Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Invincibility of Youth

The news was both shocking and tragic. A group of young adults had somehow entered the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary overnight, and taken their own toboggan down the bobsled run. Undoubtedly it was conceived of as a great prank, a moment of teenage enthusiasm for what was also undoubtedly a bad idea. The tragic part is that they had no idea how bad an idea it would turn out to be, as they hit a gate on the way down the run, injuring several and killing two of the young adults.

I read it with horror, as I have my own teenage charge in my life and while she exhibits generally good judgement I know how young adults can be. I know this because I was one once, and a reckless one at that. But my horror on reading this news was compounded by the adults who also read it and shared it on social media calling the young adults in question "morons", "idiots" and "stupid".

All I could think was there but for the grace of god/luck/whatever deity you choose, go I, as there is no way I should have survived my young adult years.

Show of hands: how many of you did something stupid as a young adult? This can range from getting into a vehicle with someone you suspected might be intoxicated to street racing to trespassing to the variety of other things that seemed like a good idea at the time. How many of us did things that could have ended in serious injury or death?

I see a lot of hands, people.

Mine are both in the air. I think back to the times my best friend, who was from a small town in rural Saskatchewan, and I went "bump riding" with her friends, which meant taking the back country roads at top speed in fast cars to "get air" and feel like we were flying, if just for a moment. I think back to spinning donuts in parking lots while taking turns lying on top of a car, hanging onto the roof racks, the car increasing in speed every turn. I think back to all the times we trespassed on private property to pull pranks (ever heard of tipping cows?) and all the times we made decisions that now stun me in their complete lack of understanding of potential consequences.

How easily we could have been injured. How easily we could have died. I remember the times I felt my grip on those roof racks loosening, fearing I would fall off, but never thinking about what would or could truly happen if I did. We were so lucky.

We were so lucky, until the moment we were not. For my friends and I that luck ended one summer night. I was at home hours away while my small town friends were at a bush party just outside their town. There was alcohol, I'm sure, and there were a lot of kids, and there were dirt bikes, and then there was a collision between two dirt bikes on a gravel road. Two were killed. One lingered in a coma for months. One was badly injured and disfigured for life. They were in Grade 12, and I was in first year university.

Our belief in our own invincibility ended that night. Many things ended then, including a slow dissolution of that friendship I had treasured. We all changed forever in the seconds it took for two dirt bikes to collide on a back country road. None of us were ever the same again. I have shared that story with my daughter in the hope that she would understand the consequences of such decisions, but then again she is young and like me at her age I imagine she believes she is invincible. Such is the reality of youth.

It is so easy as an adult to look at the actions of young adults and call them idiotic or stupid or moronic. We fail to remember our own young adult years, perhaps. We fail to understand that young brains have not finished developing, and make decisions adult brains would consider far differently. We forget what it was  like to feel invincible and immortal, to feel like we were flying and could never fall to earth.

Today I learned the young adults killed in Calgary were twin brothers, leaving behind grieving parents, a sister and a circle of family and friends who must have loved them dearly. When I saw their photos my heart hurt so deeply, taking me back to the morning over thirty years ago when I got a phone call telling me two friends had been killed in a dirt bike accident. I felt no compunction to pass judgment on their actions then and I do not today. Instead I feel nothing but sorrow and sympathy.

Perhaps - just perhaps - we could put aside the impulse to condemn the actions and remember what it was like to be young. Failing that perhaps we could simply understand the sort of grief others are experiencing right now.

Compassion is a gift we can give freely - it costs us nothing. I simply hope we can be rich in compassion, my friends. The world could use far more of it and far less condemnation. I believe each and every one of us hopes for compassion from others.

There but for the grace of God and/or luck go I. That, my friends, is the beginning of the road to compassion. I hope we all consider travelling it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Getting Through the Tough Times - Together

It has become the rather large elephant in the room now. While I have seen a lot of discussion regarding the price of oil, the downturn in the economy, the drop in house prices and the layoffs we have already seen and those we fear, I have seen far less discussion on the impact this is having on our collective mental health.

There is no denying that economic and financial stress creates an atmosphere of anxiety. It is almost palpable on occasion, and I think we tend to tiptoe around it as we are quite busy putting on our “warrior faces” and being brave in the face of adversity.
And we have every reason to be brave and proud, too, as we have continued to show the generosity of our community and our desire to help others, as evidenced by the amazing fundraising that has taken place here in the last few months. But to ignore the elephant in the room is to invite trouble, because there is no doubt there is fear in our community over the current state of things.

There are those who will likely think even acknowledging it is a mistake, as it could seem pessimistic when we need to remain optimistic. The truth is that I am very optimistic about our long-term future, but I also acknowledge we have gone through, and likely will go through more, rough patches on the way to that future. And we need to both recognize them and offer our assistance to those who are going through rougher patches than we are.
I am seeing a lot if it on social media. Moms worried about grocery bills and squeezing every dollar. Dads selling the recreation vehicles they acquired when times were good. And there is a sense of anxiety that underlies it all, a fear of the unknown or a dread of what we expect. It is contagious, too, as the uncertainty affects us all.

So, what can we do in times such as this?
It’s quite simple: be there for each other. This is the time to reach out to people even if you never have before. Check in with your family and friends to see how they are doing, of course – but go a bit further and reach out to your colleagues and your neighbours, too. It’s okay to not have a solution to their worries – they won’t have one for yours, either. But sometimes just having someone listen to our fears has the remarkable ability to lessen them, shrinking that elephant down to a manageable size. If they are truly struggling and their mental health is being affected perhaps suggest some of the many resources available to help. And maybe throw in a simple act of kindness; wheel their garbage bins back in place after the trucks have been by for instance, or shovel their sidewalk in addition to yours.

Right now, when people are fighting battles about which we may know nothing, the smallest acts of kindness may have deep and profound impacts we cannot even imagine.
Words of encouragement are never out of place. Try to be hopeful even in the face of darkness. Be the one who offers the kind word, be positive and just be there for the others in our community who are struggling. And if you are the one struggling? I am reaching out to you, and ask you to reach out to me, or someone else, and simply share what’s going on with you. Share that elephant with someone else and watch how it gets smaller. I promise it will.

I have always believed and still maintain that we live in one of the most remarkable communities in this country. Community strength is not judged by how we treat each other when times are good, though. It is determined by how we support each other when times are difficult. This is a time when we can truly show that strength, by being there for each other in ways both large and small. We can still be positive and optimistic and acknowledge the challenges we face – and help each other through them.
We live in a remarkable place. Now let’s be remarkable for each other. And let’s get through this. Together.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What I Learned on the Way to One Thousand

It was a few posts ago when I realized I was approaching a bit of a milestone number in this blog. Today, after writing this blog for just under five years (as of this spring), I hit the 1000-post mark. It's almost a bit hard to believe, as when this adventure began I had no anticipation I would make it to 100 posts, let alone ten times that, but here we are.

And what a ride it has been. I couldn't even begin to summarize what I have done, seen and written about thanks to this blog. If asked to do so I would have to tell you to just go read the posts, as it's all there in black and white - but while I cannot summarize all the events I can summarize some of the things I have learned over those one thousand posts. This summer I will celebrate a milestone birthday, and it is likely I will share some thoughts on what I learned on the way to that number, too - but that's for another day. Today is the day to share what I learned on the way to one thousand.

Beginning a blog is easy. Continuing a blog is hard.

Anybody can start a blog. It is actually quite easy, given the ease of use of many blog platforms and websites. The hard part isn't the beginning - it's keeping it going. Over those one thousand posts I can't count the number of times I considered ending the blog. There were long stretches when I didn't blog, and times when I wondered why I bothered - and yet I kept coming back to it. Maybe it's because I'm stubborn and maybe it's because I hate to quit anything, but I suspect it's mostly because I simply enjoy the entire experience of blogging. But if you begin a blog and don't enjoy it I can almost guarantee you won't continue it, as the blogosphere is littered with abandoned blogs that were once vibrant and active and are now quiet ghosts where nobody posts anymore. They are silent witnesses to that fact.

If you are passionate about your topic, the blogging is easy. If you aren’t passionate, don’t bother. People know.

In the very beginning I knew I had to write about things I care about, because people can spot a lack of authenticity. Even if they don't realize they are doing it they can still sense it, and they will not connect with your writing if they think it is insincere. Blogging about things you don't care about is a painful chore and completely absurd because blogging is the one place where you should feel free to write about whatever you actually care about. If you care about a topic the words come easily - if you don't it's a bit like herding unruly cats that you don't even want to herd.
Write about what you love. Or what you hate. Nobody wants to read about ambivalence.

Ambivalence is boring. If you don't love it or hate it, why bother writing about it in a blog? Nothing says "don't read me" like a title that reeks of ambivalence. Even worse though is that writing about ambivalence is boring. No wonder people quit blogging. If your own topics don't excite you, then there really is no point because they won't entertain anyone else, either.
Write for yourself. Finding an audience is awesome – but your first audience is always you.

I always assumed the only regular reader this blog would have would be me. I think that assumption gave me a lot of freedom to write for myself and about myself, because it was always about my life in my community. When it attracted readers I was a bit stunned, but I knew what attracted them was what I was doing, so I wasn't about to change it. This blog is about our community, to be certain - but it's about the adventure of one resident in this community: me. I am the one common link between all one thousand posts.

If you don’t have a thick skin and you are sharing your opinions you need to grow one. Pronto.

If you don't have a thick skin you might want to blog about something safe, like cupcakes. I don't imagine there are many cupcake culinary controversies, although I could be wrong on that. But if you are going to write a blog and share your opinions be ready for those who disagree with you. One of my most profound moments was talking to a class of young students about blogging and having them ask how to handle it if people thought what they wrote was "stupid". After I got over the initial heartbreak that they even knew to ask that kind of question I told them that I handled it by being confident that my thoughts and opinions have as much value as anyone else's, and that I didn't worry overly about what other people thought of it. If you write what is true to you, you won't feel much need to defend it. The haters can get stuffed. Or start their own blog. 

Don’t be afraid to be you. Even when you are terrified.

I think it was the moment when I realized it was my blog that I began to own the hell out of it. Yep, those are my words, my thoughts and my opinions. That's even my picture there to the right of this post. So I was going to be me in this blog, 100% of the time. What would be the point of being anyone else?

Know when to hold ‘em. And when to fold ‘em.

Kenny Rogers wasn't just singing about cards, you know. Sometimes blogging is about knowing when to hold 'em - the stories you wish you could tell but know that you can't, and knowing when to fold 'em - the topics you know you have to shelve for a bit. I often quip that some stories will be saved for the eventual book I will write and people always laugh - but it's no joke as of course there is a book, just one that will come out after I have left town some day. Or maybe published posthumously just to be on the really safe side. The stories that made it to this blog are really one half of the adventure this has been, and some day I will tell the other half. Just not today. Thanks Kenny - I know when to hold 'em!

When everyone loves what you write, you’re a genius; when they hate it, you’re Satan.

The best part is when some people think you are a genius while others think you are Satan. But on occasion almost everyone will think you missed the mark or messed up or are channeling the underworld. It can be quite the pendulum swing, but it can also be quite entertaining. Besides the hate mail that comes from being pegged as Satan can be an awfully good read.

Even people who think you are Satan might continue to read your work, if only to prove to themselves that you are indeed Satan.

One of my favourite encounters was with someone who said they hated everything I write but who continued to read it to confirm how much they hate everything I write. Who can argue with that kind of logic? It's sort of like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer every day to remind yourself about how much you hate being hit in the head with a hammer. One can only be amused by this, and I am.

Sometimes you are very right. Sometimes you are dead wrong.

You will not always be right. And it's okay to admit your errors. But you should never feel forced to acknowledge you are wrong, because if you feel forced then it's quite likely you don't instinctively feel you are wrong at all. And that should be your clue that maybe you aren't wrong. It's also okay to stick to your guns if that's what your instinct says.

Don’t let opportunity slip past you.

The blog has presented me with so many opportunities! Some I was offered and some I sought out - but if opportunity comes knocking you need to consider answering the door, even if you are wearing pyjamas and haven't had a shower and your hair is a mess. You don't need to say yes to every opportunity, but make sure you consider them as they arise. What you don't want is to regret not even thinking about them.

Let yourself be surprised. Every single time.

I can still recall the first time someone complimented me on a blog post I had written. I was so surprised. Pleased, of course, but surprised. And it still happens, every single time. I feel almost awkward and shy when someone compliments something I have written. Proud but humbled. It's the strangest feeling in the world, really. Now when they tell me they hate it that's much easier as that never happens to my face but typically in an anonymous email, which usually heads right into my deleted items. But when they come to me and say, directly, what my words meant to them? Oh man. I get all weird inside, even one thousand posts later. I don't think that will ever go away.

You eventually find your niche.

When this blog began I went to absolutely everything. As the quip goes I would attend the opening of an envelope. Now people will occasionally comment on not having seen me around as often, and it's probably true as it took me some time but I found my niche - my place in this community and in my world. I don't go to as many events, but you can be sure when you see me at one that this is a place I have identified as part of my niche and a part of my heart. It took going to everything to realize where I wanted to belong - and to find where my heart really is. I love this community and I love this region, but I don't need to be everywhere and at everything to do it. I invest in those things closest to my heart and others invest in the things closest to theirs - which is how communities are built, really.

Nobody will learn more about you than you will through the process.

 Sometimes people comment about how much they know about me through this blog. The truth of course is that they only know what I have revealed and shared, and it is, as with any of us, the tip of the iceberg. This blog may have allowed others to experience Fort McMurray through my eyes, but nobody learned more about me than I did through it. I am not the same person as I was one thousand posts ago (thank goodness - how dull it would be to not allow experience to change you!) and I won't be the same person one thousand posts from now that I am today. This blog - the experiences I have had, the people I have met, the lessons I have learned, the changes I have seen both in our community and in me - taught me more about myself than any other process in my life ever has. 

You have a voice.

Every person has a voice. How you use it is entirely up to you. Every single person can develop a platform from which to share that voice. How do I know this? Because I did it. One thousand posts ago I was a stay-at-home mom without a blog and no public voice. Nobody handed me a platform to share my voice: I created it. That means anyone can do the same thing. I am living proof.

And finally...

One thousand posts. These one thousand posts changed my life. Yes, that is in italics because it is true and worthy of note. If you have been reading them, thank you. I appreciate that more than you will ever know. In the end though I wrote these one thousand posts not for you, but for me. Every single post, every single experience, every single person, every single comment, every single note of encouragement or email of condemnation - they changed me and my life. I don't know if these one thousand posts had any impact on the life of anyone else or on this community, although on occasion I like to hope they did, but I do know they had an impact on mine and that my life would not be what it is today had I not written them.

So what did I really learn on the way to one thousand? Gratitude. To this community, to my readers, to the people who invest in this region the way I do, to my friends, to my kid...just gratitude. Thank you for being there on the way to one thousand. Today I celebrate one thousand - with thankfulness for all I learned along the way, because being McMurray Musings has been one of the best adventures of my entire life - and it ain't over yet!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Whatever Floats Your Boat - the Peter Pond Paddle with FMPSD

There are offers you get you just can’t refuse. And when you are asked if you want to serve as a judge for a cardboard boat building competition involving local students, you’d be a fool to say no.

That would be how I found myself with a pencil and clipboard in hand last week as I served as a guest judge at the Peter Pond Paddle cardboard boat building competition hosted by Fort McMurray Composite High School. In addition to some teams of high school students there were teams of younger students from the south-side elementary schools in the Fort McMurray Public School District. The event was designed not only as a team challenge but as a way for the older students to connect with the younger ones, and for everyone to have fun in a day spent building – and then testing – their cardboard boats. There was even a last-minute addition of a team of teachers, who insisted they should build a boat too.
The judging part was fairly quick as my fellow judges and I evaluated the teams on things like team work, the strength of their construction, the design they created beforehand (and if they followed it) and the cleanliness of their work space (this was an interesting one as some were so tidy you would never guess boat building was going on while others looked a bit like an explosion at a cardboard and tape factory).

All photos courtesy of FMPSD

But once the judging was complete the real fun began, as it was over to the Syncrude Aquatic Centre pool to test the boats.
Let’s be clear. I am a writer and not an engineer, and I must say I learned a great deal about building cardboard boats that day. I don’t want to give too much away as I know this may become an annual event, but I will say that in cardboard boats size DOES matter and bigger is not necessarily better.

Amid cheers and shouts and laughter and clapping the teams selected one member to get into the boat and attempt to paddle it from one end of the pool to another. Some boats made it a few feet before meeting their demise, while some never quite left the dock, folding up quickly and quietly and enveloping their hapless captain. In the end only two boats made it all the way intact – one from the Composite High School students and one from the Beacon Hill Bears.
All photos courtesy of FMPSD
Confession time: the Intrepid Junior Blogger began her education as a Beacon Hill Bear. In fact we choose the school, and for six years I drove her there every day as it was not the school designated by our neighbourhood bus route. But there was something about the school, the staff, the teachers and the culture that we loved, and so we made that trek every single day regardless of the weather. I must admit I was rooting for the Bears team, so when their boat was the first to make it the length of the pool I likely cheered louder than anyone.

And about that boat from the teachers? Well, let’s just say they weren’t expert boat builders either. As their boat began to flounder about ¼ of the way across the pool I found myself shouting things like “Try harder!” and “C’mon, you aren’t even really trying!” and tee-heeing to myself in some sort of twisted latent revenge for all those years of gym classes when I failed to climb that bloody horrible rope thing that they made everyone try. I loved my teachers then and I have such respect for teachers now, but I must admit I am not above a bit of trash talk when it comes to “encouraging” them in the same manner I was once encouraged (and no, I never made it to the top of that damn rope, and no, the teacher’s boat never made it across the pool, either).
But at the end only two boats remained, and the final challenge? See how many team members could fit into each boat before it sank. While the Composite team gave it a good try, it was the Beacon Hill Bears who managed to fit three people in their boat and still keep it afloat, although it was taking on water at an alarming rate towards the end.

All photos courtesy of FMPSD

The aftermath of the day was a lot of wet cardboard, a lot of sore throats from shouting and a lot of smiles and laughter as even those who saw their boats sink had had a raucous good time while doing it. It was definitely out of the norm for their average school day, and it was more fun than I have had in ages.

The winning Beacon Hill Bears team!
All photos courtesy of FMPSD

The second place Composite High School team!
All photos courtesy of FMPSD

There are likely people who question the benefit of events like this for students, but to me they are so clear as to be immediately obvious. It encourages the kids to work as a team, it allows them to connect with peers from other schools, it shows them that learning can be fun and it reminds them of the practical application of such skills (if they are ever on a deserted island I can guarantee none of them will ever consider building a life raft from cardboard, for instance). The sense of team spirit and camaraderie was unmistakable, and the pride in both the students and the teachers was evident. And to be honest, I was both proud and delighted just to be there.

Our most precious resource in this town is not oil, regardless of what anyone says. Our most valuable resource is our people, and perhaps most especially our youth who have their entire future ahead of them. This resource is the one in which we should take both the most pride and the most concern, because it our youth have the opportunity to change our world. While they may not do it by building cardboard boats, they will do it through the skills they are acquiring at such events and every single day in our schools.
My thanks to Kevin Bergen, principal of Fort McMurray Composite High School for the invitation to be a judge, to the FMPSD for always doing what’s best for kids (including all the years they did what was best for mine) and most particularly to the students who welcomed me into their day. I smiled a lot, laughed like crazy and learned that cardboard is not the best boat building material in the world. So really, it was one of the best days, ever!

All photos courtesy of FMPSD

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Let's Talk, Fort McMurray

Let’s talk, Fort McMurray.

The year is 2016, and we are now open to discussing so many things we used to shun. We talk about gender orientation and sexuality. We talk about intimate medical issues, including the right to die. We talk about some of the most sensitive, the most delicate and the most difficult topics, and yet we still struggle sometimes to talk about something that touches most of our lives: mental illness.
I don’t know about you, but mental illness has touched my family. After the death of my mother I went through an intensive year-long depression that was profound and deep and dark and infinitely frightening. I thought I was Teflon when it came to mental health, despite knowing that my family history of mental illness stretches back for generations. When I realized – finally – that I was struggling with depression I was genuinely stunned because I had always been convinced it would not – could not! – happen to me.

Nobody is Teflon, and nobody is immune from mental health issues. The number of people who struggle with anxiety, depression and other forms of mental illness is staggering. The number of attempted suicides is terrifying, and the number of completed suicide devastating.
I have watched friends grapple with the loss of a child to suicide. I have watched others attempt to secure help for family members who have threatened or attempted suicide. I have seen the huge gaps in our support system for children, youth and adults who have mental health issues. And I have realized how much we need to talk.

Right now we are facing a turbulent time in our country, with an economy that is uncertain. That uncertainty can become a huge contributor to stress, anxiety and depression, and while it is always important to be cognizant of our mental health it may be more imperative now than ever.
The statistics regarding mental illness are something we need to not only discuss but share openly. We need to have open and frank conversations about mental health, not just today but every single day. We need to have them in our homes, our schools, our places of worship, our coffee shops and our workplaces. The stigma we have attached to mental illness must end. It is 2016, and the time for stigmas is over.

You don’t need to be an expert to talk about mental health. You simply need to care about the mental and physical well-being of the people around you. And you need to understand that you are not Teflon, and you are not immune. I am living proof of that reality.
Let’s talk. And if you aren’t talking already, let’s start today. And let’s talk tomorrow, too. And the day after that. And every single day. Let's talk, let's advocate for better and stronger support for those with mental illness and let's be there for each other. Because trust me, some day we may need them to be there for us - and nobody knows this better than me.

You can find more information and resources at:

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Time to Listen

Like everyone else who heard it, I was horrified when I heard the news coming from La Loche, Saskatchewan. I have been to La Loche, as I grew up in Saskatoon and had been there on occasion when I was much younger, and I have known people from La Loche. Even if I had not, though, my heart would have ached for the people of a small community where everyone knows everyone, and where this kind of tragedy cuts deep and hard for every single resident.

There were people who asked if I planned to write about La Loche, curious as to what I might say. And to be honest all I can say is very simple: there is a time to speak, and a time to listen, and this is a time to listen to the people of La Loche, and all the communities who face challenges similar to those in La Loche.
Over the past few years I have had the privilege of spending time with some First Nations elders. What I have learned from them is the importance of opening your heart, your mind and most importantly your ears, and listening to the voices of the people who know what they know through first hand experience.

Middle class white people like me can opine on and on about La Loche and other First Nations communities, and some of us even have some experience with them – but we have not travelled that road or lived that life, and the time has come for us to simply shut up and listen, not speak to hear the sound of our own voices.
I have spent time in First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario. While I am cognizant of some of the challenges they face I am in no way familiar with them enough to even hint at having an opinion of any sort. All I can do is grieve with them over this most recent loss, and open my heart, my mind and my ears.

I hope people across this country, those of us who have not grown up in communities like La Loche, do the same and listen instead of speaking right now. I hope we hear what is being said by the elders, the youth, the adults and the leaders of those communities. I hope our governments are listening too, because they need to hear what they are being told by the people who live in these communities and who are the experts in this regard.
If I learned anything from the elders I am so honoured to know, I have learned there is a time to speak, and a time to listen. This is a time for people like me to listen and learn. Heart open, mouth closed. Just listening.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Does a Champion Look Like?

Have you ever wondered what a champion looks like? I mean, not a champion athlete or a champion race horse, but a community champion and local hero? This week you have an opportunity to get a glimpse of a few of the community champions and heroes we are so privileged to have in our region, and today I wanted to dedicate this blog post to them.

The annual Mayor and Council Toast of Champions is an event designed to recognize outstanding individuals in our region. Every year members of our community nominate other members for this acknowledgement, and this year it was both my pleasure and honour to provide letters of support for some of the nominees. To be honest I love writing these kinds of letters as it allows me to personally acknowledge these individuals and what they mean both to me and to our community, and I am so very proud of them. When the list of nominees was revealed I was pleased to see many names I know, as well as some I do not, because it means our community is vibrant and healthy and rich in the very resource that never changes in value: people. While the value of oil may dip and dive, the value of our people remains strong and indicative of the true nature of this remarkable community.

While only some of the nominees will "win", each and every one of them deserves tremendous gratitude and recognition for what they have contributed to our communities and our region. Today I want to share a few words about the ones I happen to know personally, and what they have meant to me and my life:

Bill Bertschy - What can one say about someone like Bill? I met Bill initially through work but he quickly became a friend and mentor. Bill's quiet and gentle nature hides the heart of a bear, and he is one of the kindest and wisest people I have ever known. His work with youth and adults alike has changed many lives, and his leadership has changed our region. He is undoubtedly a true community leader and someone I am so very honoured to have in my world.

 Candace Sturgess - While I don't know Candace as well as I know some of the other nominees, I have watched as she worked in her home community in Anzac to improve the quality of life and provide new opportunities for the residents of that incredible community in our region.Wife, mom, business owner, active community member and leader - one busy lady who is making one big difference, and someone we can all look up to.

 Dutche Iannetti - I met Dutche through work and am amazed at his genuine commitment to the baseball community of this region, and in particular to the youth who enjoy this sport. Dutche, as everyone knows, has been the driving force behind the exciting new WMBL team that will arrive in Fort McMurray this summer, and his dedication to this has been amazing to witness. It will be a true pleasure to be there when the team steps onto the diamond for the first time, because I will know Dutche is the reason it happened at all.

Joanna Torguson - Founder of the Fort Mac Hand Crafted Market, Joanna is one of those remarkable people who creates an entire community within a community. The Hand Crafted Market has developed an entirely new outlet for crafters and artisans in our community, giving them a place to not only showcase their products but their talents. Joanna saw a niche that needed to be filled, and so she did what community leaders do: filled it.

Kelli Stewart - How do I even begin this one without getting all gushy? I love Kelli. I love her enthusiasm, her passion for her craft (dance), her bold attitude and her mentorship of all the children and youth with whom she interacts. There are people who have made my life better from the moment they entered it, and Kelli, who entered it holding a small kitten she had just rescued from a dumpster in true Kelli-fashion, is one of those people. I always knew Kelli would accomplish great things, so this nomination comes as no surprise to me or anyone who knows and/or adores her. Just mark me down as a fan.

Kelsey Granick - One of the great joys of my life has been meeting the incredible youth in our region. Kelsey, who I first met in Fort Chipewyan, is one of those youth. When Kelsey was in Fort McMurray for an FC Edmonton soccer clinic I even had the opportunity to sit down with her and her mom and interview her, one of my favourite stories I've ever written for Connect Weekly. Kelsey is a role model for other youth, a leader in her community and really just a remarkable young women with an amazing future ahead. I am so delighted to see her being recognized as she is so very worthy of the recognition, and I know that first hand.

Michelle Thorne - Some people just live and breathe their art - and Michelle is one of them. She is at the forefront of our thriving arts and culture scene, with a strong presence in the performing arts including a co-founding role at an independent local theatre group. Her enthusiasm, her spirit and her genuine passion for her art have made her a community leader and it is a pleasure to know her, even if only a little bit, just to witness that up close.

Seville Kwan - While I only know Seville lightly on a personally basis, I have come to know her a bit more through my work on the Wood Buffalo Communities in Bloom committee. Much like our committee, Seville shows clear commitment to making our community and region bloom, not only through her professional role but through everything she does in our community as a volunteer. Seville is another one of those people who take leadership to a new level, and who is a role model all of us would do well to follow.

Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association - Oh, these five. What on earth can I say about these five people? They had an idea, and then unlike so many who talk an idea to death they ran with it, creating an incredibly successful organization in a remarkably short time. They are talented, they are skilled, they are dedicated, they are enthusiastic - and they are the kind of people we all wish we had in our community. We are lucky enough to have them in ours, and I am even more fortunate to call them friends, because each of them has enriched my life in some way. I consider them more family than friends, really.

There are a number of other nominees as well, and I encourage you to view all of them. While I do not know the others well enough to comment personally on them, I know enough to know that if they have been nominated then they have had an impact on the lives of others and made this community a better place for all of us. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a diversity of experience and skills, and each and every one has contributed to this place we all call home. Each and every one is, of course, a champion and deserving of that recognition.

Take a look, Wood Buffalo. If you have ever wondered what a champion looks like, now you know. They are the people all around us, every single day, and how very lucky we are to have them indeed!