Bluerock Gallery – coping through COVID

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I wondered how to get the word out about our local businesses. As a Black Diamond Councillor and a member of the recently formed Inter-municipal Economic Development Committee (IEDC), the growth and sustainability of our businesses is top of mind. The IEDC commissioned a report on the state of our business community and the main point that emerged was locals don’t know of all our wonderful companies. I figured with my writing background, I could easily feature a business every few weeks and help spread the word that way. Then the pandemic began. Now it is even more important we support our own, so here goes. To try to keep me impartial, each business I feature gets to pick the next one. I hope you enjoy learning about our community businesses and how they are coping.

Veronica Kloiber

There is something special about Black Diamond’s main street. To imagine it without even one of the shops is a painful exercise, but to think of it without Bluerock Gallery is not possible. The gallery has been a fixture of the downtown, in all its iterations, for decades.

“I’ve asked myself that over and over. Mainstreet now looks great, many beautiful, different stores – destination stores, it would be quite a tragedy to lose anyone,” said Tarek Nemr.

“I can’t imagine what main street would look like without Bluerock,” agreed Shelly Faulkner. “Not just for my own sake, because it’s mine and Tarek’s, both of us really believe in Black Diamond and want to see it thrive. I love Black Diamond; I think it’s a wonderful place.”

Tarek and Shelly are the co-owners of Bluerock Gallery, and in Shelly’s mind not so much owners but caretakers.

“It’s not ownership but stewardship,” she said. “We’ve inherited this amazing thing; people love the gallery.”

It’s comforting to know that neither are alone in steering the ship that is Bluerock Gallery, they can lean on one another for support and that leaning has never been more important.

“He’s the guy at the helm,” explained Shelly, of her business partner. “He’s so business minded and clear headed, I’m just so impressed by him. He is more comfortable being the face of the business. I feel really lucky for both our sakes, we have our roles and it seems to be working.”

If Tarek is the face of the gallery, Shelly is at home in the details and accoutrements. Happiest behind the scenes, she revels in quiet pages and the tactile elements that make up the shop.

“I look after the books – it’s something I have always loved. I take care of the shop, books, cards, textiles and jewellery,” she said.

The pair have been business partners for only a year. Their new roles as owners and caretakers were becoming comfortable and the business was humming along, boasting one of its best years in 2019. Then the pandemic hit.

“It came so quickly, it happened so quickly,” explained Nemr. One day he was placing orders and seemingly the next was locking his doors, in accordance with government regulations.

“On Saturday we opened, on Sunday we heard there were more cases. Monday it was busy but no more than 10 people at a time,” said Nemr. “At the start of pandemic on Monday, the 16th of March I made three orders. On Tuesday I had to cancel orders. It was a state of emergency and all galleries closed,” he explained.


“I’m so thankful to be in such an amazing town.”


Coming from Syria, Tarek is no stranger to government orders and social upheaval.

“Back home we had a thing that all stores close. The supermarkets closed,” he said.

“The state of panic and emergency is not strange but my past experience prepared me for this because after all the government and people are working together for this,” Tarek said of the Canadian response.

“I’m so thankful to be in such an amazing town,” he said of the local attitude to the government health measures. “I’m really impressed.”

With the doors locked and no customers to marvel in person at their collection, the owners of Bluerock Gallery cooked up a once in, it has never happened sale. Without asking any of their artists to make up the difference, Tarek and Shelly put on a 25 per cent off everything sale over the Easter weekend.

“The sale was amazing – it exceeded my expectations,” marvelled Tarek. “Thank you so much for the support.”

“We were run off our feet, and it was entirely a good thing,” agreed Shelly.

Having closed the shop on the 17th of March and with few online sales coming in, the sale (which was totally online, save for pickup) was just the ticket to not only get a much needed influx of sales but to remind people what kind of place they are missing.

“From March to the 10th of April we had very little amount of sales,” explained Tarek. “Some of our artists depend on sales from galleries to make a living and we are trying not to ask for government assistance.”

Now, with the success of the sale behind them, Tarek and Shelly have not been slacking. Being so dependent on online sales, the pair are committed to posting on Instagram and Facebook each day. As for upcoming plans, Tarek remained secretive.

“I certainly have some plans,” he teased. “The next event is Mother’s Day.”

Even without the bell on the front door to Bluerock Gallery heralding the entrance of customers to greet and delight, the gallery owners are far from bored. They are tidying up and readying for when the restrictions are lifted and they can welcome people into the shop once more.

“As you can imagine we have a lot of holes in the walls,” said Tarek. “We are painting the walls at the gallery. Now is a great time to do so.”

While neither will argue, the world is a strange place right now they are committed to what was entrusted to them – the gallery and are planning to come out the other side of the pandemic ready to reopen.

“There is some element of having to face a challenge. We’re in the middle of it and all you can do is try your best,” said Shelly. “I try to be philosophical about things, the previous owners dealt with a flood year. My hope is we can resume operations as they were before. It’s a totally different place without people in there.”

Black Diamond Rona – coping through COVID

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I wondered how to get the word out about our local businesses. As a Black Diamond Councillor and a member of the recently formed Inter-municipal Economic Development Committee (IEDC), the growth and sustainability of our businesses is top of mind. The IEDC commissioned a report on the state of our business community and the main point that emerged was locals don’t know of all our wonderful companies. I figured with my writing background, I could easily feature a business every few weeks and help spread the word that way. Then the pandemic began. Now it is even more important we support our own, so here goes. To try to keep me impartial, each business I feature gets to pick the next one. I hope you enjoy learning about our community businesses and how they are coping.

Veronica Kloiber


Matt Wagstaff is a numbers man. His background in finance has bent him this way, and no amount of virus talk, government health regulations, or fear of the future can change that. As one half of the ownership team at Rona Black Diamond, he is watching his spreadsheets closely and wondering how to make this new reality work.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” he admitted, “but we need to be optimistic.”

In years past, this being optimistic thing wouldn’t have been too hard. With the promise of spring just around the next bend and orders of plants and soil starting to trickle in, optimism should be easy to come by. The seasonal orders for soils, seeds, patio sets, plants, posts and rails, and outdoor lumber were placed months ago, bought and paid for as they say, when reality was very different.

“This is just the nature of the business and the season. This time of year, we’ve pre-bought for the next three months,” explained Wagstaff. In an ordinary year, he would have no reason to be overly concerned. As spring turns to summer and the sales are good, the credit gets paid off, no problem. But this is no ordinary year.

As the province laid out new restrictions and curtailed the economy to essential services, Wagstaff watched his March sales numbers fall flat. While the numbers showed him it was a good month traffic-wise with home builders pushing to get their projects completed, Wagstaff watched his business morph from a construction focus to a retail.

“There’s lots of uncertainty in the home building market,” explained Wagstaff. “We used to be 80/20 construction to retail, now more like 40/60.”

The numbers don’t mean what they used to in this new reality. That’s left Wagstaff looking for new measures of success and shifting focus to retail customers and a different outlook for his business.

“I’m thankful for every single customer
who’s come into our store.”


“Our days are full,” said Wagstaff of he and his team. “It’s gone from a contractor business to retail and we are thankful for all our customers.”

“I think it’s going to be easily worthwhile to focus on the seasonal aspect of our business,” mused Wagstaff. “We are getting plants in this season, we bought them in December and January.”

Also on the docket for customers are long-procrastinated home repairs and upgrades. “People are organizing their houses,” he stated. “People haven’t painted their walls in 15 years. There is good news there.”

“I’m thankful for every single customer who’s come into our store,” said Wagstaff. “We are focusing on customer service, protecting our staff and customers. We’re trying to keep as normal as possible.”

The only other break from normal is the store no longer accepts returns. “We’re not doing returns right now. We just can’t control that,” explained Wagstaff, whose team is also applying all recommended practices set out by the governments and Lowes’ management.

He and his staff are taking more phone calls than ever before, from people who need advice, to those who want to place an order and not come into the store. Rona Black Diamond has upped their home delivery game and have also been offering curbside pick-up.

One bright point so far is Wagstaff has not had to let any of his 20 employees go. He is well aware of the federal wage subsidy available to businesses but as of yet, his business does not qualify. Proof of a 30 per cent drop in monthly revenue compared to last year is required to access the subsidy and Wagstaff said March numbers did not meet that criteria.

Being a numbers man doesn’t grant access to a crystal ball so Wagstaff is still working on the next steps for the business. What his business will look like in the coming months is a question he cannot answer.

“There’s no playbook here. We’re taking every action possible to keep the business viable,” he said.

“It’s exciting and scary as hell,” Wagstaff admitted. “When I get home I’m mentally and physically exhausted and trying to make sense of it all. All we can do is support our customers and staff as best we can.”

Wagstaff asked to include one last thought: “We have all been asking for more time in our lives. Now is the time to embrace this and focus on trying to find the bright spots in our lives. We have so much to look forward to.”


Council Meeting – November 6

It’s a big one this week. We have two delegation presentations; one from TCEnergy (formerly Trans Canada) on a natural gas pipeline in our area and the second presentation from MDB Insight on their report on the Intermunicipal Economic Development Strategy.

I sit on the Intermunicipal Economic Development Committee and we were pleased with the report and its contents. The presentation is expected to take longer than the standard 15 minutes so bring a pillow as the chairs in Council Chambers aren’t that comfortable for extended sitting.

Council is also being asked to decide on next year’s Fortis franchise fees; a budget reallocation of $3,000 and $6,000 for conceptual design of a park and ride, washroom and bus shelter; and to determine a voting representative for the Sheep River Regional Utility Corporation (SRRUC) AGM which will be held Thursday, November 28 at 5 p.m. in the Sheep River Library

We are also being asked to decide on a utility account refund in the amount of $393.39.

The correspondence, reports and information list looks quite long and daunting but it’s mostly all CAO reports. Council receives them quarterly and they outline what the CAO has been up to.

There is a letter introducing a new higher up in the RCMP: Trevor Daroux, Chief Superintendent, District Officer for Southern Alberta. Also from the RCMP, a letter thanking the council members who met with them at the AUMA last September.

On October 2, 2019, Black Diamond Council filled out a self-evaluation. You can take a look and see if you agree with the responses.

Lastly, an invitation to join the campaign to stop ageism let by the Alberta Council on Aging.

Below is the pdf version of the agenda. Hope to see some of you there on Wednesday.

REGULAR COUNCIL – 06 Nov 2019 – Agenda – Pdf

A sustainable high school


I’ve been volunteering at Oilfields High School for the past semester with some interested students. Interested in what you ask? Interested in sustainability.

At the Town of Black Diamond’s Sustainability Fair, six kids spent their Saturday displaying and explaining what they are accomplishing when it comes to sustainability.

The students have three main focuses:

  • Fabric and costumes
  • Recycling and awareness
  • Construction

Now that summer is almost here, my volunteer time with the students has come to an end but my job is not done. I promised them I’d try to source out the tools and materials they need to keep going next fall. So, my lovely community, I’m asking nicely for some items.

The seamstresses and fabric artists have asked for:

  • a serger machine
  • fabric – except upholstery
  • embroidery thread
  • dyed wool (loose wool for felting)
  • buttons

The recycling and awareness group would very much like:

  • your attention – they have things to say
  • to learn more about our current (flawed) recycling system
  • a possible mentoring relationship with our local recycling providers
  • plywood to build recycling stations for the high school/elementary school

The builders of the group have dreams of a vertical hydroponic farm like this one on Instructables (a full materials list is included on this website) and a compost area on school property. This crew is hoping to find these materials:

  • 2″ and 3″ PVC pipe (schedule 40)
  • 2″ and 3″ PVC tees
  • 3″ PVC endcaps
  • 3/4″ PEX elbows and tees
  • water pump
  • LED lights (suitable for growing)
  • water pump timer
  • light timer
  • Raspberry Pi (fun but not completely necessary)
  • any local expertise on indoor growing and hydroponics

The composting crew would like:

  • buckets (to collect organic waste)
  • 2×6 or 2×8 lumber to construct the compost bins
  • compost thermometer
  • short spade(s) for turning the pile

The entire sustainability group, and likely the entire school would also welcome hand tools such as:

  • screwdrivers
  • small screwdrivers for taking apart electronics

If you have these items and wish to part with them, even if you have other items you’d like to donate, please, DO NOT drop them off at the school. Give me a call so either I or someone with ties to the sustainability group can take a look first. We do have some space to store the stuff until September so get cleaning, and thank you in advance for your generosity.

Inter-municipal Economic Development

For the past six months, two councillors from Black Diamond, two from Turner Valley, along with administration from both towns have worked out the details and created an innovative joint venture for our communities.

Both Black Diamond and Turner Valley Councils approved the terms of reference and the bylaw to form the committee. The four council representatives; myself and Daryl Lalonde from Black Diamond and Jonathan Gordon and John Waring from Turner Valley, then set to work hiring a consultant. The role of the consultant is to create a new joint economic development plan.

The brand-new Inter-municipal Economic Development Committee needs members beyond council representation. There are six seats available to anyone, from either community. You don’t have to live here to be a member-at-large. We councillors wanted to keep membership open to any and all who have or had ties to the communities and have business experience.

Please see the volunteer job posting for more details.

Water talk


This is exactly how I felt as I collected all this utility rate data.

There has been lots of talk lately; talk about water, talk about the cost. I heard it said, “the Town of Black Diamond is the most expensive municipality in Alberta when it comes to water and sewer utilities.”

Surely this is not our claim to fame. Say it ain’t so.

Well, it isn’t.

For the past month, I’ve been collecting utility bills from my friends who live in other towns and cities around Alberta. I’ve also been on the phone to those towns and cities, checking and double checking their rate schedules and fees.

Know this: if I’ve included a municipality but no bill in the comparison that follows, I called to make sure the rates I publish here are correct.

I decided to compare all the services our town offers; water, sewer, recycling and garbage. I then used 10m³ as the consumption rate per month. Why? Because it’s so easy to use 10 as a multiplier and that’s apparently about what the average utility account uses per month; at least in Black Diamond.

That per month bit is important because Black Diamond’s bills come out every two months.

I’ll just get right into the data for you:

Black Diamond pop. 2,700 (2016)

Garbage, recycling and the flat rate are charged BI-MONTHLY, so I divided by 2 to get a monthly tally:

  • $10.22 for garbage
  • $4.68 for recycling
  • $21.50 flat rate for water
  • $21.50 flat rate for sewer
  • $23.50 water consumption (10m³ @ $2.35/m³)
  • $23.50 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $2.35/m³)

Total: $104.90/month @ 10m³ based on both water and sewer consumption.


Calgary pop 1,239,000 (2016)

The bill I have for the City of Calgary does not include a solid waste cost; this utility user pays condo fees towards garbage pick up. According to the city’s website, for 2019, garbage collection cost is $24.30 per month. The City of Calgary also bills sewer consumption at 90% of water consumption. There was a rate change during the billing cycle so the utility bill I have is a bit confusing. I accounted for it in my calculations by dropping the sewer consumption to 9m³ for the month.

  • $24.30 for garbage
  • $15.87 water service charge
  • $27.48 waste water service charge
  • $15.94 storm water service charge
  • $15.99 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.5997/m³)
  • $13.19 sewer consumption (9m³ @ $1.456/m³)

Total: $112.77/month @ 10m³ water consumption and 9m³ sewer consumption


Chestermere pop 19,887 (2016)

I do not have a bill from the City of Chestermere but I did call CUI to make sure the rates were correct. Best guess for the lifecycle fee is it goes to future upgrades and maintenance.

  • $23.03 garbage
  • $4.09 recycling
  • $28.01 water service fee
  • $40.89 sewer service fee
  • $16.03 storm sewer fee
  • $3.56 lifecycle fee
  • $13.30 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.30/m³)
  • $12.50 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $1.25/m³)

Total: $141.41/month @ 10m³ water and sewer consumption

Cochrane pop 25,853 (2016)

The way Cochrane charges utility fees is similar to Black Diamond. They break down the recycling and garbage fees a bit more and have a fee dedicated to storm sewer.

  • $21.55 waste/recycling
  • $5.00 Eco Centre fee
  • $5.70 water base charge
  • $5.70 sewer base charge
  • $4.16 storm sewer fee
  • $11.16 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.16/m³)
  • $22.60 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $2.26/m³)

Total: $75.87/month @ 10m³ water and sewer consumption


Didsbury pop 5,268 (2016)

  • $21.00 solid waste collection fee
  • $ 15.00 wastewater collection fee
  • $14.00 water distribution fee
  • $23.50 water consumption (10m³ @ $2.35/m³)
  • $20.00 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $2.00/m³)

Total: $93.50/month @ 10m³ water and sewer consumption.


Drumheller pop 7,982 (2016)

Drumheller does not include solid waste fees on their bill. They use an outside contractor for solid waste services and the cost for that is attached to their property taxes. I called the Town of Drumheller and tried to get an average per month for garbage pick up, but since it’s rolled in with their property taxes, that information is hard to come by. I’m including Drumheller as it illustrates nicely that there are many ways to provide town services.

  • $2.50 recycling association
  • $14.74 water base rate
  • $13.34 sewer base rate
  • $18.77 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.8775/m³)
  • $21.45 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $2.1453/m³)

Total: without accounting for garbage $70.80/month @ 10m³ of use.


Jasper pop 4,590 (2016)

Jasper bills bi-monthly as well, so I divided their fees by two. They do not pay a flat fee for water or sewer connections. They just pay for consumption.

  • $22.33 garbage services
  • $10.90 recycling fee
  • $13.70 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.37m³)
  • $20.50 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $2.05m³)

Total: $67.43/month @ 10m³ of water and sewer use.


Okotoks pop (28,881) 2016

Don’t let the tally on this bill fool you, Okotoks has the lowest cost for water of all the municipalities I surveyed. Also, Okotoks bills bi-monthly so remember to divide by two when you’re checking my math.

  • $22.08 waste services fee
  • $8.75 flat fee for water
  • $8.43 flat fee for sewer
  • $15.50 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.55m³)
  • $22.50 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $2.25m³)
  • $6.50 storm sewer fee

Total: $64.75/month for 10m³ each of water and sewer, all in.


Penhold pop 3,277 (2016)

I don’t have a bill from Penhold but I confirmed the utility charges posted on their website are accurate. The combined water and sewer cost calculator on the same webpage is not. Penhold has no charge for recycling.

  • $23.00 monthly garbage pickup
  • $13.00 fixed charge per water meter
  • $11.00 fixed charge for sewer
  • $13.90 water consumption (10m³ @ $1.39m³)
  • $34.70 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $3.47m³)

Total: $95.60/month for 10m³ each of water and sewer, and of course garbage.

Sundre pop 2,729 (2016)

I do not have a utility bill from the Town of Sundre but I did call them to make sure the information on their website is the same as what is charged. It is.

  • $25.65 garbage fee
  • $21.50 water service fee
  • $5.25 storm service fee
  • $21.50 sewer fee
  • $22.50 water consumption (10m³ @ $2.25m³)
  • $13.50 sewer consumption (10m³ @ $1.35m³)

Total: $109.90/month @ 10m³ of water and sewer consumption

Turner Valley pop 2,559 (2016)

Turner Valley is a pain to calculate. They operate on a graduated scale so cost for using 10m³ is $2.15/m³. After the first 10m³ the rate changes to $2.20/m³ but the first 10m³ are still billed at $2.15/m³ and so on up the line until it tops out at $2.35/m³ for anything at 45m³ or beyond. I’m just doing a rate comparison for 10m³ so the rate will show as $2.15/m³. Turner Valley bills every two months as well so I’ve divided the flat rates by 2.

  • $14.00 garbage base residential
  • $6.00 recycle base residential
  • $16.50 sewer base residential
  • $16.50 water base residential
  • $21.50 water consumption (10m³ @ $2.15m³)
  • $21.50 water consumption (10m³ @ $2.15m³) billed at 100% of water consumption

Total: $96.00/month @10m³ of use for water and sewer


So what did I learn? Well, there is a huge variance in how Alberta municipalities bill for utilities. Charges run from $65 to $140 monthly for what can be considered the same services. Why? I can’t say.

I can state as fact that Black Diamond is not the highest in the province and every municipality I looked at charges for both water and sewer consumption, most at 100% for both.

Repair Café

Big news from the Sustainable Black Diamond Advisory Committee (SBDAC):

On Saturday, March 16, 2019 from 1 to 4 a Repair Café is coming to our Town.

What is a Repair Café you ask? Check out this short video.

SBDAC is looking for both volunteer “fixers” with various skills like: soldering, electrical prowess, knitting, sewing, woodworking and more. If you have a skill you’d like to share and show off, contact me here and I’ll put you in touch with the organizers of the Repair Café.

Of course a Repair Café also needs things to fix, so bring your clean household items and personal effects down and let the team of “fixers” take a crack at a repair or two.

Hope to see lots and lots of you next month.

Repair Cafes