‘Absolutely bittersweet:’ Baby born seven months after father killed in crash

Fiona Lyndsey Murphy

Fiona Lyndsey Murphy is the fourth daughter in the Murphy family, born Friday morning. Her dad, Mark, was killed in a crash in Hamilton in May. (Nicole Murphy)

The toes of a baby girl born in Hamilton on Friday resemble her dad’s, and the toes of her three big sisters. She has his lips, too.

It’s a special and “absolutely bittersweet” resemblance for mother Nicole Murphy, who lost her husband, Mark, in a collision near Hamilton’s airport in May.  

Fiona Lyndsey Murphy, is the fourth daughter in the Murphy family. Soon after Mark died, Nicole announced she was 10 weeks pregnant.

“I look at her and feel overwhelmed with love, but so sad that she will never know her dad,” Nicole told CBC News.

Mark Murphy killed

A family photo shows Mark Murphy, his wife, Nicole, and their kids, shortly after the birth of their third daughter. Murphy was killed in a crash in May. (Kristin Lamarre/GoFundMe)

“All the other girls have a video of their first steps with Mark,” she said. “It saddens me that Fiona won’t have that.

“But the older girls have a big responsibility of making sure the younger two know just how amazing he was.”

‘Every day is very challenging since Mark passed away’

Murphy said she’s felt supported by family and friends – including with a surprise baby shower – as she grieves her husband, who was 33.

“The older girls have a big responsibility of making sure the younger two know just how amazing he was.” – Nicole Murphy

She went to a retreat in November called Camp Widow, and she said the experience gave her “great tools to help prepare for what the future holds” and gave her a chance to talk with people who understood what she is living through.

Mark Murphy

A funeral announcement says Murphy loved curling, Newfoundland and the Blue Jays. (Bay Gardens and Bayview)

“Every day is very challenging since Mark passed away and the transition has been difficult for everyone,” she told CBC News. “The girls have amazed me with how resilient and strong they have been but they miss their dad a lot especially now that the holidays are here.”

Mark Murphy worked an early shift daily at a precast concrete facility in Dundas, and was on his way home when he was involved in the crash.

Nicole and Mark met in a softball tournament in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Nicole was 18 and it was Mark’s 21st birthday.

“He was so excited when I told him baby number 4 was coming, although quite unexpected it was,” she wrote in a post to friends on Facebook at the time of the crash.

“I love you Mark, you gave me the best 13 years of my life.”

An online fundraiser set up by friends of the Murphys has raised close to $50,000 since the collision.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

Comic store saves the day as Grinches steal toys meant for sick kids

A classic case of some Grinches trying to steal Christmas cheer has drawn out the true spirit of Christmas.

‘People do crazy things at Christmas time.’ – Sherri McCaw

About 20 gifts – toys meant for children with cancer – were taken from under a Christmas tree at Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill in St. John’s last Tuesday.

The gifts were to be donated to Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand, a charity started by seven-year-old Nevaeh Denine for children with pediatric cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Merry makers become gift takers

According to Jack Astor’s manager Sherri McCaw, customers who had been at the restaurant took the gifts out of a sleigh, left the restaurant and were picked up by a car.

“One of the servers chased them out but they got in the car and kept the toys,” she said. “The servers were pretty angry. Eveveryone was pretty upset about it. I mean who does that, right?

“It is what it is, people do crazy things at Christmas time.”

Devastated staff planned to recoup their losses by offering a free appetizer to anyone who brought in new toys, and started moving donations to the back of the restaurant at the end of every shift.

A Christmas miracle

When the owner of Timemasters, a comic and collectibles store on Torbay Road, heard about what happened, he knew he could help.

Bob Hong invited restaurant staff to his store to pick out $500 worth of plush toys, action figures, and more. 

“I was heartbroken,” said Bob Hong. “It’s not that we don’t already give donations — we frequently do — but I thought it important to push back against the Grinches who would otherwise steal Christmas.”

Timemasters St. John's

Timemasters is a comic book and collectibles shop located on Torbay Road in St. John’s. (Timemasters)

Hong hopes that his generosity will make the holidays a little better for some children who are fighting cancer.

It’s a cause that’s close to home.

“As a kid I was in hospital for months, and there were times when I was in there that I just thought that no-one really cared,” he said.

“Kids are important and it’s Christmas, so you got to do what you got to do.”

Comic store saves the day as drunk Grinches steal toys meant for sick kids

A classic case of some Grinches trying to steal Christmas cheer has drawn out the true spirit of Christmas.

‘People do crazy things at Christmas time or under the influence of alcohol.’ – Sherri McCaw

About 20 gifts – toys meant for children with cancer – were taken from under a Christmas tree at Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill in St. John’s last Tuesday.

The gifts were to be donated to Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand, a charity started by seven-year-old Nevaeh Denine for children with pediatric cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Merry makers become gift takers

According to Jack Astor’s manager Sherri McCaw, a group of people who had been drinking at the restaurant took the gifts out of a sleigh, left the restaurant and were picked up by a car.

“One of the servers chased them out but they got in the car and kept the toys,” she said. “The servers were pretty angry. Eveveryone was pretty upset about it. I mean who does that, right?

“It is what it is, people do crazy things at Christmas time or under the influence of alcohol.”

Devastated staff planned to recoup their losses by offering a free appetizer to anyone who brought in new toys, and started moving donations to the back of the restaurant at the end of every shift.

A Christmas miracle

When the owner of Timemasters, a comic and collectibles store on Torbay Road, heard about what happened, he knew he could help.

Bob Hong invited restaurant staff to his store to pick out $500 worth of plush toys, action figures, and more. 

“I was heartbroken,” said Bob Hong. “It’s not that we don’t already give donations — we frequently do — but I thought it important to push back against the Grinches who would otherwise steal Christmas.”

Timemasters St. John's

Timemasters is a comic book and collectibles shop located on Torbay Road in St. John’s. (Timemasters)

Hong hopes that his generosity will make the holidays a little better for some children who are fighting cancer.

It’s a cause that’s close to home.

“As a kid I was in hospital for months, and there were times when I was in there that I just thought that no-one really cared,” he said.

“Kids are important and it’s Christmas, so you got to do what you got to do.”

Sears Canada demise named Canadian Press business story of 2017

A smattering of retail chains closed their doors in another tough year for the industry in 2017, but the demise of Sears Canada seemed to resonate most with Canadians, many of whom grew up devouring its annual holiday wish book and shopping at the department store.

The high-profile closure and ensuing controversies helped make Sears Canada’s demise the 2017 Business News Story of the Year. It received 47 per cent of the votes from journalists in an annual poll of the country’s newsrooms conducted by The Canadian Press.

Small business tax changes received 16 per cent of the votes from a field of nine candidates, while trade talks and marijuana companies tied for third place at 14 per cent each.

A list of The Canadian Press business stories of the year, as determined in an annual poll of newsrooms across the country:

  • 2017: Sears Canada’s demise
  • 2016: Pipeline battles
  • 2015: Low oil prices
  • 2014: Oil price collapse
  • 2013: Rogers-NHL deal
  • 2012: Personal debt
  • 2011: Research in Motion woes
  • 2010: PotashCorp takeover battle
  • 2009: Auto industry restructuring
  • 2008: Stock market nosedive
  • 2007: Rise of the loonie
  • 2006: Income trust taxation
  • 2005: Surging oil prices
  • 2004: Strength of the loonie
  • 2003: Rise of the loonie

“For many Canadians, Sears is more than a store, it’s an institution,” said Allan Shifman, managing editor at Yahoo Canada Finance.

“Add to that the horrible way the retailer wound down… This is a story that resonates with all Canadians, not just the ones tuned into the finance news cycle.”

The struggling chain spent the bulk of the year attempting to re-invent itself — a hodgepodge process that included adding grocery stores to certain locations, hosting a pop-up shop in a trendy Toronto neighbourhood and developing dash buttons that would give customers the ability to restock favourite products from home.

But those efforts failed to materialize and the long-time staple of Canada’s retail landscape filed for creditor protection in June, sold off some locations and decided to liquidate the rest of its roughly 190 stores, leaving some 15,000 employees out of work.

The chain’s closure sparked a number of controversies.

Sears Canada planned to dole out millions of dollars in retention bonuses to head office staff while grappling with a more than $260-million shortfall in its pension plan.

A plan by executive chairman Brandon Stranzl that would see the company continue to operate was rebuffed in favour of liquidation, prompting further questions about whose interests were being prioritized.

After the sales began, the Competition Bureau said it was investigating allegations that some merchandise was marked up ahead of the liquidation.

The way Sears Canada treated its employees also struck a chord with many, given the chain was a big employer across the country, especially in smaller towns and cities, where few retailers are present.

The company originally wanted to pay a total $7.6 million to 43 top employees, but, facing backlash, revised that to a total of $6.5 million to 36 employees.

The reduction was approved by an Ontario judge, but some employees argued it was still too much money given the company was also facing a 19 per cent pension plan funding shortfall, meaning employees would likely see a similar cut to their benefits.

‘Retail apocalypse’

The Sears story also points to a larger trend in business today — “the so-called retail apocalypse, in which brick-and-mortar stores lose out to online sales,” said Daniel Tencer, senior business editor at HuffPost Canada.

The rise of e-commerce was one of several factors that led to Sears Canada’s struggles, said Brandon Stranzl, who stepped away from his position in August to lead an unsuccessful bid to buy the company and save it from liquidation.

“The major moat of a department store was aggregation,” he said, explaining Sears Canada was once the go-to for all household needs.

That model was upended when specialty retailers appeared and started to eat away at the department store’s mattress, appliance and other core businesses, while discount chains like Walmart forced prices down and internet-based retailers swooped into provide a direct to consumer option, he said.

“The company would have had to execute flawlessly to avoid, you know, a restructuring,” he said, adding they did everything possible to avoid that fate, but it came down to time.

“We didn’t have sufficient time to get through all the plans.”

Closures and vacancies

The closures are the latest in a string of department store exits in recent memory. Target, Zellers and now Sears Canada have left repeated vacancies at malls across Canada and shopping centres have struggled to fill the void with new anchor tenants.

Now, former competitor and one of the few remaining department store chains in the country, Hudson’s Bay Co., appears to be struggling with similar headwinds.

The company is in the midst of a transformation plan that includes laying off 2,000 people across North America and posted a $243-million loss in its most recent quarter.

Interim CEO Richard Baker has said the company expects to benefit from the Sears Canada closure.

But Stranzl isn’t so sure.

He warned any sales bump to HBC after Sears Canada’s liquidation sales end is likely to be temporary due to the long-term challenges facing department stores.

“I think their business model… fundamentally has to be altered for it to be, you know, successful over a long period of time,” Stranzl said.

“Consumers just aren’t going to shop that way any more.”

Negligence charge filed against firefighter trainer who oversaw deadly rescue exercise

Almost three years after firefighting student Adam Brunt died during an ice and water rescue training course in Hanover, a criminal charge has been laid against the trainer Terry Harrison.

“I saw with my own eyes the criminal negligence that he did” alleged Terri Jo Thompson, one of Harrison’s students that day. 

Harrison has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and Thompson is the reason this is now happening after all these years. 

Thompson and Brunt were among twelve students participating in a two day water and ice rescue training course carried out by Terry Harrison and his company Herschel Rescue Training Services in 2015. 

Adam Brunt

Firefighting student Adam Brunt was 30 at the time of his death. (Provided by Brunt’s family)

On Feb. 8, 2015 the students were traveling down the Saugeen River near a dam when Brunt’s survival suit got caught on a piece of metal. 

He was under water for fifteen minutes and Thompson said Harrison did not have any life-saving equipment or a cell phone.

She said students had to flag down cars to get help. 

Following Brunt’s death, the Hanover Police Service carried out an investigation that the Brunt family believed would lead to charges. 

“So it sort of snuck up on us in the end that all of a sudden it was just wham we’re not charging. We just don’t think we have enough,” said Adam’s father Al Brunt.

“We live in Ontario. You think our province has all these laws and rules in place already. You do something wrong. You get charged for it and that’s that but not him, not Terry,” said Christy Brunt, Adam’s mother.

Al and Christy Brunt and Terri Jo Thompson

‘She’s family’ said Christy Brunt of Terri Jo Thompson after Thompson successfully pursued a private prosecution to have trainer Terry Harrison criminally charged for the death of Adam Brunt. (Makda Ghebreslassie )

But Thompson promised the family she would pursue a private prosecution.

In Ontario, citizens who believe a crime has been committed are given the opportunity to argue that in front of a judge or justice of the peace. 

“I just felt that if there was one person to pursue this course of a private prosecution it was the person that was there with him in his last moments,” said Thompson.

Several hearings took place in Walkerton, Ont. between July and Dec. this year. 

On Dec. 5, justice of the peace A. Magoulas agreed there was enough evidence to lay the charge.

“I have never seen Al and Christy so ecstatic on Tuesday when I walked out of the courtroom and I said we got a charge….it felt good,” said Thompson. 

Two deaths

After Brunt’s death his family discovered that Terry Harrison had been involved in another deadly training exercise. 

Volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall died in Jan. 2010 after getting trapped under a fast-moving ice floe in waters near Sarnia, Ont.  

The Point Edward Fire Department said Harrison was hired to carry out the ice and water rescue course.

He denied this during an inquest into both deaths this past spring.

Harrison testified that he was at the Point Edward course as a friend of the fire departments.

As for Adam Brunt’s death, at the inquest he told CBC Toronto nothing could have saved him.

“No equipment would have done anything, in reality, at that time,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s an instructor anywhere else in the province that could have done anything different that day.”

The inquest resulted in 15 recommendations for several provincial ministries to regulate the training industry.

As for the criminal case against Harrison, a summons has been issued. 

Harrison is expected to make his first appearance in court on Jan. 24, 2018 in Walkerton, Ont.

Montreal’s Formula E race cancelled, official announcement this afternoon

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante will announce this afternoon that the city is cancelling the controversial Formula E race, sources tell Radio-Canada.

The official announcement is expected at 1 p.m. and will be streamed on CBC.ca and on CBC Montreal’s Facebook page.

Unpaid bills from Montreal it’s electric, the non-profit that organized the race, and the deficit last August’s race incurred motivated the decision to cancel next year’s edition, sources say.

During the election campaign, Plante said that she would hold the race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve or cancel it altogether, if possible.

The event was projected to cost taxpayers $24 million over six years, and Radio-Canada has reported that the race organizers used nearly all of their $10-million line of credit, which Montreal is responsible for.

It is also expected that the financial results of the race will be made public today, according to Radio-Canada.

Financial results may be weak since figures show only 25,000 tickets were sold and 20,000 were given away to boost attendance numbers.

Plante and Formula E

Formula E was the initiative of former mayor Denis Coderre, who said the race would help promote sustainable energy initiatives in Montreal.

The race was slated to be held again in 2018 and 2019.

It drew massive criticism for using public funds to host the event, something other cities don’t do. 

valerie plante

Valérie Plante is making the announcement on Formula E at 1 p.m. Monday. (Radio-Canada)

In the fall, Plante criticized the race for its financial impact on the city.

“What were the economic benefits? Was it worth it for the citizens who felt trapped and the businesses that lost money?” Plante said.

Many also criticized the location of the race, held on the east side of downtown Montreal and forced the closure or reconfiguration of a number of city streets.

If the race is cancelled, the city will have to pay millions in penalties to break the three-year commitment between Montréal it’s electric and Formula E.

‘Resilient, but tired:’ Mental effects of wildfire lingering in Fort McMurray

Firefighter Mark Stephenson says he can’t drive through Fort McMurray without being brought back to May 2016.

That’s when, in the thick of battling a ferocious wildfire that destroyed 10 per cent of the northern Alberta city, he paused from his work to film his family’s home engulfed in flames.

“Every turn of a corner on the street here is a memory back to that day,” he says more than 1 1/2 years later.

Stephenson had hoped that by this Christmas, he, his wife and their two young children would be settled into the house they’re rebuilding. But a recent cold snap slowed construction and it’s going to be another two or three months.

‘There are some people out here who are still hurting’ – Mark Stephenson

He sometimes finds himself reaching for a memento — a teddy bear from childhood, a body-building trophy — that no longer exists. He says he’s generally OK, but there are some tough days on the job. He says he has benefited from counselling the fire department has arranged for its staff.

“A lot of people are over it and past it and that’s great. But it’s not the same for everyone. There are some people out here who are still hurting.”

Raw: ‘It’s only a home babe’0:13

 The debris has been cleared and vacant lots are gradually being filled with new homes in Fort McMurray. But as time erases the physical scars of the fire called The Beast, mental and emotional ones remain for many who experienced the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

Care providers with the addiction and mental-health branch of Alberta Health Services had 38,777 client contacts in the region between May 10, 2016, and this past Oct. 31 — about one-third higher than the tally the agency reported in March of this year. There is no comparable data for before the disaster.

Vincent Agyapong, with the University of Alberta’s psychiatry department, has been studying the mental-health impact of the fire.

Of 486 adults surveyed in November 2016, the rate of probable post-traumatic stress disorder was 12.8 per cent. It would have been less than one per cent under normal circumstances, Agyapong said. Rates of probable depression and anxiety were also high.

Agyapong says city residents suffering from PTSD may have nightmares or become anxious at the sound of sirens.

“Some deliberately avoid going to places that remind them of the devastating impact,” he says. “I’ve seen quite a number of patients who have left Fort McMurray because … the city as a whole reminds them of the trauma that they went through during the wildfire.”

Agyapong says he gets more referrals now, when he spends one week a month in Fort McMurray, than he did when he was working in the city full time before the fire.

Calls to the Some Other Solutions 24-hour crisis line have gone up drastically, says health and wellness manager Linda Sovdi.

Increased need is likely to be one reason, but people may also be more aware of the resources available and more comfortable asking for help than they were pre-fire, she says.

They’re also more likely to open up to someone who went through what they did, she suggests.

“When I’m talking to somebody about the first firepit that I smelled after the fire, it’s like there’s a heightened awareness. People know you get it.”

The infusion of nervous excitement in the fire’s immediate aftermath has worn off.

“Fort McMurray is resilient, but tired.”

‘The best days are ahead of us’

The regional municipality, which includes the city of Fort McMurray and surrounding communities, estimates its permanent population at 75,000 to 77,600. Its 2015 municipal census stood at almost 82,000.

At the beginning of this month, new foundations were in for just over half of the 2,579 dwellings that were destroyed. About 10 per cent have made it to final inspection.

“I’m never going to be fully satisfied with what I’m seeing until everybody has moved significantly forward,” says Mayor Don Scott, who won the race to replace longtime mayor Melissa Blake in October.

Scott says while there is clearly a lot of work to do, the general mood in the region is one of optimism.

“I think we’re sensing that the best days are ahead of us, and I believe that to my core.”

‘This was the hardest fight of my life,’ says acquitted Edmonton boxer

Leo Marsh was once knocked out so hard in the ring that the first word he woke up to was: “Eight.”

But he said that was nothing compared to the two-year-long bout he just fought— and won.

Last week, the boxing coach and member of the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame was found not guilty of sexual assault and sexual exploitation.

When Court of Queen’s Bench Justice James Langston acquitted him after a three-day trial, Marsh said, “I felt that a world of weight had come off my shoulders.”

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Marsh explained, “For the first time in two years I can be who I am and not be afraid of what people would think of me. I’m 65 years old. I have a bad heart. And I spent my whole life building up a name that my children could be proud of.

“So when the judge said not guilty, I just said, ‘Hallelujah. It’s over.’ “

Tarnished reputation

Edmonton criminal lawyer Douglas Lee represented Marsh from the time he was charged two years ago. Lee said he always believed his client’s innocence, but admitted it was difficult to watch the toll the charges took on Marsh.

“I’m watching this person who has lived a normal life,” Lee said. “Who has been volunteering for nearly five decades, teaching kids how to box. Watched his reputation go down in flames and watched his life just dismantle itself, waiting for the trial to happen.”

Douglas Lee

Edmonton criminal lawyer Douglas Lee said he always believed in the innocence of his client, Leo Marsh. (Phil Laplante Jr./CBC News )

Lee decided to put Marsh on the stand to testify in his own defence.

“I honestly believed what he was telling me in terms of his side of the story,” Lee said.

According to Lee, the judge believed Marsh too.

“He [Langston] found that his evidence made a lot of sense. There were certain credibility issues with the complaint. The witness changed her evidence throughout the course of the proceedings in its entirety.”

The lawyer said the young woman who accused Marsh of sexually abusing her told one story to police investigators, a different version at the preliminary hearing, then changes were made again when she testified at the trial.

Marsh believes the complainant was pushed into making the allegations by a pair of adults who had a grudge against him.

Complainant speaks out

In a telephone interview, the young woman denied that suggestion. Her identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

“I went to police because I knew it was wrong what he had done to me,” she said.

She called the trial “unfair” and the judge “biased in his opinion.”

“I know that at the end of the day, me and Leo are the only ones who know the truth of what happened. I’m not going to let some biased judge tell me different. At the end of the day, that was just his opinion.”

According to The Canadian Women’s Foundation: “A review of international research on false reporting of sexual assault suggests that false reporting happens in 2% to 8% of cases.”

Marsh believes this is one of those cases.

“Everybody wants to believe that the victim is always right,” Marsh said. “And we want the girls to come forward. So when they come forward, you want to believe that they come forward for a reason.

“And in this case, there wasn’t a reason.”

Marsh and his lawyer both refer to the #MeToo movement that now dominates news headlines.

“There’s a political climate that’s surrounding these types of cases nowadays,” Lee said. “The presumption of innocence has been skewered when it comes to these type of cases. And it’s been reversed, in the court of public opinion, not in the court of law.”

Going on with his life

After criminal charges against Marsh were made public, he and his partner, Louise LePore said they found out who their friends were.

Louise LePore

Louise LePore and her partner, Leo Marsh look forward to getting on with their lives now that Marsh has been acquitted of sex related charges. (Phil Laplante Jr./CBC News )

“You just never know right?” LePore said. “People that we’ve known for years… just jumped on the Facebook train of he’s a monster.”

LePore became emotional when she recounted a phone call of support she received after Marsh was acquitted.

“This morning an athlete called and he said, ‘You know I’m so glad Leo held his head high. I’m so glad you supported him. I’m so thankful the gym is open and he was there because you change people’s lives.’ “

That’s the tradition Marsh and LePore plan to continue now that the legal dark cloud has been lifted.

“I’m just going to go on with my life now,” Marsh said. “I can’t change people’s minds. They’re always going to have their own idea.

“But I believe in the justice system. The justice system says I’m innocent. They have to live with it or don’t live with it. That’s up to them.”

When sorry isn’t enough, ranchers and farmers near CFB Suffield wait for compensation after huge grass fire

Ivan Schlaht says there isn’t enough money “in God’s green Earth” to cover his losses from a fire that started on CFB Suffield in southeastern Alberta and spread to a nearby pasture, where his 98 cattle were killed.

The fire started when soldiers were blowing up unexploded ordnance last fall on the base, which is the largest military training facility in Canada.

A fire ban across most of southern Alberta was in place at the time and the temperature on Sept. 11 was at least 32 C with moderate west winds.

The blaze burned an estimated 36,500 hectares — nearly half the size of Calgary.

About 6,500 hectares of the affected land were outside the training area, and the flames that spread off the base caused “tragic” results, the commander at CFB Suffield has admitted.

“I’m trying to get a handle on what a cow that was burnt, that suffered.… I don’t know. I can’t get a handle on a price for something like that,” said Schlaht.

Ivan Schlaht

Ivan Schlaht attended a community meeting on Sept. 14, in Bindloss, Alta. Schlaht said he lost 98 cattle in a grass fire that the military said it started accidentally while exploding artillery shells. (Andrew Brown/CBC )

He said it was one of the grossest things he has ever seen.

Burned and dead cattle were scattered along blackened hillsides in a rural municipality officially known as Special Areas No. 2, southwest of the tiny community of Bindloss — and near the northeast corner of the military base.

Burned cows near Bindloss, Alberta

The blaze burned an estimated 36,500 hectares — nearly half the size of Calgary. (Swenson family )

The day after the fire, about 20 cattle were still alive but clearly suffering from injuries sustained in the blaze. Schlaht said one of his friends put the animals down for him.

“A million dollars still wouldn’t cover what I lost because of the anguish the cattle and myself went through,” said Schlaht.

Losses mounting 

Daryl Swenson said the fire scorched more than 500 hectares of his grass and crop land. He has borrowed at least $60,000 to replenish some of the winter feed that was lost and for materials to start rebuilding the estimated 10 kilometres of fence that was destroyed. 

Daryl Swenson

Daryl Swenson said he lost more than 500 hectares of grass and crop land in the fire that started at CFB Suffield, and he has borrowed $60,000 to replace feed and buy fencing supplies. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Swenson was not sure how much he would have to spend to repair all the damage because the fire stripped away the grass and crop and left the soil in some places exposed. He said the soil has blown off in some areas.

“Top soil is what everything grows on, it’s the most valuable resource on the farm. Without top soil, you have nothing.”

‘Not good neighbours at all’

Swenson said people are fed up with the fires that are sparked during training exercises on the base, which stretches across 2,700 square kilometres of prairie, and are growing impatient waiting for attitudes to change.

“In the past they have not been good neighbours at all,” said Swenson.

Morley Sarvis' burned farm house

The concrete steps that led to the front door of Morley Sarvis’s home near Bindloss, Alta. The home and several outbuildings were destroyed in the Sept. 11 grass fire.

Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu said he personally apologized to people affected by the fire in September and he knows the compensation process is not happening quickly enough.

“It’s not a fast process and it does take time,” said Onieu.

“It creates a huge amount of difficulty for people who are trying to pay their bills, get their feed for the season, replace their livestock. Yes, that is difficult.”

Swenson hopes to see a cheque in the next few months. 

“If we aren’t seeing anything by then, then we’re going to start looking at different actions I guess, be it legal or whatever.”

Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu

Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu said he has taken over approval of all fire-producing activities at CFB Suffield. The base commander said a fire guard along some sections of the base is a priority, but it’s ‘very unlikely’ it will be in place in 2018. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

The fire scorched about 4,200 hectares on the Remount community pasture, part of the rural municipality known as Special Areas. The local government stands to lose an estimated $45,000 in lost grazing revenue next year, according to Jordon Christianson, chair of the Special Areas board.  

Lost Pasture 

The pasture,which contained native grassland, could be off limits for grazing for anywhere from three to seven years, according to rangeland agrologist Amanda Miller. She said it depends on the amount of moisture the area receives over the next few years.

“It’s absolutely devastating to see these things roll through.”

The area had been used by more than 900 head of cattle, and ranchers will have to find other areas to graze their cattle. 

“It’s never good to have uncertainly when you’re a producer whose livelihood depends on these resources,” said Miller.

CFB Suffield headquarters

The base commander at CFB Suffield plans a briefing with residents affected by the grass fire that started on the base and spread to nearby grass and crop land. Onieu said the meeting will be held sometime in January. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

Swenson credited Onieu and other members of the military for meeting with him and other farmers following the fire, but expressed disappointment that the military has yet to send out an insurance adjuster to help calculate their losses. 

“We’ve all had a lot of expenses that a lot of us are paying interest on. So we are out that money for that much time. The sooner the better he’s out here.”

Fire guard ‘very unlikely’ for 2018 

Nearby residents have been pushing for a fire guard to be built around some sections of the base’s perimeter. Onieu said that while it is a priority for him, it won’t be in place next year.

CFB Suffield fire at Sarvis property

Flames from an out-of-control grass fire are seen moments before they consumed a barn, several outbuildings and Sarvis’s home. (Swenson family )

He said they have to treat the area where they want to put the fire guard as a mine field.

“If it wasn’t a live fire range, we could simply just plow the ground from time to time.”

Onieu said the first step is to do a clearance operation to ensure the area does not contain unexploded ammunition, such as bombs, grenades, mortar rounds or artillery shells — but it’s not clear when that work will start. 

Onieu said it’s “very unlikely” the guard will be in place in 2018.

Grass fire CFB Suffield September 11, 2017

A grass fire captured from inside a vehicle on Sept. 11 near Bindloss, Alta. (Dwayne Turner )

Onieu said he has taken over sole authority when approving “fire-producing activities” on the base. He said a firefighter will be hired during “critical fire prone periods of the year,” and neighbouring professional and volunteer firefighters may be trained about the hazards of fires on the base. That could allow them access to the base to help fight fires.

The military’s own investigation into the fire, a board of inquiry, was ordered by the 3rd Canadian Division commander, Brig-Gen. Trevor Cadieu. Property owners met individually with members of the board following the fire. 

Onieu said the base plans to host a “technical briefing” with property owners to discuss some of the findings and possible recommendations in January, although an exact date has not been set. 

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

Ranchers and farmers near CFB Suffield wait for compensation after grass fire torches land, kills cattle

Ivan Schlaht says there isn’t enough money “in God’s green Earth” to cover his losses from a fire that started on CFB Suffield in southeastern Alberta and spread to a nearby pasture, where his 98 cattle were killed.

The fire started when soldiers were blowing up unexploded ordnance last fall on the base, which is the largest military training facility in Canada.

A fire ban across most of southern Alberta was in place at the time and the temperature on Sept. 11 was at least 32 C with moderate west winds.

The blaze burned an estimated 36,500 hectares — nearly half the size of Calgary.

About 6,500 hectares of the affected land were outside the training area, and the flames that spread off the base caused “tragic” results, the commander at CFB Suffield has admitted.

“I’m trying to get a handle on what a cow that was burnt, that suffered.… I don’t know. I can’t get a handle on a price for something like that,” said Schlaht.

Ivan Schlaht

Ivan Schlaht attended a community meeting on Sept. 14, in Bindloss, Alta. Schlaht said he lost 98 cattle in a grass fire that the military said it started accidentally while exploding artillery shells. (Andrew Brown/CBC )

He said it was one of the grossest things he has ever seen.

Burned and dead cattle were scattered along blackened hillsides in a rural municipality officially known as Special Areas No. 2, southwest of the tiny community of Bindloss — and near the northeast corner of the military base.

Burned cows near Bindloss, Alberta

The blaze burned an estimated 36,500 hectares — nearly half the size of Calgary. (Swenson family )

The day after the fire, about 20 cattle were still alive but clearly suffering from injuries sustained in the blaze. Schlaht said one of his friends put the animals down for him.

“A million dollars still wouldn’t cover what I lost because of the anguish the cattle and myself went through,” said Schlaht.

Losses mounting 

Daryl Swenson said the fire scorched more than 500 hectares of his grass and crop land. He has borrowed at least $60,000 to replenish some of the winter feed that was lost and for materials to start rebuilding the estimated 10 kilometres of fence that was destroyed. 

Daryl Swenson

Daryl Swenson said he lost more than 500 hectares of grass and crop land in the fire that started at CFB Suffield, and he has borrowed $60,000 to replace feed and buy fencing supplies. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Swenson was not sure how much he would have to spend to repair all the damage because the fire stripped away the grass and crop and left the soil in some places exposed. He said the soil has blown off in some areas.

“Top soil is what everything grows on, it’s the most valuable resource on the farm. Without top soil, you have nothing.”

‘Not good neighbours at all’

Swenson said people are fed up with the fires that are sparked during training exercises on the base, which stretches across 2,700 square kilometres of prairie, and are growing impatient waiting for attitudes to change.

“In the past they have not been good neighbours at all,” said Swenson.

Morley Sarvis' burned farm house

The concrete steps that led to the front door of Morley Sarvis’s home near Bindloss, Alta. The home and several outbuildings were destroyed in the Sept. 11 grass fire.

Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu said he personally apologized to people affected by the fire in September and he knows the compensation process is not happening quickly enough.

“It’s not a fast process and it does take time,” said Onieu.

“It creates a huge amount of difficulty for people who are trying to pay their bills, get their feed for the season, replace their livestock. Yes, that is difficult.”

Swenson hopes to see a cheque in the next few months. 

“If we aren’t seeing anything by then, then we’re going to start looking at different actions I guess, be it legal or whatever.”

Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu

Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu said he has taken over approval of all fire-producing activities at CFB Suffield. The base commander said a fire guard along some sections of the base is a priority, but it’s ‘very unlikely’ it will be in place in 2018. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

The fire scorched about 4,200 hectares on the Remount community pasture, part of the rural municipality known as Special Areas. The local government stands to lose an estimated $45,000 in lost grazing revenue next year, according to Jordon Christianson, chair of the Special Areas board.  

Lost Pasture 

The pasture, which contained native grassland, could be off limits for grazing for anywhere from three to seven years, according to rangeland agrologist Amanda Miller. She said it depends on the amount of moisture the area receives over the next few years.

“It’s absolutely devastating to see these things roll through.”

The area had been used by more than 900 head of cattle, and ranchers will have to find other areas to graze their cattle. 

“It’s never good to have uncertainly when you’re a producer whose livelihood depends on these resources,” said Miller.

CFB Suffield headquarters

The base commander at CFB Suffield plans a briefing with residents affected by the grass fire that started on the base and spread to nearby grass and crop land. Onieu said the meeting will be held sometime in January. (Bryan Labby/CBC )

Swenson credited Onieu and other members of the military for meeting with him and other farmers following the fire, but expressed disappointment that the military has yet to send out an insurance adjuster to help calculate their losses. 

“We’ve all had a lot of expenses that a lot of us are paying interest on. So we are out that money for that much time. The sooner the better he’s out here.”

Fire guard ‘very unlikely’ for 2018 

Nearby residents have been pushing for a fire guard to be built around some sections of the base’s perimeter. Onieu said that while it is a priority for him, it won’t be in place next year.

CFB Suffield fire at Sarvis property

Flames from an out-of-control grass fire are seen moments before they consumed a barn, several outbuildings and Sarvis’s home. (Swenson family )

He said they have to treat the area where they want to put the fire guard as a mine field.

“If it wasn’t a live fire range, we could simply just plow the ground from time to time.”

Onieu said the first step is to do a clearance operation to ensure the area does not contain unexploded ammunition, such as bombs, grenades, mortar rounds or artillery shells — but it’s not clear when that work will start. 

Onieu said it’s “very unlikely” the guard will be in place in 2018.

Grass fire CFB Suffield September 11, 2017

A grass fire captured from inside a vehicle on Sept. 11 near Bindloss, Alta. (Dwayne Turner )

Onieu said he has taken over sole authority when approving “fire-producing activities” on the base. He said a firefighter will be hired during “critical fire prone periods of the year,” and neighbouring professional and volunteer firefighters may be trained about the hazards of fires on the base. That could allow them access to the base to help fight fires.

The military’s own investigation into the fire, a board of inquiry, was ordered by the 3rd Canadian Division commander, Brig-Gen. Trevor Cadieu. Property owners met individually with members of the board following the fire. 

Onieu said the base plans to host a “technical briefing” with property owners to discuss some of the findings and possible recommendations in January, although an exact date has not been set. 

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.