The Province of Alberta has witnessed an unusual surge in councillor turnover throughout 2023 - 62 council resignations as of December 21st, 2023, in the entire year of 2022 there was only 58 council resignations - prompting a closer examination of one particular community: The Village of Berwyn, located just Northwest of Peace River.
Although this community may not be on the radar for many, a remarkable series of events has unfolded, capturing the attention of keen municipal observers and igniting a discussion on the challenges faced by small towns.
In the span of 2023, Berwyn experienced the resignation of four council members, that succeeded three resignations in 2022. As the year draws to a close, it is imperative to reflect on the events that have unfolded and delve into the intricacies of this seemingly tight-knit community.
Let us rewind to October 2021, a crucial moment when Alberta held a general municipal election for every community, excluding Summer Villages, which went to the polls in July of the same year. In an unprecedented turn of events, every council member who had served from February 2020 to October 2021 ran for re-election and was acclaimed. The acclaimed councillors included Cindy Hockley, John Bak, Ken Montie, Kimberlery Steeves, and Brianne Nettelfield.
I say February 2020 to October 2021 because Cindy Hockley, and Brianne Nettelfield were elected in by-election in January 2020 and February 2020 (respectively). In the previous term, from 2017 to 2021, these were only two by-elections.
Contrastingly, the first half of the 2021-2025 term in Berwyn witnessed an astonishing six council by-elections.
So the Saga of the 2021-2025 council music chair great by-election term began in October 2022 when John Bak resigned from the council. Nicole Edmunson (Johnson) emerged victorious in the subsequent by-election, defeating two other candidates. The narrative took a more dramatic turn in November 2022 when the need arose to elect two councillors. Mayor Cindy Hockley and Deputy Mayor Ken Montie resigned, leading to a return for former Councillor John Bak - who resigned only a month earlier - and the introduction of newly elected councillor Larry "Duane" Sawan.
January 2023 marked another chapter in the Berwyn chronicles as Mayor Kim Stevens resigned from the council. In her place, Dan Weber succeeded through a by-election, being the sole candidate to file the necessary paperwork.
The rollercoaster continued in May 2023 when Councillor Brianne Nettlefield resigned, leading former Deputy Mayor Ken Montie to file paper to serve on council, he was acclaimed as no other candidate stepped forward.
Now if you're thinking that this is like a John Grisham novel, dont worry writing this I kept thinking "Berwyn's narrative unfolded like a carefully orchestrated book".
In the summer of 2023 Councillor Larry "Duane" Sawan stepped down - yes the one that was elected to council in November 2022 - which resulted in Jane Weber's acclaimed position in September 2023. The latest Chapter of this novel occurred a month ago when Councillor John Bak resigned once again. Then on the 4th of December, Tristan Vanderklok was acclaimed as the newest councillor.
Amidst these comings and goings, the CBC shed light on Berwyn in February 2023, focusing on the community's high turnover. Then outgoing Mayor Kim Steeves expressed concern about the future of the small Alberta town, hinting at a larger problem that goes beyond the scope of the music chairs around the council table.
The year 2017 marked a pivotal moment for Berwyn as a viability study questioned whether it should remain a village or dissolve into a hamlet within the Municipal District of Peace. The echoes of this study reverberate in the present, underscoring the challenges that have plagued Berwyn and similar communities.
As the musical chairs of 2023 conclude in Berwyn, the spotlight shifts to the future of small towns. Can Small Town Canada weather the storms of constant change? Can communities like Berwyn persevere, pushing the boulder of success and community spirit uphill? Or is it time for the dreaded conversation about "Amalgamation"?
The events in Berwyn serve as a microcosm, offering a glimpse into the struggles faced by small towns across the nation. The resilience of communities are based on individuals who step up in times of need - which becomes evident in Berwyn's story, yet the overarching question remains — can these communities survive without significant intervention?
The conversation must extend beyond Berwyn's borders and reach the provincial and federal levels. It's time to address the needs of the little guys, the communities that form the foundation of our nation. The word "amalgamation," though considered dirty, might be the key to overcoming the systemic issues that persist.
Berwyn is not just a footnote in municipal history; it's a rallying cry for action. The federal and provincial governments must shift their focus from big cities to the overlooked little guys, as they are the ones in dire need of assistance. If the issues of tomorrow are not addressed today, the village of Berwyn, Alberta, risks becoming just another entry in the municipal history books.
It's time for a comprehensive examination of the challenges facing communities like Berwyn, and it's time for tangible solutions. The future of small towns hangs in the balance, and it's our collective responsibility to ensure that they thrive, not merely survive.
The story of Berwyn is a call to action, urging us to look beyond the surface and confront the issues that could shape the fate of small-town Canada.