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RM of Estevan Celebrates 100 years

They did it in style.
Some of the dignitaries at the head table attending the RM of Estevan's 100th Anniversary. From the left: Don Taylor, SARM director for District1; Dave Marit, SARM president; Gary St. Onge, Mayor of Estevan; Doreen Eagles, MLA for Estevan Constituencyand Ed Komarnicki, MP for Souris-Moose Mountain.

They did it in style. The RM of Estevan celebrated 100 years of existence with a grand celebration that included some fireworks shot into the cloud-covered evening sky that attempted to dampen their spirits and efforts throughout the day, to no avail. The Saturday event began with a pancake and fruit breakfast served in their large maintenance shop located just north of the city on a wide, well graveled road. In fact all events for the day were staged in the maintenance garage, including the evening barbecue for well over 200 people. "We tried to put up a tent next door, but after putting that sucker up six times after the wind blew it down, we just gave up," said RM administrator Greg Hoffort who served as emcee for the day's formal events. While members of the Outram-Madigan and Benson 4-H Beef Clubs tended to visitor needs, the evening's package of speeches went off without a hitch, including the arrival of head table dignitaries in various vintages of cars and trucks which represented each of the last 10 decades. The final arrival being MP Ed Komarnicki in a horse-drawn carriage. "Things have changed in the last 100 years, since the RM of Estevan came into being, but what hasn't changed is local democracy by local people doing things for others for no personal benefits," said Hoffort. The administrator said in checking back into the record books, it was recorded at one time that the RM of Estevan would promise to make a donation to the Estevan Agricultural Society for their annual fair, but only if they'd quit gambling at the annual exhibition. He also recalled minutes that bore information regarding bounties on coyotes in the 1920s much like those of last winter. The RM of Estevan, while affected by the Great Depression, as was everyone in Saskatchewan in the 1930s, still managed to build a new office. The RM took out a loan of $85,000 in the 1930s, which was significant. Hoffort noted that in that era, teachers were paid less than $500 per annum. RM minutes also carried information regarding the formation of health regions and school units in the 1940s, not unlike events that unfolded again within the last 10 years. The RM also got involved in the development of Woodlawn Regional Park in the 1960s and started the Master Farm Family Award program urged on by former councillor Ron Gallaway. Astounding councilor dedication efforts were acknowledged too, with the minutes noting that former Reeve Everett Murphy put in 26 consecutive years of service as have other long-serving councillors such as Dennis Blackburn and John Kish. Former administrator Dale Malmgren had also been cited for service to the province as well as local ratepayers for his knowledge about rural municipal politics and the manner of doing business. "Our reeve, Marie Dukart was our first female reeve. She was responsible for helping repair a broken relationship with the City of Estevan and set the stage for extraordinary growth while respecting the agricultural mandate of our council. She helped establish a true business model," said Hoffort. Souris-Moose Mountain MP Ed Komarnicki praised the RM "for getting the work done even in tough times," and he said the strong working relationship they have with the City of Estevan had to be celebrated as well as its relationship with neighbouring RMs. He cited the character of the people at the helm in the RM for making those things happen. Estevan MLA Doreen Eagles said the RM owed a debt of gratitude to the pioneers of public service who carried out many thankless tasks in order to position the municipality where it is today. She also praised them for forming a strong relationship with senior governments. Dave Marit, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities was on hand and noted that SARM itself was only 105 years old. "We are strictly a volunteer agency, all 296 of us and we do our work by dealing with resolutions that come to us from the floor in a democratic process," Marit said. He noted that SARM's history is also sprinkled with interesting facts, such as the call for provincial hail insurance as far back as 1910, the need to address a shortage of doctors in 1915 and the right of women to vote in 1916. He said the provincial population was near what it is now as far back as 1931 and by 1936, SARM was pushing for crop insurance and a pension plan for RM secretaries (administrators). The SARM offices were amalgamated in Regina in 1974 and now has 25 employees. "It was SARM who urged the provincial governments to give us an Agricultural Ministry and now we look back and we thank the parents, grandparents and great grandparents who had the guts to establish the best municipal structure in Canada," said Marit. Don Taylor, the director for Division 1 of the six-division RM format in Saskatchewan, presented acting reeve Kelly Lafrentz with a plaque of recognition for 100 years of service. Lafrentz accepted on behalf of reeve Marie Dukart who was in the audience but unable to respond due to recent health-related afflictions, but she nodded her approval and accepted several rounds of applause sent in her direction for her efforts in moving the RM forward in a positive manner during this council's regime. Estevan Mayor Gary St. Onge told the RM that their journey was far from done. He acknowledged the fact that the working relationship was mutually beneficial and Estevan could consider itself lucky to be associated with an RM that was truly generous and understanding of the needs of others. "We work to find common ground," said Hoffort in response. Veteran councilor Blackburn thanked employees and fellow councillors and noted that just recently, as an acting reeve, he had the pleasure of signing a cheque in the amount of one dollar which once again put the seniors residence known as Creighton Lodge, into the hands of the RM of Estevan and five other neighbouring RMs. He said pioneer types like Leo Seipp made the original pitch to have Creighton Lodge built. "Another guy with a little vision," said Blackburn. Lafrentz was asked to give a "state of the RM" statement to wind up the formal proceedings and he again paid tribute to Dukart for her ability to multi-task while devoting so much time to municipal business. "With Marie we managed to expand our tax base to the point where we now have one of the lowest mill rates in the province. And Marie kept her eye on the budget. We are now a real service centre for oil companies and now they're even drilling within our boundaries," said Lafrentz. He noted that licences had been issued for no fewer than 30 wells to be drilled in the RM this year alone with corresponding compensation agreements signed between the municipality and the producing companies that will enable the RM to maintain a strong infrastructure. "We have shown through expansions that we are developer friendly while protecting our ratepayers," said Lafrentz. "We allow for acreage development while scrutinizing the impact it may have on our agricultural base. We respond to recreation and cultural demands and we provide that through co-operation with the city. There is no need to duplicate facilities and services. We've done that strictly through developer fees we've collected." Lafrentz said fire fighting equipment and service was also part and parcel of the package, along with contributions to health and welfare through donations to the St. Joseph's Hospital and its drive to become a regional hospital, and the seniors complex, Creighton Lodge. "We need more rooms for seniors, not less," he said. A truck bypass and other transportation issues are being addressed, said Lafrentz, and bridge replacement programs are being carried out with some already having been completed. Reclamation projects after coal mining are an important issue, as are lobbying efforts with the provincial government to ensure that the right things are done to protect agriculture lands. The council then thanked event planner Avery Lafrentz for her untiring work at bringing the event details together over the past few months, a task that she took on with enthusiasm and good humour. The colourful fireworks display under the evening skies concluded the day's activities.

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