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Year In Review: Today we look back on May 2016

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

Firefighter Desiree L'Ecuyer deploys a hose as flames engulf a cottage on Petawawa Point on May 2. There were no injuries, however, the blaze destroyed the 75-year-old building. The Town of Petawawa Fire Department brought the fire under control in less than two hours, with the assistance of the Garrison Petawawa and Laurentian Valley Fire Departments.

Firefighter Desiree L'Ecuyer deploys a hose as flames engulf a cottage on Petawawa Point on May 2. There were no injuries, however, the blaze destroyed the 75-year-old building. The Town of Petawawa Fire Department brought the fire under control in less than two hours, with the assistance of the Garrison Petawawa and Laurentian Valley Fire Departments.

SCHOOL BOARD VOTES TO CLOSE WESTMEATH PUBLIC SCHOOL – It is all over for Westmeath Public School.

In an emotional meeting, trustees with the Renfrew County District School Board voted May 31 to back staff recommendations to close Westmeath Public School, sending the students to Beachburg Public School in the fall of 2016.

Madawaska Public School was also axed, with its students being bussed to Sherwood Public School, located within the expanded Madawaska Valley High School, as of the 2016–2017 school year.

Board trustees explained they had to support the staff report which recommended the closure based on the fact the building is older and required work, and had only 54 students in a building meant to accommodate 219 students. A number of Westmeath residents and Whiteweter Region Hal Johnson were in attendance at the meeting to hear the decision.

HISTORIC COTTAGE DESTROYED – On May 2, a catastrophic fire razed to the ground one of the oldest cottages on Petawawa Point.

There were no injuries after the conflagration broke out inside the summer residence located on Island View Drive at around 2:30 p.m. It took personnel from the Town of Petawawa Fire Department 90 minutes to bring the blaze under control.

Built in the early 1940s by a prominent Pembroke doctor, the bungalow was amongst a cluster of cottages overlooking the Point’s pristine anchorage. It was one of the few cottages still standing that harkened back to that bygone era when Petawawa Point was a popular summertime tourist colony. The fire was so great that it shot up a column of smoke that could be seen from as far away as McGregor’s Hill.

NEW SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM FOR MILITARY SPOUSES – Military spouses will now be eligible for a new scholarship program being launched this fall.

Willis College, Canada’s first regulated career college, sett aside $150,000 to fund a scholarship a year over the next six years to Canadian military spouses who pursue training programs in business, technology or health care at one of their three college campuses located at Ottawa, Arnprior or Smiths Falls.

During a press conference held at the Garrison Petawawa museum, Rima Aristocrat, the college’s president and CEO, said since both Willis College and Canada are marking their 150th anniversaries, it was decided as part of the celebrations they would set up this scholarship.

“We are proud to dedicate this new scholarship program to the spouses of those defending our country and keeping us safe, strong and free,” she said, noting Canadians often don’t stop and think about the people who put their lives on the line, and the wives who stay home to support them.

DEEP RIVER SCHOOL SUPPORTS SYRIAN REFUGEES – The students and faculty of Mackenzie Community School were back in class on Saturday but it wasn’t to hit the books or practise for a sporting competition.

The K-12 school held its annual Spring Fling in support of the Project Welcome Refugee Sponsorship group, formed to bring a Syrian refugee family to the Upper Ottawa Valley. The event, hosted by the Mackenzie Interact Club, raised $1,352.

“We had been planning this for quite a while,” said club co–president Bradley Audet at the time. “This is for a good cause.”

LAURENTIAN VALLEY RESIDENTS CONCERNED ABOUT TRAIL – The announcement that Renfrew County had struck a deal to purchase the former Canada Pacific Rail line with the intention of turning it into a recreational trail has some Laurentian Valley residents concerned, council learned at its May 3 meeting.

Duane MacDougall, a resident on Burns Drive, a private road nestled between Pembroke Street East and the Ottawa River in the area of Home Depot, presented the results of a neighbourhood survey he conducted among residents on his road as well as the nearby Heritage Place and Mountainview Drive neighbourhoods.

MacDougall received 68 responses to 82 surveys he distributed. While MacDougall himself wanted to see the trail land offered up to local residents to purchase for themselves in order to have a bit more property, and 17 other respondents agreed with him, the vast majority of residents want the strip of land used for recreational purposes, as long as was is restricted to non-motorized use.

FIRST MISSION FOR THE CHINOOKS – A CH-147F Chinook helicopter from Petawawa delivered 8,200 pounds of food, water, and other sundries to Fort McKay First Nation May 8 as part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) support to the province of Alberta in response to the wildfires in Fort McMurray.

It was the first time that the CAF had operated a CH–147F Chinook helicopter on a domestic humanitarian operation. The aircraft, from 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron at 4th Canadian Division Support Base Petawawa, joined four CH-146 Griffon helicopters and one CC-130J Hercules aircraft currently supporting relief efforts in the province.

“It brings me great pride to be a part of the first ever employment of the CH–147F Chinook in Canadian domestic humanitarian operations,” said Lt.–Col. Kevin Kimpinski, Air Task Force Commander – Joint Task Force West at the time of the mission. “The helicopter’s role is just another example of how Joint Task Force West is ready and able to help fellow Albertans affected by the wildfires.”

WEGNER POINT TRAGEDY REMEMBERED – It remains one of the worst peacetime training accidents in Canadian military history.

On Sunday morning, May 8, soldiers past and present, survivors of that accident, friends and family braved the bitter winds and occasional snow to solemnly observe the 48th anniversary of the Wegner Point tragedy, that terrible day when seven paratroopers drowned in the Ottawa River. They gathered at the memorial cairn built on the spot overlooking the site of the accident, located close to the hangers of 427 Squadron, to honour the memory of the men who had died.

On the night of May 8, 1968, during what was supposed to have been a routine training exercise, 22 paratroopers were blown off course and landed in the frigid water of the Ottawa River off the shores of Wegner Point.

Despite the courageous efforts of the people who tried to rescue them, seven soldiers were lost – Master Warrant Officer Reginald Riddell, Warrant Officer Michael McDonnell, Cpl. Hugh Fields, Cpl. Bob Knight, Cpl. Dennis Clements, Cpl. Jim Misener and Cpl. Bruce Chiswell.

The men were members of 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and the 2nd Signals Squadron.

POLISH PRESIDENT VISITS GARRISON PETAWAWA – The president of Poland made a visit to the garrison May 10 to say thank you.

The garrison welcomed its highest-profile guests in recent memory when Andrzej Duda, president of the Republic of Poland, stopped by Victoria Barracks building Y–101 to express his country's thanks to the Canadians soldiers for their efforts during Operation Reassurance, a multi–national NATO mission in eastern Europe in response to growing unrest and instability between Russia and Ukraine which began in the summer of 2014. Soldiers from 1st Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment travelled to Poland.

Duda paid homage to Canada's contribution to Operation Unifier, including members of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, in a mission to help Ukrainian armed forces in the wake of armed rebel insurgencies backed by neighbouring Russia.

ONTARIO TORY LEADER VISITS COLLEGE – Ontario's Progressive Conservative Leader and MPP Patrick Brown toured Algonquin College's Pembroke Waterfront campus on May 6 as part of a visit to the Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke riding with local Tory MPP John Yakabuski.

Brown and Yakabuski toured the campus and afterwards visited the Employment Services office in downtown Pembroke. Annually, the Employment Services office supports more than 1,000 people who are looking for career information and work opportunities.

"We were pleased to welcome Mr. Brown to our campus and thank him for his interest in our college," said Cheryl Jensen, Algonquin College president during the visit. "Rural campuses like our Pembroke campus are strong contributors to the local economy and local employment, and we were pleased to see that recognized through this visit."

EARTHQUAKE RATTLES VALLEY – Natural Resources Canada confirmed that a 3.3 magnitude earthquake rattled the Upper Ottawa Valley Saturday, May 14.

The quake's epicentre was 12 kilometres south southwest of Petawawa. There were no reports of damage or injuries as a result of the tremor which struck at about 5:30 p.m.

According to the federal agency that monitors seismic activity, Earthquakes Canada, the temblor erupted at a depth of 10 kilometres. Social media reports indicated the quake lasted seven seconds and could be felt as far south as Westmeath.

PEMBROKE HOSTS FRANCO–ONTARIAN GAMES – The eyes of Francophone Ontario were on Pembroke high schools Jeanne-Lajoie and L'École L'Équinoxe the weekend of May 21–23 as the city hosted to the 23rd annual Franco–Ontarian Games.

For nearly a quarter of a century, the games have brought together Franco–Ontarian youth from almost 100 high schools across the province to compete in eight disciplines including sports, visual arts, music, dance, circus arts, improv, media, and "AGM/quiz".

"It's actually the biggest grouping of Franco–Ontarian youth every year," explained Jeanne-Lajoie's Adam Saal, one of two official ambassadors for the games at the time of the event.

SUhler@postmedia.com