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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

And In The Beginning There Was Ian Hill...

Well, people, last week was an incredible week in our community. I attended a social prosperity change lab and summit, and I attended a conference that was incredible for me, both personally and professionally. The conference? "Leading the North", hosted by the Northern Alberta Development Council. When I registered I wasn't sure what I would find for myself there - a blogger, an everyday resident, not someone in industry or government. What I found has quite likely changed me professionally - and personally, too. The conference was, in my opinion, a smash success, and I have enough stories for days - but I'll start at the beginning, which was the conference reception held at MacDonald Island Park.

I arrived at MacDonald Island and found it buzzing with delegates, both from our community and many, many other communities, which I found very exciting. There was beer and wine and food (including that deadly sticky toffee pudding that is both the joy and bane of my existence, impossible to deny but requiring me to spend more time at the gym upstairs at Mac Island, too). And there were old friends and new people, and there were speeches from local dignitaries, and from representatives of the RMWB (one of these in particular caught my attention with some astonishing statistics, ones I hope to share with you in a future post). And then, there was Ian Hill.

I admit it. I didn't really know who Ian Hill was when it all began. A venture capitalist, a philanthropist, a "business guy". Okay, I thought, let's see what he's got. I expected some sort of bland motivational speech that you find mildly interesting but hardly inspiring. What I discovered instead was someone who has a passion, vision, and drive that could change the world. And he believes that we can, too.

The premise of Ian's speech was that we in Fort McMurray could create the "Athens of the north". Yes, you read that right, people. His premise is that we have everything we need - prosperity, potential, opportunity - to create an incredible community that the rest of the world looks at with awe. And you know what? I think Ian Hill is right.

Ian talks a lot about how he isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and about how he graduated at the bottom of his class. I very rarely swear in this blog but this occasion requires me to say a polite "bullshit". Ian Hill may have struggled academically but he is absolutely brilliant in the way he thinks and the way he expresses himself, and by the end of the evening he had me envisioning this city in the way he depicted - as a beacon of hope for the world.

One of the key things Ian said was that history will judge what happens here in Fort McMurray - and he is right. We are in the midst of a giant experiment in community and industry and environment, and the world is watching - and history WILL judge us. The question becomes how we want history to see us.

You see, money is great, and we all know there is a lot of it floating around this city. But history will not judge us for what kind of car we drove, or how expensive our house was. We won't be judged on how much money our economy generated, or how much money we spent to do it. No, history will judge us by how this community develops, by whether it becomes a crown jewel or a lump of coal. And the incredible thing is we each have a role to play in what happens here, people. We can be the ones who polish that jewel, or create that lump of coal.

Ian outlined the four things that can prevent us from creating Athens here, from creating a jewel of which we can all be proud. They are as follows:

1. The peril of futility - If we believe we cannot effect change then we are doomed. We must believe that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. And we must believe that one person - YOU! - can make a difference.

2. The peril of timidity - If we are too afraid to try the new we cannot succeed. We must be willing to make connections, and use our collective intelligence. This is no time for idealogues, for those who refuse to embrace the new because they are so tied to the old.

3. The peril of expediency - If we are all about "time" we will fail. We need to recognize that it takes time to build relationships and create alignment. We need to take the time it takes to do so.

4. The peril of comfort - If we refuse to leave our "comfort zone" then we will never change. Great civilizations fall because they are comfortable - because they fail to innovate and change and explore new ideas.

Ian also asked some questions, questions I have been asking myself since the night I met him. The questions are these (and I suggest you might want to think about them, too):

Why will the world be a better place because you have lived?
What have YOU contributed to your family, your organization, or your community?

And he provided some answers too, things like using every single day to try to make one meaningful connection with another human being. He talked about those four perils, and about how if we overcome them we can find innovative and creative ways to make Fort McMurray the Athens of the north. And then he provided a quote that resonated with me that night, and that continues to resonate with me every day, because I think it speaks to the very heart of this community:

"If Athens shall appear great to you, consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, who understood their responsibility and acted on their duty" - Pericles of Athens

And that is the heart of it all right there. With great prosperity comes great responsibility, and great duty. The glories that we can achieve in this community - a socially prosperous community, not just an economically prosperous one - are within our reach, but we are the valiant ones who need to understand our duties and responsibilities to achieve it. The future of our community - the way history will judge us - rests on each of us, you and I, and not on industry or government. We each have a responsibility and duty. And Ian Hill reminded me of that last week.

By the time Ian finished speaking I admit it - I was in tears. Not just because of his belief in what we can accomplish here, but because his "call to arms" spoke directly to me, and to every person in this community. He made me believe we can create Athens, too, and he made me see that this city - Fort McMurray! - can become a shining beacon of hope in this world, in a world that desperately needs hope. And that fate rests in our hands, people. So, what are you going to do about it, Fort Mac? How do YOU want history to judge us? It is up to you, and to me. This is the time to decide how we want history to see us. We have an incredible opportunity in this community - and this is the time to act.

Ian Hill and me, Leading the North


  1. In my experience, Ian presented one of the most compelling presentations that I've ever seen. The fact that he is challenging delegates to follow through with the creation of a post-conference website with meaningful tools speaks volumes. Thanks to Ian, it was a life-changing, community-building event.

  2. Fort McMurray will improve and grow, won't become what it could be because of the housing sector. The housing and rental market has exploded because of the high wages many people earn here, which seems all fine and logical, until you realize that for what it costs to buy one house here, you could buy two or even three in another Canadian city which has two or three times the population and five or six times the amenities available. For what it costs to rent a decent apartment here, you could buy a nice house elsewhere. Why would anyone settle down here when you can come here, earn a lot of money, and then go somewhere that is cheaper, has nicer weather, a better climate, and more things to do? Yes, you won't earn what you do here, but things will be a lot cheaper and you'll have a better life. I like Fort McMurray, and I like the people, but there are a lot of underlying problems here.

  3. I am curious to know, 2 years later, is there still any residual impact in your community from Ian Hill's message or program? How much did it cost to execute?