Yes, it's December 31st, which means it must be the time for year-end reviews, countdown lists, and those dreary "who died this past year" TV segments (those are very cheerful, I find). I may not be a resolutions person but I rather like those retrospective year-end reviews. You always see something you'd sort of forgotten about as so much happens in the course of a year, and it all sort of melds together in your mind. It's certainly been an eventful year for me, and in preparation for this post I went back and scrolled through all my previous blog posts (and even though I wrote the damn things 194 of them was still a chore to go through in one afternoon). I discovered something, though. I remembered every single one. I hadn't forgotten a thing about this year in Fort McMurray.
I began writing this blog on April 9th. So, in some sense, my 2011, at least in terms of this blog, began there. That might seem like a long time ago but the time has gone so fast since then that it seems like yesterday. I began it thinking this would be a quiet little blog that a couple dozen people would read, no one would care about, I could remain anonymous, and life would remain as it always had been. I was quite utterly and entirely wrong, and I've never been so happy to be so wrong. I still think it's a pretty quiet little blog, and that it's pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things - but what it became is a personal adventure of life in Fort McMurray. It became the backdrop to my existence in this community, and it opened doors that I didn't even know were there.
The blog started out slow - I wrote about names and ravens, taxis and Tim Horton's line-ups, weather and "Steve from site" videos. I suppose when it truly began to pick up is when I attended my first-ever press conference - the one that announced KISS coming to the Canada Rocks Festival. That was my first inkling, too, that the game was changing in Fort Mac. Something big was happening in this community, and I was witnessing it. I had a front-row seat if I wanted it and was willing to work for it - and I wanted it.
I attended a lot of press conferences this year, announcing things like KISS, the successful bids to host the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, the 2013 Canadian Junior Curling Championships, Don Scott's run at nomination for the provincial PC party, the intent to seek a professional baseball team, and the move of the WBPCN to the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. I sat in a lot of press conference seats, ate a lot of press conference food (thanks, guys!), and heard a lot of excitement going on. I kept getting the sense of something building in the region - something very, very big.
I also attended a lot of grand openings - Ecole McTavish Junior High School, and Holy Trinity High School. The grand opening of the Suncor Centre of the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity was a special event in my mind, blending an incredible school with a fabulous theatre with an exciting community.
I went to a lot of trade shows, like the Fall Trade Show and the Spring Trade show and even the Oil Sands Trade Show, which was an entirely different experience for me and showed me that I will never fully understand valves, crane lifts, or almost anything mechanical (although those nice people really did try, bless their hearts).
I heard a lot of speeches this year. I heard Mayor Blake give the annual "State of the Region" address (she will forever be my favourite public speaker, I think), I heard Tim Reid of MacDonald Island deliver the "State of the Island" address (I think my favourite speech this year - the numbers contained in it keep popping up in my mind), and I had the honour to hear our new premier Alison Redford deliver her speech in which she called us not a boomtown, but a hometown (a comment that has become very close to my heart). I discovered that a good speech accompanied with a good meal and/or good party makes for a pretty great night.
I wrote about some troubling things, too, like the Richardson wildfire, the Penhorwood condos, the dispute on Draper Road, a local pyramid scheme (even got a vaguely threatening email over that one), and the murder of two twin brothers in Borealis Park. Those stories, particularly the last one, haunt me still. I still on occasion find myself parked in front of the impromptu memorial tree at Borealis Park, and I just sit there and think about our community. That murder affected me profoundly despite not knowing the boys or their families - it made me realize how fragile the fabric of community can be. And it made me want to fight to mend those rips in the soft fabric, and to protect it as best I could. It changed me in ways I did not expect, and which I carry with me even now.
I wrote about sports, and about the people who find their niche in them, like motocross and roller derby. I'll never be the person racing a motocross bike around that track or wearing one of those roller derby helmets but I witnessed communities within our larger community, and it inspired me. It made me want to learn even more about those who form these kinds of groups, whatever the group is. I also learned that I truly know nothing about sports, which I suppose I'd always known but it was a good reminder thatI needed to learn more.
In fact I kept discovering how little I know and how much I need to learn, like when I spent time at the Food Bank and the Centre of Hope. I went to events like Homeless Connect, Take Back the Night, the 2011 Relay for Life, the KD Gala, the Remembrance Day Memorial Ceremony, and the Portraits of Honour Tour - and I found my heart. I also found a lot of tears at those events, often sitting in my car and crying as I tried to compose myself enough to drive home. I discovered a depth and complexity to the world that I suppose I always knew existed, but that suddenly was more real than ever before.
Balancing those tears were the parties I attended, and I went to some of the best. I went to the magnificent Keyano Gala, almost as if I was Cinderella at the ball (and having the best evening of my life). I went to the Festival of Trees Gala, the SMS Wine Auction, the Community Leaders Reception, the RCMP Regimental Ball, and the Premier's Dinner (and I have even had the chance to speak twice to our new premier and discover she remembers me - how amazing is that?).
I went to events at local schools, like Knight Lights at Holy Trinity and the Drama Showcase at Ecole McTavish (those on the same evening, making me thankful for their close proximity so I could attend both!). I was at Father Mercredi on delivery day for Santa's Anonymous, and it's a day I'll never forget, either. The image of all those frozen turkeys outside the gym is burned into my mind, I think.
I went to some concerts, too, like Down With Webster (who I will see when they return in February to MacDonald Island - I might just be their oldest fan and have been known to play "Back of My Hand" at full volume in my car). I not only attended the SummersEnd concerts I had the distinct honour to work backstage at them, and my day spent driving George Canyon and his band and crew will forever be one of my favourite days (I'd do anything for George, people, he's a stellar human being). I made new friends, too, like Ryan Laird and his guys (especially his musician who arrived on a delayed flight, who I broke land speed records to deliver for the show, and who said he'd always remember me because his mom and I share the same first name - aw!).
I wrote about a lot of places in our community, like Coco Jo's (also known as "my office"), the Fort McMurray Public Library, Campbell's Music, MacDonald Island Park, Frames and More, The Centre of Hope, the Fort McMurray Food Bank, Nisa Collection...and learned that each of them touched me, but for different reasons. Some because they are so integral to my life, like Mac Island, and some because they are so central to my heart, like the Centre of Hope. I discovered a story in each and every place and it made me look at every single business, organization, and non-profit with new eyes - because I knew every one had a story, and some had dozens of stories in them. And I wanted to hear them, all of them. I became very, very hungry for stories, not just to write about but to hear for myself.
I went to all the usual events but with new intensity, things like Summer Solstice and the Fire Fighters' Pancake Breakfast and Heritage Day at Heritage Park, and spending all three days (plus some) at interPLAY. I went to the first-ever interPLAY Film Festival and the inaugural Halloween "Film Fear" event, put on by my new friends at the YMMPodcast.
And that brings me to the very best part of 2011. New friends. I wrote about a lot of people, too, like chef Ken Bowie, make-up artist Hina Khawar, fibre artist Michelle Boyd, comedian Shaun Majumder, former Events Wood Buffalo director Claude Giroux, artist Megan Storrar, and Mayor Melissa Blake. I found after writing about them that I considered them friends, and was honoured to discover that they felt the same way. I made even more friends, though, ones I didn't write about but that came to my life through events I wrote about. I made friends that range from city councillors to those who sleep rough on our streets, from people who work in our non-profits to those who volunteer to those who write to those who publish magazines like NorthWord and McMurray Girl and SNAP Wood Buffalo to those who run jewelry companies like Frost by Mucharata to those who hold house concerts to those who run Events Wood Buffalo to those who run YMMPodcast to RCMP officers to local radio personalities to those who work in media and communications...and it just goes on and on and on. My life is forever enriched by all these new people. I don't know if I've ever felt so close to a community in all my years on this planet - and it's because of all these people who have welcomed me, embraced me, issued invitations, and made me feel a part of their world, too.
Finally, 2011 was pretty incredible for me personally as a result of this blog. Not only did I meet all these new people and attend all these great events and get all these amazing opportunities I even stepped outside my comfort zone. I did a radio interview with Nolan Haukeness, recorded not one but two podcasts with my favourite podcasters at YMMPodcast, did a stint as a guest blogger for super-hot Edmonton website Kikki Planet - and even did a CBC radio interview with Kathleen Smith from Kikki Planet to talk about all things Fort McMurray, Edmonton, and neighbour relations. Not too shabby for a woman who finds microphones terrifying and public speaking nauseating. And, in something that tops all of those things, I was asked to be a judge at the Santa Claus Parade, and while that may seem like no big deal to some it's huge to me as I've attended that parade every year for a decade. To be asked to serve as a judge was a huge honour for me, and it said something to me, too.
It said that I was making a difference, and it was being noticed. I want to be very clear here - I think that what I do, in the grand scheme of things in this community, is tiny and insignificant. Compared to what others do to improve life in this community I do NOTHING - I just observe and write. But to be asked to serve as a parade judge in the community I hold dear - to be asked to serve at an event which I have attended every year with my daughter - was an incredible honour, and one I will never forget. What it said to me is that even the little tiny bit I do here has an impact - and it made me wonder about how we can all have an impact, how we can all contribute and enrich the fabric of this community. It made me think about how we can all bring our skills to it - whether we are writers or artists or athletes or politicians or fundraisers or moms or dads or kids - and add to this community in positive ways. Perhaps that's what I learned most in 2011, people.
So, 2012. I'm pretty damn excited, Fort Mac. A provincial election looms, and I've declared where I stand on that (I've got my seat on the Don Scott bus!). I'm looking forward to new events from Events Wood Buffalo under the direction of new executive director (and friend) David Whitelock, who I think brings an exciting new perspective to the position. I'm excited about upcoming conferences, and about some of my favourite city developments, the Municipal Development Plan and the City Centre Action Plan. I can't wait to watch as MacDonald Island Park expands, and our airport undergoes massive renovations. I'm looking forward to new collaborations with YMMPodcast. I'm excited about talking to and writing more about our local non-profit organizations, and sharing their stories with the world. And I suppose I'm most excited about all the new people I will meet along the way. I keep coming back to the people, because that's what makes this community what it is. It's not the buildings, or the government. It's not industry or the schools. It's the people in all those buildings, who run the government and work in the industry and study in the schools. The people in this community are what I care about, what make me want to get up in the morning, go out there, do interviews, attend events, take photos, and then write. It's all of you, Fort Mac. So, 2012. I not only hope to "see" you there - I hope to "meet" you there, people. It's going to be an incredible year - and I'm delighted to have a front seat to it all.
I want to take this opportunity to wish
EVERYONE a very Happy New Year!
Thank you for reading in 2011, thank you
for your kind words and encouragement - and
thanks most of all for your friendship.