dryer to dry them. He also noticed a needle beside the faucet.
Another couple eating there told him there were also two people using drugs in the women’s washroom, he said.
“It could have been the opposite. It could have been (my son) who wanted to use the washroom. If I didn’t need to go in, then he could have been exposed to that,” said Marion.
“That’s dangerous. Somebody could have poked themselves with a needle laying around like that.”
Marion said there was a sign on the door asking customers to grab a key to use the washroom, but that the door was left unlocked.
“I just wish that the mayor and his councillors would do something about this type of situation,” he said.
“They’re going to have to decide who they want going through Prince Albert. I don’t live there, but I do my business there, I do my shopping there, and if they’re going to have that element running around doing whatever they want, then I’m just going to bypass Prince Albert.”
The Prince Albert Daily Herald contacted Mayor Greg Dionne several times to respond to Marion’s concerns. Each time, he said would call back when he had the time to do an interview, but didn’t.
The Herald also reached out to both Burger King Canada and McDonalds Canada for comment on both of these incidents, and never heard back.
Marion said that Prince Albert’s poverty crisis is being left unaddressed, and that people dealing with addictions shouldn’t have such easy access to drugs in the first place.
“This is just something that seems to be accepted – but I won’t accept it.”
A familiar face to Prince Albert City Council is hoping to make a return.
Dennis Nowoselsky is one of five candidates in the Ward 8 by-election, scheduled for May 31. He was the Ward 7 councillor for four terms, now held by Dawn Kilmer, before stepping back in order to run for mayor in 2020.
“I’ve given my life to public service,” he said about why he wanted to run again.
Nowoselsky has listed seven priority issues he would address, including lowering taxes, promoting business development, beautifying the city, using a community-driven approach to address addictions, and ensuring council is more transparent with the public.
Here’s what he had to say about a few of those topics:
Recreation hub leading to debt ‘breaking point’
Nowoselsky said the city is driving up its debt with the construction of ‘The Yard’ recreation district.
“We’re going to have a significant debt, and you’ve got to live within your means,” he said.
“I think we’ve extended ourselves to the breaking point.”
The city purchased 80 acres of land in the east end to build the recreation hub, which will include an arena and event centre, an aquatics centre, hotel and restaurant and shopping opportunities.
In Nowoselsky’s civic platform posted to the city’s website, he said that the city is spending taxpayer dollars “recklessly.”
He said he supported a new aquatic centre if it would have been built on land the city already owned.
Flowers, better street cleaning and snow removal needed
Another one of Nowoselsky’s priorities is to beautify the city with improved street cleaning and snow removal, as well as adding flowers to the downtown area.
He also referred to a greater revitalization of Central Avenue and the riverbank.
“Why do little towns and small cities like Melfort and Kinistino (have to) be more beautiful than PA?” he questioned.
He said “basic services,” such as street sweeping, should occur more than once a year.
Community approach to addictions to drive down theft
Nowoselsky said drug and alcohol addictions are fuelling theft and violence in Prince Albert, and that the city needs to address the root cause with a community-based approach.
This means putting more resources into education and treatment options, he said.
“If some people continue to get drunk and steal or are violent, let’s have firmer sanctions. It’s got to be dealt with. You’ve got to have a city that people can feel comfortable,” he said.
Nowoselsky encouraged Ward 8 residents to to cast their votes, saying by-elections often have poor voter turnout.
“I’m hoping the citizens will know that their voice counts,” he said.
The other candidates are Pamela Sukut, Doug Erickson, Peter Friedrichsen and Darren Solomon.
This is the third candidate profile for the Ward 8 by-election. The Prince Albert Daily Herald has run profiles on Darren Solomon and Doug Erickson. Please see future editions of the Herald for profiles on Pamela Sukut and Peter Friedrichsen.
In a news conference, Bergen said his decisions as chief following the alleged homicide resulted in “escalating criticism and personal attack” from current and past members.
This includes his decisions to suspend the two officers involved pending the report and for requesting an independent investigation.
Charlene Tebbutt, public relations and media coordinator, said the “attacks” have continued.
On Saturday, Tebbutt posted a video she created on the police service’s social media accounts with photos spanning Bergen’s policing career. This included his time as a patrol officer, running the K9 section and being sworn in as chief in 2018.
“I’ve really been fortunate to be a part of a lot of the things that he’s done. To be at the events, to hear the families that he’s spoken with and that he’s helped, to see the impact that he’s made in the community – that’s what I wanted to share,” she said.
On Monday morning, Tebbutt removed the video and posted a statement.
“Due to ongoing and persistent harassment of our chief of police from members both within and outside our organization, a video thanking him for his years of service to our community has been removed,” she wrote.
Tebbutt said she believes some of the anonymous comments are coming from police members.
“There are anonymous pages or accounts that are very pointed, very specific. You can tell it’s anonymous when all they talk about is Chief Bergen or Prince Albert police and they’ve started four days ago,” she explained.
“I don’t know if I have enough words for it.”
Nolan Carter, president of the union representing the police service, declined an interview.
“For now, the association isn’t willing to make a comment, simply because we just don’t feel that it’s worthwhile at this point in time,” he said in a voicemail to the Herald.
The union’s Twitter account re-posted a Tweet from the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers, responding to the statement about why the video was removed.
“I don’t know who is running PAPS media, but ENOUGH. Quit trying to further divide the executive and the membership. It is an exciting new area and we have to move on,” reads the Tweet.
In response, Tebbutt said others have already created a divide.
“There’s been a lot of other people promoting a toxic environment and division already and talking about it publicly is a good thing,” she said.
Members of the Prince Albert Police Association have criticized Bergen in the past. In 2020, they announced that 71 per cent of its members voted that they do not have confidence in Bergen. In March 2022, a month after the death of the 13-month-old boy, that number increased to 95 per cent.
The Mann Art Gallery has purchased six of a local artist’s works depicting the demolition of the University of Saskatchewan’s Kenderdine campus in Emma Lake.
Jerome Mrazek’s series, The Shuttered Kenderdine, contains 60 pieces. Most were on display in March at the John V. Hicks Gallery.
It was at that exhibition that the Mann Art Gallery’s Director/Curator Marcus Miller became captivated by the documentary style storytelling through art.
“This is the right home for that series of paintings,” he said.
“We’re so close to the Emma Lake workshop, where it was, and so many artists in Prince Albert were influenced and know about those workshops.”
The summer art school was established in 1936 by Gus Kenderdine during the Great Depression. Its workshops drew artists from across Canada, many who went on to have successful careers.
It temporarily closed in 2012 due to budget restraints and hasn’t been reopened since.
Miller said the gallery couldn’t afford to purchase all 60 pieces, so he opted for the six showing the kitchen facility because it was the most “modern and utopian” of all of the buildings with its circular shape.
“(The kitchen) was a great gathering place for the artists,” he said.
“In an ideal world, the series would be kept together as the cohesive tribute the artist intended, but we’ll work with the means we have and endeavour to solicit the funds and donations required to reunite the family.”
Miller said he doesn’t intend on displaying the art anytime soon because it was recently shown.
The historical significance of the series, though, will be beneficial for research purposes, he said.
Five of the pieces are drawings and one is a watercolour painting.
The Prince Albert Police Service gathered on Wednesday to lay wreaths at the graves of former officers who died while they were active members.
Four of them—Allan Telfer, Eddie Banman, Garry Drake, and Tim Ballantyne—died outside of work. The other, 23-year-old Cst. Matthew Kwasnica, died while on duty. Kwasnica was electrocuted while investigating a car accident in 1956.
Wes Stubbs, a retired member involved in the ceremony, said the police laid wreaths every year while he was chief in the 1980s.
For him, honouring these former members reflects the dangers of the job.
“A lot of these people had their lives shortened because they had a dangerous career. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in a small city or a big city,” said Stubbs.
“It’s not getting any better, but they know when they get sworn in as a police officer that they are going to be at risk.”
Stubbs knows this all too well.
He recalled being alone in his patrol car, responding to a shooting in the city’s east end.
“I turned the lights out and he come out in front of the house. He saw the car down the street and he fired at me and the bullet just went under my police car. And then he was firing for half of the night,” he said.
In another call, explained Stubbs, a detective was being held hostage by two men. After a six-hour chase, the men stopped the vehicle and ran into the bush, firing bullets “in all directions” at Stubbs and his coworkers.
“In the news, so often you’re hearing of police officers that have been shot at or killed or beaten. Since then, of course, it’s gotten worse and worse. It’s a regular occurrence,” said Stubbs.
Just a week ago, three Ontario police officers responded to a home in Bourget, near Ottawa, after reports of a gunshot. All three were shot at during the call and one of them died.
Despite the safety risk that being a police officer poses, Stubbs’ passion for policing has carried on in his family — his son and grandson are police officers in Prince Albert.
The current chief, Jon Bergen, said he’s often asked why he works in policing with the safety risks and critical watch from the public.
“We care about our community and we care about the people that we serve and we want to make our communities a safer and healthier place,” he responded.
“The criticism, at times, really unfair, but we always need to stand accountable for our actions and our decisions. That’s just part of the profession.”
Bergen said it’s important to him to honour the service’s history by laying the wreaths. The recognition shows that police officers “are human, too,” even though they may appear invincible.
“We’re people, just like the people we serve.”
Cst. Matthew Kwasnica
Hired in 1951, Cst. Matthew Kwasnica had been promoted to the rank of First Class Constable just a month before he passed away on duty in August of 1956. He is remembered as a very fine man and a valued member with our police service who showed a lot of promise in his short career. He left behind a wife and two very young children. His daughter Susan participated in the memorial service for her father Wednesday. Kwasnica Place in the Crescent Acres neighbourhood is named in honour of Cst. Matthew Kwasnica.
Sgt. Garry Drake
Sgt. Garry Drake served from 1960 to 1996 and spent the majority of his career on front-line Patrol. In the mid-1960s, he joined other officers in leading the Monarch Club for youth, which was established in the 1940s to offer a guiding hand to youth on probation. In 1975, Sgt. Drake was appointed to respond to increasing rates of vandalism and youth crime in the city. His plan for a youth detail in Prince Albert to offer programming and supports for youth at risk of offending resulted in an 11% drop in the number of young people being sent to court by 1978.
Sgt. Drake received the Police Exemplary Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada upon reaching 20 years of service in October 1983. He received the first bar for 30 years of service in November 1990.
Cst. Eddie Banman
Cst. Eddie Banman served from 1972 to 1994 and designed the first should flash, or arm badge, worn on our police uniforms. Shoulder flashes are required to be worn on the sleeves of all unformed officers, and are legislated under the Police Act. The basic design, which still resembles flashes worn by current PAPS members, was adopted by several other police services in Saskatchewan in 1976.
Cst. Banman was is also remembered for starting a Police Ventures group through the Scouts program for youth to enjoy the outdoors. He received the Police Exemplary Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada in recognition of 20 years of service in January 1993.
Cst. Allan Telfer
Cst. Allan Telfer passed away in 1972 at the age of 28 while still a serving member with our service. A police badge sits atop his headstone in memory of his time with our service. Telfer Bay in the Crescent Acres area of Prince Albert is named in recognition of Allan Telfer.
Cst. Tim Ballantyne
Cst. Tim Ballantyne joined our police service in 2005 after participating in an Indigenous mentoring program with the Prince Albert Police Service. He served on Patrol until his untimely death in December 2010. Tim Ballantyne was 27 years old and was described as a caring father and a good friend to all.
–bios submitted by the Prince Albert Police Service
A restored sign displayed at the Prince Albert police headquarters has more than a fresh coat of paint — its restoration honours the service’s history of connecting with Indigenous peoples.
That’s according to Chief Jon Bergen.
“I don’t think it had noticeable meaning, but yet it means so much. Now that it’s refinished and stands out as much as it does, I think the public will notice it more. I think the police members will be more aware of what it means,” he said.
The sign is composed of iron plates with images welded in, including a tree, wheat sheaf, and a figure with a head dress, representing an Indigenous chief.
In speaking with previous police chiefs, Bergen said he learned that the sign was originally displayed on a previous police station on 8th Street East. Then, it was painted over, and placed at the current headquarters when it opened in 1981.
Bergen believes the sign was built around 1963, but much of its story continues to be a mystery.
“We don’t know the history on who the artist was and who built it, but we’re interested in hearing from the community,” he said.
The sign was refurbished over a couple of days last week and hung back up on Friday.
“Our history tells an incredible story, and this sign was more of a story than I realized,” said Bergen.
He said the police service considered sandblasting it to its original state and leaving it raw, but was concerned that it would rust over time and drip down the building.
“We wanted to restore it as close to the original as we could.”
While the sign is intended to honour Indigenous peoples, the Prince Albert Police Service has been under critical watch for its response to calls involving Indigenous peoples.
This includes the death of Boden Umpherville, who was taken off of life support about three weeks after his arrest on April 1.
According to the Saskatchewan Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), police used stun guns, collapsible batons and pepper spray during his arrest after officers stopped a vehicle that was reported stolen.
However, the police service has partnered with Indigenous organizations in an effort to improve its representation.
For example, the police service has worked with the Metis Nation — Saskatchewan to encourage and recruit more Metis people to pursue a career in policing.