Counting down the year’s top stories

As the year draws to a close, The Reminder is counting down the top 20 stories of 2013, beginning today.
20. Good News, Bad News
Amid growing concerns over lawlessness, data showed Flin Flon’s crime rate actually declined – but there was a catch.
Figures from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics showed that overall per-capita crime fell 5.6 per cent in Flin Flon in 2012.
RCMP responded to 906 incidents, down 50 from 2011. That drop, combined with a slight change in the RCMP’s population figures for Flin Flon, led to the per-capita decrease.
But when it came to the broad category of violent crime, Flin Flon experienced a spike of 32 per cent (198 versus 150).
Much of the increase came from level 1 assaults – the least serious of three assault categories – which rose 60 per cent (88 versus 55).
Level 2 assaults – those involving a weapon or causing bodily harm – essentially held steady (30 versus 33), as did level 3 aggravated assaults (five versus three).
Level 1 sexual assaults tripled but remained rare (nine versus three). And whereas there were no reported sexual violations against children in 2011, in 2012 there were two.
Instances of uttering threats, meanwhile, increased 39 per cent (43 versus 31).
Mischief rose 12 per cent (248 versus 222) and weapons violations, though still uncommon, more than doubled (seven versus three).
Nonetheless, Flin Flon was once again statistically safer than both The Pas and Thompson, northern Manitoba’s two other major centres.
But Flin Flon was the only community of the three where violent crime increased.
19. Choir Takes Manhattan – Again!
The question must have crossed the minds of some of the nearly 3,000 audience members.
How the heck do choristers from a place called Flin Flon, Manitoba, end up singing here, at Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, one of the world’s premiere musical venues?
They got their answer when members of the Flin Flon Community Choir stepped onto the renowned stage Dec. 1 to help bring Handel’s Messiah to life.
And if the sophisticated New York City audience was awestruck – as they surely were – the feeling was mutual. For these small-town singers, this was the ultimate “pinch me” experience.
“You’re trying to put your head around the fact that you’re at the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center, and that you’re in New York,” said FFCC director Crystal Kolt.
“It’s just really an overwhelming, exciting experience and opportunity.”
While in New York – Manhattan, to be specific – Kolt put aside her usual conducting duties and sang as one of 66 FFCC performers.
They formed part of a harmonious and globally diverse roster of choirs and individual vocalists. Represented countries included not only the United States and Canada, but also Australia, China and Singapore.
At any given time there were 175 to 200 choristers on the massive stage. The FFCC members lent their voices throughout the second and third parts of Messiah.
18. Mended Monument
Lest We Forget? Flin Flon area residents will be remembering for a long time to come.
The Royal Canadian Legion in August unveiled a refurbished Cenotaph at a ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance befitting the occasion.
“I hope that we have a Cenotaph for the next 54 years as well,” Bob Penner, president of the local Legion, told a crowd of 50-plus people gathered around the war monument.
Penner was referring to the fact that it had been exactly 54 years earlier – on Aug. 9, 1959 – that the Cenotaph was originally dedicated on Hill Street.
Standing tall and proud against a bright blue sky, the Cenotaph looked as magnificent as it must have at its initial dedication.
Over the past several weeks, the monument has undergone a roughly $45,000 overhaul complete with a new cement pad.
The aging handrail surrounding the Cenotaph was replaced with a black wrought-iron gating that glistens in the sun.
It includes a panel, overlooking Third Avenue, with the laser-cut message of “Lest We Forget.” Two panels, each bearing the familiar image of a poppy, adorn the front gate.
Of course the focal point remains the plaque, at the base of the monument, that bears the names of the Flin Flon area’s known war dead.
The project, Penner said, is important to ensuring the “Lest We Forget” message remains prevalent.
“If we forget the purpose of the Cenotaph, then everything is bound to repeat itself over time,” he said.
17. New And Improved
With a snip of the scissors Oct. 1, Premier Greg Selinger ushered in a new era of emergency medical care in the Flin Flon region.
He helped cut the ribbon to officially open the new provincially funded Flin Flon Emergency Medical Services Station overlooking Ross Lake.
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“It will reduce response times, and reducing response times saves lives,” Premier Selinger said. “The faster you can get to somebody who’s been in an accident or has a heart attack or another health crisis, the greater the chance of them preserving their life and quality of life.”
Though no hard data is available, the Northern Health Region says the new EMS station shaves minutes off response times compared to when ambulances and paramedics were based at the Flin Flon General Hospital.
For one, paramedics, who used to await calls on a floor at the hospital above the ambulance garage, are now closer to their ambulances at the one-storey facility.
For another, all three ambulances are stored indoors, heated and ready to go at all times. At the hospital, the third ambulance stayed outdoors due to space restrictions, so if it was needed in the winter, paramedics would have to warm it up first.
The new 2,700-square-foot EMS station also has a more central location than the hospital, though some have wondered about the impact of the rail crossing a block away near the Gas Bar.
Located at the former Ross Lake Market Garden, the new station quietly went into service earlier this year ahead of a planned grand opening ceremony.
Originally budgeted at $850,000, the province ended up doling out $1.2 million for the facility.
16. Sounds Good To Us
After 76 years, area residents will enjoy a clearer sound when tuning into local news, weather and music.
CFAR officially joined the FM dial on Dec. 9 and, in addition to its familiar AM slot, can now be heard at 102.9 FM.
CFAR, which launched in 1937, had been testing its FM signal for three weeks, as required by regulations, to ensure it would not interfere with other signals.
“We had to make sure that we weren’t interrupting the airport and airplanes,” said CFAR owner Tom O’Brien.
For three weeks, listeners were encouraged to report any issues with the 102.9 FM signal. O’Brien was pleased to say none were reported.
Joining the FM dial marks a major shift for Flin Flon’s radio station.
“I’m really excited,” said O’Brien, as CFAR officially became a FM station at 1:02 p.m. on Dec. 9.
“It’s been 76 years and we hope that this sends the message that we would like to be around for another 76 years.”
The change didn’t come as a surprise, as CFAR began talks and testing in the early fall.
CFAR listeners first turned to the FM dial in September as testing began.
Since the initial trial periods, O’Brien says feedback from the community has been positive.
“I don’t think there is anyone who dislikes the improvement,” he said.
O’Brien said some listeners have grown up knowing only FM.
“So it’s something that we needed to do,” he said.
Compared to AM, FM offers superior sound quality and is less prone to interference.
15. Time To Pay Up
Swimmers who live outside Flin Flon started being charged more than residents to use the Aqua Centre as city council aimed to level the paying field between the two groups.
As of Sept. 1, non-resident swimmers, including those from Creighton and Denare Beach, generally paid 42 per cent more than residents, who already fund the pool through their property taxes.
“This isn’t our preferred method, it’s the one that’s open to us,” Mayor George Fontaine said.
Mayor Fontaine said council’s preference remains a funding deal with neighbouring communities that helps pay for the Aqua Centre and other Flin Flon public facilities used regionally.
“But in the meantime we’re feeling that it’s come to the time where we have to make a point,” he said, “that just says, ‘Look, we’re paying the bills for too many people and we need to get some income from somewhere else.’”
While the non-resident fees could be revoked if community-level funding deals are reached, there are indications they have the support of the public.
“I have had, from the first day I got on council, residents saying, ‘Do a surcharge for non-residents,’” said Coun. Karen MacKinnon, “and I think every councillor in the room would agree with me on that one.”
But not everyone did agree, with Coun. Colleen McKee council’s lone voice of opposition.
Though council did not propose non-resident user fees for other facilities, the Aqua Centre surcharge was seen by some as the potential start of a new fee schedule that could eventually encompass all of Flin Flon’s public facilities.
14. Bucking The Trend
Revised census data showed Denare Beach’s population is up, not down, bucking the trend of both Flin Flon and Creighton.
The village gained 35 residents between 2006 and 2011 rather than losing 116 people as Statistics Canada initially reported.
“It came out favourably for us because every time you go down, it impacts you,” said Mayor Carl Lentowicz.
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Not only is the revision a boost to civic pride, it also means Denare Beach will gain rather than lose government funding awarded on a per-capita basis.
The updated tally brings the population of Denare Beach to 820 people and the combined population of the village, Flin Flon and Creighton to 7,910.
StatsCan also revamped the number of private dwellings in Denare Beach, from a loss of 47 to an increase of 17.
When the initial 2011 census figures were released in early 2012, Mayor Lentowicz was immediately doubtful of their accuracy.
He and council subsequently moved to have the village conduct a revised census on behalf of StatsCan.
The follow-up census took place in the summer of 2012, with a couple of enumerators in place for about two weeks.
After StatsCan compared the new data with other information, the revised figures were made official and later obtained by The Reminder.
“A detailed investigation has confirmed that the population count of 669 and total private dwelling count of 385 were incorrect,” wrote Lise Rivais, a StatsCan official, in a letter to the village.
13. Growing Concern
Concern grew over aggressive panhandling and public drunkenness in downtown Flin Flon.
In February, Judith Schmidt, branch manager of Scotiabank, told city council that pushy panhandlers outside the bank have been asking customers for money.
“These individuals have been approaching our customers and staff an in aggressive manner,” she wrote in a letter to council. “They appear to be under the influence and have at times been quite forceful by following staff to their vehicles and approaching customers asking for money.”
Meanwhile, council ordered the alley beside the former Hong Kong Restaurant closed, as it had become a hot spot for public drinking and other problems.
RCMP stepped up their patrols of the core area, but some safety advocates continued to call for the installation of outdoor surveillance cameras for Main Street and other downtown locations.
As the year drew to a close, council had resisted calls to establish a bylaw to outlaw panhandling. There does not appear to be such a bylaw on the books.
While federal law forbids physical and verbal threats that can accompany panhandling, the actual act of begging for money is left to municipalities to regulate.
Some municipalities have chosen to outlaw the practice. Others have not, typically because it has not been a significant concern in their communities.
12. Career Opportunities
A trades training facility will open career doors for Flin Flon high school and college students, Premier Greg Selinger announced Dec. 2.
After weeks of speculation, Selinger unveiled details of the Skills Training Centre, now in the early stages of construction in the Hapnot Collegiate parking lot.
“In the North we want to have good opportunities for young people starting right out of high school,” said Selinger.
The $500,000 centre will be flexible enough to offer a range of trades courses, such as plumbing, welding and heavy-duty mechanics.
Training at the 6,000-sq.ft. centre, due to open in September 2014, will be based around the needs of employers in the region.
It will be open to Hapnot and Many Faces Education Centre students. It will also be used for joint courses with students from the Frontier and Creighton school divisions as well as University College of the North, the Northern Manitoba Mining Academy and Northlands College.
Also partnering is industry – namely Hudbay, Manitoba Hydro, the Tolko forestry company, nickel miner Vale and oriented strand board maker Louisiana Pacific – as well as the Northern Manitoba Sector Council to which they belong.
“Any time there’s an opportunity for Flin Flon, any time there’s an opportunity for students in Flin Flon, I’m excited,” said Flin Flon MLA Clarence Pettersen.
This year also saw the addition of a running track and soccer pitch at Queen’s Park near Hapnot – a $568,800 project. It was funded almost entirely by the Flin Flon School Division.
11. Belt Tightening
Changing economics saw Hudbay cut its exploration budget before chopping overall expenditures.
Early in the year came word that the company had budgeted $40 million for exploration in 2013, down 26 per cent from the $54 million allotted in 2012.
“Our focus in 2013 is on execution at our three mines currently under development: Lalor, Reed and Constancia,” said John Vincic, vice-president of investor relations and corporate communications for Hudbay.
But Vincic said the 2013 exploration program will still be “robust,” with slightly more than half of the money, $20.2 million, dedicated to the Flin Flon-Snow Lake area.
“Our focus in Manitoba will be to explore near active and historical mining areas,” he said. “This will result in more exploration in and around the Flin Flon area in an effort to discover economic deposits that will allow us to leverage our existing workforce and infrastructure in the region.”
In July, Hudbay said it would slash about $100 million in spending in the ensuing 17 months, but added that Flin Flon and Snow Lake operations would proceed as usual.
Hudbay pledged to reduce sustaining capital expenditures in Manitoba by $20 million and lower company-wide exploration by $30 million, among other cuts.
“Spending reductions are planned throughout all areas of Hudbay and the Flin Flon and Snow Lake areas are no exception,” said Brad Lantz, vice-president of Hudbay’s Manitoba operations.
Lantz said the company has made “significant improvements” in recent years that “should enable us to reduce spending over this critical period.”
(Please see our next edition, next Friday, Jan. 3, for our choices for the top 10 stories of 2013).

Flin Flon Community Choir members pose for a photo outside the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. On the right is Avery Fisher Hall, where they performed on Dec. 1.

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