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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Second Strike: Back to Talking Smack

On January 15 of this year I wrote a blog post challenging some dubious assertions made about the connection between the oil sands industry and the development of terrorists. Unlike many assertions made about this region, though, these ones did not come from external media or those with an interest in doing harm to our community - they came from the police chief in our closest neighbouring city: Rod Knecht of Edmonton Police Services. I followed that post with a letter to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, and this morning I find myself sitting in a hotel in Edmonton, ready to pen a letter once more to Mayor Iveson, because it seems Chief Knecht has done it again.

This time Knecht, speaking about the troubling increase in crime in Edmonton, has once again pointed a finger north and said the increase in crime in his city is due to displaced oil workers from cities like Cold Lake and Fort McMurray - you know, my hometown. When I read this interview I could feel my blood beginning to boil as I fail to see what Knecht hopes to accomplish by engaging in some sort of blame game.

The economic downturn has affected communities across the country. Should Knecht wish to indicate he feels this has an impact he could speak to the number of those residents from Edmonton and surrounding area who work in the oil industry and who have felt the impact of this decline. He could speak about how economic downturns can be accompanied by an increase in crime rates (although interestingly it seems we have not witnessed this effect in Fort McMurray) but he can do so while acknowledging that this is a complex issue. He could do any number of things, but his choice to blame other communities for Edmonton's current crime issue speaks volumes about his disinterest in owning his own problem. It is much easier to say "hey, it's not Edmontonians engaged in criminal activity, it's those guys from other places!". It's the olly-olly-oxen-free of policing, absolving yourself and your community of any blame while conveniently finding a scapegoat.

I could likely pull Fort McMurray press releases and news articles from the last two years showing a number of arrested individuals claiming an Edmonton address and make the case that drug trafficking in Fort McMurray originates in Edmonton and is therefore a problem coming from Edmonton - but I would not, and our local RCMP have never claimed this as the truth is that if it happens in our community it is OUR problem, and the origin of the perpetrator matters very little. We need to own our problems to address them, and fobbing them off on someone else does nothing to actually resolve the problems (and does a great deal to harm our relationship with our neighbouring communities).

We could also talk about the fact that many of the displaced oil workers have gone back to their home communities as people often do when they are laid off. If this is true we should be seeing increased crime rates in cities across the country, and yet I am not hearing any other police chiefs claiming that any increase they are seeing is due to displaced oil workers - especially since those workers are often residents of their own communities to start with, ones who have come home after the economy has failed them.

As a communications professional I have to wonder if anyone is actually helping Knecht to develop key messages so he stops damaging the relationship Edmonton has with Fort McMurray. I am sitting in an Edmonton hotel, shopping at Edmonton businesses and eating at Edmonton restaurants - and Knecht's comments make me feel disinclined to do this again, choosing to instead bypass Edmonton next time and head to Calgary instead where the police chief doesn't feel the need to throw Fort McMurray under the bus every few months. Surely Edmonton Police Services has a communications team of some sort - and if it does they need to help Knecht to recognize that his comments have an impact that go far beyond Edmonton, and far beyond policing. To put it bluntly, EPS Communications: Your boss is out of control. Time for some damage control measures and some frank talk.

Frankly, I am tired of it. Edmonton Police Services Chief Knecht seems to have a penchant for saying damaging and unkind things about my home city and about the tens of thousands of people who work in the oil sands industry. If Knecht has statistics showing a direct link between displaced oil workers from Fort McMurray and Cold Lake (incidentally the people who keep the Albertan economy going) and the increased crime rate in Edmonton then he should produce them immediately, because he is starting to look very much like an individual who shoots his mouth first and asks questions later - not an appealing quality in an individual holding his office. His smack talk is not conducive to building a strong and resilient relationship with other communities in this province, something I would consider a key goal for policing that enables police forces to work together to address crime and protect our communities.

The relationship between Fort McMurray and Edmonton has historically been a strong one and I hope it continues to be, as it benefits us all in the end. Edmonton happens to be one of my very favourite cities and I would regret if the comments of their police chief damaged this neighbourhood relationship any further.

Acknowledge you have an issue, own it and work to address it. It's the responsible, professional and respectable way to deal with anything - not trying to foist the blame on others. I expect the smack talk from certain factions, but from the police chief of a neighbouring community with which we have strong ties? That I don't expect - or accept, either.

Strike two, Knecht.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Like a Good Neighbour

When I got the notice that the water main replacement on my street would occur this fall and not next year as I had originally been told I was not particularly pleased. However, the rapid pace of the project this year meant the municipality could move forward more quickly than anticipated, and so I accepted that I would be using a temporary water supply (consisting of a hose leading up to my house) and being unable to access my driveway and street for about 3 weeks. It was inconvenient, of course, particularly given the zoo that requires a large amount of heavy things like kitty litter and dog food, but I stocked up and hunkered down, recognizing the only real inconvenience would be parking.

Unable to access my own driveway, which as of yesterday is now home to several tons of gravel and dirt, I have been using street parking in my neighbourhood. While the municipality provided a parking lot for displaced residents it is: a) as far away from my house as is physically possible and still be in the same neighbourhood, b) directly beside the forest belt, c) unlit, d) usually full at the late hour I arrive home, and e) not very comfortable feeling for a woman who travels solo. As I did not feel safe using this lot I have been parking on the streets in my neighbourhood, closer to my home and where the lighting is better. And I have been studiously following the street parking rules – not leaving my car too long in one location, leaving ample clearance for driveways, parking the requisite number of feet away from corners and stop signs.
Twice in the past five days I have parked in front of the same house, ensuring I left good clearance for their driveway. This morning when I went to collect my car (a two block walk from my own driveway, a bit inconvenient but pleasant enough on a brisk fall morning) I found this note – and it made me so very sad for our community:

I will share the note I penned in return and left in their mailbox at the end of this post, but I really want to talk about neighbourhoods here, and why they just aren’t the same as they used to be.
I have had this discussion a lot – about why neighbourhoods don’t feel like they did when we were growing up, how we have lost some of that connection and cohesiveness. But the trouble isn’t with our neighbourhoods. The trouble is with us.

Somewhere along the way we began to stop thinking about our neighbours. We started thinking a lot more about ourselves – our needs, our wants, our homes, our parking. We stopped thinking about what our neighbours might need or want, what challenges they were facing and how we could help them. Instead we began to think about how our neighbours got in the way of what we want, like the parking in front of our house (even when it is a public street and does not belong to any of us).
When I was young I used to watch my father as every summer weekend he would mow our front lawn – and then roll that damn lawn mower up and down the street mowing every single lawn that needed mowing. In the winter out would come the snow blower and there he was again, that crazy old man o’mine clearing the snow from every driveway. It took him HOURS and I thought he was completely nuts as only rarely did the neighbours return the favour. He did it for decades, too, right into his 70’s – and right up until the lung cancer that eventually stole his life took away all his energy for lawn mowing and snow blowing and, well, pretty much everything else. But as my father lay in the hospital bed we had installed in my parents’ living room he would watch as neighbour after neighbour would come over to mow his lawn and clear his driveway of snow, meaning my mother, in her late 70’s by then too, did not have to do anything but be there with my dad as he was dying.

That’s around when I realized maybe my old man wasn’t crazy at all.
You see it isn’t our neighbourhoods that create the environment we all want to raise our kids in and live in and enjoy our lives in. It’s us. It’s how we treat each other. It’s understanding that maybe it is inconvenient to have someone parked in front of our house, but maybe it’s because they have been displaced from their own, or they are visiting from out of town, or myriad other reasons. It’s learning to take the small frustrations and inconveniences and brush them off our shoulders, knowing that at the end of the day what matters more is that we can either build a great neighbourhood by being a great neighbour, or we can contribute to it becoming the kind of place where even we don’t want to live.

My father was, in all actuality, a very smart man. And a damn good neighbour, too.
I sat in my car for a few moments this morning, and then I wrote this response and dropped it into their mailbox. Should they happen to be reading this, the offer at the end is genuine. You see, I am my father’s daughter in the end.

Thank you for the lovely note. Unfortunately due to water main construction I cannot park in front of MY home, forcing me to seek alternatives, including parking on a public street.
I’ve taken a photo of your note. As a local writer I am exploring the theme of the demise of neighbourhoods and the concept of community, and your note will serve as a great illustrative example.

The public street is not yours. Any further notes left on my vehicle will be given to bylaw.
Incidentally should you wish to park in front of my house when the road construction reaches your area call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I will gladly allow you to park in my driveway. It’s what good neighbours do.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Go Truck Yourself, Fort McMurray - Letting the Big Truck Pride Shine

A recent letter to the editor in our local daily caused some stir in our community. The letter writer, among other things, commented on our “lifted pickups” in a way that could only be read as derogatory, and I found it a bit intriguing as when I thought about it as I could not find one offensive thing about big pickup trucks.

I actually poked myself on this one for awhile. Did I feel  embarrassed by my neighbour’s rather large and lifted truck? No. Was I apologetic for the big trucks I see around town on a daily basis? Not at all. Did I actually see the lifted pickup truck, which some from outside our community seem to think symbolizes what is “wrong with us" as wrong at all? Not even slightly.
In fact, I found myself feeling rather proud.

You see I am a firm believer that everyone has a “thing”, something of which they are inordinately fond. For me, it is shoes as I have a few dozen (*ahem – number may not be accurate) pairs and I love knowing about different shoe brands, different shoe types and even the art and history of shoe making. When others question my interest I ask them what their “thing” is, and after some thought they usually identify something – detective novels or Royal Doulton figurines, decorative teacups or original art – that is “their thing”. And so, particularly in a community with a young demographic and an oil-focused economy, it seems natural  for one of our “things” to be our vehicles, particularly big lifted trucks or tricked out cars and motorbikes. When grown men and women get together to discuss their trucks and compare them, one can almost see them revert back to the little ones they once were, with their Matchbox cars slamming into each other and shouting “vroom vroom” at the top of their lungs. It is one of the most charming things I have ever witnessed, to be honest, as it takes us back to a time in our lives when things were as simple as whether we preferred the shiny red truck or the metallic blue.
I find myself genuinely puzzled as to why we are supposed to apparently feel embarrassed by this. Do Torontonians feel ashamed of their BMWs and Lexus? Do farmers feel embarrassed of their excessively large combines? (and in case you think these are purely utilitarian you have never spent time with farmers arguing over the virtues of Deere vs. Case) Let’s be honest: we have a fondness for things that are big and fast, even those of us who do not own a big lifted pickup.

My own vehicle, my Ford Explorer which I have named Amelia, may not be a lifted truck but I am quite proud of her regardless and we have already had many adventures together.  Frankly I think the concept that we should in any way be ashamed or embarrassed about our big lifted trucks is absurd.
If the stereotype is that Fort McMurray is filled with huge vehicles with lift kits, then we should own the truck out of it.

Reclaim the truck pride, Fort McMurray. We live in a region where trucks not only make sense (ever been stuck in the snow in a little car in an unplowed parking lot? Cuz I have) but where our love and pride can freely shine because there is absolutely nothing wrong with the lifted pickup truck – and anyone who thinks differently can promptly go truck themselves.

PS. If you really want to celebrate big truck culture I highly recommend Monster X Tour presented by BURNCO taking place at Shell Place this weekend (Friday evening and Saturday matinee). Disclaimer: yes, I work there and yes I have worked with the Monster X Tour on these shows – and they are completely wonderful individuals who love what they do. I may not OWN a big truck, but the truth may well be that I am a big truck girl at heart – and damn proud of it, too.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

An Arresting Tale

For Andrew
A life well lived is full of tales, some of success to be certain, but the more interesting ones are those that reveal our less than stellar moments, when our foibles as people or youthful indiscretions come to light. This is one of those stories, one that I have not told often but that is, as best as I can recall the details, absolutely true.
When I was 19 a friend gave me a jacket. Not just any jacket, though. This olive green number was one that belonged to a former member of the Canadian military, who had left the forces on less than amicable terms. In the last year of his service his habit for reading Marxist literature in his bunk had led to many altercations with his fellow soldiers, leading in turn to time spent in army prison (which according to him made regular prison look like a picnic with cucumber sandwiches and mint tea served by pretty ladies in pinafores). When asked why he insisted on continuing to read Marxist documents, knowing the reaction it would generate, his only response was that his sole joy in what he described as his "soulless life" was pissing other people off, leading to an endless cycle of bunkmate fights and prison time. The entire experience had left him rather bitter, and when he handed me the jacket in the days before he left to travel the world and find himself (later coming to understand what he had been experiencing during his final months in service was a form of severe depression) all he said was: “You should probably remove the stripes before you wear it”.

I don’t quite recall his rank – corporal, perhaps, although my knowledge of such things was very shaky back then. I knew a unique piece of clothing when I saw it, though, as I haunted vintage clothing stores, rummage sales, army surplus outlets and the closets of elderly relatives looking to score unusual fashion items. It was the 80’s, and far from the day-glo fashions of that era I was more into the blacks and safety pins of the punk rock movement, morphing into what we then called “cold wave”, with spiky hair and pointy boots with skull buckles.
I loved the new jacket with ferocity, thinking the stripes and buttons added extra flair, and the very first time I wore it I pranced out of my parents' house and into a local pizza joint. I scarcely registered the glares I was receiving from a table of young men not seated far from me, although I recall being puzzled as to the source of their discontent. I chalked it up to the appearance of the fellows I was with (proud mohawks towering above their heads, leather jackets and torn jeans).

When I left the restaurant I immediately noticed the police cruiser positioned outside the doors. When the two officers emerged I assumed they were there to settle some sort of issue inside the restaurant or in the parking lot, never once considering they were there for me.
One of the officers was older, while the other, blonde and young and handsome, was the one to first approach me.

“Ma’am?” he said, almost reluctantly. “Can we have a word?” I looked behind me, sure he was speaking to someone else, speechless when I realized he meant me.
He asked my name, as calling me ma’am, given the proximity in our ages, must have been as strange for him as it was for me.

“Theresa,” he said, “We have a problem. Your jacket. It’s illegal to wear it.”
Wait, what?

Whaddya mean “illegal”?
This was about the point when I realized I might be in trouble. Now, despite the punk rock appearance I was a middle-class kid, and had never before had an encounter with the police – and for a first encounter, this was not going well.

The officer looked deeply uncomfortable at this point, and I realized he was glancing over at the group of young men I had seen inside, who were now gathered in the parking lot snickering. I noticed the shaved heads and suddenly understood that this group was undoubtedly in the forces.
“I have to charge you with impersonating a military officer,” said the young policeman, who looked pained as he said it. That is the exact point when I began to cry, and he looked even more miserable as he turned to his partner and said: “Making pretty girls cry was not in the job description. I feel like a jerk.”

He turned to me, and as he handed me the slip of paper containing information on the charges he explained he would need to keep my jacket as evidence, but that he would not need to arrest me or take me into the station for this one. I slipped the jacket off and stood there in the chilly night air, watching as he folded it carefully and finally said to me: “I am so sorry – but they (motioning to the group of young men) will almost certainly report me if I don’t charge you.”
He then went over to that group to tell them to leave before my friends, the ones with leather jackets and mohawks, followed them home, and then the cruiser drove away into the night.

Impersonating a military officer. Me.
The next day I phoned a lawyer, one who once happened to date my eldest sister. As I told him the tale he listened quietly, and then asked one question:

What was I wearing other than the jacket?
A short, tight black leather miniskirt, fishnets, 4-inch heels and hair teased up much like Frankenstein’s bride (you know, the look of the day).

The sound at the other end of the phone sounded a bit like a strangling noise, until I realized he was trying not to roar with laughter in the middle of his staid new law firm offices.
“This is the best,” he finally choked out. “This will be incredible. We are going to court. Wear the same outfit you wore that night. And I don’t care if you don’t tell anyone else, but tell your sister as she will kill me if she ever hears I was your lawyer on this and she didn’t know.”

And so I told no one but my sister, and so a month later there I was in court, flanked by my young lawyer who kept grinning like it was the best day of his legal career thus far. There I sat among prostitutes and petty criminals, and undoubtedly the rather old and crusty judge thought I was one of them until he pulled my file out and began to read.
“Are you serious?” he said, staring at the court clerk and then at the handsome young police officer who had arrested me and who was now in court. “You do know there are people out there committing actual crimes, right?” And he shook his head in disbelief.

“Young lady,” he said. “Young lady, do you admit you wore the jacket?”
“Yes,” I said.

“What else were you wearing at the time? Was it a full uniform?” he asked.
“No, I was wearing this outfit,” I said, and his gaze travelled down from the spiky blue-black hair, a shade that had taken me months to achieve, to the miniskirt, fishnets and heels.

“Military officer,” he snorted, glaring at the young police officer who looked like he would rather be anywhere on the planet but in that courtroom.
“Young lady, I assume you will no longer wear military apparel unless you are actually IN the military, which seems unlikely at this point?” he said.

I nodded my head solemnly.
“You have admitted guilt, and since this has been brought before me I need to do something. First, we are going to reduce the charge to unlawful use of a military uniform, and I am going to ask you to do four hours of community service. Since you seem to have a fondness for fashion, I am going to suggest an afternoon sorting clothing at the local Salvation Army, after which time this charge will be removed from your record. Now, get out of the courtroom,” he said, looking not at me but glaring instead at the poor young police officer who promptly fled.

My lawyer, who I think lost sight of the fact that I had in fact been found guilty, took me for lunch to celebrate what he considered the pinnacle of his law practice to that point, and told me later that he told the story at cocktail parties for decades.
The aftermath?

I did my stint at the Salvation Army and met a group of lovely older women who, for as long as I lived in that city, saved vintage pieces of clothing for me, calling me to share their finds of original pieces from the 1950’s they knew I must have. It was the first time I spent any time volunteering (although in this case it was involuntary) but led to my ongoing love of agencies like the Salvation Army.
I shared the story almost immediately with a small group of coworkers, and shortly after work one day a colleague I only knew slightly said his father wished to speak to me. As I approached his dad I saw the shaved head and fatigues and was terrified the army had come to collect their pound of flesh, but was instead humbled when he apologized for the young men who had insisted I be charged. He explained to me that this was not how individuals in the forces were meant to treat civilians, and that they should have instead told me why I should not be wearing the jacket and the significance of the stripes and other d├ęcor. His son, my colleague, later told me that those who reported me paid for their actions during a month of drills operated by his father, who intended to teach them how to treat civilians with kindness and respect. I became friends with my co-worker and his father, and in my time spent with them I learned a great deal about the armed forces and what they do, coming to not only respect them but develop a genuine appreciation and affection for those who serve our country and often make the ultimate sacrifice, willingly laying down their lives even for complete idiots like me.

And about a month after my court date the doorbell rang at my parents' home. We were sitting down to dinner and my father got up to answer it, returning with the oddest expression on his face as he explained there was a police cruiser in the driveway and an officer asking to see me.

I flew to the door, shutting it behind me firmly to avoid the listening ears of the parental units, and there was the handsome young blonde officer holding the olive jacket, carefully folded and inside an evidence bag. He explained he noted that I had not picked the jacket up from the evidence locker after the court date, and he wanted to return it to me.
Then he laughed and gave me a sheepish grin, and further explained that was an excuse, and what he really wanted to know was if he could take me out to dinner sometime soon.

I stood there, realizing the story had come fully around now, and told him I would have loved to say yes, but that I had a boyfriend.
He smiled and said: “Girls like you always do,” handed me the jacket and climbed back into his cruiser and drove away.

I stood there holding the jacket, collecting myself enough to go back inside and tell my parents that the nice officer was returning a jacket I had left at a coffee shop downtown. The holes in that story were so large you could drive a police cruiser through them, but they never asked, and my parents died never knowing the story of the time I was charged with impersonating a military officer.
It has been decades now, and while so many experiences in my life are fuzzy memories this one stands out in sharp detail. Maybe it was because even then I knew the makings of a good story, or maybe it was because I always understood how absurd it was, from start to finish. Even now I laugh when I recall it, wishing I had told my parents the story and wondering what would have happened if I had said yes to the officer’s dinner request (imagine the story we would have had to tell our kids!). For the most part, though, the story reminds me that life is not – and should not be – solely about our moments of triumph and success but about those ridiculous moments when you find yourself standing on your parents' doorstep holding an evidence bag containing an olive jacket that was a gift from a soldier who read Marxist literature and found he didn't fit into the army. It is about those moments in a courtroom with a judge who probably shared the story that night at home with his wife over a glass of scotch, and a lawyer who kept giggling in the courtroom. It is about the smile of a charming young police officer who almost arrests you and then asks you to dinner. It is about new friendships founded in the most unlikely of ways, like the ones between me and a group of ladies at the Salvation Army, and with a co-worker and his armed forces father. It is about learning new things, developing a new understanding and respect, even when the experience is not only unexpected but a bit painful.

It is about the moments you remember the most, even the absurd ones.

Life is about the stories that you will remember until the day you die – and this arresting tale is one of mine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chickening Out

To be perfectly straight right up front, I like chickens. In fact, I have an inordinate fondness for livestock in general, perhaps due to a long family history of farming. I am the daughter of a farmer, and I come from a long and proud line of farmers. Even today, along with my sisters, I co-own the family farm my parents operated for many years, and much of my childhood was spent visiting the farms of relatives, even long after my parents had opted to live in the city.

Over the past few years I have watched the movement to bring elements of rural life into urban settings with interest, particularly as it pertains to the idea of keeping chickens in cities. There has been a sharp increase in this practice, with many urban communities choosing to allow the keeping of chickens. I must admit on this, though, I come down on the nay side, and suggest we continue to just say no to urban chickens.
My concern over urban chickens is trifold:

1.       Chickens are noisy.
Now, there is something quite calming about all that clucking and scratching and pecking, but inevitably where there are chickens eventually there is a rooster, and while that crowing at the crack of dawn thing is a lovely sound in the country, in the city it simply becomes an addition to the overall noise pollution of bad mufflers, loud lawnmowers and other city noise annoyances.

2.       Chickens are smelly.
While chickens are decidedly less offensive in the olfactory department than pigs, they still come with a distinctive odour that not everyone enjoys. On a hot summer day the idea of the entire neighbourhood taking on the smell of a chicken coop is not quite as appealing as it may seem.

3.        It’s really not always in the best interests of the chickens.
As there has been an increase in the keeping of urban chickens so too there has been an increase in allegations and concerns over the neglect of said chickens. While the idea of keeping backyard chickens seems lovely, the reality is often less so when the onerous day to day weariness of animal husbandry sets in, and some of those who are less prepared (perhaps knowing little of livestock other than what they have read on the internet) find themselves overwhelmed. As someone who worked in veterinary clinics for ten years I know the difficulty in pursuing charges of animal neglect, tough enough already to obtain a conviction in the case of cats and dogs but chickens adding new complexity to the issue.

And while those are the three primary concerns I identified, there are others that float around in my head, like the increased contact between chickens and humans and the potential risk for the development of zoonotic disease (meaning diseases that can leap from animals to humans and cause serious consequences, such as swine flu or avian flu). While the risk of this is minimal with backyard chickens every time we increase our exposure to animals we increase our risk of zoonotic disease – and then again there are the old standard diseases, such as those bacterial infections chickens and other livestock can carry and transmit to humans.
I do not mean to be harsh with this indictment of the concept of urban chickens. I quite like chickens, and I too find the idea of my own chickens intriguing – but some animals are best kept in certain settings, and chickens strike me as one of them. Allowing the keeping of chickens in an urban setting is inevitably going to lead to questions about urban sheep and urban goats, taking us down a path where the line between urban and rural becomes increasingly blurred.

The blurring of lines in animal keeping is very common – ask me sometime for the stories from my vet clinic days of folks like the people who bought a tiny bobcat from a roadside dealer and discovered when it hit sexual maturity that it was a menace, or the person who tried to give me an alligator, acquired through dubious means, that they were keeping in a bathtub in downtown Toronto. Our desire to feel close to animals, domestic and wild, often over-rides our good sense and we forget the reasons why it may not be best for us – or, more importantly, for them.
I realize the pro-urban chicken crowd may come after me ferociously on this one, pecking away at my arguments against the keeping of chickens in a city – but on this one I am afraid I am not chickening out, even if there are those who think I should cluck off.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Dear Science Guy

Dear Bill,

I was tremendously excited to hear of your recent visit to Fort McMurray. My daughter, usually referred to in this blog as the Intrepid Junior Blogger or IJB, has been a fan of yours for years – over a decade, actually, as she is on the cusp of turning sixteen and she has been watching your “science guy” antics for as long as either of us remember.
I was under no illusions about your visit, Bill. I know you are concerned about climate change, and to be very frank so am I as I recognize it is real and occurring and a reason for concern. The IJB, your fan and a science-minded young woman, is also deeply concerned about climate change. In fact she plans to study engineering physics in the future with a goal to work on developing sustainable technology for space exploration, technology that will no doubt have applications right here on our planet, too. I credit you for a great deal of her interest in that field of study and for her ambitions, but there is something else to which I attribute her future plans, Bill: the oil sands.

You see the IJB has grown up here, in an amazing community that has at it's centre the oil sands industry. Perhaps more than most she has come to recognize the world’s reliance on oil as she has lived in the epicentre of the oil industry for virtually her entire life. When you commented on how depressing the sight of the oil sands sites is we weren’t surprised, as industry – any industry, Bill, not just oil production – is not pretty. The IJB was born in a gold mining town and she knows the tales of decades-old tailings piles filled with toxic metals, the sight of strip mines and the aftermath of industrial processes. But she knows something else, too. She knows we have yet to find a reasonable alternative to oil.
Bill, you toured the oil sands by helicopter, and I suspect you traveled to our community by plane or car, vehicles using oil. You have worked for years in an industry touched by our resource, as our entertainment industry is fuelled by oil, and oil touches most of the aspects of a production. The IJB, through a life spent in an oil town surrounded by an oil-dependent world, has come to recognize that we do need to find a sustainable alternative to a limited resource, and she intends to be one of the people who work on finding it.

I am not going to decry your visit here, or your comments. I wish you had spent some time with the people of our community to better understand that we are not deaf to the concerns of climate change, and to discover that many of us would consider ourselves environmentalists. We are just pragmatic about it, recognizing that until a viable alternative is found that we must do our very best to be responsible stewards of the one we have: oil.  One of the quotes I found attributed to you is: "everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't". We know a few things about oil sands, Bill, that you probably don't. Maybe you should ask us sometime. I think it would the beginning of a great dialogue on our shared future on this planet.
Thanks for coming, Bill. And thanks for inspiring the IJB to pursue a career in science – not on television or as a celebrity, but as someone who hopes to one day work on the key energy technologies and developments that may change our world. I hope you will keep in mind that Fort McMurray is more than oil, and that the people of our region are just as passionate about our home, our people, our planet and our future as you are. That future rests with people like my daughter, who come to the table with a profound understanding of the impact of oil because it has always been part of her life. She knows the world needs it now, but she also knows eventually we must find an alternative because oil is a finite resource, and one day it will be gone. She is fuelled by her desire to make a difference in the world, her belief in her ability to do so and her solid childhood spent in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a place that knows more about oil than almost anywhere on the planet. I think she is well placed to truly make that difference - and it is thanks to people like you, and to the oil sands. I am deeply grateful for both.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ival Weekend in Fort McMurray (With a Value-Add of Creative Geniuses)

It’s Ival Weekend in Fort McMurray. Never heard of Ival Weekend? Well, that is probably since I just made it up, but it seems fitting since two of my favourite events, which happen to end in “ival”, take place this weekend.

Sustainival, the world’s first green carnival, is back in town once again to dazzle, entertain and guarantee dozens of upset stomachs and spinning heads thanks to the dizzying carnival rides. I have written about this event many times, but it never loses its appeal for me, not just because of the concept but because of the people behind it. I am genuinely humbled to call Joey Hundert, founder of Sustainival, a personal friend because we don’t often have legitimate creative geniuses in our lives and I am tremendously fortunate to have a few, including Joey. Joey took the concept of a standard carnival and fuelled the idea with bio-diesel, and added an educational component that made learning about sustainability fun through the Green Beast Eco-Challenge. Joey involved schools and school districts, and opened the whole thing up to the children who will lead us into a sustainable future (and in no small part I believe Sustainival is responsible for setting the Intrepid Junior Blogger on a path to engineering physics, with an ultimate goal of developing sustainable technology for space exploration). Joey involved social profit groups so they can benefit from the carnival, and so groups near and dear to my heart are part of this carnival/festival/funival/Sustainival extravaganza. And then this year Joey and his colleagues (because over time he has attracted several other creative geniuses to his idea, too) added Driftcross, which is fundamentally Big Wheels bikes with motors for big kids (meaning adults) and the Bag Jump, which encourages people to jump off a tower and into one of those giant inflatable bags you see on movie sets for filming stunt action.
And you can still get carnival food, too, like nachos in a bag and mini donuts – but when you do you can reflect on the fact that the oil that fried your donuts might soon be fuelling the Tilt-A-Whirl. It’s all a bit mind-boggling and inspiring and makes you wonder what else we can make sustainable in this way and suddenly your mind, inspired by the moment, goes off in a million different directions (which is what spending an hour with the Sustainival folks does for me, as I find myself feeling both slightly inadequate in the “creative genius” department and absolutely inspired to do something really clever as soon as possible).

And speaking of creative geniuses, there is another ival on this weekend – the Fort McMurray International Film Festival (YMMIFF), hosted by my friends at the Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association (YMMFMA). Talk about feeling humbled – when I spend time with these friends I am always in awe of the intricacies of film making, the true delicate nature of the art and how much about it I don’t know but find fascinating. I doubt I will ever be a film maker as my skills are definitely dubious in this field, but I know I enjoy the end results tremendously, and the three nights of the film festival offer an opportunity to sit back and take in all the talent and skill that goes into making films both long and short. My favourite part may be the 48-hour film challenge though, a competition that pits rival teams against each other to write, film, edit and produce a film containing certain key elements in 48 hours. If that isn’t a form of genius, I don’t know what is.
Once again I am honoured to consider the Board of Directors of the YMMFMA – Tito, Todd, Ashley, Misty and Steve – personal friends. They are creative geniuses much like my pal Joey Hundert, and like Joey they are creative geniuses who don’t just come up with great ideas but who bring those ideas to life through hard work, effort, personal investment and a belief in what they are doing and how it will benefit others. After all, a creative genius who has great ideas but does nothing with them is just someone with really great ideas that will never, ever change the world, have an impact or be remembered. Creative genius is great – but creative geniuses who can execute and deliver their ideas? That, my friends, is a killer combination that leads to changing the world.

There is a quote I quite like, and it is this:
How do carnivals and film festivals change the world, you wonder? How are the people behind these events making their small contributions to history and helping to chart our future? They are doing it not through billion-dollar plans and mass marketing, but through individuals like you and me who will go to the events of this “ival” weekend and be forever changed as a result. I cannot encourage you enough to check out Sustainival – go for the carnival rides and stay for the education about how we can make our world sustainable. And then head to the YMM IFF – go for the films from around the world and stay for the amazing efforts of our local filmmakers in the 48-hour challenge, and marvel at how truly remarkable the people in our community, including those behind the YMMFMA, are.

Enjoy Labour Day weekend, my friends – or, as I have dubbed it, YMM-Ival weekend!