CANMORE – The Town of Canmore has declared a state of local emergency.
The decision was announced Wednesday morning (March 25), with officials saying the decision to declare a state of local emergency was due to “evolving circumstances” during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as the recent announcement restricting visitor vehicle access to Banff National Park.
“There were a couple of triggers that resulted in us deciding to declare a state of local emergency,” said Mayor John Borrowman.
“Essentially the primary trigger was the decision affecting national parks. There was higher uncertainty of how that may impact the Town of Canmore, so we want to be as prepared as we can to respond quickly to whatever impact there might be to our community following the Parks decision.
“Another trigger for me particularly was the level of anxiety and concern in our community. It’s a very frightening [time] … I think by being very clear that we are ramping up to the next level of preparation, if you will, that our residents can be less anxious I hope. We really want people to stay healthy, as you know anxiety is not a good thing to have when you want to stay healthy.”
Borrowman said he signed the declaration at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and an announcement was sent out to residents shortly thereafter.
The municipality has been enacting recommendations from Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and as per the provincial state of public health emergency.
According to the Town, declaring a state of local emergency will give administration increased authority to take additional measures should it need to.
“This will give the us the increased authority to take additional measures to protect the Canmore community. While the state of local emergency allows us to take additional action within the municipality, it does not allow us to close the highway, which is under provincial jurisdiction,” wrote communications manager Robyn Dinnadge in a statement.
While the municipality is unable to close highways, it said it is taking other measures to discourage visitors from coming in to Canmore.
“We are, however, installing signage at the entrances to the Town of Canmore to discourage visitation to our mountain town. We will also monitor trailheads and parking areas within Canmore (Bow Bridge, Quarry Lake, Cougar Creek) and take measures to restrict access if necessary,” wrote Dinnadge.
Borrowman said in addition, the Town has contacted the province to see if electronic signs on the Trans-Canada Highway can also be changed.
“The immediate things we have done today or have done, is putting up signs at entrance point into the town urging people to stay home and avoid gathering – that message will be fairly clear,” he said.
Additionally, the Town has made the decision to close playgrounds in the community.
“We’ve closed the playgrounds and those will be signed appropriately to make sure people know they’re closed,” said Borrowman.
“[As well we’re] monitoring trail heads and parking areas to keep reassuring that people are not gathering in numbers, so that’s sort of immediate action. None of that actually required a state of local emergency, but by ramping it up now we are prepared to take more extreme measures if they become necessary."
The mayor said the most important message at this time is to discourage any non-essential travel to help stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. He said even though these are distressing times, elected officials and Town administration will continue to do everything in their power to help keep the community strong.
“I really want to acknowledge how important it is that people are showing compassion and understanding towards each other,” he added.
“Anxiety runs high, tempers are flaring – we need to really do everything we can to help our friends and neighbours stay calm at this time. Now more than ever, show that compassion and that caring attitude that makes Canmore that great place to live.”
The Town of Banff declared a state of local emergency on March 17 before the province announced its own state of public health emergency. Mayor Karen Sorensen told the Outlook the announcement gives the municipality authority to impose restrictions on businesses and organizations within the townsite, but not outside town boundaries in the surrounding national park.
Both mayors, Sorensen and Borrowman, put out messages over the weekend discouraging visitors from coming to the mountains.
“Sorry folks, this is not a time for a road trip … we’ve kind of reached the point where we’re saying thank you for not visiting,” Sorensen said.
Meanwhile, Parks Canada announced Tuesday (March 24) shut down public access to national parks, including the backcountry, day-use areas and trails, to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Visit canmore.ca/covid19 for more on actions the Town of Canmore is taking amid the global pandemic.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to add comments from Canmore Mayor John Borrowman.
Follow RMOToday.com's COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.