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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Hundred Years in Wood Buffalo - Thoughts on Centennial Celebrations in Fort McMurray

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the launch of a Centennial celebration. It was for the Wood Buffalo RCMP, a detachment that this year will celebrate 100 years of policing in the Wood Buffalo region. 100 years ago, in 1913, the RCMP first opened a detachment in this area (although the location of that very first detachment remains clouded in some mystery), and became the community police for this part of the country. While they had been present here before that time 1913 marks when they decided to become a permanent part of the landscape - and of course they are not alone as some other organizations recently celebrated centennials, too.

You may recall that the Fort McMurray Public School District celebrated their Centennial last year, 100 years since the first school opened in Fort McMurray. The proximity of these two celebrations has gotten me thinking, because what do police and schools have in common? What ties them together? Well, it's community.

No one builds schools or sets up RCMP detachments unless there is some sense of permanency in an area. Even 100 years ago the pioneers of this area recognized that this was a community, not some interim stopping point or transient town. There were already families here, and hence the need for schools, and where there are people you need police, and hence the need for the RCMP. The decision to build a school, though, and to form an RCMP detachment show that 100 years ago there were those who already deemed this a community, and who called it home.

I like to think about the challenges they faced, too. How often do we whine about traffic or lack of retail or not enough events and activities to keep us entertained? Then imagine 100 years ago, when even a short trip must have seemed arduous - and dangerous in the winter. If we think we lack retail now imagine what it must have been like back then, when options were very limited and going to Edmonton to shop was far more difficult than a trip down the highway. And if on occasion we think we are isolated now try to imagine a time and place when it was truly isolated by the very nature of the place. Our challenges pale in comparison, and it makes one wonder why anyone was crazy enough to stick it out and call this place home.

Yet they did call it home, setting up a school and seeing an RCMP detachment form. They formed a community, one that had begun forming many years before, but as the school arrived and the police set up shop the community developed steam, too. It started to become solid, and it began, I suspect, to transition from a a place where people lived into a home.

It's funny as I suspect 100 years ago this place was undergoing some massive changes. There was a new school, and a new RCMP detachment. There was quite likely a new sense of excitement, too, over a community that was beginning to truly take shape. There was quite likely a sense that this place was changing and becoming more and more sustainable and livable. And to me that is pretty amazing, because I think it is happening again, in 2013.

You see this community is changing. There is the city centre redevelopment, new neighbourhoods, new schools, and massive growth on the horizon. There are new families arriving every day, and new babies being born. There are new shops opening, and new possibilities at every turn. This place is becoming more livable, and more sustainable, with every change. Perhaps we don't see the very first school opening, but we see the school district 100 years later, full of our children. And we don't see the very first RCMP detachment, but we see a detachment that has grown along with the community, now employing dozens of officers and staff. We have gone from a place of one school and one tiny RCMP detachment to where we are today, and the question I always ask is: where will we be 100 years from now?

I think it's a fair question, you see, because the decisions we make now will determine where we end up in 100 years. The decisions made in 1912 and 1913 had a profound impact on 2012 and 2013, just as the decisions we are now making will have on 2113. And so we need to decide wisely, and choose our path with care. We have been granted an incredible legacy and a gift, a rich history of those who made decisions that have brought us to where we are today (even with the occasional mis-step, too). As we move forward we must find a way to honour that past while preparing for the future, realizing that the present is the bridge between the two. And, well, we need to remember to celebrate along the way, to recognize achievements like 100 years in a place that has always presented challenges - and opportunities. Here, under the vast northern sky, people have faced those challenges and embraced those opportunities for over one hundred years - and that is something worthy of celebration.

Happy Centennial to the
Wood Buffalo RCMP
who have now faced the challenges
and embraced the opportunities
for one hundred years :)

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