Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No Sports Jersey? No Problem! Pep Rally Time!

There has been some buzz building in the past few days, people, and it's all about Fort Mac's bid to host the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games. The selection committee will be in the city today, June 1st, and we need to show our Fort McMurray Big Spirit.

Here's the funny thing, people. I'm not really a sports fan. I don't watch football, or baseball, or hockey. I've only ever played one organized team sport in my life (soccer, decades ago), and I'm not really "into" the sports world in general. What I am, though, is completely aware of how sports can build and unify a community. A common interest in a sport or a team or a sports event can become a touchstone for an entire city, or even an entire country (hello, Canucks?!?). Sports can build spirit and mobilize people like nothing else I've ever seen, and as such even a non-sporting type like me can completely appreciate the important role sports play in our community. That's why I think hosting these summer games would be an amazing experience for our city, as well as being yet another opportunity to show the rest of the country what this community is really about.

Mayor Melissa Blake has declared today Sports Jersey Day for the RMWB, and we've all been asked to don our favourite jerseys. I don't own a sports jersey, and I'm not planning to buy one, either. What I am planning to do, though, is to attend the 2015 Summer Games Bid Pep Rally happening at MacDonald Island today at 11:30. I may not be wearing a sports jersey but I fully intend to show my big spirit and pride in this city. I plan to show the selection committee that not only is this the best place to hold these games but that it is really the ONLY place to hold them because of our irrepressible pride and spirit. We are a can-do city, people. Things that others say can't be done we do. Things that others wouldn't even try we attempt, and, quite often, we succeed (and even when we fail we hold our heads high knowing that there is no shame in failing, only in failing to try).

So, Fort Mac, c'mon out to the Pep Rally today. If you don't have a sports jersey, don't worry. Just come sit beside me in my decidedly non-sportswear attire. We will show that selection committee, and the country, that with or without sports jerseys we have big, Big Spirit. See ya there, people!

Monday, May 30, 2011

So, You Wanna Come For Dinner On Thursday?

Well, people, this is a reminder. I'm not inviting all of Fort Mac for dinner at my house (much as I'd love to see you I don't think my house will hold all of you), but I am inviting you to dinner - at Beacon Hill Public School. It's the Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser, and I truly hope you will all try to be there.

I have written a previous post about the reason for this dinner. I can't imagine a better thing to do on Thursday night, people. This is about our Fort McMurray Family, and whether or not you know Angela Woods and her husband is immaterial. What matters is that they need to be surrounded by family right now, and in a place like Fort Mac family aren't necessarily those related to us but rather those we choose. I have chosen to embrace Angela and her husband as family, and I hope you will, too. Some day you may need help, and I know you would hope that the extended Fort Mac Family would be there for you. So, let's be there for Angela and Jamie. Let's show them that this city's "Big Spirit" extends to them, too, and that they are valued members of our family. Here are the details from the Spaghetti Dinner Facebook page - see ya there, Fort Mac...

My Vice Principal, Angela Woods, is presently unable to work because she is currently waiting for a kidney transplant. As her family continues to be tested for a possible organ match, her health is deteriorating and she is quite nervous about having to start dialysis - something she was faced with for two years as a teen as she awaited her first transplant.
In the process of being tested as an organ match, her husband, Jamie was found to have a growth on his esophagus - later surgery revealed a tumor in his stomach which lead to the removal of his entire stomach. Therefore, he is left unable to work and because he was only employed with his current employers for a short time, he is left with no income.
Basically, the two are now left with 70% of Angela's salary (a teacher).
Why am I telling you this?
Because I am hoping that you can help.
On the evening of June 2nd, we will be holding a Spaghetti Dinner to help raise funds. For $20 a family of any size can come to the school and enjoy a Spaghetti Dinner. All we ask is that if you would like a side (such as garlic bread, buttered buns or salad), that you bring enough to share with your family. Everything else will be provided.
Also, we are collecting donations for a silent auction to be held the same evening. If you, or someone you know, or the company you work for, could donate something...ANYTHING to this auction, it would be greatly appreciated.
If you can donate, please contact me through facebook or at home at 780-747-7504.
I know we all have our struggles and this time of year is a busy one for fundraising, but all I ask is that you perhaps ask your boss if your company could do something and if you wish to do more, it is so so so so appreciated.
Thanks for reading the novel above and take my sincere thanks for even considering helping

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another New Kid on the Block - SNAP Wood Buffalo!

Some time ago I wrote about why this is such an exciting time to live in Fort Mac. One of the things I mentioned were all the new ventures happening right now - businesses, websites, and publications. One new publication I've been waiting for with interest is SNAP Wood Buffalo. I suppose I first heard about them on someone's Facebook page, and I "liked" the Snap Wood Buffalo page as I'm always intrigued by new developments in our city. On Friday night I just happened to run into a couple of the SNAP folks at a local lounge and introduced myself as a Fort Mac blogger. They were kind enough to give me a few copies of the first issue, and wow, people, what a terrific publication!

SNAP is a print publication, but as opposed to a traditional newspaper with lots of written content and few pictures it focuses on photos of community events and brief descriptions of them. As many people are delighted to see their photo in a paper of any kind it's really quite clever, and it truly has a wonderful community-spirit feel to it. SNAP will cover almost any kind of local event, and as such it truly reflects the nature and diversity of whatever community it is showcasing (and according to the information I found there are about 61 communities that now have SNAP publications, including ones in the USA and even Europe). You can submit information about upcoming events to SNAP and they will send out a photographer to take pictures, thus getting your event some press and allowing people who couldn't attend see what it was like to be there.

I find new developments and opportunities like this incredibly exciting for our city. While we have a local daily newspaper (Fort McMurray Today), a weekly newspaper (Connect), and even our own women's interest magazine (McMurray Girl) I think there is a niche to be filled by SNAP Wood Buffalo. A publication that focuses solely on community events and activities is quite sure to be a welcome one in  Fort McMurray. It's not meant to be an in-depth, story-based journalistic endeavour but rather a way for people to "see" the events in this city even if they didn't happen to be there, which I think is terrific. I also think showing these sorts of events makes residents a lot more likely to consider attending future similar ones as it gives them a clearer picture of what the event was about and why it might interest them. That means potentially increasing attendance at those future events, which makes having a SNAP photographer visit your event a very positive thing for both the publication and the event organizers.

You know, what really struck me most about the first issue of SNAP is how very many events they covered. There are people who say Fort Mac is a boring city, with nothing going on. After seeing this first issue of SNAP and my own experience in writing this blog I'd say that it's actually quite difficult to keep up with all the events and happenings in this city - there are so many things to do and see, and events to attend!

Since Friday I've been pleased to see copies of the first edition of SNAP Wood Buffalo available around the city. I hope everyone who reads this post has a chance to pick up a copy of SNAP and take a look. I think it's a great addition to our city, and I look forward to future issues with much anticipation. This blogger is a bit camera-shy so don't expect to see her in SNAP anytime soon - but I'm hoping to see photos of some of you. So, get out there, attend some events, people - and get SNAPped!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

New To Town

This week I was having dinner with a large group of people who do contract work in Fort Mac. They introduced me to the most recent person to join their team working here, a young man who happens to hail from Dublin, Ireland. Fort Mac is his second Canadian city experience (the first being Vancouver) and all I could think was - whoa, culture shock.

I've been to Dublin, people. It's a multicultural kind of place, very much a European-style city where people drive very nice cars and stroll down beautiful streets surrounded by a history that predates Canadian history by centuries. Compared to that kind of history Fort Mac is but a toddler learning to walk, and a rather awkward one at that.

While sitting at dinner I was trying to tell my new acquaintance about Fort Mac. I found myself repeatedly saying "well, it's like that here, but not like that anywhere else in the country" when describing some aspect of life. And of course it's true. Fort Mac is unique in many ways, different from anywhere I've been in Canada, and I've been all over. I can only imagine what it seems like to someone who has never really seen much of the rest of Canada. I kept feeling the need to explain that not everyone else in Canada drives Ford F350's, or owns dozens of quads. I tried to explain the "Steve from site" video and realized that unless you've met one of the dozens of "Steves" that inhabit this city it will just seem slightly bizarre.

I remember when I first moved here almost a decade ago and how it took me some time to adjust to the peculiarities of this city. I can't help but wonder how it must appear to those who come here not just from other places in Canada but from other countries altogether. How strange it must seem to them, this city of overalls and pick-up trucks and weird shift work and slang language entirely related to working "at site". Then I imagine what it must be like to come here and perhaps not even speak much English, as is the case with some recent immigrants to Canada. This place must be quite entirely baffling.

Fort Mac is a city of opportunity, as I've written before. It's also perhaps one of the most intriguing places I've ever lived (which will shock those who insist it's boring or dull). This city is a boom town of the traditional sort, and as such attracts a diversity of characters and businesses and groups. It's the sort of place where if you stop and listen and watch you can always learn something new. It's the sort of place that can make you smile and shake your head all at the same time, because the things that are funny are often the most puzzling, too (again, reference the Steve at site videos).

I'll be very interested to see how this young man from Ireland adjusts to life in our little boom city. I suppose he'll find his way around, both literally and figuratively, much like we all did when we had just arrived in Fort Mac. I've given him the address of this blog in the hope that it will assist him to understand the city (and if he happens to be reading this I send him a wave, and apologize for taking the liberty of writing about him - but that's the danger in meeting a blogger, people, as they just may get it into their head to write about you!).

So, people, my final thought is this : if you happen to meet someone who is new to our city stop for a moment and consider how they must be feeling. Overwhelmed, perhaps, or a little confused. Maybe take a moment of your time to help them out and explain something about our city (maybe even something positive about it!). Help them to see that this city, as strange and puzzling as it is, is a community, too, and just maybe over time and with assistance they will begin to feel like a part of it. That can only benefit us all.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Motoring Manners

I know there are a lot of complaints about aggressive drivers in Fort Mac, and I've witnessed it too. You know what bugs me even more than aggression, though? Rudeness. Yes, just plain rudeness.

I drive down Thickwood Boulevard almost daily, and every day there is that merge onto the 63. Some days traffic flows like melted butter and you can smoothly blend into the other lanes. Other days, though, it's a challenge. Most days I'm delighted to find that someone will slow down and allow me to merge in. I know legally they are required to allow me to merge and can't deliberately try to block me, but I'm still always grateful. I always, always give them a little wave or flash of my hazards to say thank you. You know what frosts me, though? When I return the favour to someone else, slow way down, let them in...and they zoom on in front of me without a thank you or backward glance.

Look, I know they don't have to thank me. In fact we don't have to thank each other for anything ever, or say please, or hold doors open for other people, but we do it because it improves social interactions. It builds a sense of goodwill between us as people. It makes us feel good.

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect people to behave with good manners. In fact expecting them not to just gives them a free pass to behave badly. When someone waves their thanks to me from their car I've been known to smile and say "You're welcome!" out loud even though I know they don't hear it. Just that small act of gratitude brightens my day for a moment, though, and thus has an impact on me, too.

Fort Mac could use a lot more exercise in the good manners department. In fact I challenge every reader of this post : Next time someone lets you into traffic thank them, especially if you don't usually do so. I'm willing to bet it puts a smile on your face, and makes you smile even more the next time someone waves their thanks to you when you've let them merge in. Oh, and if you're one of those people who refuse to let people merge in and who will deliberately drive faster to block someone? I guess I kind of give up on you - you're pretty much past all hope of good manners, aren't you? It's never too late to reform, though. Give it a shot. You never know - you might actually get a wave or two. That kind of thing can be addictive. See ya on the 63, people.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The End of Brown - Green Begins!

It always seems that spring arrives very suddenly in Fort Mac. I went to Edmonton with a local school for a couple of days, and when I left the season known as brown was still in full swing. When I arrived home, though, I discovered this:

I knew that spring had finally arrived, and judging from the temperatures we are going to plunge headlong into summer, too. I'm delighted to see all the green on the trees, and the city is already looking cleaner and more beautiful.

There are a lot of people who see this as an ugly town, but in summer it's actually a lovely little city. The waterfront area around Borealis park in particular is wonderful, as are all the local trails. There is this special little period of time when the green has begun to appear and the blackflies and mosquitoes have not yet descended. It's a brief few days indeed, but they are glorious days to be out and about in Fort McMurray. This spring that joy is a bit muted by all the smoke from the local forest fires, but seeing all that green still brightens my spirits.

I recall when I first arrived in the city. Our plane landed in early August, and I remember sitting in the taxi as it drove down the 63 and towards the bridges. I clearly recall being amazed at the summer splendour of the river valley, and thinking that my new home was not at all what some believed it to be. That was almost a decade ago, and every spring when I take that same drive from the airport I feel the exact same way. There is so much beauty here that is ignored or overlooked by those who wish to disparage it, and by those who refuse to see it. I encourage us all to look about our city with fresh eyes and notice that this city, controversial as it may be, problems and all, is truly a natural beauty.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dunvegan Gardens - Yet Another Perspective

It seems this is the issue that will not die, and I'm rather beginning to wish I'd never tackled it at all. Why? Because it's very complicated (and frankly I like things simple), and because I'm seeing both sides of the issue. Today I had the opportunity to speak to Brad Friesen, owner of Dunvegan Gardens, who kindly gave up his time to share his side of this issue. When I spoke to Andrew Thorne last week I wrote about seeing the issue from the side of Mr. Thorne and the Draper Road residents he represents. Today I write about Mr. Friesen's side.

Mr. Friesen disputes a lot of the facts that Mr. Thorne had given me, including the numbers of trucks using Garden Lane (the road into Dunvegan and shared by the Thorne family as well - incidentally Dunvegan Gardens maintains this shared road). He disputes that his business is in contravention of the bylaw. Mr. Friesen kindly gave me copies of many documents to support his position, and I've read them over with interest. I could go all-journalistic and start quoting numbers, but that's not really my thing, so I won't. I will just say that I don't think Mr. Friesen and Mr. Thorne agree on much about anything, really.

Beside the basic facts being in contention so is the real root of this issue. I think there is a sense that this has become a personal dispute as opposed to one over true issues, and I suspect this might be true. Disputes between neighbours often start as being "about" something real, like a fence, and quickly degenerate into arguments that become more about personalities. Positions become entrenched, compromise is rejected, and eventually it ends up being fought in the court of public opinion, and, in this case, city hall.

I'm going to be very honest here. I like Brad Friesen. He strikes me as a stand-up guy, honest and hardworking. He just wants to continue running a successful business. I also happen to like Andrew Thorne. I think he's a stand-up guy, too, and he just wants to enjoy a peaceful rural existence. The sad part is that it seems these two goals are diametrically opposed. Dunvegan's operations appear to infringe on the other residents' peaceful life. That wish for a peaceful life is negatively impacting Dunvegan's operations of a much-loved greenhouse and landscaping business. And round and round it goes. I told Mr. Friesen that I think it's unfortunate that it has come to this, essentially a neighbourhood in turmoil and dissension. A once peaceful neighbourhood that is now causing great stress to all the residents. It's now also a neighbourhood that will have it's fate decided by the municipal government (and frankly better them than me, because at the end of this someone is walking away unhappy). It's a lovely area out there on Draper Road - a beautiful place for a home, like Mr. Thorne's, and for a greenhouse, like Mr. Friesen's.

Do you know what I think about all this (aside from wishing to god I'd had the good sense to not start writing about it at all)? I'm not sure what I think, to be honest. I have tremendous sympathy for Mr. Thorne and the other residents, and I completely see their side of things, as I wrote previously. I also have tremendous sympathy for Brad Friesen and Dunvegan Gardens, as I think he is truly just a guy trying to run a business, and I see that side, too (and as I've made clear before, I love Dunvegan Gardens in general). I also think my inability to pick a side won't be very popular and I imagine neither Mr. Friesen nor Mr. Thorne is going to be very fond of me after these posts, but in my defense I've listened to both sides, seen both sides and walked away pretty much where I began - with loyalties and sympathies to both sides.

I'm not a trained journalist, people, and bloggers "take sides" all the time because a blog, after all, is really just about opinions. On this issue, though, I will not and cannot do so. All I can say is that the entire situation troubles me because I hate to see these disputes descend into a place where there is no solution that will please everyone, and where someone loses. I understand that Dunvegan Gardens will be taking this issue to city council, and eventually council will need to make a decision about the future of Dunvegan and Draper Road in general. I will follow that decision-making process with great interest. I might blog about that decision when it is made, but for now I'm going to blog about other topics for awhile, because frankly the whole thing gives me a headache. I'm pretty sure it's not doing much for Brad Friesen, Andrew Thorne, and all the others affected, either. I have the good fortune of being on the outside and able to just walk away. Sadly they are mired in the middle of it all, and I feel for them. I feel for all of them, people, all of them.

Family, Fort McMurray Style

One of the things I've come to realize over the years is that after leaving home at nineteen I never really lived very close to members of my family again. In fact, I often lived in cities and towns where I had no family, and arrived knowing few, if any, people. What this meant is that friends and co-workers often became like family, and I shared their triumphs and their struggles. Someone I consider part of my extended  Fort Mac family is facing a monumental struggle, people, and they need help from the entire community. I'd like to tell you a bit about them, their struggle, and why they mean so much to me.

Mrs Angela Woods (nee Dingwell) is the vice-principal at my child's previous school. As I served on parent council I got to know and work with Angela a bit, and she is both a wonderful professional and a lovely woman. I was distressed recently to hear that she was ill, and when the story took a turn for the worse my distress became determination to do what I could to help. This is the official release from the Fort McMurray Public School District:

Beacon Hill School is seeking the assistance of the community to help one of their own.
The school is hosting a series of fundraisers to assist the Woods’ family during difficult times.
Beacon Hill vice-principal Angela Woods is currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant while her husband Jamie underwent unexpected major surgery.
While Jamie was being tested as a kidney donor for his wife, a tumor was discovered in his stomach. As a result, both of them will be unable to work for an extended period of time. This will leave them with limited financial means as well as extensive medical and travel expenses for months to come.
The district is hosting a series of fundraising events over the next few weeks to assist the Woods’ family.

Fine Arts Extravaganza
The Fine Arts Extravaganza on Wednesday May 25 from 6-8pm at Beacon Hill School.
The Fire Department will be BBQ' ing hot dogs and hamburgers with all proceeds going to the family. Also students will be donating works of their artwork that will be sold by silent auction.

Silent Auction
There will be a silent auction at the École Dickinsfield School Theatre concert on Tuesday, May 31 at 7:00 p.m. It’s a fun-free evening with refreshments and excellent entertainment.

Spaghetti Supper
On Thursday, June 2 from 6-8 p.m. Beacon Hill will be serving up a spaghetti supper. As well, the school will be hosting a silent auction. The supper cost will be $20 per family.

School officials wish to extend a welcome to anyone who would like to take part in any of these events, drop off items for auction, or extend any financial support. Donations can be dropped off at either school.
For more information call Beacon Hill at 780-743-8722

Yes, you read that correctly. Jamie Woods was being tested in order to donate a kidney to his wife when they discovered he had a tumour. Suddenly it was not just Angela facing a frightening illness, but Jamie, too. I can't even imagine what this experience must be like for both of them. They are a young couple, just embarking on their married life, and while this shouldn't happen to anyone at any time it surely shouldn't happen to them right now. Life isn't fair, I know, but the unfairness of this angers me and it makes me want to help.

The best way I can do that is to spread the word, which is why I am posting this entry today. Beacon Hill Public School is a wonderful place full of remarkable staff and students, and I know they will throw their entire support behind Angela and Jamie. It is also, though, a small school and thus they need all of us, Fort McMurray.

 I encourage every single person who reads this post to do something to help this young couple as they face a situation I wouldn't wish on anyone. Go to the Fine Arts Extravaganza tonight and buy some supper or bid on the silent auction. Attend the spaghetti dinner on June 2. Or, just drop by the school and drop whatever money you can spare into the office. Angela and Jamie are part of our Fort McMurray family, people. Many of us don't have much family here, so welcome them into your family. By doing so you not only help them, but you become part of a much larger family, too. You become part of the Fort McMurray Family, and I believe at last count we are about 100,000 strong. That's one helluva family, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

McMurray Musings - What This City Really Needs....

I have written about places, events, and people in Fort Mac that I think are great. Just so that I don't seem all Pollyanna about the city, though, I thought I'd also start writing the occasional post about something the city is lacking, why we need it, and why I think it would benefit the city.

The first thing we are lacking might seem a little petty to some, but to me it's huge. I've written that I love CoCo Jo's, and I do, but why oh why don't we have another "real" little coffee shop like a Starbucks or a Second Cup? And I don't mean Starbucks in a grocery store. That's fine to pick up a latte to go, but to sit and talk? I'd rather sit down in the middle of Franklin and try to hold a conversation.

No, what we need is a little stand-alone Starbucks. Maybe with a drive-thru if I really want to dream big. One with comfy chairs, and a fireplace, and free wifi, and good hours. If it could be located in Timberlea? Almost like heaven.

 Okay, I know staffing is an issue here, but every other chain deals with that, too. I know for certain that we have the population to support a Starbucks (have you seen the line-up at the ones in the Safeways?), and I know we have the need for more coffee shops (some mornings Coco Jo's is getting very crowded and frankly I fear that one day I won't find an open table, which will make me uber-cranky).

We need it because our population is growing, and we drink a lot of coffee. We need it so that maybe the line-ups at Tim's get shorter. We need it so that I can get my Starbucks fix, dammit, and in a place that doesn't make me dodge grocery carts to get it.

Why would it benefit us? I think coffee shops can become an amazing little social hub. I know there are regulars at Coco Jo's, and I know this to be true of coffee shops even in much larger cities. It becomes a place where people go to meet and talk and exchange ideas and dream and complain. Coffee houses have a long history of being the places where people met to discuss new ideas. Philosophers, politicians, and writers have held court in coffee houses. Unlike pubs and bars the drinks offered are not intoxicating and thus the ideas discussed often actually have some merit and might even be remembered the next morning (not that I have a problem with bars and pubs, mind you).

So, Starbucks and Second Cup powers-that-be - give us a stand-alone coffee shop already. I've heard the rumours and now I wanna see the real deal. Trust me, when you open your doors, I'll be the first in line. And I won't be alone.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Draper Road and Dunvegan Gardens - A New Perspective

Ever have your mind made up about something, be very unwilling to change it, and then be confronted with some new information that makes you squirm and realize that you might well be wrong? Then you have to re-evaluate what you believed, and perhaps even reach a different conclusion. This happened to me recently, people, and it's about the situation with Dunvegan Gardens and the other residents of Draper Road.

I've written about the Dunvegan Gardens issue a few times in this blog, and was explaining it to a friend from another city. My friend, who is a very reasonable and rational sort, asked me if Dunvegan was in contravention of the zoning bylaw and if the complaining neighbours had reason to be upset. I had to honestly reply that I wasn't sure, because while I'd written about it I'd done so very much based only on my emotion and love of Dunvegan Gardens (and let's be clear - I am VERY fond of Dunvegan and have shopped there since my arrival in this city). I decided it was time to see what I could learn about the position of the other Draper Road residents, and to achieve this I contacted Andrew Thorne. Mr. Thorne is a local lawyer and an individual who, for better or worse, has become somewhat of a spokesman for the Draper Road residents. Even though he had no real need to speak to me he was kind enough to agree to do so, and we spoke last week about the situation as seen by the residents who have become unhappy with Dunvegan Gardens.

I could go into a lot of details as I learned a tremendous amount during our discussion, but some points are simply more pertinent than others. The biggest point is that the residents of Draper Road have been subjected to "creeping industrialization" of the area - meaning that slowly over time small businesses on Draper have been ramping up their activities until they no longer adhere to the zoning bylaw applicable to Draper Road. That zoning bylaw is the main point of contention. It states that Draper Road is "residential and small holdings/agricultural" - meaning residences, greenhouses, market gardens, and keeping of small numbers of livestock is permissible. Larger operations, such as those representing more industrial occupations, are not.

Dunvegan Gardens have expanded their operations over the years since they purchased the property on Draper. It had started as a small market garden under the previous owners, but upon sale to the new owners had become more diverse. They had begun to conduct their landscaping business from the Draper Road property, meaning a very significant increase in large vehicle traffic to and from the gardens. Noise became a serious issue, with activity starting at 6:30 AM and going all day. Trucks of all sorts and sizes began to traverse a road ill-prepared for such traffic, and this combined with the other activities began to irritate the other neighbours as it became clear to them that this was no longer a small greenhouse business but rather a large-scale landscaping endeavour.

For a long time the other residents of Draper Road tolerated the noise, dust from the road traffic, and other inconveniences. Things came to a head, though, when the owner of Dunvegan Gardens applied to amend the zoning bylaw to allow larger scale operations on his property, apparently including storage of RVs, tractor trailers, and U-Haul vehicles. The residents had had enough. They appealed to the city to enforce the current zoning bylaw, and the city agreed. The city determined that the gardens were now conducting a larger-scale operation than is allowed by the zoning bylaw, and they moved to curtail those activities.

For myself I compared it to this : Imagine you move into an area zoned for residences and small, home-based businesses. Your neighbour runs a small business supplying baking to a few people in the city. There is some traffic, and the occasional delivery truck, but it's relatively small scale and it adheres to the zoning. The neighbour decides to retire and sells her business to another owner, and the new owner decides to supply a few local restaurants with baking. This means more traffic and noise and more inconvenience, but you tolerate it because you know it is a valued business (and hey, sometimes you even buy baking there, too). Over time the home-based bakery really picks up steam, though, and you notice a lot more traffic. It starts earlier and goes later, too, with deliveries and pick ups. One day you discover the neighbour is about to embark on supplying a very large chain of restaurants with all their baking needs, and suddenly there are tractor trailers doing deliveries and pick-ups 7 days a week from 6:30 am until late into the day. It's clear this is no longer a small home-based business. What do you do when you can no longer stand the noise and the traffic and the headaches?

You take it to the city, that's what you do, and that is what the Draper Road Society, representing the Draper Road residents, has done. They had simply had enough. It wasn't just Andrew Thorne (as has been told to me by several people, and which is clearly the misunderstanding many have), it was several residents of Draper Road. It wasn't because they want Dunvegan Gardens shut down (again, something I've heard claimed) but rather because they want to enjoy their homes and properties, too, and expect others to adhere to the zoning bylaws to allow them to do so. They want to ensure their property values will not be impacted by the area becoming industrialized. They want to live in peaceful harmony, a harmony that might include a greenhouse business but not one that includes thousands of dump trucks and heavy vehicle traffic.

This week's issue of the Connect has a terrific story on this issue, and it brought to light many of the points Mr. Thorne expressed when he spoke to me. I was very pleased a local media outlet has covered the story with a bit more depth and I read the article with interest. In that article one of the points made by Brad Friesen, owner of Dunvegan Gardens, troubled me. He said that things wouldn't be an issue in 2-3 years when the Draper Road road renovation is done and  it is four lanes wide, as then the traffic issues would disappear. All I could think was "so, the Draper Road residents should just suck it up for the next 2-3 years and see their enjoyment of their properties diminished?". That doesn't seem a reasonable expectation. If you think of my comparison above it's like being told that you only have to tolerate the bakery situation for 2-3 years because by then the wall between you and the bakery will be finished. Two or three years is a long time to accept a situation you find intolerable, people, especially when it's been determined by the authorities that the business is in contravention of the zoning.

Look, I have to be honest. I love Dunvegan Gardens. I was reluctant to accept that there might not be room for compromise, and that, just maybe, the Draper Road residents had good reasons to be unhappy. I didn't want to see that side. I just wanted to be able to enjoy the greenhouse, buy my flowers, and be happy. Should my happiness come at the cost of the other residents of Draper Road who get to listen to heavy truck traffic all day and breathe in the dust the trucks kick up on that road? It's easy enough to say yes - but then I don't live on Draper Road and it's not my life being affected. If it were I can't help but think that I would be pretty displeased at being told to just tolerate it or to find compromise because it benefits other people (people who incidentally don't have to tolerate the problems). It's not an easy situation but there it is. I know this blog post won't be a popular one, and I know that there are many who won't be happy with my thoughts on the issue. I'm not happy, either, but sometimes recognizing reality isn't a happy thing. This seems to be one of those times.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A "What Not" Rant for Fort McMurray

When I wrote What Not To Wear, Fort McMurray Edition, I was told by a reader that it seemed cranky for me, and in an out of character way. I suppose I was in a bad mood when I wrote it - seeing someone's butt through their ripped up sweatpants while waiting behind them in line at the grocery store has that effect on me, I suppose. I'll warn you now, people - this forest fire smoke has made me cranky again. I'm off on another rant about a "what not" to do. This time? What not to put on your pickup truck.

Look, I can live with the flag decals. The regional flags and maps show a sense of regional pride (even if that region is from another part of the country, and you all know where I'm talking about, right?). The Confederate flag is pushing the bounds of good taste a bit but even then I can let that slide. So, have at 'er with the maps and flag decals, boys.

I can even handle the decals with skulls and crossbones, and the skull-with-red-eye trailer hitches. I can't help but think that every 12 year old boy in town thinks those are uber-cool and not sure what that says about the maturity level of those with that on their truck, but hey, it's a free world. It might be a little juvenile in my opinion, but it's not hurting anyone.

The flags for sports teams are just great - except when the season is over, and has been for months. Maybe then you could consider removing them before they become sun-faded and completely tattered? After a point they just look a little bit sad, especially if your team happened to lose. Flying the losing team's flag for a bit shows you still love them - flying it for months seems a bit desperate.

Now we've established what is fine on a truck. So, let's get to what I think is not, and, in my opinion, what is just crass, tasteless, and without purpose or pride. Truck Testicles.

Yes, you heard me. Those damn truck testicles have to be the ugliest thing I've ever seen on a vehicle. Every time I see them I wonder if the owner of the truck is lacking something in that department personally and is making up for it with the size of the balls on their truck. And if the balls are blue? Either that means the truck isn't getting any...or the driver isn't. Either way not really a flattering commentary, is it?

Certain states in the US have actually tried to ban truck testicles. I'm not in favour of a ban, because I do support freedom to express yourself. I'm just completely baffled as to why anyone would choose balls on their truck as a way to do so.

I suppose by writing this I might be alienating some readers of this blog, although I will venture to say that not many truck-testicle owners are reading this, anyhow. If you wish to surprise me, though, I'd be delighted to hear from someone who likes these things. Perhaps you can enlighten me as to their fundamental appeal and what message you are trying to transmit with these on your truck. All I can say is that whatever the message is I'm clearly not getting it. Rant over, people.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Forest Fires and Fear

I've been following the wildfire situation in Alberta very closely these past few days. After the tragedy in Slave Lake I decided that it was very important, both as a writer and a resident, to keep up to date on the latest information, so I've been finding resources to do so. Twitter has been very helpful, as have some government sites. The social networking outlet I've been watching closest, though, is the Alberta Wildfire Info page on Facebook.

Sustainable Resources Development should be commended on their use of social media at this time of crisis. They are doing a remarkable job of keeping Albertans informed on the wildfire situation, and I've actually sent them an email thanking them and suggesting the staff manning that Facebook page and the Twitter account get a raise, because they are doing excellent work.

My one concern, though, has been that I sense a rising degree of panic in Albertans, if the Wildfire Info Facebook page is any indication. Now, residents of Slave Lake get a free pass as far as I'm concerned. They can be anything they want, including hysterical, because they have seen hell on earth and have been traumatized. I'd be hysterical, too. Same goes for evacuees of other areas - they have a right to panic. For all other Albertans, though, I have one bit of advice - keep calm, and carry on. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best - and keep on going.

The slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On" was developed by the English during WWII. It was designed to boost morale and to encourage the English to remain calm and to not panic, even when the situation was dire, such as an invasion. It was never used during that era as England was (thankfully) never invaded, but I think the slogan has a powerful message.

Panic has no value. None. When we panic we lose our ability to think, to plan, and to act. We run on pure instinct and while this can seem wise it can also lead to poor decisions. We need to remain calm, exercise common sense, and work together.

Panic can also lead to the spread of misinformation, which can have devastating results. If people listen to rumours or unofficial sources of information they can easily be misled into believing things that can in fact do great harm. These rumours can further fuel panic and quickly become a self-reinforcing spiral. Albertan residents would do well to only trust information from official sources and to view all other information with caution until it is proven (we should always do this, really, but especially at times like this).

I must admit I worry a bit about some of the reactions I've been seeing. I am so proud of all those Albertans who are organizing fundraisers and donation drives for the Slave Lake residents. I am so proud of the citizens of this province who are pulling together in this time of crisis. Clearly those reactions don't worry me. The people who are beginning to show signs of panic, though, do concern me. I suspect most aren't in imminent danger, and panicking at such an early stage in the game won't serve them well over the long run. This summer has just begun, and we may see a hot and dry one with many wildfires. If that is the case we need to find a way to avoid panic, keep calm, and carry on - or it will be one long, crazy summer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

McMurray Musings - People of Note - Guy Boutilier

Recently I had the opportunity to accompany a local school on their field trip to Edmonton. One of the stops on this trip happened to be the Alberta Legislature, and the chance to met our local MLA Guy Boutilier.

The kids weren't exactly tremendously excited about legislature. I spoke to a few of them beforehand and told them that I have watched live sessions of different levels of government in many places. I told them that if we were lucky they might see fighting, and possibly sleeping. The legislative session didn't disappoint, and after we left the chamber  they acted like I must be some sort of psychic to know that our representatives engage in such behaviour. We had made it in time for question period, and there were indeed raised voices, snarkiness, and some post-lunch MLA napping.  They left the chambers much more enthused about legislature than prior to entering, and we then embarked on a tour of the legislative building.

After our tour was over it was photo time, and who joined us for the photo but Guy Boutilier, our local MLA? Now, I have to be honest - I don't always agree with Guy's political stance on things, and I wasn't thrilled when he was a member of the PC party (I admit it - politically I lean left, people). I did take note, though, when he took a strong stance regarding lack of senior care facilities in our region, a stand which ended with him being booted out of the PC caucus. I have tremendous respect for politicians who put the needs of their constituents before toeing the party line, and I quietly applauded Guy for a brave move that could have been political suicide. Instead I rather think it may have secured his political future as he became a local hero for "doing what is right". He crossed the floor of legislature, sat briefly as an independent, and then joined the Wild Rose Alliance. I'd also heard reports of his occasional unusual behaviour, but thought that just added some interesting depth to his character as opposed to undermining it.

I'd never met Guy before but I was both curious to meet him and to see how he interacted with dozens of kids. When he came down to meet them he was wonderful. He took the time to speak to all the teachers and parents, and he shook the hand of every single kid. I know my kid was slightly in awe and very, very pleased. I spoke with Guy very briefly and I too was quite impressed. He's very personable, and seems genuinely interested in his constituents. The fact that he spent quite a bit of time with a bunch of kids nowhere near voting age, and the fact that he was extremely kind to them, made me realize that he is  just a really nice guy as well as an MLA.

So, the long and the short of it is that Guy is definitely a local person of note, and one which represents our region extremely well in my opinion. I believe this so strongly that I would in fact consider putting aside some of my own political ideologies the next time a provincial election rolls around and go to work for him as a volunteer. I think he might be just what our region needs - a politician with an independent streak, some courage, and a little bit of quirkiness. Kinda like Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, really.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Premature Peaking

Recently I was listening to Episode 6 of YMM Podcast. One of the topics that came up during their far-ranging conversation was the concept that young adults who grow up in Fort McMurray "peak" too soon, meaning that they achieve life success and security far earlier than in many places. Being from a slightly older generation, and a person who grew up elsewhere, I must say I suspect this is true. I think it's significant enough that parents raising children here should be wary of it, too.

I can't speak for anyone else but my twenties were a struggle. I was never quite sure if I'd be able to pay rent and utilities, buy food, and still pay for transportation. I was living in one of Canada's largest cities at the time, and, while survival was a daily challenge, opportunity was also ever present. I was always on the prowl for improvement - a better job, a better apartment, or even a move to another city if it represented personal progress. I see a troubling difference with those who spend their early adult years in Fort Mac.

I see many twenty-something year olds in this city who already own homes. They are earning wages I couldn't have even dreamed of in my twenties. Many of them have already started families, and often they have one failed marriage already behind them - before they even hit thirty. I am not saying this is wrong, but one thing I know about personal financial struggle is that it builds fortitude and character. It forces resourcefulness and teaches you to rise to new challenges. Having things too easy too young is not always beneficial, and I suspect it also gives rise to complacency. If you are earning this kind of pay cheque here why would you ever consider moving to another city? Why would you ever think about how to improve your life with further education or a different job opportunity? It's not that the young adults here are lazy, because I don't think that's it at all - I simply think that this early "peaking" may well be detrimental to their long term happiness. Lack of struggle and lack of challenge means there is no motivation to seek opportunity - and part of what makes us humans happy is the strive to better our lot in life. Someone pointed out to me that this is likely the way it was for most people a couple of hundred years ago, but our life spans were also much shorter. When your life expectancy hovers around age 50 then you need to pack a lot in a early. When your life expectancy is around 75 you have much more time to accomplish the same goals - and accomplishing them too early leaves many years to develop boredom or dissatisfaction.

I look around at these twenty-something year olds with young children, and often this is the only city they have ever lived in. They have not ever taken the leap as I did at nineteen to move across the country to another place and start fresh. They have not struggled in a financial sense, and I suspect if the industry collapsed tomorrow would be in dire straights. I also look at them and wonder how many will suffer from severe mid-life crises, that time when one looks back and wonders if they could and should have done things differently when they were young. Will they wish they had the opportunity to struggle and to fight to survive, knowing that their success relied solely on them? Owning a home, having a spouse, and having children in your early twenties also seems like a tremendous amount of responsibility - is it a responsibility that over time some will come to resent?

I am certainly not saying these young adults are not happy. I imagine I would have been blissfully happy at that age to have no financial worries and to feel set for life. As I have matured, though, I also see that in time I might have seen that security as a cage that trapped me instead of providing the freedom I thought it did. I hope I am wrong, as if I am right there are a significant number of young people in this city who are headed for tough times when they hit their forties. What worries me is that some young adults, like the ones from YMM Podcast, seem to confirm my fears in that they recognize this dilemma as well. The allure of early success seems overwhelming - but just maybe that premature peaking is not what we want for our children at all. Maybe we want them to struggle and fight to survive just as we may have done because in the long run perhaps it's what leads to true life-long satisfaction. I think it's an issue worth thinking about, especially as it relates to our community and the people in it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The End of Complacency - Slave Lake Fire

I am fairly new to Twitter, having opened an account only for the purposes of staying informed for this blog. Last night I saw the full effect of the world of tweets when Twitter went crazy with news of the Slave Lake fire. I followed it closely, updating non-tweeting friends with what I had learned from Twitter, and thinking about how what was happening in Slave Lake could happen here right in good ol' Fort Mac.

Prior to living here I lived in northwestern Ontario, another area where forest fires are a yearly occurrence. Every year the smoke would roll in and you would hope this one wasn't the one that caused the massive evacuation, or, even worse, cut off the one highway out of town. That had happened in the past and an air evacuation followed, with people leaving behind their homes and cars and, worst of all, their pets as they could not be accommodated on the flights. I feared this so much that I had made arrangements with a pilot friend to fly my dog to safety if an air evacuation was ever ordered.

Last night as I watched with horror as Slave Lake burned I realized how complacent I have become. Living in Fort Mac has made me believe that a forest fire could never pose a real threat here. After all, the big companies would never allow that to happen, and would never allow their plants to burn. We are a fairly large city, and large cities don't burn down, right? (forget that whole London and San Francisco fire thing, that was a long time ago!) I realized that the true danger and enemy might not be forest fires at all, but complacency.

I sat there and read the tweets and saw the photos. I thought about my vehicle sitting outside my house with a 1/4 tank of gas because I had procrastinated, thinking I could fill it up tomorrow. I thought about the emergency preparedness kit that I don't have, and the list of things to take in case of evacuation that I've never made. I realized that if I was suddenly told to evacuate I would have no idea where to begin. In a forest fire situation all the gas stations would close, of course. With 1/4 tank of gas how far would I get? How many crucial items would I forget in a panic because I didn't have a checklist?

I think there is a very real tendency in this city to assume that forest fires happen elsewhere, could never breach city limits, and will never threaten our homes and our very lives. Slave Lake was a wake-up call, people. If it could happen there it could happen here, and we need to be vigilant. I'm sure the Japanese never, ever believed that there would be an earthquake that could bring the nation to it's knees, and yet we all know what happened there. Nature doesn't make allowances for powerful nations or big cities or oil companies or people who have lived life in a complacent daze. It happens whether you want it to or not, and whether you are ready or not. So, let's be ready, shall we?

Alberta Emergency Preparedness Guide

Alberta SRD Wildfire Status

Government of Alberta : Newsroom

Canadian Red Cross - accepting donations for those affected by the Slave Lake fire. My thoughts are with all those Slave Lake residents who have lost so much more than seems possible. My heart breaks for them, and I so desperately wish that my wake-up call hadn't come at their personal cost.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dunvegan Disturbance - Revisited Yet Again

According to the "Save Dunvegan Gardens" Facebook page the situation at our little local greenhouse on Draper Road is escalating rapidly. It appears that bylaw officers are now preventing trucks from exiting and entering the greenhouse, particularly if the trucks appear to be engaged in any business other than the delivery of fresh plants (and there are dark rumblings that those trucks are being stopped, too). I drove out to Dunvegan Tuesday and while I did not see any bylaw vehicles on Draper Road there were two parked at the Legion Hall in Waterways. Coincidence, perhaps, and perhaps not.

This escalation saddens me to no end. I have written before that I have sympathy for the residents of Draper Road, and I continue to hold that sympathy - but I also fear for our only greenhouse. This issue isn't just polarizing the residents of that area but the residents of the entire city. There are those who side with the unhappy Draper Road residents, and those who side with Dunvegan Gardens. There are those, like me, who don't really side with anyone but who really, really like gardening and who would be very sad to see the end of Dunvegan in our city. I realize that according to some Draper Road residents that there is no compromise to be sought or found. I continue to harbour hope that some resolution will be found, though, as otherwise it's going to be a very long spring and summer for those residents, Dunvegan Gardens, and all of us who make the drive out there to buy our plants and gardening essentials.

I must admit I am a little surprised at how little coverage this story has received in our local newspapers. Most of the news I have heard recently has come from the Save Dunvegan page and from anecdotes from those who have been out on Draper. Why so little coverage of what is truly shaping up to be quite a big story? Is it because this is a story with no easy answers and where no one is likely to walk away happy? I don't know, but I think this issue deserves some serious coverage from the local media. I don't think it's going to go away any time soon, and the closer we get to gardening season the more intense I suspect it will become. I have no idea how it will play out in the end - but I hope that whatever the outcome we are not less one treasured greenhouse  business in our community as a result.

Monday, May 9, 2011

McMurray Musings - Places of Note

There are times when I am deeply conflicted regarding telling others about hidden gems I have found in Fort McMurray. It's not that I don't like to share, but if you tell others then some day when you show up at your favourite restaurant they might not have a table for you, and what then? There are some places  that just deserve special mention and are worth that risk, however. Today I'd like to focus on one of my very favourites. It's a virtual second home and my preferred blogging spot. Where? CoCo Jo's Coffee House in the Nomad Inn, people.

CoCo Jo's opened a couple of years ago, if I recall correctly. In a city with no true coffee shops aside from the ubiquitous Tim Horton's the opening of a coffee shop is a cause for celebration. No offense to all the Tim's fans, but it's not really a relaxing atmosphere in which to work or write, and, well, I don't like Tim's coffee (there, I said it out loud, and yes, I really am Canadian!). There is Starbucks, of course, but a Starbucks inside a grocery store isn't exactly the ideal place for peace and quiet, either.

I love CoCo Jo's for many reasons. For starters they have the best free wi-fi in the city. I can sit and write this blog there and post it effortlessly. In fact it's my favourite spot to write about the city as I find it easiest to connect with Fort Mac when I am out there in the middle of it. I can sit there and watch the city buses go by or the locals wander around. It puts me in the mood to write about the city, and the free wifi makes that so easy to do. That also means it's great for anyone who wants to connect for free.

I also happen to love their coffee. They are brewers of Cherry Hill Coffee, which is a coffee company out of Kelowna, BC. How great is it that our local coffee shop brews coffee roasted by a Canadian company? Cherry Hill roasts a fine bean, and I've been known to order beans from them just to have that coffee at home, too. They also have a wide variety of snacks and food available, too, and most of it is quite good (especially those blueberry scones, which represent an enormous daily temptation).

The staff at Coco Jo's are terrific. Over the past few months they've gotten to know me well, and they know exactly what I want (a large latte) and how I want it (no paper cups, ceramic mug, please). When they see me walk in the door they start pulling the espresso for my latte and I often have it before I've chosen a table. How awesome is that? They are also incredibly friendly, and just seeing them every day makes me smile.

They generally play pretty decent music, and often local radio which makes it even easier to come up with blog ideas. I often run into people I know there, and even when I don't know anyone it's the perfect place to study all the diverse characters that inhabit this crazy city.

So, Fort Mac, if you haven't done so already check out CoCo Jo's. If you've ever longed for that big-city coffee house feeling you can indeed find it right here at the Nomad Inn. Do me a favour, though - leave me a table, would ya?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Taxi Trouble

There are times when this city is like any other, and times when it is quite unlike anywhere else. Recently I was discussing local taxi service with someone and realized that taxi service here is a concern, and in ways I've never encountered anywhere else.

To be clear I have taken taxis in some of Canada's largest cities (Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal to name a few), and in some other large cities around the world (London, for instance). This is perhaps the only city where I have used a taxi that had a sign indicating they take credit cards, and then have the driver refuse to accept a credit card as payment. There's nothing quite like reaching your destination (like the airport) and arguing with the driver about taking your credit card. That always sets such a positive tone to the beginning of a trip, doesn't it? From what I have learned this is a pretty common occurrence here, and a troubling one. If they aren't going to accept credit cards that should be made clear at the beginning of the ride - and there shouldn't be any signs leading you to believe that credit cards are fine.

I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed but the driving abilities of some of the taxi operators don't exactly inspire confidence, either. A couple of years ago I had one almost run into the side of my vehicle as they were exiting a driveway, and it was simply because the driver didn't bother to look to his left before pulling out into traffic. I'm not sure what kind of testing these drivers undergo, but I'm willing to state that I'm not sure it's adequate to determine their true abilities.

Someone told me they were in a taxi recently in which the driver's ID was turned backwards so that you couldn't see if the ID was actually for the person in the driver's seat. That got me started thinking about how we know that the person driving is actually the person licensed to do so, and how often this sort of thing is checked. I must admit that I almost neurotically check the ID to see if my driver is the licensed operator as it's really the only way of knowing if they are qualified to drive the vehicle (and even then I find myself wary).

I have also noticed that many of the taxis themselves seem to be in poor condition, and some seem downright dangerous. I don't expect a taxi to be a luxury ride but functioning seatbelts, windows, and brakes seem a reasonable request. It's also nice to have a suspension that doesn't make you feel like a shaken martini when you finally arrive at your destination. I can't imagine those suspensions are helpful when they are ferrying drunks home after the local bars close, either.

I don't mean to imply taxi service in other cities is flawless. In most cities, though, the fear is what passengers will do to the drivers, and hence the installation of glass shields and protective devices for the driver. Here I suspect many people climbing into a local taxi fear a bit for their own safety. That just shouldn't be the case, and it hasn't been the case in any other city I've visited or lived in. Just another of those Fort Mac peculiarities, but one I think we can, and should, address. Taxi company owners, take note - we truly expect better.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kiss - Sold Out!

This morning I happened to be at MacDonald Island Park shortly after 8 am, and was astonished to see that people had already begun lining up for their Kiss tickets. I had predicted these tickets would sell out quickly but had no idea how quickly.

How quickly? 24 minutes, that's how. That's amazing, and I bet many of those sales are from outside of Fort Mac, too. So, what does this mean? Well, it means we are going to have one hell of a show on July 2nd, and it's going to be crazy busy in the city that weekend. It means this is going to be one tremendous opportunity for our city to shine. It also means that they are going to need help.

Events like this rely to some extent on the goodwill of our citizens, but also on our willingness to volunteer our time. So, even if you didn't get Kiss tickets (like me!) you can still be part of the event. Go to Events Wood Buffalo Volunteers and sign up for a position. To some extent the success or failure of this concert will ride on all of us, Fort McMurray. If you have ever wanted to be part of something special or to have a chance to show visitors to our city that we truly have "big spirit" then this is your chance. Get out there and volunteer for the Canada Rocks Festival - and let's show the Kiss Army (and Canada!) that Fort McMurray rocks!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Get Kiss(ed)!

Alright people, the day is almost here! Kiss plays Fort Mac on July 2, 2011, and tickets to the biggest concert event ever held in this city go on sale tomorrow at noon. You can purchase them through MacDonald Island Park, by calling 780-791-0070, or toll-free at 1-888-281-6477. Tickets for General Admission are $99 and VIP tickets are $250.

I have no doubt tickets are going to go very, very quickly. Not only will local people want to attend this concert I suspect it's going to attract the Kiss Army from far and wide, especially since this is their only Alberta date this tour. Since I blogged about the press conference announcing this concert I have noted intense interest in that blog post, and many of those who read it arrived through web searches. Some of these searches may be local but I also suspect many are coming from other parts of Western Canada. So, if you want to be a part of what is sure to be the biggest and perhaps most exciting rock event we've ever seen then get out your credit card and at noon tomorrow be close to your phone or your computer. Fort McMurray, this July 2nd our little city is gonna rock. Be there!

(Oh, and if you don't want to buy tickets but still be a part of the event? Head to Events Wood Buffalo and volunteer for the Canada Rocks Festival. We need to show all these Kiss fans what an amazing and enthusiastic city we are!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ballot Box Hangover, Anyone?

Another federal election is behind us - and hopefully the result means we won't be headed back to the polls anytime soon. I can't speak for anyone else, but 4 elections in 7 years has given me a serious case of political fatigue. Toss in some provincial and municipal elections and it's pretty easy to see why it can be difficult to improve voter turnout.

I want to congratulate you, Fort Mac. Despite voter fatigue we actually beat our electoral turnout statistics from the last federal election. Last election 36% of us showed up to vote - and this time 41.4% did. Still not an overwhelming number, but a definite improvement, and perhaps a sign that political apathy in the region is slowly disappearing.

As expected our incumbent Conservative MP Brian Jean has retained his office with a large percentage of the popular vote. I doubt this comes as a surprise to anyone in the region, and I do extend my congratulations to him. I think he represents our riding well and I look forward to him continuing to do so. I have invested in four years of red markers, however, in anticipation of those money-wasting, garbage-creating flyers (if you haven't read this blog previously when those flyers arrive in my mailbox I tend to write "Please stop wasting my money on these flyers" in red marker all over them, and send them back to him). I'm rather hoping that with a Conservative majority that he may not feel the need to send out those ridiculous flyers and then I can donate those red markers to the local school instead.

This election changes things up in Ottawa, certainly. The NDP as official opposition should make for interesting times in Parliament, and I hope to see Jack and his gang grow into that role as I believe any system is only as good as the checks and balances that contribute to controlling it. As for Wood Buffalo - well, I suppose I see business continuing as usual in our region, with all the good and bad that entails. As with any election there will be repercussions and dissections and political fallout (and political careers will end, no doubt). I'm quite happy to just move forward, people. Let's hope all our newly elected officials feel the same.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Election Day

I've been delighted that this blog has experienced a great deal of traffic recently. Who knew that my thoughts regarding the fight between a local greenhouse/landscaping business and their neighbours would be so popular a blog post? Not I, people. I'm not above capitalizing on this surge in popularity to bring you a message, though. So, if you came to read about Dunvegan Gardens that's a bit prior to this post - but why not stick around and read this one, too?

Yesterday we learned that Osama bin Laden is dead. Today is the federal election. You're probably wondering how these two events are connected. There may not be a direct connection but I think there is a link.

 I've written previously about our abysmal electoral turnout rate. I'd love to see this be the election where we actually turn out in droves and vote like mad. If only 21% of us actually vote does that give the winner any real sense of mandate? Does that reflect our opinion of democracy in action?

Look, I don't care who you vote for. I don't even care if you spoil your ballot with a giant black X. Just go vote. On the day after we learned of the death of Osama bin Laden what better way to express our belief in democracy than to go and exercise our right to vote? I don't believe in celebrating the death of anyone, including a terrorist - but I think if we are going to celebrate in any way then expressing our democratic freedom might just be the right way to do it. Polling stations are open from 7:30 - 7:30. See you there, Fort Mac.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

McMurray Musing - Events of Note

This past weekend Macdonald Island Park was the scene of the annual Fort McMurray Tourism Spring Trade Show, and I think it's fair to say that this was the best trade show this city has ever seen. It was quite certainly the best I've ever attended in the near-decade I've lived here.

I arrived just before 10 AM on Saturday and was quite pleased to find a parking spot that was reasonably close. I was astonished, though, that residents had already begun lining up outside the main doors of Mac Island to pay their admission fees. It was immediately clear that the trade show was going to be popular this year, and I am delighted to report that this was with good reason.

This year Fort McMurray Tourism, the organizers of the trade show, decided to have the exhibitors set up their booths in themed halls. This means there was a shopping hall, an outdoor enthusiasts/recreation hall, a health and well-being hall, and a home and garden hall. I think this was an absolutely brilliant decision as it made it very easy to determine which halls would be of the most interest to you, and to peruse those halls first. If you were looking for a specific vendor a quick glance at the extremely comprehensive show guide allowed you to quickly find them.

There have been many years when I went to the trade show, did a quick walk-through, grabbed a bag of mini-donuts, and walked out the door - all within about 20-30 minutes. This year, though, I revisited two of the halls a few times to see specific exhibitors, and even pulled out my wallet a couple of times. I was very impressed with the exhibitors in terms of both quality and range of interests. I spent the most time I have ever spent at a trade show in Fort McMurray, and, quite honestly, the most money I've ever spent, too.

The final stop of the trade show was the mini-donut booth, of course, as the trade show experience wouldn't be right without some of those little gems. Bravo to Fort McMurray Tourism for organizing a terrific 2011 Spring Trade Show, and thanks to Macdonald Island for once again proving to be the perfect venue for such an event. I am looking forward to future Trade Shows with great enthusiasm!

Dunvegan Disturbance, Revisited

The post directly below this one is about the current controversy regarding Dunvegan Gardens. A reader of this blog has commented on that post, and I have decided to respond to that reader here...

Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment on my post regarding this issue. I too am a firm believer in free speech, which is why I chose to write this blog. That is also why I have chosen to allow your comments to remain to be seen by other readers. I could easily delete them and deny you this platform to express yourself, but I don't think that serves anyone well, and would be contrary to my personal belief in freedom of speech.

I am sorry you think my conclusion is mistaken but please note that the only conclusion I reached is that the loss of Dunvegan Gardens would be detrimental to the community. I stand by this conclusion as I firmly believe it to be true. I think they are important to the community for many reasons, and I suspect a large percentage of city residents would agree. I assure you that I am not an owner or employee of Dunvegan and have absolutely no vested interest in this issue other than as a citizen of this community.

Your response has also provided further evidence that compromise may never be reached on this issue as apparently compromise is not being sought. My true hope was that the residents of Draper Road and the owners of Dunvegan could find a way to mediate towards a solution that satisfied both parties, but it seems positions are deeply entrenched and this may well not occur. I continue to think that is deeply unfortunate for all parties involved, but especially so for the community which stands to lose a business that provides significant benefit.

Again, I thank you for taking the time and effort to write your response. I hope that you feel you were able to share your viewpoint and I appreciate that you did so while showing respect to me and my blog. As I commented in the original post I am not without sympathy for the residents of Draper Road, and I continue to have that sympathy. I also truly feel, though, that the loss of Dunvegan Gardens would be a blow to the community and my feelings on that conclusion will not change regardless of the eventual outcome of the current controversy.

McMurray Musings