The reporters and editors at the St. Albert Gazette handle hundreds of stories every year. This holiday season these staffers are looking back at the one story from 2013 that stands out for them, because the story touched them the most, was the most fun to cover, the most memorable to write … the reasons vary.
Another instalment will appear in the Jan.1 edition.
Susan Jones – features writer
Looking back through the 2013 calendar, one story about a lady who houses more than 84 bird families in her backyard, stood out.
Anne Jwaszko turned 80 the week before her interview. Yet on a snowy April day when I showed up with Gazette photographer April Bartlett, the octogenarian easily climbed up and down a ladder to demonstrate how she hangs the little houses above her garage door.
Each of the wee houses was hand-painted and labelled with little jokes by Jwasko. There was a house named in honour of each of her own family members as well as many of her closest friends. Jwaszko explained that the houses were an ongoing joke with some of her children and grandchildren, who check the wooden boxes to see if they are occupied every time they visit.
The houses were interesting, but the real treat was Jwaszko, who had a story and a smile to go with every birdie dwelling.
"One sparrow was carrying a piece of plastic to her nest the other day," she said, as she made her story into a riddle.
Then she paused like a professional comedian, waited for the blank look on a reporter's face, and answered, "Bed wetters."
Jwaszko manages to climb up and down ladders with ease because she walks at least three kilometres each day. She also goes to aquacise classes at Fountain Park pool.
She lives her life with a smile, she explained, because she has found it helps other people too. She has had her share of hard times and grief, but she cannot let others dwell upon her sorrows, so she lightens things with a joke.
"My grandma said that every time you laugh you'll cry. She was right. I've buried a husband and I've buried a daughter. Laughing at the world is my coping mechanism. You get the same problems in life whether you laugh or you cry so you might as well laugh," Jwaszko said.
That message, which she shared, is there every day of Jwaszko's life and the jokes and quips are out there painted on the 84 houses that line the eaves of her garage. No doubt, even the sparrows smile each time they come through their doors.
A visit to Jwaszko's home late in the summer showed two more houses up on the edge of the roof. One was labelled "Susan's house" and the second read "April's house."
Fitting labels for some bird-brained, flighty creatures, that's for sure.
Amy Crofts – court, crime and health reporter
In late September, the death of a young boy gripped the city of St. Albert and shook it to its core.
Thomas Wedman, 6, died after being struck by a school bus while walking to school.
Thomas and his older brother both ran ahead of their dad that morning and when Thomas went to cross the street, he was hit by a bus that was making a right-hand turn onto Woodlands Road from Sir Winston Churchill Avenue.
He thought it would stop, but it didn’t.
Despite being shaken by grief, a community joined hands and embraced a heartbroken family. From strangers sharing condolences, to fundraising efforts and porch lights shining into the night around the world, Thomas’ memory was kept alive.
More than 1,000 gathered at a public memorial to remember his joie de vivre.
The Wedman family invited people into their homes so every person who knew their son could have a proper goodbye. They also decided to have Thomas’ heart valves donated through the Human Organ Procurement and Exchange Program to help better the lives of two other children.
Thomas’ death grasped the heart of our community and for that reason, his story is the one that has impacted me the most since I’ve worked at the Gazette.
Being at the site of the incident was the toughest assignment I’ve been on. Asking Thomas’ father Jeff questions about the circumstances of his son’s death have been some of the toughest I’ve ever had to ask.
As a reporter you come to realize that when you ask someone to tell you their narrative, you are asking them to relive it. I want to thank the Wedman family for letting me share their story and inspiring the rest of us with their unfaltering strength while doing so.
Every time I pass by École Marie Poburan these days I turn my head to the spot on Woodlands Drive where the school bus was last parked and think of the fair-haired boy giggling in his homemade iPod videos.
Then I double check my speedometer and keep my eyes peeled for pedestrians.
I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Scott Hayes – visual arts reporter
This has been a very interesting year for me and I’ve had the pleasure of writing stories about some of these wonderful moments. There are several that stand out in my memory, like the story about Raemonde Bezenar who ran around the city in a gorilla suit to promote her charity work with the Canadian Friends of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.
Then there was the time the fine folks at the Tudor Glen Veterinary Hospital who cleaned up a field’s worth of dog droppings in an event they appropriately called the poop-a-thon.
I’ve written about numerous authors, several of them local, who have either published new books or brought their books on tour through town. I also had the privilege of discovering the wealth of archival material that was donated to the Musée Héritage Museum by the family of Victor Post.
The late photographer had a very interesting life and was in the unique position as the province's official photographer to take pictures of some prominent and celebrated individuals. As far as I know, the museum is still poring through the collection, trying to catalogue it all.
I started a new regular feature called Artist of the Month that runs on the second Wednesday of every month. My movie reviews started up again in October and my new blog, The Hayes Code, is now live on the Gazette’s website.
Probably my favourite stories, however, have delved into the city’s history. I wrote Meet the Founders to give readers a better idea of who Father Albert Lacombe and Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché were. A few months after that, my feature on the former interurban railway was published.
Few people know that St. Albert and Edmonton were once connected by rail car transit 100 years ago. Sadly, it only lasted for six months until a fire stopped it in its tracks. Efforts to revive it were met with disappointment.
I’m always pleased to offer today’s readers the opportunity to understand and appreciate our common history.