Great start to tourism season in Okanagan, but high gas prices may result in less spending

It was the first May long weekend since the 2019 Victoria Day weekend without any COVID-19-related restrictions.

“Long weekend was amazing,” said Jeff Blower, owner of Kelly O’Bryan’s Restaurant in downtown Kelowna. ” People are back.  It’s great. I haven’t seen that many people in two-and-a-half years.”

While the numbers haven’t yet been tabulated, Tourism Kelowna is touting this past May long weekend as one of its best.

“What we are hearing is it was probably one of the best weekends on record for tourism in the Okanagan,” said Lisanne Ballantyne.  “There’s definitely pent-up travel demand.”

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At the Parlour Icecream shop, the long weekend was a record-breaking one.

“We’ve had our busiest long weekend since we opened in August 2017,” said supervisor Hailley Bamping.

Wineries across the Okanagan also reported strong numbers, including The View Winery.

“This May long weekend, Saturday, we saw numbers that we typically see in the middle of July and August in the regular season,” said Krista Pallos, hospitality and wine shop manager.

Pallos said with no COVID restrictions, groups coming in for wine tastings are getting larger.

“Last summer, we had restrictions of six people per tasting room,” Pallos said. “This year, we’re seeing bigger and bigger reservations or we’re seeing groups of 12 and 14 coming in.”

A restriction-free summer season is being welcome by tourism operators, including Ogopogo Parasail.

“Yeah, looking forward to getting back out there without the restrictions, ” said owner Luke Weller.

“Without the face masks and without sanitizing and all that sort of stuff, just getting back to normal operation.”

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And while the elimination of restrictions may bring in more tourists, the high price of gas may impact how much they spend here.

“We don’t foresee the gas prices having a direct effect on our overall tourism number. We do about 2.2 million visitors a year,” Ballantyne said.

“What we are worried about is once they get here, are they going to have enough leftover money to spend on our retailers, out in restaurants? Maybe have that extra day in the hotel.”

In addition to high gas prices, the labour shortage is also a cause for concern, as there aren’t enough workers to serve all the tourists expected in the Okanagan this summer season.

“I hire about 50 new staff for the summer. I’m probably only halfway there right now,” Blower said.

According to the B.C. Restaurant Association, the industry is short about 30,000 employees.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Saskatoon council sets sights on downtown development parking concerns

WATCH: City Council is facing parking concerns when it comes to the development of Saskatoon's downtown.

Downtown Saskatoon could look very different in the years to come with the potential of a new arena and entertainment centre as well as a grocery store.

However, one problem looming large for both projects was brought up at city council on Tuesday: parking.

Midtown Mall is already a busy area which is often crowded with parked cars.

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One resident, Tyrell Harder, told council he noticed people parking in the Cactus Club parking lot, because it is free, and spending their day in the mall.

Councillor Darren Hill asked what the parking plan would be for the proposed downtown grocery store, especially for people just stopping in for pick-up.

Murray Totland, spokesperson for Arbutus Properties, said the store would have spaces specifically for the store, which is expected to be a Pitchfork Market  + Kitchen.

“That service lot immediately outside the proposed store location would be obviously the most convenient, we’ll have some dedicated stalls for curbside pickup,” said Totland.

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Council also decided on the criteria for the new downtown arena.

They outlined land space, access to transport and close proximity to other complimentary businesses such as hotels and parking.

The new arena is expected to hold 15,000 seats, and administration staff noted that a new parking facility will need to be built regardless of which location is chosen.

Council is moving ahead with both plans.

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They voted to give Arbutus Properties a tax abatement for the site, should they build a grocery store there.

They are also scheduled to unveil possible sites for the new arena as soon as possible.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Lack of parking near Kingston General Hospital leaves hospital staff frustrated

Finding parking around Kingston General Hospital is always a challenge. It's especially tough for health care workers heading into work every day.

For Kingston Health Sciences Centre ICU nurse Hannah Green, the past two years of working around the clock, often short-staffed, has been exhausting.

On top of that, finding parking to get to work proves to be a challenge.

“It’s been an issue as long as I’ve been there,” says Green.

“There used to be the courthouse parking lot. It was, I think, $8 to $10 a day. That was nice — it was a close walking distance, and then they jumped that up to $20 a day as well. So, it seems like pennies to some people, but in the end, it really does add up and it just adds to the frustration that’s already there.”

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Green has worked at Kingston General Hospital for 12 years and now lives in the countryside with limited access to bus routes.

She says the parking issue affects a lot of health care workers.

“I think a lot of us just don’t understand why we can’t park close to the hospital for an affordable price, or for even an accessible way of doing it,” she says. “You barely have time to have a break, much less run out to the meter.”

When asked for comment on the situation, the City of Kingston responded with a statement.

“While there is no free parking offered by the city in the proximity of Kingston General Hospital, there are long-term parking options for employees working for Kingston Health Sciences Centre,” reads the statement.

“Queen’s University has several long-term parking options available and there are approximately 100 spaces available at St. Mary’s, with an additional 40 spaces in the Union St. parking garage.”

When asked by Global News for comment, the university also responded with a statement.

“Queen’s extends to Kingston Health Sciences Centre employees the same rates and access to on-campus parking as our own university employees,” says the statement.

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Some KGH workers have even resorted to using the Kingston Penitentiary parking lot, but the beginning of the tourism season is making that difficult.

“Because we are leasing the property from Correctional Services Canada to run tours and filming, we’re paying over $23,000 a month to lease this property,” says Lanie Hurdle, chief administrative officer for the City of Kingston.

“Therefore, we need to ensure that our customers have access to parking first, and are using this parking,”

Green says she’s calling for the city to provide parking options that would help make the hospital more accessible to both staff and community members, to help make an already tough job a little easier to get to.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Staff shortages in Saskatchewan hospitality sector at an all-time high

Fresh off of the May long weekend, tourism may be up but staff shortages are at an all-time high.

“Currently listed on, so that’s only one platform,” said Jim Bence, Hospitality Saskatchewan president and CEO, “there’s 3,200 jobs; 3,000 available front-line positions.”

Bence said the industry has faced challenges 10-years-ago. But, it pales in comparison to what is happening right now.

“We’ve got compounding challenges with early retirements those types of things,” said Bence. “Massive migration from our industry into other industries which occurred at the beginning of the pandemic because people got laid off.”

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The COVID-19-related layoff was a path Karlo Hospitality Inc. owner Kail Oppermann refused to take.

“Our philosophy always was to keep our staff all the time,” said Kail Oppermann. “That’s why we diversified from airline catering to catering itself.”

It’s a decision that paid off for Oppermann.

“Our value has gone up tremendously,” said Oppermann.

Tourism also continues to grow.

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“We’re seeing much stronger bookings in the accommodation sectors,” said Jonathan Potts, Tourism Saskatchewan CEO.

“In 2020, we dropped way below 50 per cent to 32 per cent average accommodations across the province. It was 41 last year and this year we should be well north of 50 per cent.”

The challenge to hire may be there but Bence said the focus will continue to be on trying to bring in new local employees into the industry before they begin to look outside the province with their new program ‘Belong Saskatchewan’ projected to begin in June.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Conservative leadership candidates to battle for crucial Quebec in French debate

WATCH: He may be planning to step down as leader of Alberta's governing party, but Jason Kenney's decision also holds widespreading political implications on the federal level. David Akin explains what Kenney's performance and departure means for Ottawa's Conservatives and their support, especially amid their own federal leadership race.

Expectations are high for ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest as he is set to take the stage for the French-language Conservative leadership debate in his home province, a crucial region that has proven instrumental in the party’s last two leadership races.

Charest, who is fully bilingual, must win the province if he hopes to win the contest, said a former Tory leadership candidate and political analyst.

“He’s playing at home in a way,” said Rudy Husny. “In his game plan, he needs to win and show very strong results in Quebec to have a path to victory.”

The party’s second official debate of the race takes place Wednesday near Montreal, as candidates only have about one week left to sell membership cards to supporters to be able to cast a ballot.

Quebec and its 78 ridings have been key in the party’s past two races, which saw Erin O’Toole elected in 2020 and Andrew Scheer in 2017. A change made last year, however, could change what role Quebec plays in deciding who will be the party’s next leader.

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In past races, every riding was worth 100 points. That was adjusted last year after long-held concerns that ridings where there were fewer than 100 members carried the same weight as those with more than 1,000 members. Quebec in particular has carried a smaller membership base.

A change was made so that ridings with fewer than 100 members would be assigned points based on the number of votes that are cast. That has left candidates in this race working to sell memberships in Quebec to make sure ridings have at least 100 members.

Charest entered the race after spending more than 20 years out of federal politics, including the past decade in the private sector. His campaign sees a path to victory for the former federal Progressive Conservative leader through signing up droves of new members, including in Quebec.

“He knows the province, obviously, more than anyone else,” said Gerard Deltell, a Conservative MP from the party’s Quebec caucus. Most of them are supporting Charest.

“This is the road to win and we are winning that road.”

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Charest has fashioned himself as the leader the party needs to bridge the country’s geographic divides and bring it more success in Quebec. Since the party formed in 2003, the Conservatives have struggled to grow their support in Quebec beyond the 12 seats they once carried under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

In the 2021 federal election, the Tories walked away with 10 seats in that province, compared to 35 for the Liberals and 32 for the Bloc Québécois.

When it comes to Wednesday’s debate, Deltell dismissed the notion of expectations being any higher for Charest than the other five candidates, saying the debate will be an important event for them all.

Husny sees the debate largely being dominated by Charest and Pierre Poilievre, the party’s longtime Ottawa-area MP — and is also competing for Quebec members — because of their language skills.

Poilievre speaks French fluently and spent the weekend campaigning in the province.

On Tuesday, he wrote to federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, requesting the Liberal government eliminate the gas tax and GST on gas for the summer because of the high prices consumers are paying.

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Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, Ont., is also expected to be able to keep up during the French debate, which will be held in Laval, Que., just north of Montreal. The former MP has largely focused his campaign on selling party memberships to immigrant and racialized Canadians, including those who live in Montreal.

One of his biggest promises has been to fight a controversial secularism law in Quebec known by its legislative title of Bill 21. It prohibits some public servants deemed to be in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Before entering the race, Brown spearheaded a campaign among cities in Canada to pledge financial support behind a court challenge of the law. He says it violates religious freedoms.

Poilievre has previously said that he believes the law is wrong and hopes Quebec repeals it. Charest has also voiced opposition to Bill 21.

Deltell said while some may favour Brown’s approach of more forcefully fighting the law in court, many do not because it would step on Quebec’s jurisdiction.

“I totally disagree with the fact that the mayor of a city in another province decided to put money against a provincial decision,” he said.

Husny anticipates Bill 21, as well as Quebec’s newly passed language law known as Bill 96, to be among the issues raised during the debate.

He said he also expects to see candidates discuss the Roxham Road border crossing in Quebec that many refugee claimants have used to enter Canada from the United States. Quebec Premier Francois Legault recently asked Ottawa to close it.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

Lethbridge kicking off Cirque du Soleil's Canadian leg of 'Ovo'

Cirque du Soleil has arrived at Lethbridge’s ENMAX Centre to prepare for upcoming performances of “Ovo,” a bug-inspired spectacle.

According to senior publicist Janie Mallet, the travelling crew consists of 100 people — more than half of whom are artists from 25 different countries — and around 100 more people are hired locally to set up the show.

“Ovo,” which is Portuguese for egg, is all about insects.

“We have butterflies and crickets and spiders, but with the Cirque du Soleil twist, so very vibrant and colourful costumes, very whimsical” she said.

“‘Ovo’ really is a show for the entire family.”

The show includes hand balancers, contortionists, musicians, a variety of different acrobatics, and more.

Live Cirque du Soleil performances were on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “Ovo” returned to the United States earlier this year for a two-month stint in Los Angeles.

Now, the crew has arrived up north to start spring and summer performances in western Canada.

“Today is actually the first time the artists are coming back,” Mallet said on Tuesday.

“Being on tour again and being able to perform for an audience, and being around people is so amazing,” performer Zander Biewenga said.

“It’s just a whole different feeling of energy and community.”

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For Belgian tumbler Jorn De Lander, the travelling is a highlight.

“It’s really great ’cause I’ve never been in the west side of Canada, so looking forward to travelling around here,” he expressed.

While training in regular clothes for now, he’ll have to don a cricket costume come showtime.

“We have shoes to jump with, which are heavier. We have a headpiece, which is very constricting,” De Lander explained. “You get used to it and you have to adapt.

“It’s showbusiness, so it has to look good right?”

Despite the audience’s attention being focused on the stage, a lot goes on behind the scenes to make the magic happen.

Jean Marc Perras has been with Cirque du Soleil for around 20 years.

As the show’s production manager, he knows just how much work it takes. The show travels with nearly 20 trailers full of equipment which takes about 12 hours to set up at each venue.

“We have around 19 to 20 people that are working the show itself, either from opening the traps, for the lights, for the sound, for the rigging making sure everything is clipped together,” Perras said.

“There are so many people working together to make things happen that you really don’t see.”

“Ovo” runs May 27-29 at the ENMAX Centre before heading to Medicine Hat.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Charges expected following serious assault in Sorrento, B.C., say Chase RCMP

Police say charges are expected to be laid after a man was taken to hospital following a serious assault in B.C.’s Southern Interior earlier this month.

According to Chase RCMP, police were notified during the early hours of May 11 that a male had been beaten in Sorrento and that he was unconscious and bleeding in a parking lot outside a business.

The male was taken to Shuswap Lake General Hospital in nearby Salmon Arm, where police say he received treatment for head injuries.

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RCMP say they attended and interviewed witnesses. They also said that the males involved in the assault did not take responsibility for what happened and fled before officers arrived.

“All parties in this incident were well known to each other,” said Chase RCMP. “The investigation is ongoing and police expect to forward charge recommendations to Crown Counsel.”

The RCMP added that neighbours can expect to see increased police patrols at this business in the future.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Man drowns while swimming in Nanaimo's Long Lake

The body of a man was pulled from a lake in Nanaimo, B.C., Monday after it is believed he drowned while swimming on Sunday.

Nanaimo RCMP said officers were told by the man’s family that he had gone for a swim in Long Lake sometime after 6 p.m. on Sunday.

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The man, who was in his late 30s, had not returned by Monday morning so his family called the police, RCMP said in a release.

Officers notified Nanaimo Search and Rescue (NSAR) and crews pulled the man’s body from the lake.

The BC Coroners Service was contacted and attended to the scene. Foul play is not suspected, RCMP said in a release.

No more details are being released at this time.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

RIP Smudge, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald ambassador dog

A beloved dog known to many Edmontonians has passed away.

Garrett Turta, the general manager of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, announced Tuesday his dog Smudge has crossed over the rainbow bridge.

For years, guests who walked inside the iconic Edmonton hotel were often greeted by the sight of the yellow Labrador Retriever hanging out in the lobby.

“Today I said good bye to Smudge. RIP my friend,” Turta posted online.

“You were a part of my family for the past 13 years and someone that I went to work with every day for the past 13 years.”

Smudge was a member of the hotel chain’s Canine Ambassador program and Turta’s companion.

For nearly 20 years, Fairmont hotels have “employed” dogs to greet guests and provide companionship for travelers who may miss their own pup back home. Most of the ambassadors are doggos didn’t make the cut to become guide dogs.

At the Jasper Park Lodge, a black lab named Stanley has been the resident canine since October 2013, when he arrived from the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Smudge also didn’t pass the tests to become a guide dog — she was too friendly —  so that trait was put to use as a hotel greeter and morale booster.

“Smudge was always at the hotel for guests. She was ambassador, raised funds for charity, a family member of the hotel and my personal family, and will probably be most remembered for crashing the premiers conference a few years ago.”

It was in 2017 when the goodest of girls wandered into a Council of the Federation meeting at the hotel, crashing the news conference.

Smudge the hotel dog walks past the stage full of Canada's premiers during the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton, Alta, on Wednesday July 19, 2017.

Smudge the hotel dog walks past the stage full of Canada's premiers during the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton, Alta, on Wednesday July 19, 2017.

Jason Franson, The Canadian Press

The Fairmont dogs are don’t actually live at the hotels. They’re owned by a staff member who takes the pet home in the evenings. Turta said Smudge was just shy of 14.5 years old.

“From the previous Fairmont Algonquin in St. Andrews, New Brunswick to Fairmont St. Andrews in Scotland and now to her final place at Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. Smudge shared the love all around the world,” Turta wrote.

“She always knew how to put a smile on your face and love was the only thing she knew how to give.

“Thank you Smudge for all you have given me. Chase those bunnies and squirrels, eat those treats, play with your toys and you can now go swimming every day. Until we meet again.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Southern Alberta's Creepy Hollow loses haunted house in devastating fire

A southern Alberta attraction has taken a big hit, after a late Friday fire left Creepy Hollow's haunted house in ruins. Erik Bay has more on the blaze and how the owners are planning to rally.

Where Creepy Hollow’s famous haunted house once stood, one lamppost and a pile of charred building material is all that remains.

All that remains of Creepy Hollow's haunted house after a fire.

All that remains of Creepy Hollow's haunted house after a fire.

Erik Bay / Global News

Around 11 p.m. Friday, co-owner Glory Reimer noticed smoke coming from the area in Warner, Alta.

“By the time I come up here, you can hear the whole thing just crackling,” Reimer said.

“It just went really quickly; people were calling 911. We had fire trucks all the way wrapped around… the driveway. They fought until 3:00 in the afternoon (on Saturday).”

“The loss, work-wise and museum-wise, is phenomenal.”

The fire was contained to the haunted house and didn’t affect any other buildings at Creepy Hollow.

Fire departments from Warner, Stirling, Milk River and Wrentham responded to the call.

Nobody was injured and officials said the cause of the blaze is still being investigated but will be difficult to determine.

“Unfortunately, with the extent of the fire it’s hard to tell,” Warner volunteer fire department Capt. Kim Owen said.

“We also had to call in a backhoe to knock down what was left, because of course with the lack of moisture we had we didn’t want it to reignite if the wind came up.”

While the building’s memories are irreplaceable to Reimer, she said the outpouring of support from the community has been incredible.

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“Every day, people come into the yard…. and it’s somebody I know and haven’t seen in five years and everybody just starts crying all over again,” Reimer said.

“Then they pull money out of their pocket, even if they don’t have money to give and it just hits you.”

“Every room was its own museum, its own masterpiece. To think of all the memories, the fun and the joy that we spread to the community, they all have that,” Reimer said.

The family has started a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of a rebuild. As of Tuesday afternoon, it has raised more than a quarter of its $10,000 goal.

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And while a Creepy Hollow Halloween may look different this year, Reimer says there will be something for southern Alberta to enjoy this fall.

“Because that’s what we do,” Reimer said. “We don’t quit. We’ll find something else, bigger, better hopefully.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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