Osmond, town honoured for involvement in Slave Lake’s disaster recovery

Recovery and rebuilding is moving ahead in the community of Slave Lake

Recovery and rebuilding is moving ahead in the community of Slave Lake, Sylvan Lake councillors learned at their meeting Mar. 25.

Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee told them that 77 per cent of the community has been rebuilt after nearly one-third of the town’s buildings were destroyed during a wildfire, including the town hall.

A milestone was reached the day after she was in Sylvan Lake. That was the first day of operations inside the town’s new government centre.

“185 families have moved into new homes and we anticipate more building this spring,” she said. “Emotionally it’s still pretty tough for us … but we’re the type of community that pulls together.”

That wasn’t the real reason for her visit to council chambers though. Pillay-Kinnee came to thank the mayor and council “for outstanding support and generosity”.

Betty Osmond, Sylvan Lake’s chief administrative officer, had moved from a similar position in Slave Lake at the end of October 2010. The fire struck Slave Lake in May 2011.

Following a request from Hector Goudreau, then Alberta Municipal Affairs minister, Osmond was seconded to the Town of Slave Lake to assist in its recovery. She was there for about a month.

Pillay-Kinnee presented Mayor Susan Samson with a ‘Medal of Honour’ which was created by Slave Lake to recognize those who went above and beyond.

“What you did, in my mind, was the right thing, your support was invaluable.”

With the medal was the quotation “Hope Sees the Invisible, Feels the Intangible, and Achieves the Impossible”.

She also presented a copy of the book “The Sky Was On Fire, Slave Lake’s Story of Disaster, Exodus and New Beginnings” for Sylvan Lake’s library.

Besides agreeing to Osmond’s return to Slave Lake, Sylvan Lake councillors approved $5,000 in June 2011 towards the fire victims with $2,500 earmarked for the Red Cross fund and another $2,500 towards a fund to benefit municipal workers in Slave Lake.

The surprise visit by Slave Lake’s mayor caught Osmond off guard. And for good reason. She was also the focus of attention.

Pillay-Kinnee noted that since Osmond knew the staff and council “she was able to provide us with strength and support at these times”.

“Betty was there with us right after the disaster,” she said. “Those were difficult days, working around the clock — we relied on her heavily to get through.”

It was the “second largest insured disaster in Canada’s history,” Pillay-Kinnee said.

She first presented Osmond with her own medal of honour. Then she presented Osmond with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, on behalf of the Governor-General. Osmond was nominated for the medal by the Town of Slave Lake in honour of her contributions to the community both before and after the wildfire.

A standing ovation followed as councillors and members of the audience of about 30 people rose simultaneously.

Struggling for words, Osmond expressed thanks. “I was very grateful to get to go up there. It’s good to know things are moving along.” She added she’s looking forward to a trip back to Slave Lake.

Following the presentations, Samson relieved Osmond of her duties during the rest of the council meeting so she could enjoy the evening catching up on Slave Lake with Pillay-Kinnee.