Sackville plans to commemorate 250th anniversary of Yorkshire immigration next year

Methodist cemetery in Middle Sackville where Charles & Susanna Dixon are buried

The town of Sackville has applied for a $55,650 federal grant to fund a series of events next year commemorating the arrival of the first shipload of Yorkshire immigrants in May 1772.

Among the 250th anniversary events, the Tantramar Heritage Trust is planning a reunion of descendants from three of the more prominent Yorkshire families as well as a barbecue and a public banquet with live entertainment at the Music Barn, while Live Bait Theatre plans to present a play about the settlers and their significance.

Artist Janet Crawford, owner of Fog Forest Gallery, is proposing to create a permanent outdoor mosaic while the Trueman family is putting together a publication featuring various Yorkshire sites in the Tantramar region, while also hoping to install interpretive panels at a former Yorkshire mill site on their farm.

“About 1,000 people from Yorkshire immigrated here between the period 1772 and 1775,” says Tantramar Heritage Trust board member Al Smith who traces his own ancestry back to Yorkshire settler Nathaniel Smith.

“The arrival of the Yorkshire immigrants greatly increased the population,” he adds. “They were good farmers, they were a long way from home, they didn’t return back to England and they were loyal to the British Crown.”

Smith notes that the tenant-farmer settlers brought their Methodist religion with them — a much less formal faith than the High Anglicanism practised by the Yorkshire landlords who kept raising their rents.

“That was one of the things that induced them to come,” Smith says, noting that their Christian faith eventually led Charles Frederick Allison, a Methodist convert, to found the academy that later became Mount Allison University.

First families

Smith says that Charles Dixon, his wife Susanna (Coates) and their four children were one of the families on that first ship along with others bearing surnames that included Anderson, Bulmer, Lowerson, Siddell, Trenholm and Wood.

The Dixons bought 2,500 acres of land in the area where Beal Heights and the Dixon Island Marsh are today and both Charles and Susanna are buried in the Middle Sackville cemetery that was once the site of an early Methodist chapel.

Sackville Centennial Monument commemorates the town’s five founding peoples. Photo by Charles Scobie

Five founding peoples

The Yorkshire immigrants were among four groups who colonized lands inhabited by the Mi’kmaq.

Sackville’s manager of recreation programs and events says in recognition of that, the town has been discussing next year’s commemoration with the Fort Folly First Nation and the Indigenous Co-ordinator at Mount Allison.

“We are going to offer a live music event featuring artists from both Mi’kmaq and local Yorkshire heritage,” Matt Pryde writes in an e-mail, “[and] possibly Acadian as well.”

He adds that the town plans to work in partnership with Fort Folly and Mt. A. to offer presentations and workshops throughout the year exploring the significance of the Yorkshire settlers for the area and how indigenous peoples were affected.

If the town is successful in getting a federal grant, the Yorkshire commemoration will build on one held in August 2000 when about 3,000 descendants of the original settlers participated in a week-long celebration that included 25-30 family reunions.

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Sackville councillors pleased CAO has hired HR firm to investigate fire dept. allegations

Sackville CAO Jamie Burke

Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer says that the consulting firm the town has hired to review workplace practices in the fire department will decide on its own who will be interviewed in the course of its investigation.

Jamie Burke was responding to an e-mail from Warktimes asking if the review, to be conducted by the Montana Consulting Group of Moncton, would include interviews with firefighters who have resigned in the past 5-6 years.

“The consultant will lead and determine the entire process, including interviews, and the Town will just help with logistics and scheduling,” Burke said in his e-mail reply.

On Tuesday, the town announced the “independent third-party” assessment after Warktimes published articles in which former and current firefighters called for an end to years of bullying, sexism and discrimination in Sackville Fire & Rescue.

“The Town takes such matters very seriously and a review process is now underway to understand if there is validity in these complaints, and to identify and recommend areas of improvement,” said the announcement posted on the town’s website.

It promised that the human resources (HR) consulting firm would also review the bylaw that governs the fire department in consultation with firefighters who volunteer there.

Current and former volunteers say that grievance procedures outlined in the bylaw have never been implemented and that the fire chief, CAO and members of town council have failed to respond to complaints that also include allegations of harassment, favouritism and unsafe work practices in the department.

Councillors weigh in

Meantime, four councillors, who are running for re-election, say they’re pleased that the town is conducting an independent, workplace assessment of Sackville Fire & Rescue.

Allison Butcher, Andrew Black, Bill Evans and Michael Tower made their comments Tuesday during a candidates’ forum broadcast on CHMA-FM and posted on the campus/community station’s website.

Councillor Allison Butcher

“I would like to say that, as a female in a male-dominated world,” Butcher said, “I will ensure that this keeps on going until we get answers and solutions.”

She acknowledged receiving copies of two resignation letters former firefighters sent to town council and said that she struggled with how to respond while following confidentiality rules that govern personnel matters.

Andrew Black said that as a councillor who sits on the human resources (HR) committee, he also struggled with issues of confidentiality.

“When the letters of resignation were e-mailed to council, it was brought up in HR because that’s where it belongs and we discussed and it was left in the hands of town staff,” Black said.

“I can’t really say much more than that because of confidentiality, but that’s where it was and that’s where we find ourselves today,” he added.

‘Not our place to get involved’

“If bullying is taking place in this town, that is wrong, it is not supported by me, it is not supported by council, it’s not supported by our bylaws and our policies,” said Bill Evans who also sits on council’s HR committee.

“It’s a little bit like the parable about the blind people touching an elephant,” Evans said of the allegations raised by current and former firefighters.

“If all you know about this matter is what a couple of individuals have said — a handful of individuals have said — then that’s what you know, but surely everybody knows there’s more to it than that.”

Evans said the allegations are now being investigated and in the meantime, it’s important for councillors to follow due process.

“Council has been apprised of what staff is doing and we are following it with interest, but it is not our place to get involved,” he added. “This is being handled confidentially.”

Councillor Michael Tower

Michael Tower said bullying, harassment and discrimination have no place in the town’s workforce.

“The chief and the deputy chiefs, they all do the best they can and so I’m not going to criticize them [in] any way, shape or form,” Tower added.

He said the CAO is doing his job by commissioning a comprehensive, independent investigation that will produce solutions for town council to act on.

“I want a good resolution out of this,” Tower concluded, “so I support and say ‘thank you Jamie Burke.'”

To listen to the four councillors’ full responses to CHMA journalist Erica Butler’s questions about Sackville Fire & Rescue, click on the media player below. (The recording runs just over 17 minutes). Note: Bruce Phinney, who is also seeking re-election to town council, did not participate in the candidates’ forums.

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Frustration & anger: More Sackville firefighters speaking out over fire dept. woes

Former Sackville firefighter Ben Trenholm

Current and former volunteer firefighters are coming forward with more stories about harassment, bullying and low morale at Sackville Fire & Rescue in response to a Warktimes story published on April 13th.

Warktimes has also received copies of documents, letters and e-mails that outline a wide range of complaints over how the fire service is run.

Former firefighter Ben Trenholm, who spent 14 years with the department, resigned five years ago.

He says he didn’t want to leave, but constant tension, bullying and harassment made it easier for him to quit.

“I didn’t want to be there anymore, but I didn’t want to walk away,” he says. “I didn’t feel it was right for me to walk away from the fire department because it was something I wanted to do to help the community, but my heart was no longer in it, not one bit.”

Asked for an example of the bullying he experienced, Trenholm recalled being yelled at by an “irate” senior officer at a fire scene.

“He was in my face about my driving skills. Well, I’m a truck driver and I’m not trying to brag here, but I’ve got way more driving skills than a lot of the people down there ever thought of having,” he said.

“So, I got out of the truck and this guy got in my face and like the typical macho man pushing me with his chest and all this,” Trenholm added.

He said he would have taken the matter to the Grievance Committee described in the town bylaw that governs the fire department, but the committee has never been set up and he feels fire department bullies are protected by the chief.

“They can do what they want. They can walk around with no bunker gear on at a fire scene and they’re fine. They do what they want because there’s never any repercussions,” he says.

Full-time chief

Trenholm says the Sackville Fire Department used to be a welcoming place for volunteers, but that started to change in July 2009 when town council appointed Craig Bowser to serve as full-time fire chief even though, Trenholm says, the members were unanimously against appointing a full-time chief.

Until then, members had elected their own chief who answered to them, but the full-time chief now reports to the town’s CAO.

“That is when everything went downhill, that is when the membership lost their say,” Trenholm says.

He adds that his own resignation came after the chief led him to believe that firefighters were required to respond to a certain percentage of calls in any given year.

“I was asked to resign under the impression that as a member of the fire department, I was expected to attend 65% of the calls per year; this is what I was told by Craig Bowser,” Trenholm says.

He adds he has since learned there’s nothing in the town bylaw governing the fire service that requires volunteer firefighters to attend a certain percentage of calls.

He acknowledges that he could not respond to overnight calls because his job as a heavy equipment operator in Moncton requires him to be alert and well-rested.

“If there was a call in the middle of the night, I couldn’t be up all night long and still be able to go to work and be able to do my job because the piece of equipment I drive, I’m around people with it all the time and it’s a very dangerous machine if I’m not fully attentive,” he says.

“I did make calls on the weekend; I’d make calls after supper; I’d make training and meetings, but it was the calls in the middle of the night that I didn’t make and that didn’t sit well.”

Volunteers quitting

Trenholm points to a spate of resignations over the last five to six years as evidence of serious trouble within the Sackville fire department.

“If in a six-year period, they see 17 people resign from the fire department and not people that have 25-plus years in, but people that have 8, 10, 11 years in, if you look at those numbers, there’s something not right there,” he says.

“They’re still young and they’re moving on to other fire departments while still living in Sackville — open your eyes, this doesn’t make sense.”

Medical gowns

Laura and Travis Thurston both volunteer at the Sackville Fire Department

Travis Thurston, who has served as a firefighter for 11 years, says he decided to speak publicly about his many frustrations with the fire service because of a safety issue he feels strongly about.

“It was the last straw,” he says.

Thurston runs the maintenance department at the Sackville hospital where he received training in detailed procedures for donning and doffing medical gowns that serve as personal protective equipment against COVID-19.

He says that in late January, firefighters responded to a medical call in Midgic to assist Ambulance New Brunswick, but paramedics wouldn’t let them in the house because they weren’t wearing medical gowns. He says the gowns were on the truck, but no one had been trained in how to use them.

Thurston says he raised the training issue repeatedly without getting anywhere until he finally called WorkSafe NB, the provincial agency that enforces the Occupational Health and Safety Act. He adds that the fire service finally drafted proper procedures and firefighters received training, but it took him five weeks of badgering to get there.

“It’s tiresome, it’s so tiresome trying to fight to even have a safety plan,” he says. “You know what you need to have in place for safety and you bring it forward to them and say ‘here it is,'” he adds, “and you still get resistance on it and I don’t know why that is.”

Family tradition

Thurston’s spouse, Laura, who is also a volunteer firefighter, is quoted in an earlier Warktimes story about the ongoing discrimination women face in the fire department.

She says volunteering at Sackville Fire & Rescue is a family tradition.

“My uncle Stephen Estabrooks was deputy chief,” and adds that her brother and several cousins have also been firefighters.

“Right now, as much as there’s times where I say to myself, ‘I’ve got to give it up, I’ve got to turn in that pager, I can’t deal with this anymore,’ —  it won’t actually happen,” she says.

“To actually shut my pager off or to turn it in, I can’t do that, there’s too much passion there.

“If it rang right now, as frustrated as I am, I’d go.”

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Expert welcomes Sackville’s move to lift skateboard ban on town streets

UBC Professor Mariana Brussoni

A prominent developmental psychologist, who conducts research on child injury prevention, says Sackville Town Council appears to be on the right track in exploring ways to allow skateboarding on at least some municipal streets.

“Children and youth need to be able to take risks in their play, to connect with their friends, to have the ability to engage in physical activity, to move around independently and so on,” Mariana Brussoni writes in an e-mail to Warktimes.

Brussoni, who teaches in the Department of Pediatrics and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, says that municipal planners need to balance children’s need for physical activity with their right to be safe.

“Historically, municipal planning has really focussed on moving cars and adults’ use of public streets,” Brussoni said in a recent telephone interview.

“We see the needs of children and youth being ignored making it harder and harder for them to engage with their communities, to be able to move around independently, to meet up with their friends, to go out and play and those sorts of things,” she adds.

“Skateboarding can be an important way for kids to be able to get around and to cover more distances than they would if they were walking,” Brussoni says, “but one of the challenges, of course, is that children and youth want to feel safe on their skateboards, they want to feel safe where they’re going.”

She suggests that Sackville could permit skateboarding on less-congested residential streets and that the town could set up special lanes for skateboarding and cycling.

Most of all, though, she says the town should consult young people themselves so their voices can be heard on town planning issues.

Councillors move ahead to permit street skateboards

Councillor Bill Evans

At their meeting on April 12th, a majority of Sackville councillors voted to direct staff to work with the town lawyer to find ways of permitting skateboards on streets while considering safety, liability and enforcement concerns.

“This is not a personal issue for me,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “I am not a skateboarder, but this is a huge fairness issue for me,” he added.

“I don’t think it’s fair to exclude one mode of transportation.”

Evans said he understood that council will not likely be ready to lift the skateboard ban before the municipal election on May 10th and that a new council would have to deal with the issue.

CAO Jamie Burke said staff have already sought help from LAC Group, a research firm that has worked with neighbouring municipalities.

When Councillor Bruce Phinney wondered why the town is disregarding advice from the town’s lawyer and insurance company on liability issues, Burke said it would be a matter of managing risk.

“We know by doing this, we’re increasing the risk, but there are ways to manage the risk,” he said. “So, that’s what we would be looking to explore with our insurance provider and solicitor.”

Skateboard history

Councillor Andrew Black

Phinney, who voted against exploring ways of lifting the skateboard ban, wondered whether skateboards were originally intended for transportation or just recreation.

“Skateboards are intimately connected to surfboards,” said Councillor Andrew Black, who’s an avid skateboarder himself.

“When you’re on a surfboard, you can surf whatever water’s in front of you. When you’re on a skateboard, you can skate whatever’s in front of you.”

Black added that skateboards were made for travel.

“If there happened to be a ramp in front of you, you go up it or down it. If there was a curb in front of you, you jump it.

“They were made for street traffic travel,” Black concluded.

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Safety, liability, more experts say ‘no’ to skateboards on Sackville streets

Mt. A. politics professor Mario Levesque

A Mount Allison politics professor says if Sackville councillors vote to allow skateboarding on town streets, they’ll be exposing the town to serious liability and safety risks.

“Essentially, allowing skateboarders on Town roads introduces serious and significant risk and liability issues for the community,” Professor Mario Levesque wrote in an e-mail he sent last week to CAO Jamie Burke, Town Engineer Dwayne Acton, as well as the acting mayor and members of town council.

His e-mail included a recently published study he co-authored with Alex Marland and Philip Osborne for the academic journal Canadian Public Administration.

Levesque says the study, entitled “Suing Canadian Governments,” suggests the town would need to undertake an expensive program of regular and detailed street inspections to avoid potential liability for accidents involving skateboarders.

“For example, they’ll have to have a type of inspection program for their roads that documents changes in the road structure — whether that’s cracks in the road, whether that’s potholes — and also they’ll have to document when they found out about it and when they fixed them,” Levesque said in a telephone interview on Monday.

His comments echoed similar ones made by Town Engineer Dwayne Acton, who told council on April 6th that such an inspection program would likely require extra staff to handle the additional record keeping.

Acton and other town staff recommended against lifting the ban on street skateboarding, but a majority of councillors voted at their meeting on April 12th to support the development of bylaw changes that would permit skateboard use on municipal streets.

Safety hazards

Levesque’s e-mail to town staff and members of council, says a collision between a 75- to 175 lb person on a skateboard and a faster-moving vehicle weighing several tonnes could result in serious injuries leading to disability and death.

“Even just clipping their elbow, their arm will be shattered,” he said in our interview. “What happens if the person on a skateboard hits a stone and falls into the centre of the road and you run them over?” he asks.

“From a safety perspective, it makes no sense whatsoever.”

Levesque also dismisses the argument that there’s no essential difference between cyclists and skateboarders travelling on town streets.

He says he’s concerned that councillors are disregarding the advice of town lawyers who say the courts have held that skateboards are distinct from bicycles under the Motor Vehicle Act and that skateboarders are more similar to pedestrians.

“I think what is happening is they [councillors] are cherry picking what evidence they want to look at to put forth their own case,” he says.

“But…when there is an accident — I predict there will be an accident — it will be blood on their hands,” Levesque adds.

“Even if they’re found not liable for it in a court of law, how can they live with themselves knowing they caused a serious injury to someone, or worse?”

IWK advice

Samantha Noseworthy of Child Safety Link at the IWK

Samantha Noseworthy, Health Promotion Specialist at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says a significant number of municipalities across Canada have banned street skateboarding and her advice to Sackville town councillors would be to maintain the ban here as well.

“I would advise them to consider what the injury prevention organizations across the country are advocating for and that is to avoid skateboarding on those town streets just because of the dangers that can be created having skateboarders and drivers of vehicles in close proximity,” she said.

Noseworthy works for Child Safety Link, an organization based at the IWK that focuses on preventing injuries in children who are 14 and younger.

She says that while she knows that parents of very young children won’t allow them to skateboard on town streets, she’s still concerned about older ones.

“Once you get into that older age group, being 12, 13, 14, they have a little bit more autonomy a little bit more independence, maybe they’re out playing with their friends and parents don’t really realize exactly what’s going on,” Noseworthy says.

Meantime, Parachute, Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention, also advises against skateboarding on streets, sidewalks and parking lots, adding “skateboard only in supervised, specially designed skateboarding parks.”

Stephanie Cowle, who speaks for Parachute, sent the following information based on research into skateboard injuries:
For coverage of the Canada Safety Council’s warning, click here.

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Sackville mayoralty candidates respond to questions about fire service: Part Two

Sackville’s two mayoralty candidates are responding in their own ways to questions about bullying, harassment  and discrimination in the town’s fire service that has been going on for several years.

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken says he did not receive Warktimes e-mails asking for comment that were sent on Wednesday evening to his campaign e-mail address listed on the Elections New Brunswick website. He did receive a follow-up phone message on Thursday, but says he did not respond because he was feeling unwell.

Warktimes sent a series of questions to both mayoralty candidates similar to ones that CAO Jamie Burke and Fire Chief Craig Bower refused to answer on Tuesday.

Burke said then that he could not comment on personnel matters although the town posted a notice today on its website saying it “takes these allegations very seriously and we are initiating a process to review the matter.”

When asked who would conduct the review, what powers the reviewers would have and when the results might be known, Burke sent this e-mail response:

We have initiated a course of action, which is yet to be finalized. However, we will take the time we need to do it professionally and thoroughly, but we are not able to provide any further details at this time.

Mesheau’s response

Mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau responded to the Warktimes e-mail by saying that while he was too busy for an interview, he would provide a statement. He suggested the town needs to hire a qualified human resources manager or consultant to handle such issues.

“Anytime that allegations of this nature are brought forward they need to be taken seriously. I am genuinely concerned which is something I have conveyed,” Mesheau’s statement says.

“As a sitting councillor I am legally obligated to ensure confidentiality in matters of this nature,” it adds.

To read, Mesheau’s full statement, click here.

Aiken’s response

Mayoralty candidate Ron Aiken responded today by repeating the Warktimes questions followed by his answers (in bold type):

Question #1. Firefighters who resigned in 2018 and 2020 say they sent their letters of resignation to the Chief and the CAO with copies to Town Council. The most recent one from Kevin Scott was sent to members of Town Council in December, then re-sent last month when he received no response from members of council. (I am attaching his letter.)

(a) Were you aware of his letter?

(b) What steps did you take to look into allegations of bullying and favouritism contained in his letter.

(c) What did you do to investigate allegations of discrimination against a female member of Sackville Fire & Rescue?

Aiken’s answer: This was a letter of resignation and, although contained some troubling comments, no formal complaint was filed. Without a complaint, we can’t do much. In any of the court proceedings we hear about in the news involving such accusations, no action is taken without a complaint.

Question #2. If you are elected Mayor, how would you address these concerns?

Aiken’s answer: I would encourage anyone, male or female, who felt harassed, discriminated against, or bullied to lodge a formal complaint to ensure a fair hearing of their issue.

Question #3. The new Mayor will appoint the Liaison Councillors for Public Safety. How would you ensure that you and the Liaison Councillors have more contact with volunteer firefighters so that members of council can hear their concerns?

Aiken’s answer: The way our current system works is that the concerns of the firefighters should be taken to their superiors and, if no resolution can be reached, then they can go through the grievance and appeal procedure. If the next Council wishes to, the Fire Department by-law could be re-written to allow more contact between firefighters and Liaison Councillors and/or the Mayor. I’d have no problem with that.

4. A number of firefighters — both current and former — say the Grievance Committee and Appeal procedures outlined in Bylaw 248, which governs the Fire Department, have never been implemented. If you are elected Mayor, will you commit to seeing that these Grievance and Appeal procedures are put in place?

Aiken’s answer: The grievance and appeal procedures are in place in the Bylaw. None of the complaints you have talked about have reached that stage since I’ve been doing the Mayor’s duties.

NOTE: All firefighters Warktimes interviewed said there was no grievance committee or effective appeal process in place, noting all complaints must go through the chain of command to the fire chief. CAO Jamie Burke has confirmed that the grievance committee outlined in the bylaw has not been used.

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Sackville mayoralty candidates duck questions about fire department: Part One

Ron Aiken campaign photo

So far, Sackville’s two mayoralty candidates are not answering questions about what they would do, if elected, about allegations of discrimination, harassment and bullying in the town’s fire department.

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken did not respond to e-mails and a phone message requesting an interview, but now says he did not receive the e-mails sent to his campaign address, but only the phone message.  He also says he plans to discuss the fire department on his Facebook campaign page.

For his part, Councillor Shawn Mesheau declined to be interviewed, but sent a statement suggesting that the town needs to hire a qualified human resources manager or consultant.

“Anytime that allegations of this nature are brought forward they need to be taken seriously. I am genuinely concerned which is something I have conveyed,” Mesheau’s statement says.

“As a sitting councillor I am legally obligated to ensure confidentiality in matters of this nature,” it adds.

To read, Mesheau’s full statement, click here.

Shawn Mesheau campaign photo

The questions that were e-mailed to Aiken and Mesheau at 9:47 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14 are similar to ones that CAO Jamie Burke and Fire Chief Craig Bowser declined to answer on Tuesday. Here they are:

1. Firefighters who resigned in 2018 and 2020 say they sent their letters of resignation to the Chief and the CAO with copies to Town Council. The most recent one from Kevin Scott was sent to members of Town Council in December, then re-sent last month when he received no response from members of council.

(a) Were you aware of his letter?

(b) What steps did you take to look into allegations of bullying and favouritism contained in his letter.

(c) What did you do to investigate allegations of discrimination against a female member of Sackville Fire & Rescue?

2. If you are elected Mayor, how would you address these concerns?

3. The new Mayor will appoint the Liaison Councillors for Public Safety. How would you ensure that you and the Liaison Councillors have more contact with volunteer firefighters so that members of council can hear their concerns?

4. A number of firefighters — both current and former — say the Grievance Committee and Appeal procedures outlined in Bylaw 248, which governs the Fire Department, have never been implemented. If you are elected Mayor, will you commit to seeing that these Grievance and Appeal procedures are put in place?

Candidates need to address issues

A Mount Allison University professor who specializes in municipal affairs says candidates seeking election to town council need to be forthright in dealing with problems in Sackville Fire & Rescue.

“I think candidates have to promise that they will get to the bottom of things,” says Geoff Martin, who served on Sackville town council himself from 1998 to 2004.

Martin adds that while candidates may be right to say that the results of an internal investigation would remain private, they should at least be promising to push for one.

“We’re in an election season now and I think that candidates for council and mayor could promise some specific actions that will be taken to provide some assurance to the voters that the voters can vote for them and the situation will be dealt with and not swept under the carpet,” he says.

Posted in Sackville Town Council election 2021, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 3 Comments

‘It’s got to stop’: Firefighters call for an end to bullying, harassment and favouritism in Sackville Fire & Rescue

Firefighters say it’s time for Sackville’s fire chief, the town CAO, and members of town council to end the persistent bullying and intimidation of volunteers that has led to a spate of resignations over the last five years.

“I think we counted 17 since 2016,” said Kevin Scott who resigned effective December 31st after serving more than 11 years as a volunteer firefighter.

“I would bet that at least half of those resignations, if not more, were because of issues going on within the fire department including low morale, bullying and favouritism,” he says.

“I’ve taken a step back in the last two years and watched and listened to the other members,” Scott writes in the resignation letter he sent to Chief Craig Bowser on December 17, 2020.

“The members see inconsistency, favouritism and bullying. I wonder why one firefighter needs to wear bunker gear on a scene when another doesn’t need to. They [the members] see how some firefighters can drive a truck to a scene when others can’t,” he writes.

“No firefighter should ever feel intimidated by another firefighter/leader; that is bullying. It’s been going on at the station for too long, but it seems to be a subject that is avoided.”

Scott e-mailed his letter in December to the fire chief, deputy chiefs, and CAO Jamie Burke with copies to the acting mayor and members of town council, but received no response. After e-mailing it again last month, he received brief acknowledgments from Councillors Bill Evans and Shawn Mesheau. Councillor Mesheau said he had raised Scott’s concerns with the CAO and members of council.

Safety Officer ignored

Scott’s letter refers to former Safety Officer Louise Landry, who resigned on October 4, 2018 after eight years as a volunteer firefighter. Warktimes obtained a copy of Landry’s resignation letter addressed to the chief, deputy chiefs and fellow members of the department. In the letter, she says it was hard to do her job when certain firefighters ignored basic safety instructions such as refusing to wear proper protective equipment when entering burning buildings.

“Certain individuals were persistent in making it difficult for me to perform my duties as a Safety Officer, as they had absolutely no respect for me. I can only conclude that it was because I am a female,” she writes.

“The glaring stares and the silent treatment, ignoring me when I asked them a safety question at a scene, the mockery, the intimidation, the humiliation and last but not least, the countless sleepless nights I encountered week after week,” Landry added.

“It just came to the point that I lost interest in all events, training calls, meeting(s) and opted out of every committee…to avoid being bullied, harassed and discriminated against…

“The last couple of years have left me with very disheartening feelings and unfortunately, I can no longer say that I enjoy or am proud to be a firefighter with this department,” Landry’s letter says.

Treatment of women

Landry’s concern about discrimination against women in the Sackville fire department was echoed in several interviews conducted for this story that were both on and off the record.

Laura Thurston, who has served as a firefighter for four-and-a-half years, recalls helping to rescue a motorcycle accident victim from a ditch and being told to relinquish her side of the stretcher to a male firefighter.

“Even though I was perfectly capable and doing a fine job, I was still asked to hand off to a male firefighter as we were coming up the embankment,” Thurston says.

She adds that she finds it infuriating that she faces resistance whenever she drives the rescue truck even though she passed the qualifying air-brake endorsement course in 2017.

“Officers get in trouble for allowing me to drive; they get pulled into the office,” she says. “It’s not a secret, everyone knows that I am treated differently.”

Thurston adds that over the years she has requested meetings with CAOs Phil Handrahan and Jamie Burke, but both declined to meet.

“They wouldn’t even sit with me; they wouldn’t listen to what I had to say.”

Landry’s letter not read to members

Former Sackville firefighter Kevin Scott says the fire chief did not follow the customary practice of reading Louise Landry’s resignation letter to the members on the grounds that it was a confidential Human Resources matter.

“She distributed her resignation letter to any member who wanted to see it,” he writes, “knowing she left because she felt bullied, and no one did anything about it or acknowledged it is wrong.”

Landry’s letter refers to an incident in which a fellow officer refused to drive the rescue truck to a car fire on the TransCanada because she was sitting in the passenger seat.

“It is alarming that an Officer could be that selfish, immature and defiant, especially when seconds could be the difference between life and death,” she writes.

Toxic work environment’

Another firefighter, who resigned from Sackville Fire & Rescue in 2018 after nine years of service, says the department has a “toxic work environment.”

“I have watched Sackville Fire deteriorate over the last nine years to the point that I myself as well as others do not even want to walk in the door,” he wrote in a letter of resignation that mentions favouritism, double standards, and harassment.

He describes one incident at a departmental lobster party where a captain’s wife angrily threw dirty cutlery at a female officer while her husband and a deputy chief looked on.

“To this day, these two men are still officers and the membership was not made aware of any formal discipline against them,” he writes.

“I have many examples of conduct that was deemed as acceptable for a select few members and officers, but not the remainder of the membership.”

No grievance procedures

The town bylaw that governs the Sackville Fire Department outlines procedures for filing complaints to a Grievance Committee with detailed steps for appealing its decisions to the CAO, the mayor and the liaison councillor for public safety.

But Warktimes has confirmed in a series of interviews, both on and off the record, that a Grievance Committee has never been established, leaving members of the fire department with no choice but to file their complaints to the chief, even if those complaints are against him.

Multiple firefighters say attempts to lodge complaints with CAO Jamie Burke have been rejected, with Burke advising members to go through the fire department’s chain of command.

Kevin Scott, who now volunteers with the Pointe De Bute Fire Department, says that aside from setting up a functioning Grievance Committee, volunteers should be consulted when Chief Bowser receives his annual performance review.

“In my eleven and a half years with the department, no one from the town has ever come to me and asked, ‘Hey, how’s Craig doing as chief?'”

Scott adds he recently discovered that CAO Burke conducts the annual assessment based on a report that the chief submits.

“I’d like to see the town council get more involved in what’s going on within the fire department in Sackville,” he says.

Update: town response

Warktimes e-mailed questions to Fire Chief Craig Bowser with a copy to CAO Jamie Burke at 10:51 Monday night. At 5:06 p.m. today, Burke responded: “Thanks for your note. As these are personnel matters, we will not be providing further comment.”

Here are the questions the CAO declined to answer:

1. What steps did the town take to address allegations contained in letters of resignation over the last six years about low morale, bullying and favouritism?

2. What steps were taken to investigate allegations of discrimination against female members of Sackville Fire & Rescue?

3. Why is there no Fire Dept. Grievance Committee as required under town bylaws?

4. Why has the CAO not responded to complaints over several years?

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 15 Comments

‘The artist and the prince’: Sackville sculptor remembers Prince Philip

Christian Corbet with the plaster cast he created as he worked on a bronze bust of Prince Philip

Middle Sackville artist Christian Corbet says he woke up this morning to about 200 messages from members of the Canadian military as well as friends and distant relations including a couple of Winston Churchill’s grandchildren.

The messages were about the death of Prince Philip whom Corbet met in 2013 when he was commissioned to create a bronze bust of the Duke of Edinburgh for the Royal Canadian Regiment in honour of Philip’s 60 years as its colonel-in-chief.

“I’m sad,” Corbet says. “He told me that he would never make his 100th birthday…I believe that he just knew.”

Big break

Corbet says that getting the commission to create a bust of Prince Philip was a big break for him as a portrait artist.

“I requested a life sitting [but] didn’t know if that was going to happen,” he says.

Buckingham Palace responded by asking for examples of Corbet’s work.

“So, I sent two of my best busts and within 48 hours they approved me.”

When Corbet eventually arrived at the Palace, he was a bit apprehensive.

Corbet’s bronze bust of Prince Philip

“Before you go in, you have a briefing and you sit down with the equerry,” Corbet says.

“The biggest thing I was not warned about, but maybe cautioned about, was that if he doesn’t take well to the sitting, basically if he doesn’t like you, he might just stand up and leave.”

Corbet needn’t have worried.

The Prince shook his hand and turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about art.

“The first room I worked in was his man cave, the worn-out Eames-era furniture and the dusty books on the shelves, pictures of his mom, his dad and his sisters. He offered for me to take a book on an architect home, ‘Return it next week when you see me,’ and how do you say no to that?”

Corbet estimates there were about 1,000 books on the shelves, including art catalogues and many about nature and the environment.

“I pointed out a book by my friend, Jane Goodall and said that I had done her portrait many years before and he said that he had met her and loved her and he said, ‘Well, have you read the book?’ and I said I’d read it several times. And I said, ‘Did you read the book?’ and he smiled and said, ‘I’ve read every book in here.'”

Corbet says Philip was a man who did not waste his life.

“He was the first Royal Family member to have a television series on environment on the BBC, which was way ahead of its time and that was in the 1960s.”

300 photos

One of the many photos Corbet took in the yellow drawing room at Buckingham Palace

Corbet says he directed the then 92-year-old Prince to sit in a chair while he circled around it taking the first of more than 300 photos.

“And he goes, ‘If you keep on going around me like this, you’re going to end up under my desk and then he started to laugh and he goes, ‘Here you sit back down here and let me do this for you.'”

Philip took the chair by its wooden arms and started jumping it around in a full circle as Corbet continued taking photos.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘I think you’re showing off’ and he goes, ‘I don’t have much to show off for anymore, but he said, ‘This is it, now you’ve got it.'” Corbet laughed as he recalled the scene.

“I loved that because it showed his physical prowess.”

A royal invitation

Corbet says Philip said “Sure” when he offered to show him a few of the better photos he had taken.

“He comes over to the table and I opened up my portfolio and I lay out five photographs and I said to him, ‘Sir, would you be so kind as to consider signing this for me?”

Corbet says that he noticed the equerry standing in the doorway shaking his head furiously.

“And Prince Philip says, ‘Do you have a pen?’ and I said, “Well I do,’ and he said, ‘You would, wouldn’t you,'” Corbet says.

“The equerry said to me afterwards, ‘You’re bloody lucky because he usually gets very angry at that, he goes, ‘He must have liked you’ and I said, ‘Well, I liked him.'”

Corbet remembers that as he and the Prince were parting, Philip said he’d be in Toronto in a few months and asked if Corbet would join him for breakfast.

“And I did,” Corbet adds. “What an incredible story really, the artist and the prince. It’s a short novel, isn’t it?”

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Pond Shore residents lose another round in their fight to lower the speed limit on their busy road

Diagram in WSP report showing current speed limits as well as coloured pins where the consultant used radar devices to record speeds on Pond Shore Rd. over three days from Tues. Feb. 9 to Thurs. Feb. 11.

Residents of Sackville’s Pond Shore Road have suffered a big setback in their 11-year campaign to get the 60 km/h speed limit in their neighbourhood reduced to 50.

A consultant’s report from WSP Canada, that cost the town between $3,000 and $4,000, says the posted speed between Uphill Drive and Mount View Road should actually be increased to 70 km/h based on an analysis of various factors including road conditions, average speeds and traffic volume.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton told council on Tuesday that as a result, he recommends keeping the speed at 60 and installing radar devices on both sides of the road that show drivers how fast they’re going.

He said that aside from encouraging drivers to slow down, the radar devices would also gather information on speeds that the town could share with the RCMP.

Councillor Michael Tower questioned the consultant’s conclusion and called for a lower speed limit on Pond Shore.

“We want people to get out and get walking and become active,” Tower said, “and if they go out and they’re walking on the side of the road with their kids and we continue to allow the cars to fly by, that’s still going to make life miserable for them and so, the quality of life in Sackville for them is not as high as in other residential areas.”

RCMP presence needed

“We don’t have a speed limit problem, we have a speeding problem,” said Councillor Bill Evans.

“I would urge that this motion also ask that the RCMP to spend a little more time enforcing the speed limit in that area because I think that’s what’s causing the problem, not people going 60, but people speeding,” Evans added.

“That’s what we have to address and I don’t think we’ll address that by changing the speed limit.”

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken, who lives on Uphill Drive, said the consultant’s report did not take the 12 school bus stops on Pond Shore Road into account.

He also questioned where the consultant placed the three radar devices that recorded speeds and traffic volumes.

Aiken noted that the first device, near Church Street, couldn’t capture all the data because of the curve on the lower part of Pond Shore Road.

“There’s no information on the problem area,” he said. “The problem area is after Uphill Drive until you get [to] just before Mount View Road and their two [other] detecting machines are nowhere near there.”

Aiken suggested that one solution could be to install radar camera devices that would photograph speeders’ licence plates so that tickets could be sent to offenders.

But he noted that although the town would have to pay to install the devices, any speeding fine revenues would go to the province.

Residents voice concerns

During the public question period after Tuesday’s meeting, resident Don Gouthro said the consultant should have talked to Pond Shore residents about their own safety concerns as well as the safety of others who jog or cycle in the area.

“We’re very concerned as a neighbourhood that something tragic is going to happen on this road,” he said.

Don Gouthro asks town council to help resolve speeding concerns in January 2020

Gouthro added that before recent spring weight restrictions took effect, dozens of tandem trucks fully loaded with logs were coming over the hill every day.

He also noted that there are no signs indicating school bus stops and that blind hill signs were removed several years ago.

“Instead of hiring an outside firm, why doesn’t the town itself take it upon themselves to do the study of Pond Shore and come to their own conclusions?” he asked.

Laurie Ann Wesselby said she has lived for 26 years on the blind hill across the road from an elderly neighbour who suffered severe injuries in a high-speed, hit-and-run collision in December 2019.

She added that after that crash, the RCMP were very visible in the area, but that visibility ended after a couple of weeks.

“My office window is facing the road and just during this meeting alone, I counted over 100 cars in the last hour and 15 minutes,” she noted and asked whether the town was considering safety improvements such as installing sidewalks and better street lighting.

The town engineer responded that there is no immediate plan for sidewalks on Pond Shore, but that the adequacy of lighting and signage in the area could be evaluated.

Adam Campbell said he had young children when he first moved to the neighbourhood nine years ago.

“At the time, we didn’t feel safe walking the road with a stroller, so we would load the kids and stroller into the truck and drive to a safer spot to walk,” he said.

Now that the children are a little older, they like to bike, Campbell added.

“We do the same thing, we load four bikes and four people into my truck to drive down to the trail at the lake,” he said.

“The reason we do that is because of safety concerns.”

Campbell said he’d feel a lot safer, if council would ask the RCMP to step up enforcement on a stretch of road that has a blind corner at one end and a blind hill at the other.

“I can drop a note to the RCMP and ask them to step up enforcement up there,” Acting Mayor Aiken replied.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 5 Comments

Sackville managers recommend keeping ban on street skateboarding, but councillors not so sure

Treasurer Michael Beal

A proposal to lift the ban on street skateboarding hit a big pothole last night at Sackville Town Council when staff recommended looking at ways of improving the existing skatepark instead.

In February, council gave first reading or preliminary approval to a change in the traffic bylaw that would allow skateboarders on streets as long as they wear safety helmets and stay off sidewalks.

But Treasurer Michael Beal told council last night that after consulting the town’s insurance company and its lawyers, staff were recommending against lifting the ban.

“If council wished to proceed with second and third reading and allow it, that would be council’s prerogative to do so,” Beal said.

“If they did so, then council would be assuming the additional liability and a potential for claims and the potential for increased risk,” he added.

He acknowledged, however, that lifting the ban would not have an immediate effect on the cost of the town’s existing insurance coverage, but an increase in claims could trigger higher premiums.

Review of streets & sidewalks

Beal said the town’s insurers recommended that before lifting the ban, the town should undertake a review of traffic patterns and conditions on all roads and sidewalks partly to determine whether additional maintenance would be required to make them safe for skateboarding.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton said that such an extensive review would probably require extra staff.

“There would have to be a substantial amount of record-keeping and we’d have to literally evaluate streets and document that we have evaluated and checked all the streets out,” Acton added.

“If there was a pothole that maybe got missed, it needs to be patched right away, otherwise if somebody hits it, now it becomes our liability because we knew about it and we didn’t fill it on time.”

Acton also said that potholes can’t be filled in spring because of weather and temperature conditions.

“What do I do for all the skateboarders in April and May who want to use the streets [when] I can’t fill those potholes?” he asked.

Skateboards & bicycles

Beal said the town’s lawyers noted the courts have held that skateboards are distinct from bicycles which are required under the Motor Vehicle Act to have headlamps, reflectors and to operate with one hand always on the handle-bars while skateboarders are viewed as similar to pedestrians.

“Allowing skateboards on roadways would be like allowing pedestrians to travel on roadways,” he added.

Councillors respond

Councillor Allison Butcher

Councillor Shawn Mesheau said he would like to see town staff present more options.

“I understand there’s a legal and an insurance obligation,” he said, “but what is being done or has been done in other municipalities?”

Mesheau wondered, for example, if it would be possible to allow skateboarders on less congested streets or require them to travel facing traffic instead of flowing with it.

“I’m curious about that information and I think that’s important information to have before just ultimately saying yes or no,” he added.

Councillor Allison Butcher pointed to positive aspects of skateboarding including the benefits of fresh air, being outside and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’ve heard many times that we are in the business of managing risk, that’s what towns do,” she said.

She wondered, for example, how many insurance claims municipalities like Sackville face because of the risks of open water bodies within their boundaries.

“It’s about balancing risk and I’m still unsure about whether or not we want to just say ‘let’s keep on with the status quo’ because I feel like our ban on skateboards is kind of outdated,” Butcher said.

Councillor Bill Evans agreed.

“I like the idea of finding ways to get along, to celebrate diversity, to find accommodation,” he said.

Evans questioned denying what he called “some small, marginalized group” the ability to enjoy skateboarding on town streets.

“I don’t think we should just abandon this because it’s hard especially at the expense of a group that’s already being penalized,” he said.

Councillor Andrew Black

Councillor Andrew Black, who initially proposed lifting the ban on street skateboarding, pointed out that the information from the insurance company showed the risk of claims and skyrocketing insurance premiums to be quite low, while Councillor Michael Tower called for further research before council makes a decision.

Councillor Bruce Phinney agreed more research would help, but suggested that in the meantime, the town should pay attention to liability questions raised by the town’s insurance company and its lawyers.

“I know what they (skateboarders) want,” Phinney said, “but sometimes, some people need to be protected from themselves and so, I think in the best interests of everyone, it would be (best) to respect exactly what our solicitor and our insurance company have advised us to do at the present time.”

As last night’s discussion ended, Acting Mayor Ron Aiken said that councillors who want additional information should send their requests to CAO Jamie Burke.

He suggested that council could debate passage of the bylaw lifting the street skateboard ban at its meeting on May 3rd seven days before the municipal election.

“I think it would be unfair to have this hang over to another council,” Aiken added.

“It’s something we probably should clean up.”

To read previous coverage of this issue, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 2 Comments