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Year in Review – January, February, March 2018

Year in Review – January, February, March 2018

January

Sombra’s Bluewater Ferry was knocked out of commission on Jan. 11 after ice from the St. Clair River caused $3 million in damage, destroying the causeway road heading out to the dock as well as damaging the Canada Customs office.

The ferry had been closed since Jan. 3 due to ice jams in the river, so no one was present on the dock when the damage occurred.

“We’re closed for a while,” Bluewater Ferry owner Rob Dalgety said.

Dalgety and his brother Morgan sued the federal government for damages in the summer, claiming that the CCGS Samuel Risley was partially responsible for pushing the ice onto the ferry causeway.

The ferry service remained closed for the rest of the year.

Commander of Sarnia Police Services Vice Squad, Det. Sgt. John Pearce, said that while the opioid epidemic that has overtaken Ontario has left its mark in Lambton County, the continuing, widespread and corrosive use of crystal methamphetamine continues to have a profound impact on local crime.

Pearce was the featured lecturer at the Central Forum Speaker series on Jan. 16.

The long-time law enforcer said that while new and even more dangerous forms of fentanyl have appeared on Sarnia streets, methamphetamine has been a steady problem for decades due of its relative affordability.

“Honestly, crystal meth per capita in this city is a much worse problem that opioids,” he said. “It’s still here after 20 years because it’s cheap – a gram of crystal meth costs approximately $80 to $120 – but it’s just as dangerous.”

Thousands of Sarnians took in a travelling art exhibition that made a stop at the Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery from September to January.

Featuring the paintings of several Group of Seven artists such as A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley, Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War drew over 6,000 visitors and hosted 48 guided tours during its 128 day exhibition at JNAAG.

The show ran alongside Lambton Heritage Museum’s Lambton At War exhibition, which took a look at Lambton County’s contribution to the Great War.

Assistant curator Sonya Blazek said interest in both exhibitions was high due to 2018 being the centenary of the First World War.

Sarnia’s cat population continued to grow at the Sarnia and District Humane Society.

Nearly 2,000 cats came through the shelter’s door in 2017, said executive director Donna Pyette, a five per cent increase over the previous year.

“We’re quite a bit higher than a lot of the other shelters,” she said.
Pyette said Sarnia’s lack of low-cost spay and neutering clinics may have been one reason for the rising numbers. In January, there were close to 70 cats at the shelter available for adoption.

“For this time of year, it’s a lot,” she said. “We’re still getting litters of kittens, which is very concerning.”

The YMCA assumed day-to-day operations at Petrolia’s Oil Heritage District Community Centre, Petrolia town council decided Jan. 22.

Under terms of the agreement – which became effective April 2 – the municipality would continue as owner of the building and its assets, but operating the facility would become the YMCA’s responsibility.

The decision was expected to save the town over $500,000 over the next five years, but Petrolia would remain responsible for any upgrades and the purchase of new equipment.

The YMCA’s board of directors in Sarnia ratified the agreement on Jan. 23.

February
Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that a new French immersion elementary school will be built in Sarnia by September 2020.

The province approved $14,371,913 in finding for the new Catholic elementary school, with a further $2,672,104 for an 88-space child care facility to be located in the new school.

The St. Clair District Catholic School Board sought the funding to facilitate the growing numbers of French immersion students attending Gregory A. Hogan Catholic School.

“We are very pleased with this tremendous announcement from the government of Ontario,” said board chair John Van Heck. “This is fantastic news for the Catholic school communities of Gregory A. Hogan and Sacred Heart in Sarnia.”

A 33-year veteran of the Sarnia Police Service was appointed as the city’s new chief of police on Feb. 2.

Inspector Norm Hansen was announced at the city’s new chief, replacing outgoing chief Phil Nelson, who had announced the previous September that he would be retiring on June 1, 2018.

In naming Hansen to the position, the Sarnia Police Services Board noted his successful career since he began as a constable with the Sarnia Police Service in 1985.
The board also announced that 28-year veteran Inspector Owen Lockhart would become deputy chief of police.

Rick Charlebois was named Petrolia’s new chief administrative officer in February, following the controversial resignation of former CAO Manny Baron.

Charlebois had been Petrolia’s director of Corporate Services/Treasurer since 2013. Prior to that he was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, retiring as a colonel, a chartered professional accountant and a former employee of the federal government.

“We are excited that Mr. Charlebois has accepted the position,” Mayor John McCharles said. “He has proved invaluable as a member of our senior administrative team.”
Charlebois was one of 70 applicants for the position, the town said.

Bluewater Area Scouting group kicked off a fundraising campaign to raise money to build a dozen new, modern and accessible all-season cabins at Camp Attawadaron.

Camp committee members from Sarnia, Corunna, Point Edward, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Petrolia and Bright’s Grove decided to replace two groups of six antiquated cabins at the site, built shortly after the camp first opened its doors in 1948. The goal was to raise $132,000 by the end of September.

The new cabins, scheduled to be installed in the spring of 2019, would suit the needs of a wide variety of campers, said committee member Brenda Dunn, and will also include features such as hydro, heat and smoke detectors.

“The cabins up there now were built in 1950 and they’ve held up really well over the past 68 years, but they need to be replaced,” Dunn said. “This is an investment in the future and an investment in our youth.”

A group of over 30 people gathered at Sarnia City Hall on Feb. 22 to honour the life of a Saskatchewan First Nation man whose life was abruptly taken in 2016.

Dunlop United Church minister Adam Kilner led a candlelight vigil in remembering 22-year-old Colten Boushie, a Cree Red Pheasant First Nation man shot in August 2016.

Boushie was shot by Gerald Stanley, who was acquitted of all charges in February, sparking nation-wide protests.

Kilner said that rather than focusing on the outcome of Stanley’s trial, the aim of the vigil was to speak about the need for healing, the need for reconciliation and the need to bridge the gap of inequality that exists between First Nation and non-First Nation people in the country.

“This is not a protest but a vigil,” Kilner said. “We want to sow the seeds of unity tonight.”

Three prominent Aamjiwnaang First Nation leaders were feted for their contributions to the community during a special ceremony at the Maawn Doosh Gumig Community and Youth Centre on Feb. 24.

Chief Joanne Rogers, Aamjiwnaang’s first-ever female chief, long-standing councillor Errnol Gray and Aamjiwnaang elder Geraldine Robertson, a residential school survivor and recipient of the Order of Ontario, were recognized for their service by the Aamjiwnaang Heritage and Culture Club, E’Maawizidijig.

Nearly 100 people crowded into a banquet room at the community centre to pay homage to the three honorees, who were presented with a variety of accolades and awards for their service.

Following the ceremony, Rogers spoke about the importance of supporting the E’Maawizidijig Heritage and Culture Club, specifically to inspire youth to take up the mantle of leadership in the future.

“The purpose of this club is not only to honour people in the community but also to educate our members and non-members on our traditions, our cultures and our teachings,” Rogers added. “That’s the whole aim of it. And I always go back to relationships – the club is doing a great job in reaching out to people and bringing them in and educating them about what we do. It’s so important.”

March

Human trafficking is happening everywhere, including in Lambton County.
That was the message delivered by Victim Services Sarnia-Lambton executive director

to a human trafficking forum on March 15, hosted by Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey and Haliburton-Kawartha MPP Laurie Scott at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club.

Speakers included Sarnia Police Services’ Insp. Norm Hansen and Lambton OPP Insp. Chris Avery and Const. Jill Harding.
Human trafficking involves the recruiting and transporting of people who are exploited, typically in the sex industry or for forced labour, said MPP Laurie Scott. Ninety-three percent of sex trafficking victims are Canadian born and their average age is 14, she added.

“We have to do better in protecting our girls and our women and our society in general,” she said.

A local Syrian refugee family gave their thanks back to the community via a fundraising dinner on March 23.

Houda Alzoubi – a Syrian refugee who along with her husband Jaber Al Mudeer and their children fled from the war-torn city of Homs and arrived in Sarnia in April 2016 – cooked up a profusion of traditional Syrian dishes for a sold-out fundraising dinner in support of the Women’s Interval Home of Sarnia-Lambton.
The dinner, which took place at Sarnia’s St. Giles Presbyterian Church, was a way for the family to thank the community for their support, empathy and understanding, said St. Giles mission and outreach coordinator Valdene Wager.
“Houda has always volunteered her time and she’s constantly giving back to the people who helped her over the past couple of years…so this is just another way to give back to the people of Sarnia-Lambton,” she said.

Lambton County councillors agreed to a 1.9 percent hike in the county’s 2018 property tax levy.

The increase was set to be above three percent when the March 22 budget session began, but was reduced by spending cuts totaling $367,000 and a $482,000 cut in the amount of money going into the reserves.

“I’m happy with this,” said Enniskillen Township Mayor Kevin Marriott. “I just believe that three per cent was unacceptable.”

Following positive feedback from students, parents and educators, the Lambton Kent District School Board decided in March to renew a program that gives seventh graders access to iPads for a year.

In spite of a $300,000 to $400,000 Ministry of Education grant cut, Education Director Jim Costello said that the results of an online survey were so overwhelmingly in favour of continuing the program that the board decided to continue the existing program rather than asking families to chip in or having two students share one tablet.

“We really didn’t want to go down that road,” Costello said. “We didn’t want to be asking parents for money.”

The results of the survey underlined how popular the program was, Costello added.
“They like the equity aspect – the fact that every student gets one regardless of what school they’re at, regardless of their means to be able to afford one of their own,” he said.

Barring an influx of newcomers or a brand new baby boom, Lambton County is set to shrink according to population projections released in March by the County of Lambton.

The projections, based on census data, revealed that Sarnia’s population might shrink by as much as ten percent over the next 18 years, with a similar overall county population dropoff.

The reasons for the potential future drop in population include baby boomers aging as well as fewer children being born. By 2031 Sarnia could have a population of 63,000.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said while he believed the projections to be somewhat flawed, the report underlined the need for the region to attract new businesses as well as new immigrants.