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

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Day In April That Changed Us Forever - April 27, 2012

It isn't really that long ago, and yet it feels like it has been forever. So much has happened since that day, for both this community and for me personally. It is a date forever etched in my mind, and a day that changed not hundreds but thousands of lives. That date is April 27, 2012 - the day that a horrific collision on Highway 63 changed Fort McMurray forever.

There have been collisions before, tragic ones that took lives, and fatal collisions that have happened since. There have been many lives lost, and lives changed forever as a result of those losses. I have often thought about why that incident almost one year ago was different, because in many ways it was not. It was no less and no more tragic than any other collision on the highways that claimed lives, and yet that collision, one that claimed seven lives (plus an unborn child) and left only two survivors shook this community to the core. I suspect it is because the true impact of these losses finally struck us.

To say it changed this community forever is not hyperbole. That collision resulted in a protest rally designed to draw national media attention and force the commitment to twin Highway 63. It gave new fire to a petition that had already been circulating after a local mother lost her son in another tragic collision on the highway. And I think it changed the heart of this community, because it cut right into it.

I think perhaps what happened is that in that collision each and every one of us could find someone we identified with. Whether we had a son or a daughter, a wife or a husband, a brother or a sister, a mother or a father, we could see how very easily it could have been them on that fateful day. For me it was the loss of a young girl named Faith, just one year younger than my own daughter. For me it was the day I lost faith.

Over the course of the last twelve months a great deal has happened. There have been more losses on that highway, and on Highway 881. There has been a commitment from the provincial government to finalize twinning of Highway 63 by the fall of 2016. And for most of us life has gone on, the daily routine little changed. Except for some of us. Except for the ones who have lost loved ones over the years on Highway 63, and the first responders and rescuers who respond to these collisions. For them one day, whether it was April 27, 2012 or another date, was a day when their lives were forever altered.

And that is why on April 27, 2013, this community will gather once again. This time, though, the community will come together to remember. This time the community will come together to support those who continue to live every day with the losses they have suffered. The community will come together to remember days when lives ended, and others were changed forever. We will come together to honour the first responders and rescuers who carry with them the memories of those tragic days. We will come together to memorialize those who are now gone, lost on little ribbons of road in the vast boreal forest.

There are times when it is hard for me to write about this topic. I have written about it so often that on occasion I feel like the names of those lost are tattooed on my heart. I have spoken to mothers, and fathers, and husbands, and wives, and daughters, and sons. They have all told me stories of loss, and every single story added to the ones told before. I recall them all, too, every email and phone call. I recall every person who has stopped me to tell me their story, because their loss is one they live with every single day. I have over the last year cried an ocean of tears over a ribbon of road, and for me Highway 63 will always be a ribbon running through my life - because it changed me, too.

On April 27th I will gather with other members of this community for a candlight vigil and memorial ceremony. I will release a balloon with a personal message. I suspect my message will be meant for a young woman named Faith. I will tell her that she is not, and never will be, forgotten. On that stormy spring April day I thought I had lost my faith, but I found it again, and my heart, in a community that will not forget those we have lost, those who have survived, those who have been left behind, those who rescue, those who respond, and those who live with the memories every day.

Come together to remember and support - details at:
Survivors, Rescuers, and First Responders


  1. Very beautifully written Theresa. Thank you.

  2. Profound, yet simple and heartbreaking.....