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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kraft Dinner, A Gala, and Hope - Centre of Hope KD Gala

There is a little building on Franklin Avenue. Once it was a little blue building, although it has had a recent facelift and is no longer blue, although in my mind it may always be the little blue building. It is not a big building, and yet it helped over 22,000 people last year alone. It is a place of concern, of caring, of support, and, most importantly, of hope. It is, in fact, the Centre of Hope.

I've written about the Centre of Hope before, more than once. I have written about how the patrons and staff have captured my heart, and how this little building and those inside it have somehow become one of my favourite places in this community. I have written some of the stories of those who use the centre, and I have told of my experiences there. This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the KD Gala, the fundraiser the Centre hosts to raise funds for the United Way.

The KD Gala is a bit different from some of the other galas in this community. I don't want to detract from them in any way, with their glitz and glamour, but the KD Gala is not like those. It is not glamourous, but heartfelt. It is not about ball gowns and diamonds but about jeans and something far more precious than diamonds. It is about life.

You see the patrons at the Centre of Hope are homeless, either those who are chronically in that state or in a transient situation. They are often "sleeping rough" on our streets, finding warm places to curl up at night, especially in the winter when the mercury drops and the weather is cruel. This past spring I had a chance to experience homelessness for just one night at the "Hope in the Dark" event the Centre hosted. The experience changed me. One night quickly showed me how hopeless you could become living on the streets, and how quickly you could descend into a very dark place. But in those dark places the Centre of Hope shines a beacon of light. The Centre of Hope changes lives, and it quite likely saves them.

Over the past few years we have lost many homeless individuals in this community. They have died as they lived, on the streets. This troubles me more than I can express, and it brings me to tears as I comprehend fellow human beings ending their lives this way. I cannot stand the idea of any of them dying alone, or facing their struggles alone. And so the Centre of Hope stands for me as a place where those who are homeless are not alone. They have a place where they are welcomed, not judged, and supported, not turned away. They find a community of other patrons and staff who care about them, and about their struggles. If they lose their lives on our streets, as too many have, they are mourned. They are missed. They may be homeless, but they are not without a home in some sense as the Centre becomes a daytime home for them, a place to be safe and warm and find comfort. And for this the Centre of Hope has won my heart, because in a community where we often find ourselves dazzled by the glitz and glamour this little building - this little community - shines as a true gem.

The KD Gala is a fundraiser, make no doubt, with a live auction (hosted once again by the indomitable Phil Meagher, someone who has rapidly become one of my favourite people in this community, with his quick wit and complete lack of a filter), and a silent auction. The food is not the swanky cocktails and hors d'oeuvres served at most galas but rather water and pop and dishes based on Kraft Dinner, that most basic of foods (and one most of us existed on at some point in our lives). The setting this year was inside the McMurray Gospel Assembly (and it was lovely, too, lovingly decorated and set up as a dining room instead of a church). The servers were volunteers, and the attendees were community members wearing not ball gowns and tuxedos but casual clothing. And yet somehow every year this little gala stands out as it focuses not on food and cocktails and decor and gowns but rather on people, and on their needs.

For me this year the highlight was a poem read by a woman identified only as Jackie. The voice came over the loudspeaker system of the church, a voice that was clearly a bit rough around the edges. It was the voice of someone who has seen hard times. And the poem was one that took my breath away, that brought me to tears as Jackie expressed what her life is like, and her fears.

You see Jackie's poem, entitled "My Sorrow", focused a great deal on what the mistakes she has made in her life have done to her children and her relationship with them. It spoke of the love a mother has for her children, and of her sorrow and regret that her choices have hurt them. It made me want to hug Jackie, to tell her that my own parents, while not sharing her same problems, were also imperfect and that I did not love them despite their imperfections but rather because of them, because they were so utterly human. I wanted to tell Jackie that both my parents, now long gone, had their own issues and struggles and that through it all I loved them, and love them to this very day.

This year I brought some people with me to the KD Gala. They are students from Calgary who were in the region filming a documentary on life in our community. When they contacted me several weeks ago I provided them with names of people to contact, and suggestions of places to go. And one of the things I suggested was coming with me to the KD Gala. Some may wonder at this, at why I would suggest they go to this gala that exposes some of our problems in this community instead of trying to direct them to purely positive experiences. The explanation is simple - because we DO have problems, and because we ARE doing things about them. We are doing things like supporting a little once-blue building on Franklin Avenue, and all the work they do there. We are addressing those issues, not pretending they don't exist. We are bidding in live and silent auctions and eating Kraft Dinner and raising money for the United Way so the United Way can support places like the Centre of Hope. I think, perhaps, places like the Centre of Hope show what is truly best about this community and the people in it. I think maybe they are our masterpieces as we show our commitment to the other humans in our midst, those who are suffering and struggling. I think, just maybe, our crown jewel might be a little building on Franklin Avenue that dispenses oatmeal and coffee and hot showers and 15,000 pairs of socks annually - and hope, the kind of hope that sustains you in a world that can, at times, seem hopeless. Just maybe the Centre of Hope symbolizes what we are really all about here. Maybe, in the end, we are all about hope.

My sincere thanks to
The Centre of Hope
their staff,
and all the volunteers
who participated in
The KD Gala -
and for the work they do every day.

My thanks to 
The United Way
for all they do in this community.

And my thanks to a community
that supports organizations like
The Centre of Hope
and enables them to continue
to give hope to others.

During the KD Gala local Lorraine Demers performed a rendition of this.
I would like to share it with you.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Young Woman, A Crazy Number of Dogs, and A Challenge - Mush McMurray Takes on the Yukon Quest

Photo credit to Christina Traverse "Mush McMurray"

As regular readers of this blog already know I am quite obsessed with three qualities - passion, vision, and drive. When I meet someone who possesses these qualities it isn't long until I too am infused with their passion and vision, and it often doesn't even matter what it revolves around. When it happens to involve something that I am already curious about, interested in, or find intriguing then it occurs even more quickly - and so it was when I had lunch recently with Christina Traverse, a young woman who has become associated with the moniker "Mush McMurray".

What's unusual about Christina, you might ask? Well, she's a lovely young woman, intelligent and funny, but that isn't the really unusual bit. The unusual bit is that she is a musher, someone who has sled dogs and participates in the world of sled dog racing. It's a world that is a bit foreign to me, but one that has roots and tradition that go far, far back in our northern Canadian culture. Christina wasn't always a sled dog owner and racer, although she told me that when she was young, long before sled dogs entered her life, she would harness up her brother and drive him around pretending he was a sled dog, and then the family dog became the target of her game (likely once her brother started hiding when he saw her coming, I imagine). It seems Christina was fated to end up as a musher, and so she has, a young woman of 23 participating in a sport and hobby that tends to not be the first choice of many young women.

When Christina and I sat down we talked about how she got into sled dogs, and how she has participated in some sled dog races. We talked about the epitome of sled dog racing, the Iditarod, and how that gruelling race challenges even the most seasoned of competitors. And then she began to tell me about the race she will take on in 2013, a race called the Yukon Quest, and while the Iditarod sounded difficult the Yukon Quest didn't sound like a picnic, either.

You see the Yukon Quest is a 1000-mile race, running from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks, Alaska. 1000 miles doesn't sound so awful in terms of a car trip but when you start to talk about it as a dog sled race, through a thousand miles of wilderness, in snow and ice, and with temperatures dropping to -60 degrees, it suddenly starts to sound a lot less like a trip and a lot more like an ordeal. I watched Christina's face and while I suspect my face showed some fear hers showed excitement at the thought of taking on such a daunting task. She talked about her sled and boots and sleeping bag and special equipment and "snow hooks" (to stop the sled and keep the dogs in place when you stop, an essential piece of equipment as she told me what happens when you stop to answer a call of nature and the dogs decide to take off, sled flying behind them, and you, pants around your ankles, racing behind them to catch up). There was a moment her face truly lit up, though, and it wasn't when she talked about the prizes at the end of the Quest or the accolades. It was when she spoke about her dogs.

Christina loves her dogs, and that is very plain. She currently has 22, with another 7 dogs coming soon. I can't imagine taking care of that many of anything, let alone barking, howling, pooping, and whining creatures, and yet she is absolutely calm about it. This is a young woman who pours all her money into those dogs, buying food and paying vet bills, ensuring that their well-being is secure. She spoke at length about her research on different dog foods, on needing to ensure they have enough fat and protein for peak performance and health, and I quickly realized that dog sledding is part history, part sport, and part science.

Christina is training hard for the Yukon Quest, often taking the sled dogs out for runs that last from before dawn until well after dusk, because even when the day of sledding is over there are dogs to feed and clean, pet and cuddle. I asked her the biggest challenges of the Quest and some were those I hadn't even thought about, like sleep deprivation. After all, how does one sleep when you are supposed to be trying to cover dozens of miles in a day, and when the dogs require attention, and when if you drift off you fear the dogs could take off and leave you behind in the cold? (I doubt I'd sleep a wink with that fear in the back of my head, frankly) And then there are all the other more mundane concerns, like freezing your feet or your hands, you or the dogs getting ill or injured, problems with equipment...the more she spoke the more I knew I could never do something like this, but the more she spoke the more animated she became. You see Christina isn't "in it to win it", although she would like to post a respectable finish. No, she would like to simply finish at all, to achieve something that few people will ever even attempt, to challenge herself and her abilities and her will to see if she can do it at all. And she wants to do it with the dogs she loves, and with whom she shares a deep and enduring bond.

One of the things Christina needs is sponsors. Sponsors help a dog sledder to pay for essentials, and they too can become a part of the team with their name and logo displayed to show their support of the musher. Sponsors can do more, though, especially in an instance like this because Christina is, in my opinion, a shining example of what young people can do in this community. She has a dream, a dream that began perhaps when she was harnessing up her poor brother to race him around the house, and she has followed it. She has encountered obstacles, no doubt, and she will continue to find many blocking her path - but in Christina I see that Fort McMurray spirit that will help her find a way around - or right over - any obstacles in her way. I think local businesses would do well to find a way to support this young woman and those like her, because they are fundamentally what is best about this community. People like Christina are the ones who make us proud to be from here, who show the world who we are and what we do, who share their vision and passion and drive, and who let the world know that we in Fort McMurray are so much more than oil sands and all the misconceptions about how we live and who we are.

You have a chance to meet Christina too, people. She is holding a very special meet and greet event on Saturday November 24th at 11 am at the MDRA race track on Highway 63. There will be a bonfire, hot chocolate and hot dogs, and there will be real dogs, too, as Christina brings her team along to be greeted. And then she and her team will head down Highway 63 to travel to a very special place in Christina's heart. You see another thing about Christina is that she is cousin to Justin Slade, a young man who lost his life on Highway 63 a few years ago, a loss that is still very fresh and very painful for this young woman. She will take her dogs on a little pilgrimage in memory of Justin, and she will travel Highway 63 in the memory of those who lost their lives just like her beloved cousin.

Now, when you come to the meet and greet (and I am going to assume you are because you'd be crazy to miss it) I am going to suggest you bring along a little cash, because this is also a fundraiser. I've done some calculations on what it costs to feed and house a couple of dozen dogs, and the number is staggering. Then factor in what it will cost for Christina to get to the Yukon, to transport her dogs and her sled, and all the other costs associated with the adventure, and you will quickly realize that what she needs is cash. This is money well spent, people, because it is money to be part of an adventure. It is to be part of a dream, to see a young woman go out and represent the youth of this community in a positive and inspiring way.

On Saturday November 24th you will find the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I meeting and greeting with Christina and her dogs. You will find us sending her off down Highway 63 as she takes a journey in memory of her cousin and all those others we have lost on that little ribbon of road. You will find us petting dogs and laughing with Christina and bursting with pride at the tenacity and courage of a young woman who is not only ready but excited about the prospect of a 1000-mile race through frigid temperatures and uncertain territory in February 2013. You'll find us cheering on someone with vision, passion, and drive - just as it should be in this place called Fort McMurray, where those qualities are not only present but abundant in young women like Christina Traverse. We will be there celebrating our community - and Christina.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Animals Are Not Our Whole Lives But They Make Our Lives Whole - Fort McMurray SPCA

One of the things only a few know about me is my connection to animals. I come from a family of animal lovers, and I have always had pets from cats to dogs to ferrets to fish. In my twenties, in fact, I managed veterinary clinics, a job I loved and that was both so rewarding and so challenging. My whole life has been tied to our furry, feathered, and finned friends, and so I have a very natural connection to places like our local SPCA. Often the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I visit the Fort McMurray SPCA just to cuddle the cats and hang out with the dogs, but this past week I went to the SPCA for a different reason. I went because I wanted to learn more about what they do.

I think there is this perception that the SPCA "just" houses stray animals and adopts them out to new owners. And that is part of what they do, but it is truly only a part. They also engage in many more programs, from education about pet ownership to Containers for Critters, an initiative where the public can donate recyclable beverage containers to benefit the shelter. They also operate some pretty unique and amazing programs like "Nine Lives", which matches senior cats with senior citizens in our community (and as someone who has read the studies showing the beneficial effect pets have on health and longevity I recognize the fundamental value of this program), and "Animal Safe Haven", which provides temporary homes to the pets of those individuals who are fleeing abusive or violent domestic situations but fear for the safety of the beloved pet if it is left behind. These programs go far above and beyond the adopting out of stray animals, and are clear evidence of the importance of the SPCA in our community - but the SPCA does even more than that. The SPCA takes in those animals in need - strays and surrenders, ones needing temporary care and ones needing new forever-homes, and it gives them not just food and water and veterinary care. It gives them love.

The SPCA also engages in novel ways to promote adoptions in the community. This month in honour of Halloween they offer "Black Cat and Black Dog Month", and with every black animal adopted the new owner will receive a certificate for a pumpkin and a bag of Halloween candy from Superstore (one of the local businesses that so kindly supports the good work of the SPCA). They also run various fundraisers throughout the year in their effort to maintain the level of care required by their many residents - and they do, sadly, have many residents.

Often the SPCA is full to the rafters, with a waiting list of those needing to surrender pets due to personal circumstances. The need to adopt animals out to make room for new arrivals is constant, and the pressure to find room for another cat or dog immense. Add to this that the shelter is "no kill" - meaning all animals are safe from euthanasia - and you have a situation that often means there is "no space at the inn". Numbers usually hover about 80 dogs and cats in the shelter at any given time, with some at foster homes as well (and foster homes willing to take animals for short periods are always needed, too). 30-35 animals are adopted every month, so the turnover is constant, but still there is always a new arrival to take the place of the recently adopted. Kennels and cages do not stay vacant for long, if at all.

When I toured the shelter I took photos and chatted with the staff, and what was most evident was their commitment to not only their jobs but to the animals in their care. You see, I understand that very well. When I managed veterinary clinics I probably smiled more, laughed more, and cried more than at any other point in my life because it was never just a job. It was a job with a salary, yes, but it was also a love and passion for these creatures that share our lives. I would cry when a special favourite was injured or ill, and I cried with many owners when they suffered the loss of a beloved pet. I would smile and laugh to see owners with new puppies or kittens, and I would watch as they grew and the bond between them and their owner grew, too.

There is a saying that states "dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole", and I believe this firmly, but think it goes for all pets and not just dogs. My father was a farmer who grew up on the prairies, and while not all farmers are animal lovers he was. My father was the man who was followed by every pet we owned because they loved him so, and he was the man that carried dog treats on his daily walk to give to every dog he encountered along the way. My father understood the value and importance of animals in our lives, and he spent many years eating meals with a cat perched right beside him under his right elbow waiting for small morsels of food to be slipped down to it (explaining why all our family cats resembled small rotund footstools with heads). He passed this love and understanding on to me, and I have lived a life surrounded by pets - and I am pleased to say that the Intrepid Junior Blogger has inherited this trait as well.

When I did my SPCA tour they mentioned that they had in their possession a small ferret that someone had brought in saying they had found it. My ears perked up at this since, you see, the Junior Blogger happens to have two wee ferrets, and I owned three ferrets myself many years ago, back when I was working in vet clinics. I asked if I could see the little ferret the SPCA had, and they agreed - and I fell in love with a small bundle of fur and eyes and teeth and mischief all over again. I went home, told the Junior Blogger, and when the SPCA contacted us to say the ferret was up for adoption and asked if we were still interested (as I had indicated we might be) I knew what the answer would be.

So, on Saturday, the Intrepid Junior Blogger, her father, and I made a little visit to the SPCA where we picked up a small ferret who joins our resident ferret gang. We brought her home, and within minutes she was sharing the cage with the two other ferrets who welcomed her into the fold with grooming and clucking (the noise happy ferrets make) and playing. And the Intrepid Junior Blogger? Well, I have found her cuddling all three ferrets several times since Saturday, arms full of ferrets and with a look of bliss on her face. The SPCA might think we did something special for them by adopting - but in reality it is they who did something very special for us.

And so it is when you adopt a pet. You might think you are doing something good for the animal, and you are - but really it is you who will benefit. It is you who will find your life enriched. It is you who will experience the unconditional love of an animal. It is you who will reap the rewards of a bond that goes back to the very beginning of time when we first began to share our caves with animals who ceased to be wildlife and instead became part of our life. They are not our whole lives - but they do make our lives whole in every way.

I encourage you to visit the SPCA and check it out. Perhaps you might want to consider adopting, or fostering. Maybe you want to think about donating some cash or some much needed items to them (lists of these items can be found on their website). Or maybe you just need an infusion of "wholeness" into your life, the kind that can be found by cuddling a purring cat or walking a happy dog. The SPCA stands at the ready to help not only the animals in their care but to help all of us to connect with those animals, and to develop the kind of bond that has been shown to improve our lives in dramatic ways. In this world where we can often feel disconnected and less than whole the SPCA provides us with the ability to engage in one of the most enduring, basic, and fundamental bonds that exists - that between a person and an animal. I know this bond well - and it has been one that has given my life true meaning.

My genuine gratitude to the
SPCA staff 
for the recent tour, 
for all the work they do,
for all the love they show,
and for letting a little ferret
now named "River Song"
join our family :)

 If you are on Twitter I would suggest
 following @fmspca - hands down the best
 non-profit Twitter account in the region, 
and probably one of the best Twitter 
accounts of any variety. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Arkham Rising" in Fort McMurray at Film Fear

It's been all over Twitter and Facebook recently, these little teasers for something called "Arkham Rising". Now, I have known for some time that my friends Toddske and Tito of YMMPodcast were up to something, and I knew this was likely that something - but I didn't ask as I expected they'd tell me when the time was right. And so they did this week when they gave me the opportunity to have a sneak preview of their little fan fiction short "Arkham Rising". And my response? I was blown away. This is just the promo teaser that has been on YouTube for some time:

I won't give away the plot as I want you to come see it tonight at Film Fear at the Suncor Performing Arts Centre at Holy Trinity. Film Fear is now into the second year, a film festival of horror film shorts and longer films. Film Fear is a fantastic little event, and quickly becoming part of the pre-Halloween slate of events in the community. And tonight, at Film Fear, Toddske and Tito will screen "Arkham Rising" publicly for the very first time.

I will tell you a little bit, like how the short opens with the face of the lovely Cat Nolte, a woman who is as kind and talented as she is beautiful (and if you have seen Cat you know she is utterly gorgeous). And the setting in which you see Cat is our very own MacDonald Island Park, which kindly allowed the film-makers and their band of merry men and women to film there. The film goes on to reveal more familiar faces, people that I know, and that you may well know, too.

The cinematography is terrific, the pacing wonderful, and while I know very little about film-making I know quality when I see it, and this little film has quality. But it has much more, too. It has the time and love and attention and skill and talent and abilities of local film-makers and actors. It is an exploration into the creative world of film. It is another venture by my good friends - and family - Tito and Toddske. It is yet another facet of our community, and yet another incredible display of how in this place we take an idea and run with it to completion. It is an example of how we come together to accomplish a goal, whether it is a film festival or a podcast or a short film.

I could gush on and on about how proud I am of Toddske and Tito and all those who participated in this new project of theirs. I could talk about how I am amazed to find myself in the company of all these creative, innovative, bold, and ambitious people who follow their dreams and ideas. I could tell you how I sat and watched my sneak preview, simply mesmerized and speechless. I could tell you about how people in this community always astonish me, how they take their passion and vision and drive and don't just talk about things but rather DO things. But I won't tell you all those things. Instead I'll tell you to come on out to Film Fear, to see "Arkham Rising", and to feel all those things for yourself instead.

My thanks to 
Toddske and Tito
for the special sneak preview,
and congratulations
on a job well done -
as usual!

"Film Fear"
is on tonight
October 26 2012
at 8 pm
Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts
Holy Trinity High School
Free admission with donation to Wood Buffalo Food Bank
**Mature audiences only - scary content!**

State of the Island 2012, and U

When the invitation hit my inbox I was delighted, of course. I adore a good party, and after having attended last year I knew that MacDonald Island Park throws a helluva party at their annual State of the Island event. It's an event designed to reflect on the past year at the facility, and to look ahead at the future (a very exciting future given the new expansion plans). One thing about the invitation puzzled me, though. What was the "U" all about?

I invited my best friend to join me for the evening, and when Saturday night rolled around we headed down to MacDonald Island, found a parking spot, and headed inside to find the field houses transformed.

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

The Mac Island staff do such an amazing job with these transformations. It always astonishes me that they can take those field houses and suddenly turn them into something like a black and white themed nightclub. 

My friend and I wandered the crowd, stopping to chat with assorted guests and about assorted topics. I must admit I didn't try any of the available appetizers as I was waiting for the meal, and hadn't really eaten all day in preparation. The reports from others, though, indicated the food was great (as it usually is, as Mac Island has truly stepped up their culinary game in stellar fashion over the past year or so under new direction and leadership).

When the time came to eat we filed into the other field house, which had again been lovingly decorated and dominated by enormous "U"s everywhere - but still no explanation as to what was up with that "U".

We sat at our table and met our table mates, and then settled in for food and entertainment, both of which was plentiful and flavourful. Masters of ceremonies Sheldon Germain and Russell Thomas entertained the crowd, MLAs Mike Allen and Don Scott made an appearance on stage, and there were some of the usual speeches about Mac Island. The running theme, though, was memories.

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

You see, every guest shared some memories from times at Mac Island. I have a few of those, too, hundreds in fact from over the decade I've been here, and most of them involving my Intrepid Junior Blogger. She was 2 when we arrived, and just barely 3 when she began skating lessons at Mac Island. Every week we would arrive at the arena (as we called it then) and she would bundle into a little red snowsuit with little red mittens and step onto the ice in little skates that fastened with velcro. Over the years the snowsuit became elaborate figure skating dresses, the mittens became colourful and fashionable gloves, and the velcro skates became authentic figure skates. She went from a toddler just learning to balance on ice to a young woman who did spins and jumps, and, when she decided to leave the figure skating world, became a young woman who attends rock concerts and meets musicians like Down With Webster and Hedley.

I have some memories that are just mine, too, like joining the fitness centre at Mac Island. You see, I'd never had a gym membership before, and I was terrified. I thought I'd feel out of place, like an alien that had wandered in - and yet from my very first day the MI staff made me feel so at home. I've been neglectful recently of my gym time, and while part of me fears returning after such a long absence I know that they will say "good to see you" when I do drop in, and not "where the hell have you been?". And then there all the memories from events I have attended at Mac Island to those I have volunteered at, and so much more. As I sat there on Saturday night I reflected on what an integral part of my life Mac Island has truly been, and as I looked around at the gathered guests, about 700 of us, I knew that it had been the same for most, if not all, of them.

There were several deeply touching moments on Saturday night. When John H. Wilson was named to the Mac Island Walk of Honour for all his work in this community, and his commitment to it, his tears were genuine. He spoke of his years here, marrying here and raising children here, and it was so very touching to see his love for this place that I love so dearly too. When Helen Bishop was introduced as someone who was born on Mac Island 90 years ago I got chills (and have them again right now) as the changes she has seen in this community over her life are nothing short of astonishing. To see her get an orange MI jacket, to become part of the MI family, was a moment of pure joy.

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

There was the recognition of new sponsors, and existing ones. The announcement of an investment from Shell Albian Sands of 2.5 million dollars into the new expansion was an exciting moment, and now that the new expansion has a name - Shell Place. There were speeches from board members and the mayor, presentations and the revealing of a photo collage made up of hundreds of photos taken at Mac Island. But, for me, the best moment was the speech from COO of Mac Island Tim Reid.

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

I'm going to take a minute here to talk a bit about Tim. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Tim fairly well over the last year, and his commitment and passion for Mac Island and this community is incredible. He is a consummate professional, but he is so much more. He is a visionary of the best kind, bold and thoughtful and brave. Tim is taking our little "arena" and bringing it into the future. Tim is the best steward for the heart of our community that I could imagine. Tim is, in a word, amazing. So, for me, the best moment was Tim's speech which was, as I told him later, pure gold. He explained that this year instead of crunching the numbers for us - golf balls lost and grass blades cut, tickets sold and visits logged - it was about us. It was, in fact, about you - U. It was about the fact that Mac Island is not about golf balls and grass blades and tickets and visits but rather about what it means to this community, about the dance between the facility and the users, about the relationship it has developed with you - U. And there it was, the explanation for the "U". This year State of the Island wasn't about Mac Island really - it was about you, and what you bring to Mac Island, and what it can bring to you. It was, for me, the crowning moment, even more so than what came next.

You see, what came next was the surprise musical guest - Jann Arden. As someone who has listened to Jann since the beginning of her career I was delighted to finally see her live, and discover a woman who is sincere and authentic and funny as hell and more talented than I could have ever thought possible. She gave a spectacular performance, mesmerizing the audience, and even playing "Good Mother", a song that always brings me to tears as I remember my now-gone but much loved own good mother (and hoping that I too am the "good mother" my daughter deserves). It was a stunning end to a wonderful evening - and made even more so when, after Jann left the stage, my friend and I were able to meet her backstage for a photo and a few quick words (discovering that Jann is as lovely in person as she is on stage, and in every single way).

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

Photo courtesy of MacDonald Island Park

As we left that night we were handed some commemorative books about a day in the life of Mac Island. It's a beautiful book, lovingly photographed and full of familiar faces. It is about a day of memories at Mac Island. It is, I guess, about you - U. I went home that night thinking about what Mac Island has been in my life, what it has meant to me and my family, and how it has touched my life. I thought about the times I spent there, and all the memories made. I thought especially about New Year's Eve 2011 when I watched fireworks while standing in the snow outside the Fox Den, my arms wrapped around the Intrepid Junior Bloggers, one of them my niece who has now gone back home to Newfoundland and the other my own daughter, and realized I would never forget that moment. Saturday night State of the Island celebrated you, and me. Saturday night I didn't learn how many blades of grass were cut last year, or how many golf balls went astray. Instead I learned about how the place I have come to see as the heart of our community has fixed itself in so many memories - including, it seems, my own.

My sincere thanks to
MacDonald Island Park
for inviting me to attend
State of the Island 2012
and for all they do 
for our community.
I would also like to thank them
for allowing me to feel in some
small way like part of the MI family :)

Girls Inc. Zombie Run (Or How I Almost Lost My Brain)

Sometimes I hear about an event so novel that I can't help but be captivated by it. I catch word of some happening or some fundraiser and it captures my imagination and attention, and I know that I have to be there to witness it, not just for this blog but for me personally as a member of this community. And so it was when I heard about the Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta Zombie Run.

Girls Inc. is a wonderful non-profit organization directed at young women in our community. Their mandate is broad but fundamentally it's about empowering young women, and as both a woman and the mother of the 13-year old Intrepid Junior Blogger I endorse this concept heartily. I think this is a world that is infused with mixed messages in the media about the role of women, and about what constitutes beauty and strength. So, Girls Inc. has always held a special place in my heart for this reason, and when I heard they were going to hold a zombie run fundraiser I was delighted.

What is a zombie run? Well, it's exactly that. You run - and you run a course that has been attacked by zombies, zombies intent not on stealing your brain but rather the flags attached to you. The zombies in this run were not allowed any physical contact with the runners, and there was no actual brain eating (well, not with the runners anyhow, although as I will explain later I had a bit of a personal scare with all that brain-eating stuff). Instead the runners, who paid a $40 registration fee and collected pledges, were given three flags to wear, flags the assorted zombies would try to steal.

Saturday morning was quite cold when I arrived at Lion's Park, where the runners would set off to run or walk a course through there, Howard Pew Park, Corless Field, and Heritage Park. I snapped some photos of the rather chilly participants, assuring some that they would likely warm up as soon as they saw their first zombie coming at them. I watched as the first group set off on the course, and then I tried to figure out where to station myself for the best action.The kind folks from Girls Inc. gave me an inside story on where I could find the most zombies, and off I went to Heritage Park, the normally sedate little history park that was now full of the undead.

In some cases my words tell the story best, but not this one. I think, in this case, what you really need are the photos, so here goes...

These two met me on the bridge. I admit to being disturbed.

My lovely friend Ashcakesquiggle makes one freaky zombie.

Hamming it up for the camera, zombie-style.

Pretty amazing make-up!

Blood on the boardwalk. Creepy.

Almost too cute to be zombies, really.

Spirits were high as runners evaded zombies.

They shouldn't look relieved yet. They still have to
find the way out of Heritage Park -
and there are more zombies to meet, too.

Zombie fear.

Bloody handprint. Not a good sign of what lies ahead.

The entrance to the bridge, and bloody handprints 
signifying that you will soon encounter...

...the undead.

I'm a bit worried about some members of our local constabulary.
They look dead tired.

I could say the Zombie Run was fun, but that's an understatement. Laughter rang out in the cool autumn air as runners encountered horrifically convincing zombies. Every runner I spoke to after the finish line told me they would do it again, and they told stories of being pushed into the path of the zombies by their "friends" who used the distraction to escape. They laughed and joked, some telling me they kept all their flags while some told me they lost them all immediately to the zombie hordes. The mood was light and happy (despite all the fake blood), and the event, I would say, a complete and utter success. Considering the current prevalence of zombies in popular culture, the proximity to Halloween, the chance for a good time, and the opportunity to raise money for a great organization I suspect this event will become an annual tradition. The fact that in the very first year all registration spots filled (about 100 runners) and there were 40-50 zombie volunteers shows that this event will be one that will see repeated success.

I decided after a bit that I was quite frozen, and began to head to my car. The runners were still trickling in, and zombies from the start of the course were beginning to head back to the starting point, too. I was walking towards the parking lot when I was distracted briefly, and suddenly I was grabbed from behind. A small strangled yelp escaped me as I realized I was in the clutches of a zombie - a zombie who turned out to be my own personal zombie expert, friend, and fellow writer Roddy Cross, author of a zombie e-book (and someone who enjoys startling someone already wary of zombies, and who is prone to shrieking). I hugged my zombie friend, and then off I went, leaving behind me runners and zombies to enjoy a BBQ - which I think was hot dogs and burgers, not brains, but I can't say that for sure, really.

Roddy Cross, zombie expert, author, and friend

My sincere thanks to
Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta
for welcoming me to the
2012 Zombie Run
and my congratulations on a terrific event!

To all the runners and zombies -
you guys are amazing.
You endured the cold, the damp, the mud,
and the woman with the camera,
and turned this event into a
brain-eating good time! :)