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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Motocross Mania

All photo credits for this post go to Kathy Schneider (Fleeting Moments Photography).

People, when I began writing this blog I knew I would need to expand my horizons a bit and explore some aspects of life in the city that I'd never considered before. One of these aspects was some of the sports activities in the city, and since I'm not really a sporting-type (I know, I know, not a fan of Tim's, country music, or sports - how did I end up here again?!?) I knew I had a lot to learn. Last weekend I embraced the new-to-me and headed out to the racetrack run by the McMurray Dirt Riders Association. Here's what I knew about motocross prior to Saturday afternoon : nothing. Here's what I love about motocross after Saturday : everything!

When I arrived at the track I admit my first thought was "is that smell in the air gasoline or testosterone?". Motocross here appears to be mostly dominated by men and boys, and I imagine that may be true of the sport in general. I had arrived in time to eavesdrop on the riders' meeting, and was able to listen to a few of the rules and regulations. And then, people, it was race time.

When the first set of bikes hit the track I knew this was not going to be my ordinary Saturday afternoon. Here again are a group of people that are passionate about their sport. I discovered over the course of the day that the track, which is quite impressive in size and quality, is totally built and maintained by volunteers. The races are also operated by volunteers, from flagmen to announcers. Now, I've been involved in a few groups in this city and I know how tough it can be to run a group based solely on volunteers. And yet MDRA has done it - because these people love this sport.

I loved watching the races, and particularly the intermediate category. The energy, intensity, and passion is something you can feel right into your bones. I loved watching as they took the jumps, adding a little twist of the handlebars at the apex so the back end of the bike "whips" out. There was a pure joy in that little move that couldn't be denied. It thrilled me every damn time, people.

There is no doubt this is a competitive sport, and some of the races had tight little groups of riders that were pretty intense in this regard. They would come around the corners in a close little knot, each rider trying to gain that edge. I was amazed at how few crashes happened considering that intensity (the only ones I saw were at the very start of one of the intermediate races, and no one was really injured). By the end of the second race I was on my feet trying to see every inch of the track. By the second set of races (each group races twice) I could sense some of the rivalries and while I didn't know any names I began to quietly root for certain riders.

I actually loved watching every group, including the youngest racers who were so intent on honing their skills. And there are skills required in this sport, people. I watched the riders closely, observing how they position their body to maximize speed around corners and over the jumps. These boys have, as they say now, "mad skills", and I was truly impressed.

What I suppose I loved most about motocross is that it's another instance of a community within our larger Fort Mac community. People come to this city and often don't have any family, or any friends. They need to find a niche, a place where they belong - and groups like MDRA become that place. It becomes the kind of group where you can engage in a sport you enjoy but you can also become part of a passionate group of people who share a common interest and vision. MDRA is committed to providing the best possible experience for the participants, even bringing in well-known pro racers like Kevin Johnson and Kelly Smith to do clinics for the riders.

When I contacted Scott Richardson, the president of the MDRA, one of the first questions he asked is how tall I am. I thought that was a rather odd question to ask someone he'd never met, and when I inquired why he said because he needed to know what size bike to put me on. I was a bit aghast - me, on a dirt bike? I barely do mountain bikes, people. So, I told him "no bike - I'm too old to break limbs". Well, here it is - after Saturday I've changed my mind. I'll be back at the MDRA track this summer - and next time, maybe, just maybe, I'll try out one of those dirt bikes if the offer is still open. It was just that much damn fun, people.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Down With Webster : The Good, The Bad, and the Hearing Loss

This summer is a bit different around my house as we have a houseguest in the form of my 13-year old niece. She is spending the rest of the summer with us, and combined with my own 12-year old this means I am often trying to find things for them to do (which means "things I am willing to drive them to and possibly accompany them to"). When my niece arrived I asked her if she was at all interested in attending a local concert - some band named "Down With Webster" was playing. It wasn't a band I am familiar with, and my 12-year old didn't really know them, either - but the squealing emanating from my niece seemed to indicate that a) she did, and b) I would be the coolest aunt ever to buy them tickets. Being ever in search of coolness I went out, bought three tickets (for them and me), and then I sat down to find their videos on YouTube.

I completely admit that when I first found their videos my reaction was "Uh oh". I have pretty diverse musical tastes but there's no doubt I'm a bit older than DWW's target audience (by, oh, decades, really). I listened and feared that I may have just found a musical genre for which I was, in fact, too old. I'd made the commitment, though, so off to MacDonald Island we went last night, arriving at 5:30 for an early spot in the rush seating line-up.

And I am glad we did go so early, as even though the doors only opened at 7:00 the line-up was already quite large by the time we arrived. I looked around and immediately noticed that the average age in the line up seemed to be about 14, and the gender ratio was decidedly weighted in favour of girls. That was the point when I realized my hearing was likely to go due to high-pitched squealing, but again, I'm a trooper, people. I've been to dozens of concerts and gigs, and two days of deafness is nothing new to me, either.

So, we stood in line for an hour and a half, and when the doors opened in we went. My kids immediately disappeared into the crush of kids up front, and I found a seat three rows from the front. I set up shop (meaning my iphone and ipad - I'm a writer, and those are the tools of my trade) and settled in.

Looking around I was a bit amazed at the diversity of ages in the crowd. I saw parents my age (and older), and some very young children. I have to be honest, here - I was a bit surprised to see such very young kids. Maybe that sounds "old" but I'm not sure I'd take children under  8 to such a concert as a) it was very loud, b) there was some questionable language/lyrics/behaviour on stage, and c) I'm not even sure what they'd get out of it. That's clearly just my opinion, but I know after the show on the ride home I had a discussion with my kids about the Jack Daniels that was consumed on stage, the young woman who tossed her bra onstage, and some of the more "iffy" lyrics. I expect to have those discussions with kids who are 12 and 13, but wouldn't really want to be having them with 8 year olds. Clearly that's a personal parenting decision, and I suspect some parents just didn't realize that DWW aren't really a "kid" band but more aimed at those in their teens and early twenties.

When DJ Diggy took the stage as the opening act I was, I admit, initially unimpressed. And if you're objecting to me calling him a "DJ" and think I should be calling him a "mash up artist" or some such thing then I will tell you that I am definitely too old for that distinction. He's a DJ in my eyes, and while I was unimpressed at first as the songs went on I realized he's a damn good one, too. I sat and really listened to what he was doing and realized that it's pretty amazing stuff, really, and by the time he left the stage I was a fan. He did a pretty good job getting the kids revved up for DWW, too.

There was a bit of wait between Diggy and when DWW took the stage, which I understood when I saw that Diggy is also in the band (meaning he'd just done the opening act and then had to play the rest of the show, too). Diggy needed a break between the two acts, and that made the rather long period between the two acts more acceptable. During this time I amused myself a bit on Twitter with some other Fort Mac folks who were up in the VIP section (they know who they are!) and reporting on the concert on Twitter. Then my iPhone died, and I used my iPad for a bit (thanks to FMPL and their freenet!).

So, finally, DWW took the stage, and I braced myself a bit. I thought it might be a long night, seeing as how I'd been abandoned by the kids and left on my own. I decided it was time to really listen and give it a chance, though, and by the second song I was tapping my foot. By the third song I was on my feet and starting to dance. By the end of the night I was really dancing. By the encore I was a DWW fan.

Down With Webster put on an amazing show. There is an energy and intensity to those boys, and a true talent, too. I'm not a fan of rap, really, and I can't say I absolutely loved every song - but I enjoyed every single minute of the show. When the encore was over I looked around at all the kids who'd been dancing and bouncing the whole time and saw nothing but happy sweaty faces.  When my kids finally emerged from the crowd they were hot, sweaty, tired, and blissfully happy. My 13-year old niece had caught a drumstick tossed from the stage, and she clutched it like a small wooden trophy. My 12-year old, who is on the tiny side, found a group of girls who were concerned she would be crushed by the crowd so they pushed her right up in front of the stage, and thus she had a prime view of the whole show (little do they know that she would quite likely have maneuvered her way up there all on her own, being quite determined). Both of them were now confirmed, life-long DWW fans. Both of them had "favourites" in the band and the ride home was pretty much consumed with discussions of who was cutest (the words "nom nom nom" came up a lot, meaning one of the boys they thought particularly yummy looking). We stopped for some fast food burgers and sat in the car eating, laughing, singing lyrics, and generally revelling in what a good time we'd all had.

Yep, people, I said we'd ALL had. I had a GREAT time. This morning I woke up, showered, and then bought three DWW songs off iTunes and listened to them in my car. I'm a fan now, too. Their sheer enthusiasm for what they do won me over completely, and I now have respect and admiration for Down With Webster. I am so grateful yet again to both MacDonald Island Park and Events Wood Buffalo for providing this community with such great entertainment - and with the opportunity for someone like me to lose their hearing for a couple of days but find that maybe, just maybe, she isn't too old for anything.

Down With Webster - "Whoa"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Suncor Saved An Ankylosaur

In early March 2011 Suncor shovel operator Shawn Funk was probably having a pretty typical day at work. There he was, digging his shovel high into a wall in the Suncor mine, when he saw something unusual. He saw something like this:

Now, I don't know much about the geology of the oilsands, but even I can say that this is a rock that looks pretty unusual. Shawn Funk thought so, too, and he had the good sense to call in his supervisor. His supervisor took one look and knew it was time to call in a geologist - because this had the potential to be big.Very big. Like dinosaur big.

The geologist came in, took a look, and knew it was definitely time to contact the paleontologists at The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. Why? Because the geologist knew that this was, quite likely, a dinosaur. When any such find is made at any of the oilsands sites, whether the find be archeological or paleontological in nature, the law (Alberta Historical Resource Act) requires the company to cease operations in that area and contact the relevant authorities. The thing is of course that Suncor didn't just contact the Tyrrell because they had to, but because they wanted to. They knew that any dinosaur find is exciting, but little did they know how truly exciting this find would prove to be.

The dinosaur found appears to be an ankylosaur, a dinosaur that roamed our continent 110 million years ago. At that time this area was a marine environment, an ocean, and the dinosaurs that have been found here to this point have all been marine animals. But not this one. This ankylosaur was a land creature, and it should not have been in this marine environment at all. This is the first time a land vertebrate has been found at the oilsands sites (there have been marine fossils found, mosasaurs and plesiosaurs and the like). That makes this one astonishing find, people, and it just gets better. There are few fossils from this era in existence, particularly in Alberta. This fossil may be one of the most complete and well-preserved ankylosaurs ever found, and when the paleontologists from the Tyrrell arrived their excitement was uncontainable. This was a very, very major find.

The final amazing thing is that this fossil was found and recovered at all. Were it not for the oilsands operations this fossil would never have been uncovered, and would have remained in the earth for all eternity. Instead it has been found and will add immeasurably to our understanding of ankylosaurs, and of our general understanding of creatures from that time so incredibly long ago. There is yet another reason this find is so incredible, though - were it not for where it was found it would never have been excavated. The fossil sat high in the wall, beyond easy reach, and often when fossils like this are found in other places they are left there because it is simply too difficult to extract them. The resources required to excavate them (large machines and skilled operators) are too far away and too costly - but in this case good fortune prevailed. Suncor, of course, has all the large machines and the most skilled people to operate them, and what could have been a major find that would never be seen by the world instead became one that could be, and was, recovered. 

Personally I find this story very exciting. I have no formal training in geology or paleontology but I've been a fan of dinosaurs and the like since I was a young child. I am always thrilled to see fossils, and excited by new finds, especially here in dinosaur-fossil rich Alberta. What I find loveliest about this story, though, is that it seems I am not alone in this excitement. I spoke to someone from Suncor who was involved in the excavation of this ankylosaur, and they indicated that the excitement at the site of the discovery was infectious. People who had been at Suncor for decades showed up to see the fossil and to see the recovery process. Employees who had been involved in the find and recovery had a sense akin to "pride of ownership" at being involved in the process of bringing this amazing fossil out of the rock. There was a palpable sense that this was a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-an-oilsands-career, event, and that sense gave everyone involved such pleasure and pride. 

The ankylosaur now resides at the Tyrrell museum where preparators will slowly tease the rock from the fossil itself. This is a painstaking and agonizing process that will likely take years (I've watched them use dental picks to pry tiny bits of rock off a fossil and can't even imagine how incredibly laborious that is when we are discussing something the size of an ankylosaur). Instead of being encased forever in rock this precious ankylosaur will some day be shown to the public, and the story of it's discovery and recovery can be told to the world. I had absolutely nothing to do with it's discovery or recovery, people, and yet I am so proud of Suncor and their employees. Suncor saved this little ankylosaur from being lost in rock forever, unknown, undiscovered, and unappreciated. I can imagine some day when it goes on display and it is surrounded by small children who gaze in wonder and excitement at it's size and strangeness. That image alone makes me smile, people, and I bet it makes you smile, too. This is one momentous discovery we can all be proud of, Fort Mac. This little ankylosaur belongs to all of us - and we have Suncor and their employees to thank for bringing him home to us. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Tar Sand Betties Rock - And Roll, Too.

One of the most fascinating things about Fort Mac is how people who come here carve out their own little niche groups or communities. It can start with a common interest or a hobby, like art. Or it can start with a sport, like softball. Or, as I learned on Sunday night, it can start with roller derby.

When I walked into the old rink at Mac Island for the Sunday night practice of the Tar Sand Betties what I noticed first was a whole lot of women in roller skates and black clothing. And a lot of hot pink. And some neon green. And a fair number of fishnet tights, too. There was even the occasional tutu, and I began to suspect that this is a sport of a different sort, with style, colour, and humour, too.

I sat down with my camera and notepad and settled in to learn something - because people I know nothing about roller derby. I learned pretty quickly, though, that this is a sport that is ferocious, competitive, tough - and yet full of laughter, banter, and jokes.

They do their "bouts" in "jams" that last a maximum of two minutes. Each team has a "jammer" that earns points, and the more times you lap the opposite team the more points earned. The other skaters are blockers - and they do exactly what that implies. The blocker's job is to prevent the jammer from getting through the pack and earning those points. The jammer is the one they all want to prevent from getting ahead - but when one skater of any sort goes down then much like dominoes others tend to go as well, creating some spectacular crashes.

The jams started slowly, and the women took some time to warm up - but when they got going the action got a whole lot fiercer. Speed, aggression, and attitude are all required for roller derby, but so is a sense of camaraderie. While they may be engaging in these bouts they are also a team and they function as one, too. During the last jam of the night an obviously relatively new skater was acting as the jammer. Just before the whistle blew ending the final jam she was knocked down, and clearly had the wind knocked out of her. Over skated the other girls, sitting on the floor with her as she recovered, helping her to feet, and even helping her get her skates off. I saw them then as not just tough competitors but as a team who looks out for each other, too. I was impressed with how they can take that competitive spirit onto the track but once the bout was over they can put it away and be there for each other.

The Betties also happen to be a good-looking group of women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Each and every one was sexy in her own way, but most of all because each and every one exuded a sort of confidence and healthy competitiveness that was so refreshing to see. In this city often dominated by the XY chromosome seeing some women who have created this little community with other women was amazing. I loved seeing them razz each other and joke even after bashing each other up a bit on the track. There were no hard feelings, no feelings of anger - just some good ol' competitive aggression being unleashed in a very wholesome and athletic way. I can't even begin to tell you how much I smiled watching these women with each other. It was just so incredibly awesome to witness women treating each other in a way that was respectful and kind, and yet at the same time encouraging each other to be tougher and stronger, too.

I could go into a whole lot about how I think all women could use a little roller derby spirit in their lives - like how we could all learn about healthy competition that doesn't devolve into dramas, and how we can encourage each other to be tougher while still being compassionate - but maybe we just need to see how much fun the Betties have in order to see that. I can't think of a better thing to do, people, than to go out and see one of the Betties' practices. You can see a little Fort Mac community growing right inside our larger community, and you can see a group of women that are tough and strong and sexy and fierce and compassionate and, in my opinion, role models. I'll be going to see the Betties again, people, but next time I'm taking my kid - because there is something to be learned from the Betties, and it ain't just the rules of roller derby.

The Betties practice this summer on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays (7:00-8:30 pm) 
at the old rink at Mac Island. See ya there, Fort Mac!

Monday, July 25, 2011

How Re-Usable Bags Saved Me

Well, people, apparently the good folks at the RMWB are in the process of evaluating the single-use bag ban. If you recall I wrote about this issue some time ago, and my thoughts haven't changed, really. I support the single-use bag ban, and I think repealing the bylaw or changing it at this point would be a step into the past.

Other communities are now beginning to enact similar bans. In fact I suspect it's just a matter of time before it's the norm as opposed to a rarity. I know that when I go to Edmonton now I always pull out a re-usable bag and I am always shocked when they hand me a plastic one. Or they will offer me a bag and I'll say no, that I can fit my purchase into another bag I already have, and they always look surprised - who would turn down a free plastic bag?!? When I return from these trips and empty my trunk I look at all the plastic bags and know that they are eventually destined for the trash, and it saddens me. I know that my re-usable bags are used for a year or so (or even longer) before they wear out while those plastic ones might have one or two re-uses and then they are done.  I know my household is contributing less to the plastic pile at the dump, and frankly I feel pretty good about that.

People who know me will tell you one thing - I am a shopper. I love to shop and to buy, and I have never not purchased something because I didn't have a bag for it. I would either buy a new bag, or carry my purchase to my car in my hands. When I'm determined to buy something (whether planned or impulse) a little thing like not having a bag is hardly going to stop me.

I know there are those who think it should be a choice, but I truly believe that people will likely always sink to the laziest common denominator, which means they will forego the re-usable and embrace the plastic again (not because they love plastic, but because it's easier). I know I would continue to use re-usable bags as it's what I grew up with (my parents grew up in Saskatchewan during the depression - the thought of bags you threw out was practically criminal to them). I just suspect that most people would slip back into the plastic habit and any forward steps we had taken would be lost.

Look, I know there is controversy about whether or not re-usable bags are truly better for the environment. All I can speak to is my personal experience. In the last year I have thrown out perhaps three re-usable bags - and prior to using them I imagine I threw out hundreds of plastic bags yearly. That ratio alone tips the balance in favour of re-usable for me.

Finally, I have a story about how re-usable bags saved my relationship with my kid. Bear with me, people, as it may seem initially that this has nothing to do with re-usable bags but you'll see where I am going.

A few weeks ago, the morning of the day I was leaving for vacation, I was heading down the 63 to drop the family dog and my kid's ferret off at the boarding kennel (big shout-out to Mackenzie Kennels, one of my very fave local businesses!). I was happily driving along, listening to The Smiths at top volume, when I looked down at the ferret's snazzy little zip-up pet carrier and realized to my horror that a small weaselly-head was poking out. The ferret, being quite the little genius, had discovered he could rip the zipper apart and escape. The family terrier, who was tied in the backseat, caught a glimpse of the ferret escaping from the bag and began to whine and drool (she has an uncomfortable relationship with the ferret, being a dog with a very strong prey drive). I was, quite frankly, well and truly screwed. I had the steering wheel in one hand, a struggling ferret in the other (and if you've ever held one-pound of struggling sinew punctuated with sharp teeth and claws you know how that was going), and a dog in the back seat who was rapidly losing her mind. I pulled over and tried to think what I could do. Clearly there was no stuffing the Houdini-ferret back  into the carrier now that he knew how to escape. Then I remembered - I had re-usable bags in the trunk. People witnessing this scene would have been amused to see a woman in a skirt and high heels emerge from her car holding what appeared to be a rabid weasel and rummaging in her trunk for a re-usable Safeway bag. Once I found the bag I stuffed the ferret back into the carrier, put the carrier into the bag, and tied it shut (okay, lack of oxygen for the ferret did occur to me but at this point a little ferret-hypoxia seemed rather enticing). This prevented the ferret from enacting a total escape, the melt-down of the family dog, and the agony my kid would put me through if I allowed the dog to eat their beloved ferret. We arrived at the kennel, all safe and sound, and after I dropped them off I went straight home for a stiff drink and to lament the state of my ridiculous life.

So, there you have it, people. I support re-usable bags because they have purposes you could never imagine unless truly pressed, like containing small ferrets who are attempting to ruin your life. I could have never predicted that use for a bag, either, and I never would have had a plastic bag just sitting in my car waiting for that innovation.

So, people, you can let the RMWB know how you feel about the single use bag ban. They are conducting a survey of local businesses and retailers by mail, and a random phone survey of residents. You can also go to Recycle More where they will post an on-line survey. I know how I will respond (although I'm not sure they need to hear the ferret story) - how will you reply, Fort Mac? Regardless of your opinion stand up and be heard - I will be!

Friday, July 22, 2011

interPLAY Excitement

So, people, what are you doing August 4-7? If you want to find me I will be at my all-time favourite Fort Mac summer event - interPLAY! Don't even bother trying to find me at home that weekend - because I won't be there. I'll be on King Street, and if you have any sense you will be, too.

When we first moved to the city almost a decade ago the very first event we attended as a family was interPLAY. We had been to Fringe Festivals in a couple of places and knew that interPLAY sounded very similar, so we took our two-year old and checked it out. Frankly we fell in love with it that very first time, and we have attended every year since. I've even been known to adjust holiday dates so that we would be in the city for interPLAY because it's just that big a deal for us.

Why do we love it so much? Because it appeals to every member of my little family. My kid, even at almost 12, still loves the face-painting, but is also totally entranced by the street performers. I'm thrilled that the Aerial Angels are back this year as my kid has idolized them since they first visited interPLAY years ago (and a couple of years ago my kid even attended the Starfish Circus Camp that the Angels are associated with). Then there's the mini-golf tent, the food, and just all the other "stuff" to see and do. I think my kid gets that this is a magical event that turns a boring city street into a full-on festival, and kids see the true beauty in that.

I think my husband loves it because it has that urban feel that he sometimes misses in Fort Mac. At times this can feel more like a small town than a city and interPLAY attracts the kind of crowd (artists, performers, musicians) that you find in larger cities. This means it has that big-city vibe, which appeals to him (and to me, too).

And me? I just love everything about interPLAY, from the plays to the street performers to the music to the food to, well, everything! Last year I went to see "Spirit of the West" at interPLAY and thanks to the kindness of Claude Giroux of Events Wood Buffalo (who didn't kick my best friend and I out of the backstage area after the gig) got to meet John Mann of SOTW, which I've long wanted to do. Local events photographer Dan Lines even snapped a photo of me with with John and it's become a treasured memento of a great night. It was an experience I'll never forget - and it was all thanks to interPLAY.

This year's interPLAY looks amazing. I've been reading over the interPLAY program since it was released and have just been getting more and more excited. I'm so excited that this year I will be able to the attend the very first interPLAY Film Festival, hosted by Events Wood Buffalo and YMMPodcast (my very favourite local podcasters!). The musical acts sound intriguing, and while I'm not a fan of metal I might even check out the band Fozzy on Saturday night. I'm also delighted to see some local acts getting some stage time at interPLAY, too, like Johnny Guitar (Thursday), Shantelle Davidson (Friday), Givenstone (Saturday), and Until Dawn (also Saturday). And of course, besides the music and the films and the street performers there is the main reason for the festival - the plays, of course! They all sound incredible this year, and once again I cannot wait to see what sort of talent this event draws to our city.

I'm thrilled at the new interPLAY location on King Street by Keyano College because it's a lovely setting, away from downtown traffic and noise (and snarling drivers annoyed by the closure of Franklin Avenue).  I've already warned my family that they won't see me much that weekend - but they will know where to find me. I'll be sitting somewhere in front of a stage, with my cell phone turned off, and mesmerized by performances I'll likely never forget.

interPLAY is also an event that is highly dependent on volunteers. If you'd really like an inside glimpse into the workings of this kind of street festival I recommend heading to Events Wood Buffalo Volunteers and seeing what kind of position you might be interested in signing up for. Attending the event as a guest is great - but being an insider is just that much better, and gives you a much better understanding of what it takes to pull off a festival like this (as well as allowing you to meet some pretty great people in our community).

Look, people, if you've never been to interPLAY (and unless you are new to the city you have no excuse on this one) you NEED to go and check it out. I promise you that there is something there for everyone, even if it's just some food from one of the vendors or a hat from one of the little shops in the Marketplace. There is so much more to the weekend that I can possibly cover here, so please check out the online program and find the part that interests you - and then get out there and do it. interPLAY happens once a year, Fort Mac - and I think it's one of the very best things about this city. Come on out and I'm pretty sure you'll leave thinking the very same thing. See ya there, people!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thoughts On Why I'm McCranky This Week

There are days, people, when I get pretty cranky about things happening in the city. The last couple of days have been like that. I sometimes feel a bit like my city, the place I happen to call home, is under siege, and I need to both give myself a pep talk and calm myself down a bit. It's been that kind of week.

It started a few days ago when someone on Twitter mentioned seeing someone in downtown Fort Mac wearing a T-shirt. T-shirts aren't a fashion crime in my books, but this particular T-shirt said "Fort Make Money". Now, that's one of those nicknames for the city that tick me off a bit as the implication is that everyone is just here to make some cash and run. Then someone else saw another T-shirt. This one read "Hell Sands - Hell Does Freeze Over - Fort Mac, AB". This started me wondering about who exactly is making these t-shirts, and the people who are choosing to wear them. As someone else asked did oilsands paycheques pay for those T-shirts? I assume people are familiar with the concept of biting the hand that feeds them? But I sighed, and moved on, especially when the other good folk in Fort Mac started discussing a positive T-shirt campaign as a counter. I don't wear graphic T-shirts - it's not my fashion aesthetic - but I'd wear one of those because it's a lot easier and more sane than confronting every person wearing a negative T-shirt. So, as I say, I moved on.

Then I checked my blog stats and noticed some of the google searches that were leading people to this blog. There was the search using the words "Fort McMurray hell on earth". Say what? Someone was actually searching for that? And then the next one really stopped me. The search was "do people in Fort McMurray have shorter life spans". Shorter than what, I wondered? Your average Canadian? Your average person in an impoverished nation? Chipmunks? What kind of search was that, exactly?!? (and I can assure you both those searches would find nothing to support those ideas in this blog) Once again, though, I moved on, hoping that the people doing those searches might have found something in my blog that showed them that Fort Mac is not hell on earth or the quick way to an early grave.

Finally, though, someone from another city tweeted that Fort Mac has a lot of "issues". Issues with drugs (which I freely acknowledge, although I don't think that's exactly unique to us), and issues with gangs (again, we do, but so do many other cities and even smaller towns - some places in Quebec and Ontario have very active gang issues even in small communities). Then they commented on our problem with "civic corruption". Frankly I'd had enough by now and was in cranky overload. I commented that I'd like to see some evidence of this so-called corruption. The evidence? They have family here that "have told them it happens" and "accept it as fact". I've had family tell me about alien encounters, too, but anecdotes aren't evidence, people. I again commented that a serious allegation needs to be accompanied with evidence, but none was forthcoming, of course. When I refused to back down I was informed (in a Tweet that was deleted but that made it to my email notifications) that I was passionate about my city but "bitter". Since when is asking for evidence of a serious allegation a sign of bitterness? I'll admit to a certain degree of irritability at this juncture of the exchange, but not bitterness. I'm afraid that if someone is going to level a serious charge that affects the image of the city I call home then I'm going to ask them to provide some proof. And if they can't do so I'm not going to accept their anecdotes as proof. Rumour and hearsay are exactly that, not proof, and if asking for evidence is a sign of bitterness then I think our scientific community must be comprised of some deeply bitter individuals.

So, I've had a three-day run of cranky, people. I'm not cranky about living here but sometimes I get truly tired of all the mud-slinging. I get genuinely weary of the constant unsubstantiated allegations, the people who treat my home as a target, and the incessant barrage of misinformation from drive-by journalists. What saves me, though, are those other passionate residents of Fort Mac I have had the pleasure to talk to or meet. They know that while we do have problems this is our home, and they know we are trying to address the issues. I know that for them, and for my family, it's worth continuing to show the world MY Fort Mac - the city as I know it and I experience it, the good, the bad, and the being-worked-on. It's why I started this blog. It's why I keep writing it. It's why I take the time and make the effort I do. It's because this is my city - my home! - and I have a responsibility to both contribute to it and to showcase it in as honest a way as I can. This is MY Fort Mac, people. Even on days when I'm a bit McCranky about it all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gratitude, Outcomes, and Armed Standoffs

It was fairly early on Saturday and we were just leaving our hotel in Edmonton after having been away from Fort Mac for almost three weeks. I decided to check in on Twitter but didn't expect to find much as it was likely to be a quiet weekend in the city - but instead there were some disquieting tweets appearing. A convergence of police cars in Eagle Ridge. Reports of possible shots being fired. A street locked down. And then news of an armed man inside a house, and neighbours being evacuated.

People, I've been directly involved in neighbourhood lockdowns twice in this city. The first time was when Beacon Hill was locked down (with my child locked down inside their school, a frightening experience for everyone). That one turned out to be a bit of a false alarm as I recall, and ended quite quickly. The second was after a shooting in Abasand when the suspect disappeared into the forest and they locked down my entire neighbourhood to try to find him. I recall that one very well as my house was right on the greenbelt and a helicopter hovered over my house for some time, which was actually my first inkling that something weird was going on. When I went outside and noticed the unnaturally quiet street I turned on the radio and discovered the news of the area search and lockdown. I turned on my security system, grabbed my phones, and hunkered down with my kid and my dog, feeling a bit like a prisoner in my own home. I won't deny it - I found it very, very disturbing.

I followed the news of this recent armed standoff in Eagle Ridge with both interest and alarm. Many years ago - decades, in fact - in the prairie city I grew up in I knew someone who holed up inside a house with some rifles and refused to come out. I'd only met him once or twice, but he was known to have a fascination with guns, and a "difficult" personality. After it all ended I realized that he was actually deeply disturbed, seriously mentally ill, and that the end was perhaps inevitable. You see, people, he exited the house with a rifle, refused to put it down, and then pointed it at the city police. You can imagine the rest. I believe it's been termed "suicide by cop". My memory of that incident many years ago is fuzzy, and I searched for it on the net but of course it happened before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, and even cell phones. I only found out about it at the time when a mutual friend called me and told me what was going on, and the rest appeared in the papers the next day. I suspect parts of my recall of that episode are fuzzy because I don't really want to remember - I was in my late teen years, as was the gunman, and it seemed all a bit too surreal back then.

The recent armed standoff in Eagle Ridge ended when the suspect surrendered peacefully. Those who had been evacuated were able to return home after what must have seemed like an eternity. The RMWB had activated their emergency response and thus the evacuated residents report being well cared for, and the RCMP kept them well informed. Matt, the blogger from My Oilsands, happened to be one of those evacuated, and he tweeted frequently keeping the twitterverse up to date on the incident. I'd love one day to personally thank Matt for sharing his story with us during a time when I'm pretty sure he was feeling some degree of stress and anxiety (I know I would be in similar circumstances - I recall that Abasand lockdown and my stress level during that episode). I felt so badly for him and his fellow evacuees, and I felt great concern for the RCMP officers who were facing a very dangerous situation with no certain outcome.

I can't even quite express how grateful I felt when the standoff ended without injury to anyone, including the suspect. I tweeted my gratitude to the RMWB and the RCMP as I truly feel they handled the situation well. These situations can develop in so many different ways, and can go badly in just as many ways, too. One person on Twitter tweeted their belief that drugs were involved, and while that's possible I also know that in many instances these situations start with our favourite drug (alcohol) combined with life stresses or some degree of mental illness. I think back to the armed standoff from my teen years and I wonder if the outcome would have been different if perhaps anyone had realized earlier how troubled that young man was. Maybe he would be alive today, my age, and perhaps with a family much like mine. Of course, I'll never know that - and nor will anyone else. That troubles me to this day, people.

There may be those who point to this incident, or the other two I mentioned earlier, and say they are evidence that Fort Mac is "dangerous". I know, however, that these things happen in all cities and that they are likely to happen here again, too. I know that they even happened decades ago, and that they aren't a sign of a dangerous city or a troubled community. They are only signs of troubled individuals.

Once again I would like to use this opportunity to thank the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for caring for my fellow citizens, and the RCMP for ensuring a safe resolution for everyone. I hope they all walked away at the end of the day Saturday knowing that it was a job well done, and that they served our community well. They have my gratitude today, and every day. I went to bed Saturday night relieved and grateful. I am grateful to live in a community with a caring government and police force, and with concerned fellow citizens. I am grateful for a world of Twitter and instant communication, where one doesn't have to wait until tomorrow's newspapers or the next radio report to hear the outcome of a troubling situation. I am grateful that this time an armed standoff ended with no one, including the suspect, hurt. It was the best possible resolution, and I am profoundly grateful for that alone.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Read This Blog!

One of the things I've noticed as a blogger is that bloggers tend to read other blogs. I've met people who have never even seen a blog, but once you start blogging you discover an entire little world of blogs, and the people who write them. Some are funny, some are serious, and some are just plain interesting. What I discovered when I began to write this blog is that there are a few other bloggers in Fort Mac, and I'd like to introduce them to you. These are all blogs that relate to Fort McMurray and are totally worth following in my opinion, so if you read my blog I do sincerely hope you will consider giving these a read, too. When I entered the Fort Mac blogosphere I worried a bit that I may encounter some territoriality - a little bit of "turf protection", as writers can be funny sorts - but instead found a supportive community of bloggers. The first follower and supporter of my blog was, in fact, a fellow blogger, and for that fact alone he heads this list of blogs I read. Here we go, people!

First up we have a blog by Russell Thomas, Fort Mac resident and city councillor. Russell also holds down a day job as Director of Communications and Marketing at Keyano College, and has a family to boot. What this boils down to is that Russell is a busy guy who writes a really cool blog about his family, fishing, city events, and other stuff he finds interesting. You can find his blog at Middle Age Bulge. It's an active blog, updated frequently, and always a good read. Russell also happens to be an excellent writer (I admit some envy of his ease at painting pictures with words) so I highly recommend checking it out.

Second is another blog from a Fort Mac resident. This blog is written by a man named Darcy, who also happens to have a family here in the city. Darcy works in the oilsands, and what I love about his blog is that it is a lovely depiction of family life in Fort Mac. He also writes about birds, local events, and again whatever catches his interest. It makes for very interesting reading and I think depicts the city as a place where one can successfully raise a lovely little family. I enjoy his posts, and while they are often brief his use of beautiful photos gets his message across every time. You can find his blog at
Fort McMurray Adventures.

Third we have a blog from my favourite local "cook" and Top Chef Contender hopeful Ken Bowie. I love so many things about Ken's blog it's hard to pick which to mention first. I love food, and not just eating it but also looking at photos of it, so Ken's blog is great in this regard. He also talks about life as a chef, life in the kitchen of a busy restaurant, and a bit about his personal interests, too. It's a terrific blend of all that is good (rather like a great stew - sorry, couldn't resist that pun!) and is again worthy of regular visits. You can find Ken at A Cook's Life.

Speaking of food I must admit I am a total sweets junkie. When I lowered my carb intake a few years ago it was very difficult due to a love of baked goods. This next blog is one for which I eagerly anticipate every new post because it's a jaw-dropping, mouth-watering display of cupcake artistry. The blogger is again a Fort Mac local, and one who has an incredible talent when it comes to cupcake decoration. I am hoping to one day place an order for these cupcakes just to marvel at the sheer beauty (although I fear I may stab people with a fork if they attempt to eat these dainty little edible works of art). You can find this drool-inducing blog at CupCations, and if it doesn't make you want a cupcake then I don't think you are quite human.

This next one is a blog I've only begun following recently. When I first found it the blog seemed a bit inactive but the blogger, Matt, has begun updating it more frequently which is delightful since I really happen to enjoy his style. He too blogs about life in Fort Mac, bringing another perspective to the blogging community in this city. You can find Matt at My Oilsands.

This final blog is from someone who doesn't currently reside in Fort Mac, but has lived here in the past and who continues to visit, write and care about the city. I had the opportunity to sit down for coffee with this blogger a couple of months ago and was delighted to meet an intelligent, thought-provoking, and interesting young woman. She blogs about a lot more than Fort Mac, and her blog ranges from whimsical personal stuff to very intellectually challenging ideas. I love her posts, and always know that it will be a good read. I highly recommend it as she also has a slightly different perspective on Fort Mac than myself (and most of the bloggers listed above) so it adds yet another viewpoint to the Fort Mac blogosphere. You can find her at

So, people, these are blogs I follow and read faithfully. I'm kind of pleased that some of these bloggers also happen to read my blog on occasion. I know that I enjoy reading "good blog" and the fact that they think enough of what I write to actually read my blog makes me feel pretty great. My blog can be pretty quirky and I'm just as likely to write about truck testicles as I am about local politicians, and I sincerely appreciate that those who follow my blog seem to enjoy it's eclectic nature. The YMMPodcast guys recently described my blog as containing "random insights" which I think describes it (and me!) pretty well.

 I hope you enjoy these blog suggestions. What I love about Fort Mac is the diversity of people who have an interest in it, and these blogs are a terrific way to explore the different perspectives we all bring to the city. Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What's In A (Nick)Name, Fort Mac?

Blog post ideas can occur to me in strange ways - sometimes it's an issue I'm burning to write about, and sometimes it's something someone has said. Sometimes it's a statement that may on the surface seem to mean little but that stops me in my tracks and makes me think. Recently I had this happen when I read a comment someone had made about my blog, and it truly got me thinking.

The comment was made when a friend re-posted one of my blog posts on their blog (with my permission, of course). Someone who read the blog post responded with a comment that simply made the point that people "from" Fort McMurray find the nickname "Fort Mac" disrespectful. There were two things I found interesting about this, people. The first was what exactly being "from" Fort McMurray means, and the second was about nicknames in general.

How do we determine if someone is "from" a place? What makes that distinction? As I have written before I have been here in the city for almost a decade. This is, quite frankly, the longest consecutive period of time I have lived anywhere as an adult. It's also approaching the longest period of time I have lived anywhere in my entire life, including as a child/young adult. So, by virtue of length of residence alone I consider myself to be "from" Fort McMurray.

Do we say someone is "from" a place if they own property there? Based on this criteria I again qualify to be "from" Fort Mac as I have owned property here virtually since my arrival a decade ago. This criteria would exclude long-term renters, though, and that doesn't seem right since I never owned property when I lived in Toronto and yet when I lived there I considered myself "from" Toronto, too.

Now, if the only way to be "from" a place is to be born there then I think we have a problem in Fort Mac. This would eliminate about 95% of the adult population as many Fort Mac residents were born elsewhere but call the city home. This surely can't be the only way to be "from" a place, can it? If so it certainly changes the dynamics as people around the world aren't really "from" the places they may end up (even if they end up being there for decades).

Perhaps being "from" a place is about choosing to be. If I am asked where I am from I don't say the prairie city where I grew up, or from the city in which I spent a good part of my adult life and which had a huge impact on who I am today. I say I am "from" Fort McMurray. Shouldn't someone be considered to be "from" a place when that is how they self-identify? Then all the other criteria fall away, and you have people who have chosen to be "from" a place as opposed to having to meet some artificial criteria. I think I'd prefer to be counted with people who have chosen to be "from" a place as opposed to simply having been born there and thus having had no choice in the designation. Now, you can also be born somewhere and choose to be from there, so it covers that aspect beautifully too. Suddenly we have a place where the people in the community have chosen to be"from" it and I think that's an incredibly empowering thing.

Now, the second part is about the nickname. Clearly I know that McMurray is not spelled "MacMurray", and thus the nickname "Fort Mac" is inaccurate - but since when are nicknames supposed to be accurate? I don't know about anybody else but if you're aiming for complete accuracy with a nickname then I think you've rather missed the point. I could call it "Fort McMurray" every time I need to refer to the city but I think that's a bit stiff and stodgy (two things I, most assuredly, am not). I am also known for dispensing and/or utilizing nicknames, and considering my dog's nicknames include "fuzzybottom" or "fluffybutt" I could do far worse than "Fort Mac". I think the city has gathered much more offensive nicknames that I would never use (Fort McCrack, anyone?). So, I'm not sure why "Fort Mac" would be considered disrespectful when to me it is a playful name infused with genuine affection. If I didn't like the city I wouldn't even bother with a nickname and would instead call it far darker things (like the person who found my blog recently by googling "Fort McMurray hell on earth", which is puzzling since I've certainly never referred to it that way on this blog or anywhere else).

Look, people, there is a chance I've overthought this all, and I admit that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if there are those who think the appellation "Fort Mac" is disrespectful then I am genuinely sorry they feel that way - but it will in no way impact my decision to use that name or to reconsider where I am "from". I know where I am from, and I know that my endearing term for that place is one that rolls off the tongue (fingers?) and makes me smile. This city will always be Fort Mac to me, and that is how it will be referred to in this blog (except when I am angry, in which case it may get the "full name treatment" just like my kid does when they have ticked me off). So, people, there it is. I'm from Fort Mac - and I'm damn proud of that, too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Recycling RMWB

The first I heard about a potential curbside recycling program for the RMWB was when I was contacted for a telephone survey on the topic. I owned a home in Abasand at the time, and didn't realize that it was one of the areas being considered for a trial run of such a program. When I did the survey I made my thoughts very clear - we needed curbside recycling, immediately and badly.

I spent a good part of my adult life in a large Canadian city where curbside recycling was well-established. It was just what you did. It was effortless, didn't require a great deal of thought, and just made sense. When I moved to Fort Mac I was astonished by the lack of a curbside recycling program for two reasons - the first being that such programs just make sense, and the second being that it's just a wonderful way to help the region's environmental reputation.

Now, I do use the yellow recycling centre bins for paper, cardboard, and glass. And I do take bottles down to the recycling centre (although I tend to hold onto those for bottle drives as I don't really like the recycling centre smell and atmosphere much). However, the beauty of curbside recycling is the ease. For people who are not as inclined to make the effort to recycle, or those who don't have access to a vehicle to drive recycling to collection points, it makes recycling a lot more accessible.

Unfortunately I left Abasand and moved to a new area prior to the trial program being established. As a result I didn't know much about the trial curbside recycling program, but I put out a request on Twitter to ask for input from those who have been using the program and was delighted when two RMWB residents took the time to respond.

One of the only real complaints I noted was the size of the recycling and garbage bins provided during the trial program. Both respondents felt the recycling bins were larger than they needed, and that because of their size less frequent pick-ups of the recycling would be sufficient. Some homes received smaller garbage bins and these were felt to be a bit too small, particularly due to a narrow bottom on the bin.

One other complaint was about lids being placed back onto the bins after pick-up so that water and/or snow doesn't collect in them. This happens with my garbage cans too and it irks me a bit but is pretty minor (as my respondent noted as well).

Both people who responded had almost entirely positive things to say about the program. There appear to be some minor bugs and kinks to work out but there always are with new ventures like this. Both respondents were heavily in favour of continuing the program, and while initially the RMWB planned to halt the trial while they evaluated it the good news is that they decided to continue the program during the evaluation process.

I was so glad to get the input from those using the program as it pretty much reflected what I feel to be true. I think people in the community would embrace curbside recycling as people tend to embrace anything that makes sense as long as it is easy for them to do so. Recycling is important, of course, but when you make it effortless then people just make it into a habit as opposed to something they need to devote a lot of thought or effort to. I think we all know that people are fundamentally a bit lazy and things that require too much work often go undone (like me and vacuuming). It's only when you make it very easy do the majority of people truly participate.

I suspect the program has been a success and this is why it is continuing during the evaluation process. I cannot wait to see the results of the evaluation and I fully expect that curbside recycling will become a city-wide service. This is good news for me, people, and I think it's good news for every resident and the RMWB, too.

See? Even he's excited about curbside recycling!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The True Cost of Counterfeit

RCMP photo of seized counterfeit handbags
People, I debated for some time whether or not this topic was one that truly belonged in my Fort Mac blog, but in the end decided it did as it's come to my attention a couple of times locally. The issue? Counterfeit handbags.

Now, this might seem an odd topic to cover but I was startled a few months ago to walk into a local business and find a selection of handbags that had logos and labels like Coach and Chanel. Looking closely I realized the bags were a fraction of the cost of the "real deal".  Looking even closer I realized that the bags were counterfeit, of course, and not the real deal at all.

Many people might think this is no big thing, and not really an issue at all - except that it is. I'm not a handbag snob, and I'm as likely to carry a Wal-Mart bag as a Coach. I'm not a label watcher, either, but what I am is against things like organized crime, terrorism, human trafficking, and child labour - and people, counterfeit handbags have been linked to all those things.

The sale and distribution of counterfeit bags is illegal, and can be prosecuted. More than the illegality, though, is the high cost of these bags. Oh, getting a counterfeit Chanel for $100 when the real thing retails for $1500 might seem like a steal but the cost I'm talking about isn't monetary - it's the cost to our society and community. Would anyone buy a sofa if they knew the proceeds were going to fund terrorist organizations or organized crime groups? Does anyone feel good about buying items produced by starving, impoverished ten-year olds overseas? So what makes buying a cheap counterfeit handbag that supports these activities any different? Isn't counterfeiting a form of theft, too? It might seem like Chanel and Louis Vuitton are big companies and can afford to lose some income due to counterfeit bags, but is it really any different than any other form of theft?

I've seen the argument that these bags don't really hurt anyone, and that it's not like people are buying drugs or stolen goods. These varying shades of morality bother me, though. It might seem like it's just one purse, but when it's hundreds of thousands of purses all over the entire world it suddenly becomes a very lucrative market, and that's where organized crime and terrorist groups move into the issue.

Look people, I didn't know a lot about this issue until I was offered a selection of "designer" handbags from the trunk of a car in London, England. I clearly knew the bags were counterfeit, and the surreptitious manner in which they were being sold indicated to me that the seller knew this was a risky enterprise. I walked away, did some research, and was stunned to see the links one cheap counterfeit handbag had to organized crime, human trafficking, slave and child labour, sweatshops, and terrorism. It put an entirely new spin on the issue for me, and if I cannot afford a genuine designer handbag I know I will never purchase the counterfeit version. The price is just too high - and it's a price far higher than the one with a dollar sign in front of it.

Counterfeits in Canada
Counterfeit Handbags and Links to Organized Crime
Harper's Bazaar Report on the HIgh Price of Counterfeit
RCMP and Counterfeit Handbags

Friday, July 8, 2011

Yet Another Fort McMurray "What Not" Rant

Well people, in this blog I've covered Fort Mac's version of what not to wear, and what not to put on your truck. I had sincerely hoped that it would end there and I wouldn't be compelled into another of these "what not" rants, but there are some things you can't ignore, and that you'd have to be blind to miss. This time? It's what has happened to two apartment buildings in the city. I'm not talking about the architectural design but rather what appears to be an attempt to spruce them up. I have no issue with renovations and actually applaud those who refurbish older buildings - but in this case it's a jaw-dropping, eye-popping case of : was there a clearance on mis-tinted paints?!?

The first building is in Thickwood, just behind the Pizza Hut. This one actually doesn't look too bad, but I think one colour accenting the deep brown might have been a bit nicer. The accent colours chosen have a certain degree of richness, and the paint job appears fairly well done. I'm giving this one an "E" for effort as it doesn't assault the eyes. It just looks slightly off, but I think the intent was good and the end result not unbearable.

Unfortunately all the good things I said about the building in Thickwood cannot be said about the second building, and this second one is a lot more visible, too. It is situated right on Franklin Avenue, and all I can say is that when I drove by the first time and saw it the words that left my lips aren't ones I'm going to write here because my kid reads this blog. What in the name of god were they thinking?

The best adjective for the colours is "horrendous". The paint job appears to be abysmally poor, and it seems they ran out of some colours before it could be completed. While the one in Thickwood could be argued to be at least a good attempt to modernize and spruce up an older building this one cannot be seen as anything other than an eyesore. I have no idea what the architectural controls are on buildings in the downtown area but if there are controls this might be a lovely time to exercise them before someone else decides they want their building to look like this, too.

When people come to our city from other places they form their first impressions quickly. I can't quite imagine what they think when they drive by this building on Franklin. I'm guessing they think someone has tried to pull off a cheap refurbishment, and they would appear to be right (sadly it was not a successful attempt and I think the building looked better in it's original state). If I lived in these buildings I would not be amused. While it would be easy to tell people how to find my place ("hey, just look for the building that looks like some demented and drunken version of an Easter egg!") I'm thinking coming home to this every day would start to really tick me off. Look, I'm not a design guru, and I'm no expert on building refurbishment, but I know ugly, people. And that building on Franklin? It's ugly. C'mon, Fort Mac. We can seriously do better, can't we?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Some Things Aren't Meant To Be Shared...

One of the best things about Fort Mac has to be the trail system that runs through the entire urban service area. From the well-recognized Birchwood Trails to the lesser-known trails behind new neighbourhoods the RMWB has done an incredible job of providing groomed trails for outdoor enthusiasts. These trails are amazing places to walk, run, bike, and cross-country ski. You know what they aren't meant for, though? ATV's, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes.

In my previous home in this city I lived right on the edge of the trail system in a newer neighbourhood. It was a glorious place to be year-round, beautifully green in the summer and wonderfully crisply white in the winter. The RMWB had invested a great deal of time and effort in developing the trails, and they were in place before many of the homes in the area were even finished. What frustrated me the most, though, was that the trails quickly became a favourite spot for motorized off-highway vehicles, and it was a situation with many problems.

The first issue is that off-highway vehicles chew up the groomed trails. The RMWB puts in gravel and mulch to form the trailbed, and the motorized vehicles quickly create mud paths instead. Suddenly instead of being a great place to run or walk the trails became an obstacle course of potholes and deep puddles from tire ruts. This meant it required the RMWB to invest more in trail maintenance, of course, and thus cost every resident of the city just a bit more for these trails.

The second issue is noise. Many of the trails are fairly close to residential areas and thus within both eye and ear shot of local home owners. I can't tell you the anger I felt one night at 2 am when a snowmobile was attempting a short cut and got stuck in a small tree just off the trail by my house. The revving woke the entire neighbourhood, I'm sure, and I don't think anyone minded when I got out our ridiculously bright flashlight and trained the beam right on the snowmobile rider. I doubt he enjoyed the attention but he'd already created quite the spectacle. I was just providing the lighting for the show.

The last, and most important, issue is safety. While walking on the trails with my child and dog I had many close encounters with off-highway vehicles. The trails are simply not designed to be shared by pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles with large and powerful engines. It is a tragedy in the making, and only a matter of time before someone is injured or even killed. I don't think those driving the off-highway vehicles have the intent of hurting anyone, but to use them on trails where there are pedestrians just shows poor judgement in my opinion.

I admit it. I contacted bylaw when I saw off-highway vehicles on the trail. It wasn't about wanting to see anyone get into trouble but about preventing an accident if I could. I'm sure there are those who would argue that  off-highway vehicles can use these trails responsibly, but unfortunately you can't ensure that every rider will do so. And that is why using off-highway vehicles on the trails within the urban service area is illegal. The bylaw regarding off-highway vehicles is very clear, in fact.

I'm not against the use of off-highway vehicles for recreation. I am opposed to using them within city limits, and most definitely on trails populated with children and dogs. All it takes is one unfortunate incident and everyone is looking at a lawsuit, including the RMWB (something I pointed out to them several years ago when I wrote to them about my concerns regarding this situation). The true point is that I don't think anyone wants to see a tragedy - not the trail users, not the RMWB, and not those who use off-highway vehicles. The best way to avoid that is to use only those trail access points provided by the RMWB, and to use off-highway vehicles outside the urban service area.

After one close encounter on the trails between a dirt bike and my child I told the rider that he didn't want to be the one who injured my child because not only would he experience guilt and shame I'd make sure he faced legal and financial consequences, too. I don't know if that "momma bear" attitude had any impact on him, but I hope it did. I didn't want to be nasty about it but I'm not sure he had actually considered the potential ramifications of using his off-highway vehicle on what is essentially a pedestrian trail. As the city grows every citizen needs to consider our impact on those around us, and to consider the consequences before we act. I hope every person who reads this and thinks about taking their off-highway vehicle onto the trails within the urban service area thinks about this post before they start their engine - and then loads their snowmobile, ATV, or dirtbike into their truck to head out of the city or to an official trail access point to enjoy the great outdoors the right way.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Touched by Tragedy

People, this is a post I have been struggling to write since Monday. I knew it was a post I needed and wanted to write, but I have fought all week to find the words. Prior to writing it I spoke to family and friends to try to sort out my thoughts. As you might know I prefer to write happy and positive posts - but life in Fort Mac is not all sunshine and lollipops, and to avoid the unpleasant or troubling seems to me the height of dishonesty.

It all began early Monday morning when the first stirrings of news of a tragedy could be found on Twitter. A murder. A double murder, downtown in Borealis Park. As the day wore on the news grew progressively worse. A stabbing. Twin brothers.

I read the news with horror, and with increasing agony as the story began to gain more details. I drove out to Borealis Park early on Tuesday morning, not out of some sort of morbid wish to see the scene of the murder, but rather to remind myself of what I knew of the park. It was very early, and I was alone. All I could hear was bird calls, and the sun was fighting to peek through the gathering clouds. It was the park as I remembered it, a lovely little spot in the middle of a busy city. It did not seem like the scene of a murder, and yet it was.

As the week has gone on I have heard wild speculation about the how and why of these murders. I have no interest in those theories as I entrust the truth to the RCMP who are investigating it. I don't even care a great deal about the why or the how - because all that matters to me, as a mother and a member of this community, is that two very young men are dead, and in a senseless and tragic manner.

When someone is murdered it tears at the very fabric of the community. There is fear, and there is pain. There is a sense that we are vulnerable. For the individuals touched - for their mother in particular - well, I cannot even imagine that degree of pain. People, it tears my heart out. Once upon a time a mother brought home from the hospital two little baby boys, and she had the same hopes and dreams for them that we all hold for our children. Those hopes and dreams are now snuffed out, whatever potential these individuals held gone forever. They were only 17, and they had so much future ahead of them. That future - as good, bad or indifferent citizens - is one the world will never know, because it was taken from them. People, it was taken from all of us. A murder doesn't just take the life of the victim - it takes a bit from each one of us, too, as it creeps into our minds and our souls. It shows the fragility of our lives, and it shows that there are those who value our lives so little that they will end them.

On Wednesday afternoon I returned to Borealis Park. I found the impromptu memorial that family and friends have set up to the twin boys who came into this world together, and who left it together, too. I stood in front of it to take a photo, and I found myself sobbing. I cried for them, and I cried for their mother. I cried for my city, and I cried for all of us who lost a bit of our faith when two young men were murdered. I cried because while this sort of crime happens everywhere this week it happened in my city, and it broke my heart in half. This is not my usual happy, upbeat, and positive Fort Mac post, people. There is nothing positive or happy about this story. There is just what there is in my heart - sorrow.