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

Friday, July 27, 2012

RRRibbit, Recycling, and Me in the RMWB

I can't even begin to describe my excitement when I saw them. There they were, pristine and gleaming in the sunshine as I turned into my driveway when I returned home. Every neighbour's driveway held them too, shiny and new and ready. I feel the same little shiver of thrill I get when I arrive home and see a parcel by the front door, knowing it is a new pair of shoes I've ordered from some far-flung destination. But these little gems on my driveway were way better than new shoes. There they were, black and blue, and just waiting to be filled. What were they? My new garbage and recycling bins from the RMWB, that's what.

So maybe such excitement over recycling and garbage bins seems absurd, but not to me. I remember when I first arrived in Fort McMurray a decade ago and was stunned to discover the state of our recycling. Recycling wasn't easy. There was no blue bin to put out on garbage collection day. No, you had to collect your recycling and then transport it yourself to central recycling points, often finding them full anyhow (try stuffing more cardboard into an already stuffed bin and you will know the meaning of "frustrated"). For me collecting the recycling was the easy part. The transporting it was the hard part, and so the mountain of recyclables in my garage grew and grew and grew. And then my new recycling containers arrived.

I was gleeful as I rolled them into the garage - and frankly I have been gleeful every collection day, too, as the mountain of recycling grows smaller. Transportation doesn't mean trying to stuff all the recycling into my too-small-for-this vehicle and then into a too-full-for-this recycling container. Nope. It means dumping it into my bin and wheeling it down to the end of my driveway. I think I might actually hum while I do it, which is a far cry from the words I used to say when on my twice-yearly transportation of recyclables.

The program isn't perfect, of course. Glass still needs to be transported, and so glass mountain remains in my garage (and the collection of wine bottles might indicate to some that I have a wee drinking problem until they realize it is a collection from years of house parties and late summer evenings with friends). And my neighbours still seem a bit confused about the schedule, occasionally putting out their cardboard recycling bin when it should be their plastics, and then looking bemused when they come home and discover the bin still full. For me, though, this is effortless. It is easy. It is the lazy person's way to recycle, and let me tell you when it is easy I become a fiend about things (I blame the ease of online shoe shopping for my shoe addiction, frankly). So I am an utter recycling fiend now, often pulling things other family members have tossed into the garbage and reclaiming them for the proper recycling bin. I recycle paper and plastics and am working on teaching all the other family members to do the same, although the dog seems rather puzzled by the entire affair and refuses to catch on.

And I admit it. Initially I found RRRibbit, the municipality's recycling mascot, a little bit creepy. I'm not a fan of things in costume, and I will tell you right now Disney World damn near killed me and only fear of jail time and scarring my kid forever kept me from punching some of those things in mascot costumes when they got too close to me. Now, though, I'm becoming a fan of that frog. I've softened towards him since he represents recycling in the RMWB, and I am a huge fan of that, and how easy it has become.

I am recycling fanatic, people, and I thank the RMWB for making it easy for me to be one. Just a caution, though. While I've softened towards RRRibbit I would suggest he not sidle up to me unexpectedly. I'd hate to be known as the fanatical recycler AND the woman who knocked RRRibbit flat with one punch.

My sincere thanks to
the RMWB
for my new recycling bins,
and to RRRibbit -
for continuing to keep his distance
from unpredictable bloggers with
mascot phobias ;)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Perfect Evening With Hedley

I am always excited about concert announcements. Some thrill me more than others, of course, simply because as with anyone else certain musical styles appeal to me more than others. And some please me simply because I know they will please the most important people in my life - the Intrepid Junior Bloggers. So, when I heard the news of an upcoming concert at MacDonald Island a few weeks ago I knew the Juniors would be delighted, because it was a band they both like. It was a Canadian band that I like, too, a band that has risen to fame for good reason. It was a band that I am unashamed to admit I listen to often, singing along in my off-key kind of way. It was, of course, Hedley.

When I went home and told the Juniors about Hedley there was squealing. It was squealing of the high-pitched variety, the kind that hurts my ears but that I knew I better get used to because I would hear a lot of it both before, during, and after the concert. I took to Twitter quickly, and was delighted when Mac Island offered me a media pass to the concert. And that is when I decided to once again issue a personal request, but for a different reason. I decided to ask about the possibility of meeting Hedley, not for me but for my girls. And really it was because of the eldest Intrepid Junior Blogger.

You see, some of you know that the older Junior Blogger is not "mine". She is, as I have said on occasion, "a loaner", my niece who came to live with us for a year. And it has been a helluva year, people. She got to model in a fashion show. She got to meet Down With Webster. She got to work on a political campaign and attend the subsequent victory party when our efforts were rewarded with success. She got to attend events with me, she got to meet dozens of local people, she got to attend a brand new school (Ecole McTavish), she got to make fantastic new friends, she got to know her cousin (the younger Intrepid Junior Blogger) much better, and she got to make a family of three into a family of four. But it was just for a year, and, just days after the concert, she would leave us to go back home. She would no longer be my faithful sidekick for shopping adventures. She would go back to her life in another province, and she would be dearly, dearly missed by her friends, her uncle, her cousin - and especially, I think, by me, the person who stopped being her aunt for a year and became instead her "second mom" and friend. So, although I don't like to ask for things I asked if there was any chance my girls could meet Hedley - because this concert would be one of the last things my beloved elder Intrepid Junior Blogger would do in Fort McMurray. I wanted her final event here to be one she would remember forever, and I wanted to end her year with us in a way that showed her how much I love her. So, I sent in the request, and I waited.

In the meantime we got ready to see Hedley. Songs were downloaded and shared. Camera and cell phone batteries were charged. And, last Thursday night, we headed down to MacDonald Island, that place that is like a second home to me - and, to be honest, to the Junior Bloggers as they spend much time there too - and went to see Hedley.

It was, as I would say to the Juniors later, a "kickass" show. Opening act "Acres of Lions" from Victoria warmed up the stage nicely, playing a great set that primed the crowd for "the boys". There was a nice mix in the crowd, lots of age groups and both genders well represented, but there was a definite skew towards young women, not a surprise given the attractive nature of the young men in Hedley. Excitement grew in the crowd until finally, at about 8:30, Hedley took the stage - and took the audience into the stratosphere.

The Intrepid Juniors had abandoned me moments after we made it inside the gate (after me making them wait with the crowd in the line up, as while I probably could have snuck them in quicker using my media access I thought it important they understand what "general admission" means, even if it meant waiting out a rain shower while lined up). They took off to be with their friends as teenagers do, and I watched with amusement as they quickly secured spots right at the fence in front of the stage.

As media I was delighted to be in the "media pit" for the first three songs, able to snap photos up close of the band. And after that I wandered around for a bit, snapping photos of the stage, until meandering up to the VIP section to be with my own friends, and watch the rest of the show.

It was an incredible show, too, energetic and frenetic. I sang along with many of the songs, as the lyrics are catchy and easy to remember. Particular songs - "One Life", for instance, and "Perfect", simply roll off my tongue, while the song "Invincible" is deeply relevant to anyone who has ever experienced any level of personal change in their lives (something with which I am quite familiar, having gone from "stay at home mom" to "unpaid blogger" to "paid freelance writer" in a little over a year). I sang, I danced, I bought t-shirts for all three of us, and, at the end of the show, I met the Juniors and their friends.

We drove away from Mac Island with our windows open and the warm summer air pouring in, speakers blaring Hedley songs. We headed straight to Macdonald's and our traditional post-concert fast food and show analysis, discussing our favourite songs and moments. We talked about it all, guzzling down pop and eating french fries, laughing and talking and singing little bits of the songs we had just heard. And we talked about the best part, about the part they will never forget. We talked about how they got to meet Hedley.

Yes, that's right, people. Just before the show the Junior Bloggers and I got to meet Hedley, and we discovered four very sweet, very kind, and very funny young men. They signed my media pass, and they signed the Juniors' iPhone and iPod cases. They took photos with us, they joked with us (one accusing me of touching his bum, which I can assure you I did not, but which made my girls roar with laughter), and they gave my niece exactly what I had hoped for - one final memory of Fort McMurray that may fade over time but that will never disappear. It was the final jewel in a crown full of a year of memories for her, I think. I almost cried when she and my daughter had their photo taken with the band (but I didn't, knowing I would never be allowed to live that down). And when they walked out and towards the field, when I watched my girls bubble over with excitement over meeting Hedley and seeing the show and life in general I was so profoundly grateful. Grateful to MacDonald Island and the people there who not only bring in great entertainment but who made my niece's last event here so special. Grateful to people like the guys in Hedley, who had no idea what this meant to me or my niece, but who were simply good guys. And, in the end, grateful to this community that has given me - and by extension my niece - so much.

When my niece is home I know she will be singing the praises of Fort McMurray. She will speak of her year here, her school and her friends and her experiences, and she will be an ambassador for our community. Even more importantly, though, I think she will know in her heart how much her aunt loves her, and how much she will be missed. I think she will be grateful, too, for a year spent in Fort McMurray. I think she will never forget her year in a northern community that changes lives, just as it has changed mine, and, I think, has changed hers. I think she will always think of Fort McMurray as home, even if she doesn't live here. And frankly I can't think of a better way to end a year here than that.

My sincere thanks to
MacDonald Island Park
for all they do for the community -
and for me.

My profound thanks to
 Jacob, Chris, Tommy, and Dave -
for being great guys
and making the dreams 
of two young women come true.

And finally my deepest thanks to my niece -
whether I call her
Keila or Intrepid Junior Blogger
I love her as if she is my own,
and I always will.
Thanks for sharing a year of your life with us,
Cupcake :) 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mayoral 101 and Mentoring in Fort McMurray

Once, a long time ago, when I was much younger, I left my family home in the Prairies and moved to this wonderful city in eastern Canada. It was vibrant and exciting and very, very urban, and I adored it. I lived there for several years, and while I was technically an adult when I arrived I would say I "grew up" there. The city? Toronto. I left that city many years ago, but I continue to have great fondness for it and the residents. In recent years though I have watched the news out of Toronto with dismay. It wasn't the news about shootings or crime that troubled me, though. It was watching as their mayor Rob Ford seemed hell bent on slowly making a fool out of himself - and making the entire city look like fools in the process, too.

You might not know much about Rob Ford but a quick Google search should tell you all you need to know, really. From his latest idea to "ban" gun criminals from Toronto (preventing those with gun crime convictions from residing there, a "not in my backyard" solution if I've ever heard one, and directly in contravention of that little thing we like to call "rights") to his frequent run-ins with media (apparently even threatening some, although this is in dispute) things just seem to go from bad to worse with this mayor. And that's when I had a pretty brilliant idea. I think Ford needs a mentor. I think he needs someone who could show him how to lead a community with class, dignity, pride, and true leadership. I think maybe he needs a little Mayoral Boot Camp. I think, just maybe, be needs to come and spend a day or two with the mayor of the RMWB, Melissa Blake.

I don't know if these two mayors have met, but they seem polar opposites in leadership style. Melissa Blake is engaging, collaborative, open, and warm. Her relationship with the media is pretty stellar, and I think the respect runs two ways on that street. She is quite likely the most popular person in our community, surrounded by well wishers whenever you see her at a local event. She promotes our region with the kind of authentic pride we need, and has a sincere desire to see our community improve. But most of all I think she manages difficult situations with great dignity. Oh, she has a backbone of steel, and woe to those who doubt it (I've seen her pull people back into line when necessary, too), but she still manages to do it in a respectful way. She somehow manages to avoid all the snafus and pitfalls that dog Rob Ford.

And that's why I have been pondering this mayoral mentoring. I think Rob Ford needs help. Now, I know Mayor Melissa is a busy woman, and I know Mayor Rob might deny he needs this mentoring. I think though that this could be beneficial for everyone. Mayor Melissa would get to build a new relationship with Toronto, and Toronto might get a revitalized mayor who has seen how a truly great mayor functions. We could even avoid calling it "mentoring" and just call it a social visit if that would be easier for everyone. We could call it a "mayoral exchange", although on second thought I reject that because I'm not willing to let our mayor go for even one second. We were smart enough to elect her and I think that should mean we get to keep her, so while I'm not willing to exchange her I'm ok with the idea of Rob Ford coming here to learn a little. Maybe we can call it Mayoral 101.

Or maybe we should just forget the entire idea, because frankly I'm not sure I want to share our mayor with anyone. Maybe Toronto should just deal with their current one until they can elect a new one. Because our mayor, well, she belongs to us. Sorry, Toronto, I've rethought this whole idea, because once you saw our mayor you'd probably try to poach her from us and that ain't gonna happen. So I'm calling this whole thing off before you get any crazy ideas about stealing our mayor. Mayor Blake is ours, and while I think she could help your mayor I'm afraid the offer is now off the table. You are just going to have to muddle through on your own with your mayor - and keep your paws off ours.

My sincere thanks to
Mayor Melissa Blake 
for being the kind of mayor
that makes me proud :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Heritage, History, and Pride - Fort McKay Treaty Days

I will file this post under the category of "better late than never". I know that Fort McKay Treaty Days was some time ago, but for a bit I thought I had lost these photos. I had not lost my thoughts on the opening ceremonies which I was honoured to attend, however. I was relieved when I managed to retrieve the photos, even though it has taken some time (and a realization that when it comes to technology I'm truly not all that clever). The photos are from the opening ceremonies, which showcased a traditional drum group and these dancers. I'm not even going to say much about them as their colours and elaborate design say far more than my words ever could.

As I sat at the Treaty Days opening ceremony I realized that I have written very, very little about the First Nations and Métis people in this region. This is not because I am not interested, as I very much am, but more because I feel my knowledge is inadequate to write about it intelligently, and I shy away from those topics that I know little about. While watching these dancers, though, I made a commitment to learning more - and writing more - about the peoples who have had and continue to have such a profound impact on our region and community. There is a proud tradition and heritage in this region, and the First Nations and Métis people hold much of that in their culture. I have decided that in order to truly understand this region, our history, and our future that I need to learn more about this, and this taste of Fort McKay Treaty Days was really the catalyst for all that.

I have a dear friend I met some months ago, a First Nations elder, who I think I can learn much from. While he lives a bit further south his knowledge is vast and I think the time has come for me to become his student in this area. He pops up in my life every so often, usually exactly when I need his kind words and understanding (he would likely say the Creator just knows when I need him). I think, though,  right now, even more than his kindness and friendship, I need his knowledge as I explore another part of the community and region I have grown to love.

I was only able to attend the opening ceremonies of Fort McKay Treaty Days, which I am rather sorry about as I wish I had been able to be there for more of the event. In the end though that little bit of time was enough to ensure that I will learn more and spend more time in these communities in our region. I was so impressed by everything I saw and heard that morning. I saw such beautiful colours and dances - and I saw heritage, history, and pride, three things that make me smile whenever and wherever I find them.

My thanks to
Fort McKay Treaty Days
for a wonderful opening ceremony!
It was such a pleasure to attend :)

Monday, July 16, 2012

On Bob Rae, Politicians, and Getting It

There are some things I don't write about often, people. Those things are industry, the environment, and politics, and it's because I usually feel I don't know enough to write about them intelligently or fairly, so I let others address them. Last week, though, I had an amazing opportunity to interview Bob Rae, interim leader of the federal Liberal Party, and I have some thoughts on Bob - and some thoughts on another recent political visitor to the oil sands, Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP.

I'll be honest. Never for a minute did I think I would get a chance to interview Bob Rae. I knew he was in town but had been unable to attend the public engagement session he had, and it never really occurred to me to try to meet him until someone asked if I had. When I said no they asked if I wanted to - and the wheels were in motion. Thanks to the kindness of some local people who have ties to the Liberal Party I suddenly had an interview with Bob Rae. A private, 15-minute interview with someone I have always admired. And someone who is probably a fair bit like me ideologically, too. I've never hidden the fact that politically I swing left, far further left than many in this province, and I suspect it's thanks to growing up in NDP Saskatchewan. When I moved to Toronto as a young adult Bob Rae was the leader of the Ontario provincial NDP party, and, to be honest, someone I thought of as a bit of a hero. I was delighted when he became Premier of that province, and I have followed his career ever since, even when I left Ontario to return to the prairies.

I was quite nervous when I arrived for my interview with Bob - but upon meeting Bob and his lovely wife Arlene Perly Rae (who recognized me from television, which both pleased and startled me - to have the wife of a personal hero call me "famous" was astonishing) I quickly relaxed - because not only are they lovely and kind people they are also intelligent, thoughtful and, in my opinion, they get it. What do they get? They "get" this region. They came, they stayed for 3 days, and they saw more than just the oil sand sites. They spent time in the community. They connected with local people. And they left, I think, with an understanding of who we really are and the issues we really face - which is a huge achievement in my world, people, because that doesn't always happen when a politician visits. Some politicians, like a certain leader of the NDP party, come for a few hours and leave without once really making the effort to learn about us. They come only to say they have been here, I suspect, only to counter the argument that they cannot speak about us if they have never seen us. They come not to learn but simply to have been here - but not Bob Rae. Bob came to learn, and I think he learned a great deal.

Bob has been here before, thirty years ago, and he acknowledges this is a completely different place (and given how much it has changed in the decade I've been here I can readily agree with this assessment). What grabbed my attention immediately though was his explanation that over the course of his visit here he had been able to see this as a "real place", a community with real challenges, and not just some cartoon image of oil sands or boomtown. And that is pretty much exactly what I had hoped to hear as I consider it part of my mandate to ensure that those I connect with understand that this place is not solely industry but rather a living, breathing community of tens of thousands who have chosen to make this home. Bob's opening sentence showed me that he gets it - and he gets it even more, too.

We talked about the pace of development, about how we can develop this resource at whatever we pace we choose, making it last as long or as short as we wish it too. We talked about the demands rapid development puts on community, and the struggle it is to keep pace with infrastructure to support it (and we discussed slowing the pace of development, something I admit I think about a great deal as while I believe the oil sands are absolutely vital in many ways I find the pace of development worrisome in how it relates to the fabric of our community). We talked about the need for all levels of government to support the community as the industry grows, and about seeing commitment to it from all levels of government. And we discussed sustainability, not of the environmental sense but rather the sustainability of the community, about how in the face of rapid population growth and industrial development we find a way to grow a solid, secure, stable community for today, and for the future.

Bob said he believes the ideological debate about oil sands misses the point. It misses the point of the real communities and issues around the development, and about how we need government to both support the communities and address issues with industry such as pace of development. We talked about how we can do a better job as governments and communities to plan for this growth - and how, in the end, we can be proud of what we build and create.

In 15 minutes Bob Rae pretty much won my heart all over again just like he did over two decades ago when I watched him on television in Toronto. This politician is thoughtful, intelligent, and, most of all, takes the time to understand the issues in front of him. When he came to Fort McMurray he opted not for the "Thomas Mulcair tour" - a helicopter tour over the oil sands and no substantial time in the community. Bob Rae chose to meet with several different groups, stay in a local hotel, eat at local restaurants, meet local people, and, on his final day, even meet with a little local blogger who was a bit in awe of him before their meeting (and now is perhaps even slightly more so). Bob Rae? Well, in my opinion Bob Rae gets it. He gets a great deal about who we are as a community and region, and about the challenges we currently face (and will face in the future). He gets that this place is more than industry. He gets that we have real issues, and he gets that we need governmental assistance in sorting them out. He gets that we are real people. He came, he stayed, he saw, he met, and he left taking a new understanding of who we are. Bob Rae rose a great deal in my estimation because he actually cared enough to stay long enough to learn not just about industry but about community.

As for Thomas Mulcair and his visit? Well, he sank very low in my opinion, because he didn't come to learn. He came just to say he'd been here - and frankly that's not enough. When I try to balance these two visits against each other - one leader who came and stayed for days, who came and met locals, who came ready to learn, and a different leader who took a helicopter tour, met with the mayor, and then left after a few hours - it's not hard to see who has earned some respect. Bob Rae won my respect (and frankly my left-inclined little heart) all over again. Thomas Mulcair? Well, maybe he will come back some day and do the "Bob Rae tour" of this region and learn who we actually are - but I'm not holding my breath.

My sincere and profound thanks to
those individuals who arranged my meeting
with Bob Rae -
you know who you are!

And my genuine gratitude to
Bob Rae and his wife Arlene
for agreeing to meet with
 a community blogger -
and for visiting us long enough to "get it" :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Unanimous - MacDonald Island Park Expansion

There have been times during the course of writing this blog that I have had amazing opportunities. Sometimes they have been huge personal or professional opportunities for me. Other times, though, it has been an opportunity for me to do something for the community that has given me so much over the past decade. It is usually a small thing - a little radio interview, or one for a newspaper. Last night, though, I was honoured to do something for a place in our region that has become so close to my heart. Last night I had the privilege of speaking to RMWB council about the proposed expansion of MacDonald Island Park, the heart of our community - and a place I consider my second home.

It has been a long process to get to the point it did last night, where Tim Reid, Mac Island COO, presented to council the dream for the new MacDonald Island. The motto on the presentation was "Think Big", and it is thinking big indeed. An expanded facility encompassing so many different things for so many different communities. An art gallery, shared space for some of our non-profit organizations, a stadium, and so very, very much more. I have had the great joy of watching this process along the way, seeing as Mac Island engaged the public for their input. I have been thrilled at every step, at every little success. And last night I was given the opportunity to speak to council about it, to bring them my perspective on the expansion. MacDonald Island had approached me and asked if I would consider representing a delegation of various groups - non-profits, minor sports, arts, and more. I was incredibly humbled, people. To be asked to do this was a genuine honour, and I felt it was one of those chances for me to give something back to this place that has changed my life in the last decade.

The spiel I gave to council was brief. I was horribly nervous (despite having done radio and TV I still find myself getting very nervous). I must admit I focused completely on our lovely Mayor, meeting her eyes whenever I could, because I have such respect for her, and frankly her confidence gives me a little of my own, too. I took my courage and my cues from her, and this is the speech I delivered last night. I am sure I stumbled at points, and I am sure it was spoken in a voice shaky from nerves. This is the message I tried to transmit to council, though, because it is truly what I believe about the importance of MacDonald Island Park, and the future of this community. This is straight from my heart - and it's about the heart of our community.

Madam Mayor and Council,

Tonight I have been asked to speak to you regarding the proposed expansion of MacDonald Island Park. I have the honour of speaking to you with a member of our First Nations community, and I am privileged to speak to you on behalf of members of our sports, arts, hospitality, development, and non-profit communities. 

Some of you know me as a writer and blogger, but tonight I speak to you as longtime resident and mother. I would like to bring to you a personal community perspective on MacDonald Island Park.

When I moved here ten years ago my daughter was 3 years old. She began preschool skating lessons at the old rink at MacDonald Island Park. Next week, at almost 13, she will see her very first outdoor rock concert - at MacDonald Island Park. As she has grown and changed so too has our community, and so too has MacDonald Island Park. I have seen the growth and change at MacDonald Island, and it has been my privilege to watch this most recent proposed expansion take form through a series of public engagements.

The first place I take guests in this community is MacDonald Island Park. Visitors to the festivals, events, and concerts there leave as ambassadors for our region. They take with them an understanding of who we really are - they see our "big spirit".

I believe the expansion of MacDonald Island Park is an integral part of of the city centre revitalization plan, intrinsically linked to the development of a 21st century city, and a model of bold vision and sustainability.

MacDonald Island Park is often referred to as the "heart" of this community. As we face exponential population growth our community heart will need to grow and change to meet the demands placed on it. Many believe this region is on the cusp of a leap into becoming a vibrant urban centre - and I agree with that assessment. There is great excitement in this region right now, and I believe it is time to embrace our future with a community heart that reflects our needs now and in that future - an expanded MacDonald Island Park.

Thank you.

So, that is the speech I gave, or tried to give, as best my nerves would allow, last night to RMWB council. Following my little spiel Tim Reid and some of the consultants hired for the expansion project gave an overview, and there is a video at the end of this post you can watch to see some of what we saw last night. I am afraid I did not stay for the vote as I had another engagement, but I cannot express enough my pure delight when I learned that council had voted - unanimously - to approve the funds for expansion. When I saw that Tweet on Twitter I smile so broadly, people. Why? Because I think it is a step into the future of our region. I think it is crucial to our development. And because I am so excited, so thrilled, to have been a witness to it, to be part of the public consultations - and, last night, to be a member of this community granted the honour of speaking to council about it. 

I am so excited about our future in this region. I am so honoured to have opportunities like I had last night - and all those I have had over my decade here. I am so pleased to do whatever I can for a community that has given me so very much. I have watched my daughter progress from a toddler to a teenager here, and at the same time I have seen this community change and grow, too. And while sometimes I feel nostalgia for years gone by - both with my daughter and this community - I also cannot wait to see what the next few years will bring. We are making history here, people. Last night we took another step towards the future, and we embraced it with open arms. And in 2015 the future will look a bit like this:

My sincere and profound thanks to
MacDonald Island Park
for putting their faith and trust 
in me last night -
and for being the heart of 
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Canada Rocks 2012 - Rain, Rebirth, and Rodeo

Sunday morning, July 1st, I woke with some trepidation. I was worried that the migraine headache that had surfaced the day before might have decided to stick around for another day of torment. I'd had a very good night's sleep, though, buoyed by warm thoughts of the meeting between my pal Nathaniel and K'Naan, and I was so relieved to awake and discover that I felt fine. Better than fine, actually, I felt quite brilliant, ready for a bright and sunshine-y day at Canada Rocks...and then I looked outside. It was grey. It was raining. The Canada Day Parade was in less than two hours and it looked like it would be a wet one, the Fort Mac skies atypically dark and stormy. I wasn't going to be at the parade, though. I was headed backstage for one final day, and so I pulled on some clothes and hopped into my car.

When I arrived backstage I discovered that the lovely Corinne from Mac Island had already done much of the cleaning from the night before. My job was looking even easier, and I was thinking it wouldn't take much to get the dressing rooms ready. We were expecting one band during the day, the Rebirth Brass Band, which I had heard much about but hadn't yet met, and then the country bands for the evening - Doc Walker, Corb Lund, and, of course, Blue Rodeo. The only problem was the rain, which continued to come down. And the problem was that there were performers scheduled all day, ones who needed to be in and out of the rain. And that is how backstage at Canada Rocks became a little Canadian multi-cultural fest, as EWB opened it up to the performers for the day. That's how the final day of Canada Rocks 2012 became one I will never forget.

First to arrive were the members of the Rebirth Brass Band, a group out of New Orleans. To call them charming would be the understatement of the year. After five minutes chatting with one of them I was entirely convinced to book a flight and hotel in New Orleans, and I had a list of bars to visit to hear great music. I'm pretty sure I even had ready-made tour guides, too, as these men were so friendly and eager to share with me the experience of the south, of the music it houses, and of the place called New Orleans, a place they cannot stand to be away from for too long, and ache to get back to every time they leave.

Things got a little crazier as the weather did, too. Soon there were dance groups filtering in, Asian dance groups and one from a local dance school. And a First Nations hoop dancer, one of international renown. And the children's group The Backyardigans. And the folks from the Canadian Legion, most of them seniors in search of a cup of coffee and a dry spot. By the time the stilt walkers dressed in baby clothing arrived I didn't even blink an eye. Backstage had taken on a carnival feel, with a distinct sense of Canadiana but with some New Orleans flair tossed in. I looked around at one point and realized it was truly the Canada Day melting pot, right backstage and right in front of me, with some international guests added to the mix. They came and went, some to perform if the weather held out for their performance time and some leaving due to rain-cancelled performances. The afternoon floated by in a haze of Legion flags, brass instruments, stilts, hoops, and entertainment.

As the daytime groups filtered out the evening performers began to filter in, and I was genuinely delighted to learn that these groups would be easy ones to work with indeed. I had learned at SummersEnd that country musicians and their camps tend to be easy to work with, and this held true with the folks from Doc Walker, Corb Lund, and Blue Rodeo. Humble, friendly, and undemanding they arrived, but with them came the usual sets of crises that arise at events such as these. One of Doc Walker's guitarists had lost his luggage, and with it his spare guitar strings. Megan from EWB called me, and I thought quickly - because even though it was Canada Day I just happen to know the owner of our only music store, Campbell's Music, and so I texted him immediately. And I knew what his response would be.

I texted Mike Allen, owner of Campbell's, and one of our newly elected MLA's, and told him of the dilemma. He asked only one question; what kind of strings? And so, at about the time Doc Walker was doing their meet and greet, Mike arrived with guitar strings, which he hand delivered to the band (while I explained to their road manager that not only did Mike deliver strings he is one of the most prominent leaders in our region). I was delighted by the response of the band, and their immediate belief that I could do anything (I was a bit terrified they would next request a pony, as I didn't know where I would find one of those but I was on a roll and reluctant to let them down).

I ran the meet and greets for Doc Walker and Corb Lund, delighted to introduce them to some local country music fans. The Doc Walker band is charming and friendly, and Corb Lund is one of those country gentlemen I so admire, like George Canyon, whom I had the pleasure to chauffeur at SummersEnd. And I was particularly delighted at the Corb Lund meet and greet when two very young local girls sang and played guitar for him, a moment that was deeply pleasing to all in attendance, I think.

Me and Corb Lund, country gentleman 

Me and Doc Walker, good ol' boys

And then, finally, it was time for the Blue Rodeo meet and greet, and my chance for a few words with them. You see, I knew them many years ago, although they would not remember me. In their early days on the Toronto music scene they were getting famous while I was holding down bar stools at places like the Horseshoe Tavern and The Cameron House, and I saw them play small clubs more than once. We attended house parties together, and knew many people in common. So, when I went to get them for their meet and greet I spoke to Jim Cuddy, just as handsome now as ever, and told him about the times I was there when they played and partied. We laughed at how some of the people we knew in common are now Members of Parliament, and we talked about those old days - and then off he went to the meet and greet, with the entire band (initially it was just to be Jim meeting the public, so you can only imagine my delight when the entire band filed in behind him, and the meet and greet took on a party atmosphere). I had Jim sign my All-Access Pass, and then, after a few photos, the meet and greet was over. The band drifted back to their dressing room, the meet and greet attendees out the front doors of Mac Island - and I made a mad dash for the field, because I knew the performance I could not miss was about to begin.

I caught a bit of Doc Walker and Corb Lund, but just fragments as I kept running backstage to attend to any needs. I admit, though - I abandoned backstage when Blue Rodeo took the stage, and I did not return there until they played their final encore song. I told the good folks from EWB that they could text me if they needed me - but I truly wanted to see Blue Rodeo perform, see them play from start to finish - and I did. I turned around at one point in the VIP section and was delighted to see that the guys from Doc Walker had joined the crowd too, and for a time we watched together. I spoke with some of the Mac Island staff I have come to know so well, and, in the end, I snuck away to an almost empty VIP box and I watched Blue Rodeo alone. I sang along with all the words to every song. There were a couple of moments when I admit I was close to tears, people. It was such a beautiful night, after all the rain that day. In the twilight the stars had begun to twinkle, and you could see them just above the stage. The field, muddy as it was, was full of people, many of them singing along - and dancing, too. There was laughter and smiles. I think it might just have been the best concert I've ever been to here, and I remember looking down from that quiet little VIP box and feeling great contentment.

I was so tired. My entire body ached from carrying cases of beer and running around in search of corkscrews. My jeans and boots were covered in thick mud. My car was running on fumes, and my house looked like a small tornado had touched down as over the past three days things had stayed where I dropped them when I staggered in the door. There was virtually no food in the house as I hadn't eaten there in days (and while I had enjoyed the food Mac Island provided I had survived mostly on coffee). And yet none of that mattered as I stood there in the northern twilight, listening to their final song, and singing along. All that mattered was that moment in time, me and the stars and Blue Rodeo. All that mattered, all that counted, was right in that moment. And it was, quite frankly, perfect. The final notes faded away into the darkness, and the crowd filtered out. I walked slowly down the stairs, headed backstage for one final check, and then off into the Fort McMurray night, once again in love with Blue Rodeo, the stars, and this northern community that has become so very, very close to my heart.

My profound and sincere thanks to
Events Wood Buffalo
and all their staff
for allowing me to be 
part of Canada Rocks 2012.

My thanks also to
MacDonald Island Park
and all their staff
for once again being the heart
of this community.

My thanks to all the performers and crew
 I had the pleasure to meet at
Canada Rocks 2012 -
but especially to
Doc Walker, Corb Lund, and Blue Rodeo.

And finally my thanks to you,
Fort McMurray -
for once again reminding me why
I love this place so very much :)
(and see you at interPLAY!)

Photo credit to MacDonald Island Park 

Photo credit to MacDonald Island Park