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

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 :)

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