The Brandon Sun

Here are a few of the articles that I wrote while interning at the Brandon Sun.

Crumbling highways set off alarms

If you intend to take a drive along Highway 3 near Pierson, bring a helmet and be prepared to take it slow.

For the last few years, highways in the southwest corner of the province have been plagued with problems from floods to frost boils. At the same time, the area’s oil industry has picked up, bringing with it higher and heavier volumes of traffic.

As a result, the state of the highways has reached a crisis point, says RM of Two Borders Reeve Debbie McMechan, who has been trying to get the province to take action about the highway conditions.

A tentative date of May 15 had been set for municipal officials to meet with former infrastructure and transportation minister Ron Kostyshyn, but that meeting fell victim to a cabinet shuffle. Since then, they have been reaching out to current minister Steve Ashton, but have been unable to schedule a meeting.

“We’re hoping that Minister Ashton will come and take a drive with us. We would love to show him the state of affairs,” McMechan said.

RM of Grasslands Reeve Blair Woods said his municipality has also made several requests to speak to the minister, but to no avail.

“The roads haven’t been fixed for years. They’ve just been patching the awful big holes in them,” Woods said. “There’s broken pavement all over the place.”

Pierson resident Gail Daniels says there are spots on Highway 3 where the pavement is broken up straight across. People have taken to driving on the gravel shoulders, which are now getting to be in as poor a shape as the pavement.

“(The highways) are terrible and I’m not blaming our local guys. They’re doing whatever they can to do to fix it,” Daniels said.

According to Herb Mahood, director of regional operations for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, they are doing all that they can to get these troublesome spots fixed as soon as possible

“We are just requesting additional funds now because this is above and beyond our annual maintenance budget for spring breakup,” Mahood said.

Mahood told the Sun this is one of the worst spring breakups that Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation has witnessed in 10 years, largely a result of the floods from last summer. According to Mahood, there is well over $1 million in repairs needed.

“It’s not just the two roads — (highways) 3 and 256 in the Pierson area — there’s portions of (Highway) 5, there’s portions of 18, portions of 23, 24, 25, the list goes on and on,” Mahood said.

Arthur-Virden Progressive Conservative MLA Doyle Piwniuk sees the highways problem as a lack of reinvestment in the area. The province has been receiving a lot of revenue from the southwest corner from the oil and agricultural industries, but he says that money has not been reinvested in the area.

“Right now in the last five years, Reg Helwer who’s our Brandon West MIT critic, was saying that this government has underspent for the last five years by 28 per cent on infrastructure,” Piwniuk said. “Meanwhile, if that money would have been spent in this region and in the infrastructure, some of those roads would have been looked after.”

The worst spots on highways in the southwest corner are slated to be fixed by September at the latest. Until then motorists are advised to slow down.

“There’s been patches on patches so they’re quite bad and dangerous. I worry … people around here know where the bad spots are and slow down and navigate their way around them, but for strangers that happen to be driving through, it’s scary,” McMechan said.

Report highlights bulk food innovation

Innovation is key to boosting the province’s bulk food industry, according to a report out of Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute.

The report focused on innovations at three bulk food processing companies in the province — Shape Foods in Brandon, and Richardson Milling and Canadian Prairie Garden, both in Portage la Prairie.

“We were looking at four types of innovation that have been defined — product, process, marketing and organization,” said Gillian Richards, who was the project lead.

In the report, innovation was defined as “the implementation of a significant change in product, process, marketing or organization that is new (or significantly improved) to the company.”

Richards said the research team — which also included study director William Ashton, research assistant Eleni Galatsanou and student research assistant Sarah Woods — chose different companies that were of various sizes and different work processes for their case studies, conducting interviews with each firm to gather their research.

“Innovation is the basis for at least the two smaller companies, and Richardson is still innovating, too,” Richards said. “And this whole idea of working together — the whole supply chain working together is important, too. That nobody is working in isolation anymore.”

The study found that all three companies are innovating in different ways. Both Shape Foods and Canadian Prairie Garden have an “innovative system” that is the basis for their operations.

Shape, which produces Omega 3-rich flaxseed oil, “is making the oil in such a way that it keeps for longer than anyone else’s,” Richards said.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development sees the report as confirming that innovation strengthens the competitiveness of the agri-food industry.

“This report is going to highlight the importance of innovation to the success in food processing and for the ability of our industry to seize opportunities now and into the future,” said Maurice Bouvier, acting assistant deputy minister for Agri-Food and Rural Economic Development.

Sandy Trudel, the director of economic development with the City of Brandon, says the report helps her department understand the agri-food market itself since it is one of their priorities.

“(The report) gives us a broader understanding into when we might be seeing individual trends or processes happening within our companies when you see it happening in other companies in other jurisdictions,” Trudel said.

Richards says that companies studied in the report also found the process helpful. They saw it as an opportunity to reflect on their companies and they now have a concise record of their company and what they do. Shape Foods has said that they will show it to their customers.

“Overall, it just increases (the companies’) knowledge of innovation in the industry and we’re actually now working on some more case studies in some different companies … hopefully to be able to show even more patterns and things in the industry,” Richards said.

The report is available online in full at rdi/publications/agro-environmental/.

Reunion stirs fond memories for veteran

CFB SHILO — Children darted in among bouncy houses and artillery displays with their soldier parents chasing after them on Saturday while veterans reconnected with old friends.

It was a celebration joining together generations for the Royal Canadian Artillery and Airborne Gunner Reunion and the base’s annual Family Day.

Doug Winter made the journey from Nanaimo, B.C., for the reunion.

“Just seeing people I hadn’t seen in many, many years and of course you know once you’ve been in the artillery for 35 years, it’s been your life,” Winter said.

Winter joined the soldier apprentice program in 1957 when he was 16 years old. The soldier apprentice program was run following the Second World War and the Korean War in order to raise the education levels of various corps of the Canadian Army. He was stationed in Shilo where he attended school in the morning and then trained in the afternoon.

After Shilo, Winter was stationed in Picton, Ont., and then Germany, back to Shilo and then at various places across Canada. Shilo has a special place in Winter’s heart, though, since he was stationed there for 14 years while his children were growing up.

“(My children) still call (Shilo) home because they were basically brought up here and it was a good family station,” he said.

The Royal Canadian Artillery and Airborne Gunner Reunion is held every three years in Shilo. It’s a chance for veterans like Winter to reconnect with old friends.

“It’s for all serving and former artillery men and all of those who have supported the guns over the years,” said Mike McEwan, the treasurer of the reunion organizing committee. “We bring gunners together from all over Canada, the United States, we have some from Australia here, Germany, England.”

The weekend festivities began on Thursday with a meet and greet among the veterans. On Friday, there was a golf tournament with the opening of the Airborne Gunner Exhibit at the RCA Museum during the evening. On Saturday morning, the veterans and their families attended a firepower demonstration, followed by a gala dinner in the evening. The reunion ended yesterday morning with a memorial service.

This year’s reunion was the second time that the committee joined forces with CFB Shilo to hold the reunion in conjunction with the base’s annual Family Day.

“It’s a great fit because the young families are here and the older veterans do really appreciate the young families, seeing the soldiers and talking with them,” said Chuck Larocque, chair of the reunion organizing committee.

Veterans attended the firepower demonstration on Saturday with families of CFB Shilo soldiers.

“Essentially what we’re trying to do is demonstrate to the families what we as soldiers do in the field,” OPI Lt. Rick Walker said. “So what we train for on a regular basis, what guys go overseas for, and essentially the capabilities that (the 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery) has.”

Guests were treated to a firepower show featuring helicopters, artillery guns and surveillance equipment. There were also various kinds of military equipment set up for guests to view.

As well as the bouncy castles, the base had constructed obstacle courses and a zip line as part of the lineup of children’s activities.

“The other stuff is to essentially allow the families to feel relaxed here,” Walker said. “It’s to give them a little bit of a break, and to sort of combine fun activities … with the activities that 1RCHA sort of demonstrates.”

Virden explosion ‘went off like a bomb’

VIRDEN — A gas line explosion that “went off like a bomb” shattered a quiet morning in Virden Friday, destroying one house, severely damaging another and sending one man to hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

A trapped in the basement of one of the homes was taken to hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries.

Around 9 a.m., an employee from Manitoba Hydro’s Brandon dispatch was sent to Thompson Place following a complaint about a “natural gas smell.”

The caller “believed that he may have hit a gas line while pounding some metal stakes into the ground” while building a fence, according to Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell.

Shortly thereafter, there was an explosion that startled townspeople in neighbourhoods near and far.

“It went off like a bomb,” said one resident. “It shook windows and doors all over town.”

Manitoba Hydro said that an employee was on scene minutes after the explosion. He was not injured, but he was “shaken, but thankfully is otherwise OK — a little bit singed, I understand,” Powell said. There were additional Hydro crews on scene to assist emergency personnel.

The Wallace and District Fire Department arrived at the scene minutes after the explosion.

Wendy Hunt lives two houses from the explosion. She and her husband were just eating breakfast when they heard a big boom.

“We went flying down the stairs, went outside and the one man from Hydro called to us and told us to phone 911 and by that time the house was in flames,” Hunt said.

One man was trapped in the basement of the house.

“The roof was on top of him, and they just basically got rid of all the lumber and household stuff on top of him and pulled him out with their bare hands,” fire Chief Brad Yochim said.

The man suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to Virden hospital.

One firefighter who helped dig out the man was taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion.

As of noon yesterday, he was still in the hospital under observation but was fine, according to Yochim.

A RCMP press release said two of their officers were treated and released at the scene for minor injuries.

Frank Debarr’s house next door to the explosion was severely damaged when it caught fire from the explosion.

“You hear this on the news but you never think it would happen to you,” Debarr said while standing on the street looking at what was left of his house. He was still clearly shocked from the morning’s events.

Debarr and his family have a place to stay, but they’ll have to replace most of their belongings.

Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell was impressed with the prompt response of emergency crews, having heard their sirens go off minutes after the initial boom was heard.

“I’ll tell you when I was watching some of it (the fire department) clearly working very hard to save (Hunt’s house). That one was in danger of getting lost as well, but they did manage to save it,” McConnell said.

For Hunt, this wasn’t the first time being in the vicinity of a house explosion. She has lived on the street for 20 years, but had previously lived in the Northwest Territories.

“We had a house down the block from us blow from a gas line also. So we’ve seen it before. And they were building a fence, so we just put two and two together and thought, uh-oh, somebody’s ruptured the line,” Hunt said.

Christina Oberlin works at the Virden Pioneer Home Museum, which is located a few blocks from the explosion. When she felt the museum shake, she went outside to see what was happening.

“All the neighbours were already in the street, nobody really knew what happened. And then a couple of minutes later there was a whole bunch of black smoke in the sky, so it was a little scary,” Oberlin said.

They were supposed to be having a Museum Day yesterday afternoon with games and a barbecue, but decided to reschedule it to Aug. 21 out of respect for those in the community affected by the explosion.

A spokesperson with the Office of the Fire Commissioner confirmed yesterday afternoon that the explosion was the result of a “rupture of a gas line outside one of the homes as a result of work done outside the home. Natural gas then filtered into the home and was likely ignited by a pilot light.”

The cost of damages to the houses is currently unknown. The house that exploded was almost completely flattened and Debarr’s house was severely damaged.

For a full list of my work at the Brandon Sun you can visit:

The Brandon Sun