An Informative Chat With Sergeant Robin Klassen

I had the pleasure of meeting Sergeant Robin Klassen of the Lethbridge Police Service at my very first Heart of the City Committee meeting. She has been working hard with her colleagues to come up with solutions to our ongoing social issues that face our city. The new Supervised Consumption Site has been a contentious issue and she is striving to inform the public on its benefits. I thought I’d ask her about that and get to know a little bit more about her background.

Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming Sergeant of the Downtown Policing Unit.

I grew up in a rural farming community outside of Lethbridge.  I received my Social Work Degree from the University of Calgary through the Lethbridge satellite campus and began my Social Work career in Children Services.  While I was with Children Services, I had the opportunity to work alongside the Lethbridge Police Service as well as the RCMP and I always had a strong interest in their world.  My brother is a member of the RCMP which also gave me the chance to see and understand more of what policing life was about.  I applied for the Lethbridge Police Service and was hired in 2001 spending my first five years in the patrol division.  I then moved into the Forensic Identification Unit for a number of years before returning to patrols.  From there I joined the Domestic Violence Unit and was promoted which brought me back to the patrol division as a team Sergeant.  In January of 2017 I became the Sergeant of the Downtown Policing Unit and I am currently in that role working with the community and specifically the Downtown core of the city.

How do you like Lethbridge?

I enjoy Lethbridge for its size, closeness to my family and also proximity to the mountains.  I love spending time outdoors with my son and husband using our summer holidays for paddle boarding and camping with friends and family.

Who were some of your role models?

When asked about my role models, I would have to say my brother fits in that category.  Although he is my older brother and I wouldn’t admit this to him, I would have to say that he is someone I looked up to while growing up and still hold a great respect for.  Before he became an active member I watched him go through the application process, complete his training in Regina and eventually reach his goal of joining the RCMP.  My family attended his graduation and the pride that I felt definitely influenced my decision to apply for the Police Service.  I admire the dedication he has to his career, his community and his family.  Seventeen years ago at my graduation, he presented me with my Lethbridge Police Service Badge, definitely a proud moment for all of us.

You have been informing the public about the new Supervised Consumption Site. What are some of the major misconceptions?

Here is an information sheet from ARCHES that addresses some of those concerns:

Myths & Facts About Supervised Consumption Services:

Myth: Offering Supervised Consumption Services will encourage people to experiment with and use other drugs.

Fact: The people who use Supervised Consumption Services are already dealing with addictions. They are often homeless people who use drugs in public places because they do not have the option of a safe environment.

The first time a person accesses Supervised Consumption Services, they meet with a nurse to discuss their drug use and their circumstances. The key to providing the services is to build relationships with people and connect them with appropriate supports to be healthier and to stay alive.

Myth: Supervised Consumption Services are “shooting galleries” where people with addictions can congregate to use drugs.

Fact: The space for Supervised Consumption Services is a safe, clean environment with stations equipped for individual substance use under observation by a nurse. The nurse can educate the individual on safer consumption practices and provide primary care as needed. After consumption people have a safe space to rest and talk with a nurse, social worker or peer support worker to discuss the resources they are accessing as well as additional supports they need such as health care, social services and addiction counselling.

Myth: Adding medically Supervised Consumption Services presents problems that don’t currently exist in the community.

Fact: In Alberta 559 people died as a result of opioid overdoses in 2016. Of these deaths, 363 were attributed to fentanyl or carfentanil, which are often laced into other drugs.

Everyone in the community benefits from adding services that encourage people already engaged in high-risk activity to come into a controlled facility where they can reduce harm to themselves and access support services.

In the ARCHES 2017 Outreach and Harm Reduction Evaluation, 75 per cent of drug users reported that they had injected in public during the previous six months. Without a safer alternative, people are injecting drugs in public places such as under the Highway 3 overpass along Stafford Drive, in the bushes by the homeless shelter, in back alleys, behind dumpsters and in public washrooms. Discarded needles are just one of the consequences of this public drug use.

Myth: Instead of spending taxpayers’ money on Supervised Consumption Services, we should put all our resources into prevention, treatment and enforcement.

Fact: The most effective approach is multi-faceted and includes education, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement. No single approach on its own will solve the whole problem. The reality for people who use drugs is that their health and survival are at risk. The goal of Supervised Consumption Services is to provide people with a safe place while also helping them start to break their addictions.

The lifetime cost is high to treat infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, which are contracted from sharing used needles, and to treat infections from unsafe needle practices. For every dollar spent on Supervised Consumption Services, five dollars are saved in health care and emergency services costs.

How real is the Opioid Crisis in Lethbridge?

The entire province is facing a substance abuse-related health crisis. To put things into perspective, more Albertans are dying each year from drug overdoses than at the height of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. In 2016, 559 Albertans died from drug overdoses – 363 were attributed to either fentanyl or carfentanil and 196 were attributed to other opioids. The south zone (which includes Lethbridge) also saw the highest rate of emergency department visits – 24 per cent higher than the provincial average.

From a policing perspective what’s the biggest challenge you’re going to face with the site opens?

At this point it’s really too early to say.

What has been the response when you inform people about what is coming?

Right now reactions are mixed. Some people are extremely supportive, some are not and there’s a lot of people somewhere in the middle who just aren’t sure. But what I’ve found is people who maybe don’t have a lot of information about it or don’t necessarily understand what it’s intended to do and what it isn’t intended to do, generally lean more to the supportive side once they learn more about it.

Is there anything unique to Lethbridge that might be different from other parts of the world?

Yes. From what I have learned from ARCHES, the Lethbridge site will be the first in North America to offer all four modes of consumption – ingestion/oral, injection, intra-nasal/snorting and inhalation.  ARCHES is the expert when it comes to the site and questions around it specifically.

How safe is Lethbridge right now?

Overall, Lethbridge is a safe community and the majority of people feel safe. Every year we do a community survey  – which we’re actually in the process of doing right now for 2018 – and one of the questions we ask is how safe people feel. In the 2017 survey the majority of respondents reported that they felt safe in their neighbourhood. I think what’s important for people to understand is the risk of being the victim of a serious crime is very low for the average, law-abiding citizen. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but it’s far less likely compared to someone engaged in a high risk lifestyle which includes people involved in the drug subculture, substance abusers, the homeless and other marginalized individuals. The majority of violent crime in the city is targeted, in that the parties involved are known to one another and much of it is associated to the drug trade. Where the average person might be impacted, is property crime, which is a spin off effect of substance abuse – addicts stealing to feed their habit. It’s also largely opportunistic and people can greatly reduce their risk of victimization through prevention. For example, if you leave your purse or wallet in your car, you increase your risk of being victimized. Remove valuables so there’s nothing to steal and you reduce it.

How optimistic are you about minimizing drug use and homelessness in our city?

Both are social problems and not something the police alone can address. A holistic approach involving social services, health, mental health and other community support services, that address root causes and provide treatment options to help get people back on track is the only way to change the situation. Arrest and temporary detention won’t break the cycle.

And just for fun, what are your 5 favorite albums of all time?

I am a country girl to the core – doesn’t matter the decade or if it’s hit the charts….you will find me listening to it all.

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Enough With The Snow and Other Stuff

Correct me if I’m wrong but I feel that it’s been a number of years since I’ve done this much shoveling in the winter. We get 10cm of snow, then it chinooks, then another 10cm…then it chinooks….I’m getting tired of that cycle. Mind you my biceps haven’t been this big since I went to McMurren’s Gym regularly. (Who remembers McMurrens?) It reminds me of why my parents used to always take off for 2 weeks in February for Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean. When I was still living at home that would also be the time for my annual keg party. And yes I always cleaned up as good as I could.

This past week was very busy for me on council with a Transit Master Plan presentation on Monday, an EDL committee meeting on Wednesday morning followed by a Heart of the City meeting and a Library board meeting. Then Thursday there was an Open and Effective Government meeting followed by an Animal Welfare meeting.

I was thrilled to see that southern Alberta will be part of the Protein Industries Supercluster. Funding was announced by the Federal Government on Thursday. This initiative hopes to make Canada a leading source for plant proteins. Mayor Chris Spearman and EDL CEO Trevor Lewington were in Calgary for the announcement.

I was emcee for the Lethbridge School District ICE Awards breakfast honoring some incredible student initiatives. Local country singer Mark Maxwell sang for us. I really think he’s got some potential to make it big in the industry.

Guest speaker was Michael Kerr who brought his humor in the workforce presentation. He was funny and inspiring which is why I think I may wear a bone in my head at the next council meeting.

I was also part of Flag Day at the Legion on Thursday. We got our own flag on Feburary 15, 1965. Our own Joyce Fairbairn who was a reporter in Ottawa at the time broke the story. When I went traveling in Australia and New Zealand in 1978 I always had my Canadian flag on my back pack. It’s rare that you would ever get into any trouble when people know you’re from Canada.

I watched the Canada-Czech Olympic game last night that ended in a familiar fashion-losing in a shoot-out. It was deja vous all over again. I watched from the same chair 20 years ago when we lost in a shoot-out to Dominik Hasek. Fortunately this was in the qualifying round so we’re not out of it. Cool to see the Lethbridge connection with Rob Klinkhammer and Willie Desjardins but I hope we never have to play the Czechs in the Olympics again. Or at least I’ll never sit in that chair if we do.

Are you like me when driving Whoop-Up Drive these days? Just when you’re half way you think…was it 60 or 90kms?

Here’s to a moratorium on snow in the city for awhile….(Like that’ll happen..)

Watch for some upcoming blog interviews with the new CEO of the Lethbridge Destination Management Organization William Slenders, actor/director Andrew Legg and Staff Sergeant Robin Klassen will talk about the new safe injection site.

What A Game…and other stuff

Randomly I go on another Monday.

That was a great Super Bowl yesterday. Both teams played extremely well and the outcome was never certain until the final Hail Mary pass. (Loved the trick play on 4th down by Philly to score a touchdown.) I would have been fine with either team winning since I’m not emotionally tied to either team. I love the fact that an underdog won and a back-up quarterback took the MVP award but I would have accepted a 6th ring for Brady. Love him or hate him, you have to admire what he’s done during his career inflated balls and all. And it doesn’t look like he’s going away for at least two more years.

I wish they’d quit saying that the Super Bowl winner is a World Champion. Even though they truly are world champions because there’s no other 4-down Gridiron league anywhere but it still sounds like a Trumpism. After all we do have the CFL. I know the Grey Cup winning Toronto Argonauts probably wouldn’t stand a chance against the Eagles but I’d like to see the game anyway. Of course they’d have to figure out rules that everyone could agree on and the size of the field but it would be interesting. Do you leave the rouge in or out?

I thought Pink did a fantastic job on the National Anthem despite having major flu issues and Justin Timberlake was great at half time and on the Tonight Show afterwards.

I continue to love This Is Us. We found out how Jack died last night and yes I cried.

I love the fact that my neighbor Gary Paskuski takes his snow blower and clears away the snow on our street. I appreciate it and my dog appreciates it too.

Really? Omarosa on Celebrity Big Brother? Of course I’m going to watch it. (I’m probably part of the problem.) I do find her fascinating and want to see her get voted off first. And then we’ll see her on Dancing With The Stars.

I want to see a new reality show that features reality show and game show hosts. Wouldn’t you love seeing Jeff Probst going head to head with Alex Trebrek in some kind of eating competition? Alex and Jeff would get into it because Alex keeps correcting Jeff on the proper pronunciation of escargot. Or Pat Sajack having a big fight with Phil Keoghan about who gets the top bunk.

I was sorry to see our own Casey Scheidegger miss out on winning the Scotties. I think this experience is going to make her really strong for years to come.

I’m happy that the U of L Pronghorns will be hosting the National men’s University hockey Championship next year.  I hear Connor McDavid wants to come to the U of L to earn a Phys Ed degree. (Something to fall back on in case the NHL thing doesn’t work out.) At least that’s the rumor.

I was at Green’s Bottle depot yesterday on the west side taking in my bottles when I was told that Green’s Pop Shop was going to become a 7-11. The bottle depot will stay as will Green’s Pop Shop on the north side. At least it didn’t become another Tim Hortons.

Traveling, Vlad, The NHL and Other Stuff

Randomly I go on a Saturday morning..

The older I get the less I can deal with really cold weather…I can handle about -15. Any colder than that and I get cranky and wish I was on a beach in Hawaii. Having said that I remember traveling through Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia back in 1978-79 when I was on my journey of self-discovery for six months and getting a little tired of it always being hot and sunny. I specifically recall being in Tasmania when it was quite chilly and it was raining for the first time in 4 months and I thought, I kind of like having to put on a jacket for a change. I don’t think I could live in a tropical spot all year round. My prairie upbringing would miss the seasonal changes provided those seasonal changes aren’t a 40 degree turnaround like we’re capable of having here.

Back to the “self-discovery” trip, that was at a time when I got tired of working in radio and I just needed a break. In those days I had to work six days a week, sometimes seven and I wasn’t getting paid much of a salary. I was operating the Keep On Dancin’ Disco as well and become disinterested in heading out to places like Tilley on a cold Saturday night. Don’t get me wrong, Tilley was actually a fun crowd but it was a long drive (near Brooks) and I despised the setting up and taking down of all the equipment. So I sold the business and my Volkswagen Rabbit, quit my job and decided to go on a trip to Australia with my good pal Tom Cullen. (No, not the Tom Cullen character in The Stand by Stephen King.) I was hoping that I’d get off the plane at the airport in Sydney and there would be someone there saying, “Mark come this way to your new and exciting life.”

Somehow, the guy didn’t show up although I tried to get a radio job in Alice Springs which is in the middle of nowhere in Australia. The program director said, “Sorry, mate but we don’t want to hire a guy with an accent.”

What!!!? Me with the accent? That’s not right.

To make a long and boring story much shorter while I loved the opportunity to travel, I came to realize that what I had at home was pretty good and I was ready to come back.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get the job in Alice Springs. The flies there are bigger than cats.

 

Is it just me or are there too many singing competition shows now? The Launch, The Four, Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent. I’m just not interested anymore. And how’d you like to be the person that auditions for all of those shows and doesn’t get on?

I understand that he had more success with the California Angels but I wish Vlad Guerrero would have decided to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo. I’m disappointed with his choice but I’m happy for him. I always enjoyed watching him play. And he never wore batting gloves. Can’t wait to see if his kid is going to match the hype he’s getting right now.

I think it would be amazing for a first-year franchise to win the Stanley Cup. The Las Vegas Golden Knights are the story of this year’s NHL season. Of course if they did, Leaf fans would go into an even deeper depression than they have been since 1967. If that’s possible.

I’m on the Community and Social Development Committee for City Council and we heard from three groups who are looking for some funding. One of those groups was from the Hoarding, Outreach Management and Education Team. It was an eye-opening presentation that in my opinion is worthy of getting the dollars they’re looking for.

I’m looking forward to the Robbie Burns Night tonight. I’m giving the Toast To The Lassies. I washed my kilt and I can’t do a fling with it… Badumpah..

The Funny 5

 

It’s been a hectic six months for me as I made the decision to run for City Council back in September and then ultimately getting elected in October. The learning curve is huge. Acronyms in this world drive me nuts as I try to figure out what the difference is between CSD and MSI funding not to mention being asked if I was going to attend AUMA or be on the OEG committee. FYI when one goes “in camera” it’s not a photo shoot. There’s also a lot of research one has to do to make informed decisions and it’s something I don’t take lightly. I confess that it’s a bit of a struggle at times comprehending everything from how the city borrows for various projects, what an off-site levy is and how it impacts the house building business to listening to the various residents who are concerned about the new London Road Redevelopment Plan. And while I was trying to absorb everything I can in the civic politics arena there was the death of my mother-in-law before Christmas followed by the death of my father just after Christmas.

It’s a weird thing but I find solace in writing this Blog. It’s my form of therapy to kind of escape from the realities of what’s going on in my life and just write down a few “random thoughts at random times.”

Since most of my life has been trying to find the humor out of everything I vowed that one of my exercises in this blog was to occasionally write down a few humorous thoughts. I came up with the feature, The Funny Five: Five gags that hopefully will give the reader a bit of a chuckle. If you do, great. If not…won’t be the first time I failed in that regard. I haven’t done one in a long time so as part of my self-inflicted attempt to make at least one person laugh, here’s today’s Funny Five:

  1. It’s been a weird day. When I came to work, I got a call from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Apparently I got traded to Swift Current.
  2. I get the feeling we’re going to have a cold spell. I saw a deer in the coulees yesterday wearing a touque and little knitted booties.
  3. I’m writing a new book about sasquatches called Fire and Furry.
  4. It’s award season in Hollywood. Usually in my house the most common phrase heard is, “Never heard of it.”
  5. New England and Philadelphia are in the Super Bowl. The only chance Philly has is if Rocky Balboa pays Tom Brady a visit in a meat locker.

Going For Gold

I was thinking about the Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team that was just announced. We’re not going to have Connor McDavid, Sydney Crosby or fill in the blank of outstanding Canadian NHLers yet I’m finding myself quite excited about what could happen in Korea. Don’t get me wrong, I always want Canada’s best when we’re playing international hockey but since that’s not going to be in the cards this year let’s give the opportunity to guys who have been in the trenches during their careers knowing that while they may have been good enough to play in the NHL for a time they were never consistent enough to keep the gig. They were well aware they would never play for their country in an Olympics as long as the best hockey league in the world allowed their players to participate. Now that has changed. These guys have been given a tough assignment and I have no doubt that each and every one of them wants to prove to the world that they are quality people and players and in a short tournament like the Olympics, Gold is absolutely attainable. Case in point: 1980. Gold to the Americans. They could have played the powerful Soviets 50 more times and they probably would have lost all 50 of them. But one night magic happened. (By the way, the US didn’t play Canada during the round robin that year. Just sayin.)

And there was Canada’s own little Miracle on Ice when Sean Burke who helped select this team played goal for Canada at the prestigious Izvestia tournament in 1987 and almost single-handedly won it.  Read about it here:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/the-1987-izvestia-tournament-canadas-little-known-miracle-on-ice/article6702634/

I think about the famous quote from the father of Russian hockey Anatoli Tarasov. when referencing Canada playing his Soviet squad:

“The Canadians battled with the ferocity and intensity of a cornered animal. Our players were better conditioned physically and stronger in skills than the Canadian professionals. But we could not match them in heart and desire, always the strongest part of the Canadian game.”

This 2018 team may not be the best skilled team Canada has ever had but I predict there won’t be any group of guys who will have more heart and determination.

I’m especially thrilled to hear that Rob Klinkhammer of Lethbridge who is playing in the KHL has made the team. I’m hoping that he can repeat what Billy Gibson of Lethbridge did in 1952 in Olso when he was picked up to play for the Edmonton Mercurys who represented Canada that year and won gold.

 

Canada just has to get to the elimination round and anything can happen. I totally believe in Willie Desjardins (another Lethbridge connection-played for the Broncos here) and what might happen. Can’t wait.

A “Phantom Life” A Chat With Musician Richard Coombes

During the run of the radio play It’s A Wonderful Life that I was involved with last December I had the chance to talk to Richard Coombes. He was our very talented piano player for the show and I discovered he’s had quite a career in the professional theatre world including seven years with Phantom of the Opera. Thought I’d find out a little more about him.

Where are you from originally and how did you first get to Lethbridge?

I was born In Cirencester, Gloucestershire in England.  We lived there until I was 11 years old and at which point we emigrated to Canada and came to Lethbridge because my father had a sister and brother living here who could sponsor us for the time required by the government.

What was your life like growing up?

Life growing up was fairly normal. At  age 8 I started taking piano lessons in England, and the rest of my career stems from that.

What got you first inspired to pursue music?

Both my grandparents on my mother’s side  played the piano  , and I remember at a very young age watching my grandfather  playing piano in a small group that he played with and was inspired by that. Music was always playing where they lived and I grew up listening to mostly soundtracks of musicals like Carousel and Oklahoma.

What made you decide on getting your music degree at UBC?

I ended up at UBC because while I was in my last year at U of L ,  a professor from UBC came and gave a master class, and after the class was over, he asked me where I was considering doing my Master’s degree. I was thinking of U of T, but he was able to get me a scholarship to UBC so that was the University I chos

What was your first gig after graduating.

My first gig after graduating was as rehearsal pianist for Vancouver Opera chorus and main stage production

Talk about your time with Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. Describe what you did and what was a typical day.

Phantom of the Opera ran for 10 years in Toronto , and I was part of that production  for 7 and a half years after joining the tour in Montreal in 1991.   Because of the size of the production, a typical day was doing clean up rehearsals, rehearsals for understudies and a ballet barre every morning because there were ballerinas in the show

There were many phantoms playing that role during your time. Who stands out for you?

There were in fact many Phantoms during my time , but the two that stand out for me are still the brilliant Colm Wilkinson and Peter Karrie who was absolutely captivating in the role.

All those years with the same music night after night. How did you not go insane?

To answer the question, how did I not go insane doing the same music night after night, my answer is, no 2 shows were exactly the same. I started conducing the show when on tour in Winnipeg , and after that , depending on who was understudying a certain role, or who swung into another part made a difference to how the show  felt.  I started out as associate conductor , at which point there were 2 of us, so we never could copy exactly how the other person led the show, so always a challenge. I also spent time with singers doing other repertoire, either opera or music theatre outside of the show to keep us fresh.

You did a lot of touring with the Phantom.

I did the Canadian tour which I started in Montreal, the Winnipeg, Saskatoon,  Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, then joined the Toronto production. The International tours sent us to Hawaii , Alaska, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and an Asian tour of “Cinderella” which  I joined in China, then on to Hong Kong , Singapore and Bangkok.

What would you say are the big differences between doing a professional show in Toronto compared to doing a show in a place like Lethbridge?

There a quite a few differences between doing a professional show in Toronto and doing a show in Lethbridge.  The biggest difference would be the size of the audiences and the amount of theaters that are in the 2 cities.  At one point in the mid 90’s, there were 5  or 6 shows running at the same time in Toronto and the size of the city was able to support those productions. Also, that decade was when the mega musicals were being produced , like Les Miserables,  Phantom. Miss Saigon etc.

How tough is it to be in the arts and live in Toronto?

When I was living in Toronto, it was still quite tough to be in the arts. As is the case in most big cities, it was quite competitive and lots of actors, dancers and musicians were competing for the same jobs. In which case, when you had one, you tended to hang onto it.  Some members of the Phantom orchestra in Toronto  stayed with this show for the whole ten year run.

Best moment you’ve ever seen on stage?

One of the best moments I have seen on stage was watching Chita Rivera and Brent Carver interact in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” on Broadway.  Both were absolutely breath taking.

Everyone’s got an on-stage blooper. You must have one as well.

The biggest blooper I ever had to deal with was when I was conducing Phantom in Toronto. There is a part in the 2nd act when the Phantom shoots fireballs from his cane which is totally choreographed so nothing could go wrong. During this particular show, the fire ball hit the other leading man’s wig which caught on fire. I kept conducting as I watched our Christine grab a blanket and put the fire out. As they say “the show must go on”.

Any regrets taking this particular career path?

I have no regrets in taking the career path that I did. When I was at UBC , I was spending 7 hours or more in a practice room by myself getting ready for recitals etc  which is a very solitary life. Now, after 25 musicals, I am very happy to have been surrounded by people who love and are passionate about what they do as am I

What do you think of the theatre scene in Lethbridge?

I am very impressed with the theatre scene here in Lethbridge. There is a vast amount of talent here in all disciplines that I did not expect when I moved back here.

What advice would you give to anyone doing what you did?

My advice to anyone doing what I did, is to never give up and follow your passion  because you never know where it will take you.

Top 5 musicals of all time.

My top 5 musicals of all time are “Into the Woods”, “ Miss Saigon”, “Chess”, “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Ragtime”.

Top 5 musical songs of all time.

My top 5 musical songs are  “No one is alone” (Into the Woods),  “She’s a Woman” ( Kiss of the Spiderwoman) , “Never go back to Before” (Ragtime) , “Someone Else’s Story” (Chess),and “Move On” ( Sunday in the Park with George).

Is there a show you’d really love to do that you haven’t had the chance of doing?

The musical I would really love to do that I haven’t had the chance to do is “Chess”

What’s next for you?

Next for me is “Titanic” here in Lethbridge when the Yates re- opens.