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‘This was history:’ 100-year-old hut in the Rocky Mountains dismantled due to erosion


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LAKE LOUISE – When a daring construction crew entered a century-old hut in the Rockies on the first day of its takedown, they lit the fireplace one last time and discussed for an hour the gravity of what they were about to do.

“The whole crew knew the grandness and the sadness of what we were doing,” said Sean Alexander, the manager of the construction crew that last month took apart the Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin. It straddled the Continental Divide and the Alberta-British Columbia boundary about three kilometres above sea level and was the second-highest structure in Canada.

“This was not just a regular take down of a barn,” Alexander said during a news conference on Wednesday.

“This was history.”

Parks Canada said only a piece of wall, some stone steps and a plaque about the cabin remains at the site that sits close to the sky in often-harsh weather.

Francois Masse of Parks Canada said the hut was built by skilled Swiss craftsmen in 1922 and could have stayed in place for decades to come.

“Parks (Canada) really, really tried hard to keep the hut in place,” he said.

“We invested significant amounts of money. Unfortunately, the ground just kept warming and resulted in cracks across the structure.”

Keith Haberl, with the Alpine Club of Canada, said there were a lot of tears when the dismantling began.

“Nobody wanted to see it go,” he said.

“People went up there as mountaineers to stay at the hut, burn fire. People who knew about it were inspired by it, wanted to go there one day and never could and now never can. Everybody is feeling the weight of that place (being) gone now.”

Haberl says the Canadian Pacific Railroad hired Swiss guides in the 1920s to work in Canada to take tourists to summits and up into the mountains.

“The Swiss guides built the hut based on construction templates, ideas, and standards that were used in Switzerland at the time,” Haberl said.

It’s named after Philip Stanley Abbot, who was an American lawyer and the first recorded person to die while mountaineering in North America. The Alpine Club of Canada’s website said 24 people could sleep in the cabin that was designated as a national historic site in 1992.

It was equipped with propane stovetops, an outhouse bathroom, propane-fuelled lighting and a wood stove for heating. Hikers used snow melt as their water supply.

Alexander said while crew members took apart the hut over the span of about 15 days, everything felt “on the edge and extreme.”

“The helicopters have a hard time lifting objects. The crew was feeling out of shape,” he said.

“I quickly reminded them on how hard it was to build the hut. We flew up in the helicopter and (the original builders) didn’t.”

Alexander said engines of their tools regularly froze due to the high altitude and lack of air pressure. Crew members took more breaks than normal.

“We had a really good helicopter company. The crew pulled together and was able to slow and steady take the hut down piece by piece.”

Alexander said crew members discovered a lot of objects in the cabin, including a well-preserved walking stick under the floor and unique coins that couldn’t have been found unless the wood was pulled apart.

“(It) was an exciting time for us because you’ll hear a scream from upstairs going, ‘I found something.’ Then we’d all go running up there and (say), ‘Oh, wow. That is one of the originals and had 1922 beside it.’ It really meant a lot.”

Masse said while some mountain rocks used to build the hut were dispersed to where they came from, some parts of the hut were kept.

“Parks Canada will be engaging with stakeholders, Indigenous groups and the public to help identify options for interpreting the heritage values of the hut, its contribution to rustic design architecture and its importance to Canadian national parks,” he said.

Haberl said the loss of the hut is difficult for Alpine club members.

“It’s stands for a lot of what the Alpine Club of Canada has been about — backcountry shelters, mountaineering, safety in the alpine environment, skills training. Everybody is sad about it.’

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022.

— By Fakiha Baig in Edmonton

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‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre