Original Published 18:20 Mar 19, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After seeing the scenes of despair and desperation coming out of Ukraine, one rural Manitoba council decided they needed to do as much as they could to lend a helping hand.

And that council is now hoping to team up with a local landmark in the area to offer lodging, employment and support to those who come to Manitoba fleeing war.

During a recent council meeting, the RM of Harrison Park council voted unanimously to put aside $20,000 from their annual budget that they said would be used to relocate refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Harrison Park councillor Craig Atkinson said the council for the community, which sits south of Riding Mountain National Park, decided to put the money aside because after seeing what was happening to Ukraine and to its people, they did not think it would be right to simply do nothing.

“In today’s day and age, it’s mind boggling that some people still believe that this is the best way to accomplish something with all this destruction and chaos,” Atkinson said. “It’s very sad what is happening.

“And I just think we’ve got it real good here in Manitoba and in Canada in general, and in our RM we have the means to help people, so we should use those means to get people over and get them to a safe place, and help them out however we can once they get here.”

Atkinson said that although council has put the $20,000 aside they are still in the process of deciding exactly how they will use it, but they are hoping to find ways to utilize the Elkhorn Resort, a popular spa and conference centre in the RM.

According to Atkinson, council believes that Elkhorn Resort could help to offer both lodging as well as possible employment to refugees, and Elkhorn Resort officials have told them they want to do what they can to help, and would like to look for ways for the council and the resort to work together on a plan.

“If we can get people here there is everything they would need to get started, they could come and get settled in a room and some could take jobs here, so it could be a good way to get people settled and start to get them on their feet,” Atkinson said.

He also believes that people who come to the RM may decide to stay permanently rather than move on to larger centres in the province.

“I believe this would be a great community for people and for families to settle, we’ve got a great school and everything people would need, and it’s a beautiful and welcoming community,” he said.

Atkinson said they are also still in the process of deciding how much work the council would put into actually sponsoring refugees to come to Manitoba, but he said as of now they are putting together a marketing campaign for their efforts, and will also be connecting with the nearby community of Dauphin to see if there are any Ukrainian decedents from the area who are hoping to bring relatives over to Manitoba to live.

Atkinson said he know that there are deep Ukrainian roots in Dauphin and in Harrison Park, as well as across the entire province.

“We have a lot of Ukrainians in the area and a lot of Ukrainian heritage right across the province, so it only makes sense that we would want to bring people here because there is that connection,” he said.

“It’s that connection to their culture that could help people to feel a little more comfortable when they get here.”

Atkinson said he is also proud to sit on a council that has decided to use money from their budget to help others, and to assist people forced to flee war in Ukraine.

“It makes me feel really good, and our job is to work for the people so it makes a lot of sense to use this money to help people,” he said.

— This item is reprinted with permission from the Winnipeg Sun, Manitoba