The last time Ted Zarudny was in the Stettler, the town’s offices were still at the corner of 50 Street and 49 Avenue.
That was in 2009, and Stettler was just starting to branch into national in its Communities in Bloom efforts.
The difference between 2009 Stettler and 2015 Stettler, just six years apart, is “remarkable,” Zarudny said.
One of the biggest surprises for the Communities in Bloom judge was how much growth Stettler has seen in the past half-decade in both commercial and industrial areas.
“The change in the downtown (too),” Zarudny said. “There’s trees, flower displays…how the businesses have bought in to this beautification is wonderful.”
The judge, who hails from Orangeville, Ont., has a long experience with Communities in Bloom, first through his years of effort in his former community of Bramptom, Ont. When he and his wife started their garden centre in Orangeville, Zarudny involved himself on the judging side of the friendly competition.
Though he wasn’t sure what to expect from Stettler, he was expecting quality, given the community’s previous national wins.
“I knew you’d be better, but it was more than I expected to see,” Zarudny admitted. “The amount of things I’ve seen change is wonderful.”
Zarudny wasn’t the only returning judge. Lorna McIlroy was the second Communities in Bloom judge visiting Stettler, and in her case, it was her third visit.
The first time McIlroy came to Stettler was in 2010, the first year the town was in its new office building at the end of Main Street.
“In 2010, there was a lot of pride,” she said. “But it was very quiet.”
Two years later, McIlroy returned and said that pride was a “little more out there.”
This year, 2015, shows Stettler has really come into its own, McIlroy noted.
“You’re proud and loud. You self-promote. You’ve always had it, but now you flaunt it.”
Judges were in town on July 22 to rate the community using the new Communities in Bloom judging standard, which brings Canada’s system closer in line with the system used in the United Kingdom. Instead of there being a simple number of blooms to be scored, there’s bronze, silver and gold level blooms to win.
This may result in some communities seeming to “go down” in score, but in reality it’s just the new scoring system.
“This year, you don’t have anything to compare it to,” McIlroy explained.
The judges were toured not only through Stettler’s beautified sections, but other parts of the community that showed dedication to recycling and bettering the community.
Stops on Main Street to see the new and mostly complete downtown park, the town office, and the flowers lining the many downtown businesses were augmented by tours of Alberta Prairie Railways’ trains and the P&H Elevator.
Stettler’s three community gardens were shown to the judges while Lee Penner, from the town, explained how the program is popular and growing from one small garden to three, with one new one added this year.
Grace Fix, Stettler’s recycling champion, took the judges on a tour of the recycling centre, touring the small party through how the community’s eco-centre works.
The new skate park was a hit with the judges, as was the new Stettler Recreation Centre and the many recreational facilities.
The day ended at Brenda’s Cafe on Main Street with a catered dinner and awards ceremony.