City of Thompson welcomes Ashling Sweeny as New Deputy Fire Chief

The City of Thompson is excited to announce the promotion of Captain Ashling Sweeny to the role of Deputy Fire Chief with Thompson Fire and Emergency Services, making her our first female Deputy Fire Chief in Thompson!

Ashling is a member of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, and she started her emergency services career as an EMS responder and volunteer firefighter in her home community. She was drawn to the dynamic, fast-paced work, and was one of the first people in her community to attend fire college to become a full-time, professional firefighter.

Thompson Fire and Emergency Services trains with fire departments from northern communities on a regular basis, and Ashling still gets to support the fire department with whom she started her career.

“The department at Cross Lake has really come a long way since my days at EMS there,” said Ashling. “Better training, better equipment: I’m really proud of how far northern firefighting has come over the years.”

As Deputy Fire Chief, Ashling’s first priority will be the physical and mental health of the FireMedics under her care. She’ll also be working with the department leadership to build on and further the department’s skillsets, like ice rescue, hazardous materials, and more.

She especially sees wants to help the department create more opportunities for new paramedics and firefighters in Thompson to have positive experiences with Indigenous culture and history:

“We get a lot of young firefighters fresh out of college from down south, and many haven’t even met a lot of Indigenous people. Then they come to Thompson and they’re thrown head-first into the ugliest parts of our history in the north, of addictions, homelessness, and more,” she explains.

“It’s not a fair way to experience our community: not for them as newcomers, and not for the thousands of Cree, Dene, and Metis people who are working hard to raise families and make Thompson a better place. I want them to have the chance to see the culture I know.”

Ashling had a lot of strong role models that shaped the person she is today, including her mother, and she remembers the time she spent with her on the trap line when she was younger.

“It was really physical work, hiking through the woods, carrying animals, on top of coming home to raise eight kids,” she remembered. “Giving up wasn’t an option for her, or being a mom part-time. She woke up every morning and took the opportunities life gave her. When she stumbled, she got right back up.”

For young girls and boys hoping to become firefighters themselves, Ashling has a simple message: “Don’t give up, especially not because someone else told you to.”

City of Thompson Awarded $47 Million for Water and Sewer Main Renewal Program Through ICIP

The Government of Canada and the Province of Manitoba have announced that the City of Thompson will be receiving $47 million towards its Water and Sewer Main Renewal Program as part of the 2019 Investing In Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP)’s Green Infrastructure Stream (GIS).

The grant includes a federal contribution of $18.8M, a provincial contribution of $15.6M, and a $12.5M contribution from the City of Thompson. The grant will fund renewal of nearly 14km of water lines in the community, as well as 3.3km of wastewater lines over a five-year period.

Water and wastewater work will be coordinated section by section to be completed prior to overlapping road work, to make sure work is efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Deerwood DriveJuniper Drive
Riverside Drive (Granite Crescent to Mystery Lake Road)Centennial Drive East
Hayes RoadCentennial Drive West
Burntwood DrivePrinceton Drive
Station Road (Princeton Drive to Industrial Area)Westwood Drive
Wuskwatim BayWekusko Street

Water & Sewer utility upgrades scheduled for renewal through the $47M ICIP grant awarded on August 13, 2021, according to their complementary roads. Construction will take place over a 5-year period.

“This grant didn’t fall in our laps overnight: much like our roadwork announcements earlier this month, this grant took three years of extensive planning and difficult budget choices to prepare for it,” said Mayor Colleen Smook. “Thompson is the Hub of the North, providing services for over 50, 000 people across northern Manitoba, and basic infrastructure like roads, water, and sewer are the bedrock for our businesses and residents who work hard to provide them. This second massive investment, from federal and provincial governments, recognizes our critical role in the north.”

Between this announcement and the road renewal funding announced on July 26, Thompson will be receiving $87 million in funding towards fundamental infrastructure upgrades through the 2019 ICIP program.

“These two announcements are first few steps towards a new and sustainable future for Thompson. We’re still working with our federal and provincial partners to do more for our residents and the visitors who rely on us every day, in recreation, public safety, and more,” added Mayor Smook.

Read the Provincial announcement, along with the other projects awarded funding under the GIS Stream, here: https://news.gov.mb.ca/news/?archive=&item=52129

City of Thompson Awarded $40 Million For Road Renewal Program Through ICIP

The Government of Canada and the Province of Manitoba have announced that the City of Thompson will be receiving $40 million towards its Road Renewal Program as part of the 2019 Investing In Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP)’s Rural and Northern Infrastructure Stream.

The grant includes a federal contribution of $20M, a provincial contribution of $13.3M, and a $6.7M contribution from the City of Thompson. The grant will fund renewal of nearly 20km of 24 different roads in the community over a five-year period, almost a fifth of Thompson’s entire road network:

Roads scheduled for renewal through the $40M ICIP grant awarded on July 26, 2021. Construction will take place over a 5-year period.
Thompson Drive North + SouthPublic Lane
Nelson RoadBeaver Crescent
Deerwood DriveElk Bay
Caribou RoadFox Bay
Lynx CrescentSilver Street
Riverside DriveJuniper Drive
Nickel RoadSpruce Road
Princeton DriveWestwood Drive
Mallard CrescentSandpiper Crescent
Pintail CrescentWolf Street
Coral CrescentHayes Road
Seal RoadStation Road

“Council and administration have been working for three years to achieve this funding. We can’t understate what a massive investment this is: this is equal to a year’s worth of the City’s budget, dedicated exclusively to road work,” said Mayor Collen Smook. “Thompson is bigger than the people who live here: we are the Hub of the North, and people from across the region rely on our infrastructure year-round. This massive investment, from federal and provincial governments, recognizes our critical role in the north.”

“We’re still working hard behind the scenes, and this is just the start of more good things coming for the City,” she added.

Read the Provincial announcement, along with the other projects awarded funding under the RNI Stream, here: https://news.gov.mb.ca/news/index.html?item=51899&posted=2021-07-26

Province Announces Location of New Sobering Centre in Thompson

Polaris Centre will be Repurposed to Support Safer, Healthier Community: Friesen

Header Image: Stephen Allen giving Mayor Colleen Smook the keys to the Polaris Buildings.

This announcement was originally published by the Government of Manitoba here.

The Manitoba government is transferring ownership of the former Polaris Centre at the University of the North to the City of Thompson to house a sobering centre in the community, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen announced today.

“Sobering centres have been shown to reduce the number of intoxicated individuals who are hospitalized or held in holding cells. This model is better for the individual, and better for the utilization of police and emergency department resources,” said Friesen. “I’m pleased to announce this next step in the Thompson Sobering Centre project, which will support safety and health in Thompson and the surrounding regions.”

Sobering centres provide short-term recovery from intoxication in a safe setting, where individuals are medically cleared and monitored throughout their stay by on-site personnel. The new centre will provide a 24-7 safe and secure environment for non-violent, publicly intoxicated individuals to stay while the effects of drugs and/or alcohol wear off.

Public intoxication continues to be a significant health and public safety issue in Thompson, with over 2,400 detentions under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act in 2020 and over 1,100 so far in 2021. Public intoxication calls put a significant burden on Thompson’s RCMP detachment, as well as local health-care facilities.

“The Polaris buildings are a critical part of helping our most vulnerable residents find shelter and compassionate care in our community,” said Mayor Colleen Smook, City of Thompson. “We’re now looking forward to working with our community partners to provide that care, and mapping our next steps towards an integrated rehabilitation program.”

The Polaris Centre campus, constructed in 1968 at the corner of Princeton Drive and Station Road, sits on more than four acres of land and includes three buildings totaling 78,617 square feet of floor area. 

“This partnership with the City of Thompson has been terrific and I’m proud that we were able to support the community in this way,” said Central Services Minister Reg Helwer. “Repurposing this site will ensure people of Thompson have access to a safe environment for those that need it.”

The Manitoba government provided $2.8 million to establish and operate the centre, and will continue to work with the City of Thompson to open an interim centre in late fall/early winter while construction of the permanent centre continues.

The province continues to support law enforcement and community stakeholders in approaches to combat and reduce public intoxication and disorder in the downtown Thompson area and extend the Restorative Justice Centre model to the community.

Council Presents 2021 Financial Plan To Public

Last night, on April 29, 2021, the City of Thompson’s Mayor and Council presented the City of Thompson’s 2021 Financial Plan to the general public. The presentation is available http://www.thompson.ca, and a recording of the presentation and public comments are available on Youtube here.

The City of Thompson’s total budget is $40, 960, 592 in 2021. The combined mill rate of School District and City taxes has increased by 2% in 2021, from 45.706 in 2020 to 46.620.

This means that for a property assessed at $174, 680, owners will pay $3, 656 in City and School District taxes before the provincial education tax credit is applied, compared with $3, 584 in 2020: a difference of $72 across the whole year, roughly equivalent to a tank of gas at current prices.

The operational budget for 2021 is status quo, meaning that council has only approved those increases that are contractual obligations, including union wages and the local RCMP contract among others. Operational expenses are the day-to-day expenses of running a city: wages, consumables like gas and small spare parts, etc.

However, 2021 continues to be far from an average year in the City of Thompson. Though the last two years have created many hardships, it has also presented opportunities.

Capital Projects, ICIP and Improving Infrastructure

Capital expenditures are the big stuff: the fundamental building blocks that the City and it’s residents. This includes things like roads, water mains, and buildings.

Previously, capital projects like the City’s Road Renewal Program came were exclusively funded through reserves and provincial grants and transfers. For the first time in nearly a decade, the City of Thompson is allocating property tax dollars to capital projects, in order to qualify for infrastructure funding through the Investing in Canada’s Infrastructure Fund (ICIP).

If the City receives ICIP funding, each dollar of City contribution for road work will be met with $5 of provincial and federal funding, meaning in the first year, the City will be able to accomplish $5.7 million in road work while contributing only $955, 142.86.

Each dollar contributed towards water and sewer work will be met with $3 of provincial and federal funding. In the first year, the City would be able to accomplish $6.8 million in water and sewer work while contributing $1.8 million.

The total value of these multi-year projects combined adds up to $88 million, with the city responsible for 22% of the cost.

This funding is not a regular opportunity, and cannot be deferred with the expectation of receiving it in another year. Therefore, Council determined that taking advantage of this opportunity was critical.

Should the City not receive the ICIP grant, the money raised will not be spent, and Council will determine the next steps around what to do with the funds that were collected.

“We hear every year that road work is an extremely high priority for our residents. Road and water renewal is not a luxury, and has already been part of our capital renewal plan for years. This is an opportunity to speed up that process considerably while freeing up more resources for other community services.”

Colleen Smook, Mayor of Thompson

COVID-19 Stimulus Funding

COVID-19 has created a unique situation, as many typical sources of revenue were required to close. Between 2018 and 2020, the City of Thompson has reduced its expenses by $1.9 million, and efforts continue into 2021. These reductions helped ensure that potential shortfalls in the 2020 and 2021 budgets were largely balanced out.

Nonetheless, like other municipalities, the City of Thompson received additional COVID-19 stimulus funding from provincial and federal sources. As the City of Thompson did not have significant shortfalls to recover, it was able to divert these funds on the following initiatives:

Funded ItemsFunding Amount
ICIP Funding Matching Dollars (Pending Projects)$433,900
Jumpstart Park100,000
Increase Street Sweeping Program60,000
Outdoor rink upgrades50,000
Beautifying Thompson (Flags, Christmas, etc.)40,000
RCAF Snowbirds40,000
City Efficiency Audit40,000
Crime Prevention through Environmental Design20,000
Trails- Biking, Running15,000
Playgrounds10,000
Community Gardens10,000
2021 COVID-19 Stimulus Funding Allocations

“Since the beginning of our elected term, City Council and administration have been working hard to ensure Thompsonites get more for their tax dollars. Those efforts are starting to come together, and while they mean a small increase now, they’re incredibly important for the long-term health and sustainability of our community. We can’t let COVID-19 derail our future.”

Colleen Smook, Mayor of Thompson

All Northern Manitobans Over 18 Years Of Age Now Eligible For COVID-19 Vaccination

Header Photo: Mayor Colleen Smook Receives her first vaccination dose on April 7, 2021.

As of April 26, 2021 at 11:45am, all Manitobans who live within the Northern Health Region, or who work in the region regularly, are eligible to book their COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

Individuals are encouraged to make their appointments by calling (toll-free) 1-844-626-8222 (1-844-MAN-VACC) or visiting https://protectmb.ca.

Prompt Vaccination Is Critical As Third Wave Looms

As variant cases become more prevalent in Manitoba and infections increase, the province is, in many ways, racing against the crest of a third wave to ensure vaccinations are delivered promptly.

In the announcement, Dr. Joss Reimer (medical lead of the Vaccine Implementation Task Force) stressed the importance of vaccination for Manitobans:

“The vaccine is one way we can slow the spread of this virus and control the third wave of COVID-19. We are seeing that everyone, including younger people, is experiencing more severe outcomes from COVID and it is important that we adjust our eligibility criteria to reflect what we know, so we can protect those at risk. More than one-third of Manitobans have been immunized, and I’d encourage everyone to do the same as soon as they are eligible.”

Dr. Joss Reimer, Vaccine Implementation Task Force, VACCINE ELIGIBILITY EXPANDING TO PROTECT ADULTS
IN NORTHERN MANITOBA, SEVEN OAKS WEST, Province of Manitoba, April 26, 2021

Looking Back: Cold Weather Shelters and COVID-19

With the worst of winter seemingly behind us in Thompson, we wanted to shed a spotlight on the Cold Weather Shelter program coordinated by the Thompson Homeless Shelter every winter.

Roughly 70 residents in Thompson are considered chronically homeless, but the Thompson Homeless can only accommodate 24 at a time. Though the Shelter-in-Place Program ran by the YWCA has accommodated an additional 25 residents in 2020/2021, that still leaves an excess of roughly 20 residents without homes who need to seek alternative shelter on a nightly basis.

When temperatures reached a critical threshold (in our case, -35C), the warming shelters at Thompson’s ice rinks continued to be used as cold weather shelters by the Thompson Homeless Shelter to accommodate this overflow of residents.

The shelter’s services were accessed 250 times by residents over the course of 30 days this year (sometimes by the same individual, multiple times).

Federal Reaching Home Funding Helped Purchase A New Van.

Through a grant from the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation and Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, the Thompson Homeless Shelter has purchased a new van for transporting people to the emergency shelters.

The van helped the Thompson Homeless Shelter to transport patients without homes to COVID-19 testing and other medical appointments, and offer transportation to cold-weather shelters more reliably when partners were not available.

Emergency Services Work Together To Get Residents to Warming Shelters.

Emergency cold weather shelters are located at the outdoor skating rinks, far from downtown. However, starting at 10:00pm, the shelter worked with Keewatin Tribal Council to provide transportation from the shelter downtown to the cold weather shelters, so that sheltering residents don’t need to make the journey.

If a resident is excessively intoxicated and poses a risk to themselves or others, they’re picked up by RCMP or CSO’s and taken to the RCMP holding cells in Thompson. Conversely, individuals who are being released from holding cells late in the night are dropped off directly to the cold weather shelters by RCMP officers if they’re open.

Thompson Fire and Emergency Services are also notified when the shelters open, so that families in distress can be transported to the shelters if they have nowhere else to turn.

Pandemics Are Tricky When It Comes to Emergency Shelter, But Hygiene Has Controlled The Spread.

Operating the Thompson Homeless Shelter and the cold weather shelters present a challenge during the pandemic particularly during the winter: turning people away is simply not an option when temperatures are frigid. Social distancing is challenging in the shelters, but staff have stressed masks and hand-washing when indoors.

Thankfully, Thompson has been lucky that transmission among our homeless population has been relatively low. Staff at the THS also monitored residents for potential risks and symptoms, and provided transportation to and from testing sites, vaccination appointments, and medical appointments more generally.

Thompson’s 2021 Construction Season Off To Strong Start With $3.6M in Construction Registered As Of March!

Following a busy construction season in 2020, construction plans in Thompson are already off to a strong start in 2021, based on permits already filed as of the end of March this year.

Thirty-three permits have already been filed with the City of Thompson’s Inspections department, with a total construction value of $3, 647, 802.42. The construction is entirely made up of investment from the local private sector, including one new business.

This compares with 11 permits filed by the end of March 2020 valued at $1, 831, 554, most of which was filed prior to Manitoba’s state of emergency.

More commercial permits are anticipated later in the year, based on existing construction projects underway in the community.

“Last year was a challenging year for businesses in our community,” said Mayor Colleen Smook. “But construction in Thompson continues to hold strong as our residents and entrepreneurs continue to find new opportunities in Thompson.”

Building Permits Highlight $11, 486, 226 in Construction Completed in 2020

Despite the uncertainty and restrictions around COVID-19, construction investments remained steady in Thompson for 2020. Property owners invested $11, 486, 226 in construction in 2020, slightly up from $11, 019, 004 in 2019.

The value of residential alterations jumped to $878, 901 across 48 projects in 2020, more than threefold from $272, 685 across 34 projects in 2019. Residents also built 16 garages last year at a total value of $253, 685, up from one garage worth $35, 000 in 2019.

Commercial properties saw $7, 071, 511 in alterations across 21 projects this year, up from $3, 006, 772 across 24 projects in 2019. One new commercial project saw an investment of $864, 000.

Public institutions, including schools, saw $1, 692, 430 in alterations.

“With people stuck at home due to the pandemic, many have chosen to improve their homes and their businesses,” said Mayor Colleen Smook. “We’re excited to see those Thompsonites investing back into their community and their life in the north.”

As COVID-19 Restrictions Loosen, Thompson’s Case Numbers Are Slow To Improve. Here’s Why.

As COVID-19 restrictions loosen in the province, positive COVID-19 cases in Thompson have increased slowly but steadily since the winter holidays. begging the question: where is the transmission within our community taking place?

Last week, the City of Thompson sat down with NRHA officials and northern leaders to discuss where our current cases are coming from.

Although several cases have been reported among students of local schools, the NRHA has noted that all of these cases have been acquired outside of the classroom.  Currently public health officials have seen no evidence of transmission within schools.

Transmission downtown, including among Thompson’s homeless residents, has also remained low.

Rather, contact tracing by the NRHA has determined that the largest source of infections so far is visitation against public health orders: people visiting each other in homes that they are not supposed to.

Home visitation carries a number of risk factors: close quarters in smaller rooms, poor ventilation, common surfaces and sustained contact all contribute to the high likelihood of spread due to residential visits, compounded by the likelihood that people remove their masks at home.

WE have the power to turn the tide.

Whether we’re placed on lockdown or free to roam our gyms and stores, the fundamental guidelines haven’t changed since the fall.

  • Wear your mask properly indoors. Make sure it covers *all* of your face holes.
  • Give your peers space and limit close contact to what is absolutely necessary.
  • Send only *one* household member shopping. Plan your grocery trips so you need them less often.
  • Wash your hands properly, for 20 full seconds, or use hand sanitizer if you can’t.
  • Limit your contacts. Don’t throw parties. Meet your friends outside if you have to.

Restrictions are loosening. Now what?

It’s important to remember that just because restrictions are loosening does not mean that we can abuse them without consequences. If we do abuse them, they will be tightened back up in short order.

Though we have more freedom to take part in the activities we love, it’s important enjoy them responsibly. This means making decisions like:

  • Eating at home today, so you can eat out when you have that really, really bad day;
  • Doing body weight and free weight exercises for simple muscle groups at home, and saving the gym for more specialized exercises;
  • Meeting your friends outside for a walk, so you can visit them at home sooner.
  • Plan an outdoor photo shoot, instead of in a studio.

Enjoying public life in moderation will allow Manitoba to control the pandemic, and keep restrictions to a minimum. Most importantly though, enjoying public life in moderation helps prevent us from getting COVID-19, and passing it on to someone else.