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

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.

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