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St. Paul celebrates winter

by Penny Fox
in Innovation
December, 2022

The Town of St. Paul, Alberta is the proud recipient of the 2022 Communities in Bloom WinterLife Award. The WinterLife Award is an outstanding achievement award sponsored by Municipal World. It recognizes outstanding achievements in community engagement – both indoors and outdoors – during the winter season.

When we think of winter, we think of the cold, snow, and the darker days. But in St. Paul, we also think about the opportunities it presents to bring the community together.

St. Paul is a community of 6,000 people located in Northeast Alberta. The community consists of almost 100 groups and organizations and many of them are as active in winter as they are in summer. As our motto says, St. Paul is a “People Kind of Place,” and we know how to celebrate every season. Once the darker days of fall arrive and we get past Halloween, the town looks winter full in the face and gets busy.

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Keeping Winter Life Active

Like most other communities, sports are a big deal in St. Paul. The town is blessed with good infrastructure to support the sports community with two arenas, Ag Barn, numerous schools, dance and art spaces, and the 300-kilometre Iron Horse Trail. School sports start with the traditional inside sports, like basketball and volleyball. The arenas are full with hockey and skating. The curling club has groups of all ages. The Ag Barn is open for those needing indoor space for their equine exercises and activities. And, the town’s convenient location allows it to host many sports tournaments.

There is hardly an hour that goes by that one doesn’t see someone out doing winter hiking, driving a quad or sled, Nordic pole walking, snow shoeing, or just strolling along the Iron Horse Trail. The cross country ski club has also been extra busy these past two years, with new trails both inside and out of the town for everyone to enjoy. There are so many ways to enjoy the beautiful, cool, and clear days we see so often, and organizations spent the last two winters coming up with COVID-safe ways to keep active.

Christmas is often a highlight of winter and the Town of St. Paul is no exception. Various community groups take on holiday activities starting in early December. The chamber plans late night shopping, as well as a tree light up with character blow ups and light-up characters of all kinds. Last year was the first time the town introduced a light-up parade, which saw a very excited Santa dancing on top of a fire truck with local volunteer firefighters. (That man really does know how to groove!) A Christmas hamper program gets underway with the direction of the Knights of Columbus and they partner up with the school students who do a toy drive.

The library starts their winter with a variety of activities for all ages each month. Last winter, the “Culture Bags” were a big hit. Each month, a different culture was featured and included ways for young ones to learn about others in the community. Learning a new skill is also available through the archery club, three dance clubs, two art groups, and quilt clubs. There are also organizations that teach second languages – French, English, and Cree classes are available. There is no excuse for being bored as there are a wide variety of things happening each week.

St. Paul’s cross country ski club has been extra busy these past two years, with new trails both inside and out of the town, for everyone to enjoy. Photo: St. Paul

Bringing the Community Together

St. Paul has two farmers markets that operate long past the fall harvest, allowing residents to smell and taste fresh-made breads, pies, cookies, and other goods. A variety of artisans are also on hand to show their latest creations. Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and the Parent Link office run weekly programs to ensure that parents have a chance to get out with their young ones and socialize while doing some fun activities. The youth group is also very active and hosts regular events (sports/dances) to connect youth and prevent winter isolation.

February means Family Day, and the “Shiverfest” is awesome! In the past two years, the Ag Society has brought the new sport “skijoring” to St. Paul. For those that like something new, this is it. Grab a pair of skis and a neighbour with a horse and you are ready to go. The horse pulls the skier through a sort of obstacle course, and the fastest one wins.

The French Association (ACFA) also brings the Cabane a Sucre to town. The kids love the “taffy on snow” and the adults join in on some good old-fashioned log sawing. Other groups make sure there are numerous kids crafts/activities, bowling on ice, and a bonfire – with s’mores of course. A local team of horses is brought to town to provide sleigh rides. The town council fires up the outdoor griddles and provide a hearty breakfast for all. Other facilities also join in on Family Day weekend. The bowling alley provides family bowling, the swimming pool free swimming, and the arena free skating.

All winter outdoor skating can be found in at least six parks across the town. During COVID, the town flooded the round driveway at the campground and turned it into a skating oval. It is an awesome experience that will likely continue past COVID as well.

Throughout the winter season, museum volunteers get creative as they update or build new displays. This past year, the dental and Ukrainian displays were second to none. These volunteers love to have a smile on their face and a tool in their hands as they build these displays.

Fundraising events are popular over winter. They provide great opportunities to meet with coworkers, neighbours, and friends. Last year these included: special showings at the theatre, Candelight Vigil for Family Prevention Month, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, Country Music Concert, Christmas Caroling, numerous online auctions, supper/fundraisers for various groups, Fill a Trailer for the Ukraine, and a large pierogi fundraiser (where over 10,000 pierogi were served).

Winter may be cold, may bring darker evenings – but the fun and socializing continue in St. Paul all year round. It is indeed a “People Kind of Place.”  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Sean’s other article: Municipal World honours 2022 Women of Influence.

Penny Fox is Chairperson of St. Paul Champions For Change and a member of the Communities in Bloom Committee.

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