Lac La Biche County went national on Wednesday night, aired across Canada on CBC TV's Still Standing series.
Now in it's eighth season, the show, hosted by comedian Jonny Harris, chronicles communities it describes as "on the ropes," communities that are "still standing" despite challenges they face.
Filming for the show took place last summer, with production crews and Harris in the community for a week. Several areas of that visit were highlighted during Wednesday's televised half-hour digest, including Indigenous history, commercial fishing, multi-cultural settlement, world championship sports and a gas station bathroom.
Harris, through interviews with several local residents, knitted a story of struggle, survival, humour and community spirit in the wake of economic and social challenges going from the fur trade to the most recent oil and gas bust.
Brenda Robitaille spoke about the significance of the area's fisheries, taking Harris and viewers on a history of the commercial fishery, mink ranches and Lac La Biche caviar. Mysoon Tarrabain walked Harris along the community's main street, speaking about the settlement of Lebanese families and other immigrants into the community, while highlighting the business opportunities and economic ups and downs residents have faced over the generations. Comedic relief was brought with the local winner of a corporate competition that named his gas station's washroom as the county's best. The gas station's owner, Mo Kabalan, who is also a local jiu-jitsu expert, was the topic of one of Harris' many localized quips.
"If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie — he can dislocate your shoulder," said Harris to a chuckling crowd invited to the show's taping at Portage College's McGrane Theatre last summer.
Rene Schaub says the episode hit the bullseye.
The president of the Lakeland Archers, the local group that hosted a world championship archery event in 2019 and is again welcoming the world to the community in 2024, was another highlight of Wednesday's show. With the Herb Erickson Shooting Range as the backdrop, Schaub and his daughter Emma spoke with Harris about the world-wide attention the community has received from the archery events hosted by the club.
The father and daughter gave Harris some pointers on shooting bows, promoted the upcoming 2024 World Archery Field Championships and got the host laughing about 3D animal targets being attacked by real-life bears.
Schaub and his family watched the episode in its entirety on Wednesday with the rest of Canada. He knows the show will help bring more attention to the community, and his segment is good for local archery and the sport in general. He also said the segment was really great for some very young residents who really don't care about marketing or promotion — they were just excited to be on TV.
"When they filmed us last year, they came out and we had our members, and lots of the young ones. For the kids, it was the first time they'd seen themselves on TV, they thought it was the best thing since sliced bread," he said. "When they came out to film the club, It was good to see all members that were there, they got a little shot of themselves on TV shooting. Stuff like that means a lot to me. I really like that."
Since the show aired, Schaub says he has heard nothing but positives. A portion of the show was posted to the Archery Canada social media page, he said, where it has been shared more than 200 times and has 2,000 likes.
"It's helping us go places," he said.
The place Lac La Biche Canadian Native Friendship Centre Executive Director Donna Webster was interviewed for the show was in front of two majestic tipis at the entrance to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park. Sitting in folding camp chairs in last summer's sunshine, her segment with Harris focused on the need to keep Indigenous culture at the forefront as the community moves forward.
"For me, the intent is to start a conversation about the history here, so that there is a representation of the people," Webster told Lakeland This Week the day after the episode aired.
The tipis — part of a tourism partnership between local Indigenous groups and Alberta Parks — provided a stunning backdrop with the Lac La Biche shoreline as she and Harris discussed the area's indigenous foundations and the future.
"Using tourism is a nice way to begin that conversation with everybody," Webster explained to Lakeland This Week, adding that her segment of the show blended in very well with the other interviews. "All of it together..... they interviews were people doing what they are passionate about, and it was really nice to be part of that group. I think it was really well done. It was our story, and about our future."
The Still Standing episodes can be viewed on the CBC Gem app.
The last Alberta community featured on Still Standing was Turner Valley in 2020.