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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Road Bullies

To say I was outraged would be to put it mildly. I was driving along in the left hand lane to make a left hand turn. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the semi truck in the right hand lane, the one beside me, cutting into my lane. He was quite blatantly inserting himself in front of me, not giving me any time to react, intent on his desire to be in the left hand lane. He came dangerously close to my car, and if I had not slammed on my brakes would have certainly caused a collision. I was shaken, and angry. And this happens far, far too often here.
There is a form of driving behaviour that can only be deemed aggressive – but I would dumb it down a bit and call it what it is: bullying. This behaviour involves using your vehicle to control other drivers, and the driver this morning is a prime example. There is no doubt his vehicle is much larger than mine, and that it would not have sustained much damage had he caused a collision. His actions – forcing himself into my lane, even though he clearly knew I was there (I made eye contact with him moments earlier), can only be interpreted as an act of aggression. This sort of driving results in collisions, and while if we had collided this morning the results were not likely to have resulted in significant injury I wonder what could have occurred had this been at highway speeds. Driving in this manner is normally a pattern of behaviour, and a deeply worrisome one.

I realize that transport drivers have deadlines, and being professional drivers must often feel frustrated with the driving public. This does not, however, excuse them from the rules of the road. In fact perhaps it makes it even more vital that they adhere to both the laws and the non-written common courtesy laws of the road, because they are in fact far less likely to be severely injured in a collision. A great deal of public safety rides with them every time they take the wheel, and this is a responsibility they should not take lightly.
Since telling this story to others I have heard dozens of similar incidents, both happening within the community and on the highways around us. Aggressive and bullying driving behaviour is reprehensible in anyone, but when one is driving a ‘big rig’ and with potential to cause great harm it is even more troubling. We all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of those who share our roads, but when we drive a vehicle as our profession then it becomes even more paramount.

For the record I followed the driver this morning to his destination, and I asked him who he drives for. When he declined to provide that information I advised him that he better hope I not found out, because I will lay a complaint about his actions this morning. And I also happen to have recorded his license plate number and make and model of vehicle to further my investigation into who employs him, because I think they deserve to know about his behaviour, too. I encourage everyone who witnesses aggressive driving, particularly involving professional drivers, to report the behaviour. Safety on the roads rests with all of us, and if necessary we must take whatever steps needed to ensure it – including stopping the road bullies.

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - Return On Ideas and Brent Hughes

One of the genuine pleasures of participating in TEDx Fort McMurray was meeting people who bring new ideas and thoughts to the table. The final presenter in Act III at TEDx Fort McMurray:Shift in Thought was Brent Hughes, someone who has brought some ideas from very far away and made them relevant to right here.

Brent is a professional who worked in Japan for several years. I imagine that there was some culture shock in that experience, first when he arrived there from North America, bringing his North American ideas with him, and then when he returned here, bringing with him some Japanese thoughts and ideas. I don't think it's ever easy to straddle two cultures, but I also think it's a tremendous opportunity in both the personal and professional sense. Some of us will likely never have that experience ourselves, and so we must live vicariously through people like Brent, and the ideas he shares.

Brent's presentation is entitled "Return on Ideas", or ROI for short. Of course there are business and technological implications for this concept but I think there are significant strides to be made in a personal sense as well. The ability to not only conceive of an idea but implement it is a skill, and one that should be nurtured at every turn - because it can not only shift your thought, but change your life.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flying the Flag of Community - and Humanity

There are incidents that are troubling on so many levels, and for so many different reasons. There are events that are celebratory in nature but that take a dark turn, and a darker tone. One of these incidents and events happened recently when the local LGBTQommunity held the city’s first ever gay pride event downtown at a local pub – and at some point during the evening the colourful rainbow flag that celebrates diversity and tolerance was stolen, and burned in the parking lot.

That flag was the property of the local group that organized the event, and for that reason alone it is a deeply troubling incident, because the destruction of property belonging to others is never acceptable. There is a deeper reason for concern, though, and one that touches far further down into human nature. The burning of a flag that celebrates gay pride and identity can only be read as a message – a message of intolerance, A message of hate. A message that says that others who are not “like us” – whether through race, religion, or sexual orientation – are not welcome. It is a deeply troubling message, and one that makes me both angry and sad because of what it says about the individuals who would burn this flag and those who would think it is acceptable to do so.

Look, hatred is never acceptable. It does not matter if it is directed against someone because they are gay, or a different race, or a different religion. Every single person on this planet is exactly that first – a person. And people are deserving of dignity and respect, not because of their sexual orientation or colour or anything else but simply because they are people. If we expect others to give us the dignity and respect we wish to receive then we must give it to every single person who shares the planet with us, because we are no different from each other.
Yes, no different. It doesn’t matter if you are gay or straight, male or female, black or white, or any of the other slight variations that make us “different”. We share the same DNA, the same species, and the same planet. If we focus on those tiny differences of gender or race or sexual orientation we fail to see the things that tie us together – things like our ability to love, our compassion, our wisdom, our frailty, and our humanity. What a boring world it would be without these little differences, differences that are so minute compared to all that makes us the same. We are born, and we die, and all the time that is between those two points should be spent being kind and accepting and understanding of each other.

Why should we spend our time that way? Because hatred is an insidious evil that ferments. Hatred has led to genocides and holocausts. Hatred has led to mass murders and all manner of evil. And so those who trade in hatred, whether it is burning flags or any other act of disrespect, are no more and no less than purveyors of evil.
There is perhaps a lesson in all this, that we have a long way to go still until we are the welcoming and tolerant community – and world – we want to be. Perhaps there is a lesson about the importance of helping others to understand that we are more alike than different, and that the things that tie us together are far more intrinsic than flags.

I think perhaps it is time we have this discussion in our community, particularly as we begin to grow again and become increasingly diverse. I see new faces almost every single day, and while those faces don’t look exactly like mine what is the same is why they are here: opportunity, potential, and the chance to make this place home. This home of mine is not just my home, but their home, and likely soon to be home to thousands and thousands of others who will be slightly different from me in some respects but exactly like me in absolutely every way that matters. I want them to be able to fly their flags, whether they are red and white, or red and white and blue, or any other colour – including a rainbow – with no fear of flames. I want them to find this place a community where they are welcomed because they chose to come here and contribute to it, and because they are human. I want them to know that what binds us – as people and as a community – is powerful. And each and every single one of us has the power to make this happen, because this community is us. We are the community, and if we, as individuals, stand up and say that burning flags is unacceptable then we state as a community that we stand united against hatred, and intolerance, and ignorance, and fear. And so today I stand and say that burning that brightly coloured rainbow flag was not acceptable, and was not reflective of my community and home. I hope that you, as individuals, will all stand with me, so we can stand together, as a community, united and strong – and human.
No one should ever be afraid to fly
a flag of their True Colours -
whatever shade they happen to be.

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - Wide-Angle Proactivity and Amie Dawe

One of the pleasures of participating in TEDx Fort McMurray 2013 was the opportunity to meet presenters who came to the event to share their ideas on how we can change the way we view the world. The first presenter in the afternoon session, named Amie Dawe, was one of these people, and her presentation used a very old and perhaps clich├ęd term (proactivity) but gave it a new twist by asking people to consider widening their view while still being proactive - and thus Wide-Angle Proactivity.

I think most people acknowledge the importance of developing a proactive approach to the world, whether professional or personal. Reactivity, while an essential skill, is often not the best way to deal with a world that can be uncertain at best. Proactivity has become recognized as a fundamental way to address situations, but even proactivity has limits if one views it through a narrow lens. Amie, a lovely and intelligent young woman, suggests that by widening the lens you can increase the effectiveness of proactivity, and reap the benefits of your new wide-angled view.

It was a delight to meet Amie and hear her presentation, as in some ways she reminds me a great deal of my own Intrepid Junior Blogger - intelligent, beautiful, and eloquent. She has, as I am prone to say of the IJB, "it all going on", and I think is a young woman who will meet with tremendous success, especially with her understanding of the benefits of finding a new point of view - like wide-angled proactivity.

Today I present to you the lovely Amie Dawe, and her thoughts on why we need to change our lens on the world:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Keeping Faith

I admit I have been avoiding reading about it. Six young adults killed in a horrific collision. Not in my community, perhaps, but still in someone's community, and I recognize the pain they are likely experiencing. I suppose I avoid reading about it because it reminds me too much of another collision, one that was much closer to home and that ripped at the fabric of my own community. I mean, of course, the tragic collision on April 27, 2012, and the loss of seven lives, including two children, plus one unborn child.

The collision from that April has been on my mind a great deal in the last few days. Days after it occurred I had reached out via Facebook to a woman I had never met - the grandmother of one of the children killed in the crash. Faith was just eleven years old, and she and her father were two of those killed that day. I suppose I never expected to hear back from her grandmother, but I sent her a message anyhow. I told her how the loss of Faith had affected me, and how it had set me on a path to fight for the twinning of a highway that had claimed too many lives. I told her that we would never forget Faith - and that we would never lose faith, either, in our ability to ensure that she and her father had not died senseless deaths, and in vain. I never expected to hear from this woman from across the country - but this week I did.

I was startled when I saw the message from her, and while I won't share the words the sense of raw pain was still so very evident. While for most of us that day is a distant memory for those who lost their loved ones it is likely never far away. I suspect there isn't a day when they don't think about it. The distance of time means little to them, because the impact of that day is with them every single moment of every day.

That day is etched into my memory, too, not because I lost a loved one in the collision but because I think it changed something very fundamental in me. I think it was the event that truly made clear to me how much I love this community, and the people in it. I think it was for me a pivotal moment in recognizing that this place has become home to me in a way I have never known 'home' before. It was the moment when from great pain I saw great compassion and commitment arise. I saw a community come together in agony, and in resolution. I think that day didn't just change me - I think it changed Fort McMurray.

One of the promises I made to Faith's grandmother is that I would never forget Faith, and I never have. The memory of that young woman provided the strength I needed when I wrote about Highway 63, when I did interviews, and when I met with politicians.The memory of that young woman didn't just affect how I thought about the highway, but about how I thought about this entire community. It made me want to make this into a better place for all the young women and men like Faith and like my own Intrepid Junior Blogger. It made me want to make sure highways were twinned and neighbourhoods built and schools opened and downtowns redeveloped. It made me want to make this into the safest and best community in which to raise children, because I suddenly realized that the power to do so didn't rest with "someone else". The power to change things, to make the world a better place, rested with all of us. It rested with me.

And so young Faith has proved a mentor for me of sorts, a reminder of the need to do the things I need to do to make this a great place. She will not be forgotten, not by her family, certainly, not by a community who grieved over the loss of her and all the others who lost their lives on that highway before and since, and not by me. I have kept Faith - and faith - in my heart and mind, and I will continue to do so forever, because I made a promise to a grandmother over a year ago - and it is a promise I intend to keep.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Coast to Coast Kitchen Party - and the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society

I have never used the services of our local Family Crisis Society, and I am truly grateful to have never required them. I do, however, have some experience with them, and I know their value in this community, because they touched the lives of some people very close to me.

A few years ago I knew a family here that was enduring some deep and painful times. There was a lot of conflict, and caught in the middle were the children, children of whom I was and am deeply fond. On occasion the children, when things were bad at home, would end up with me for a few days, and I was always glad to have them, although it expanded our little family dramatically. I knew, though, that the situation at home could not continue forever, and so one day I was not surprised to learn that the mom had decided to leave the dad, and, having nowhere else to go, had taken the children and were now residing in the shelter the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society provides.

That it was a hard and painful decision there is no doubt. It was a scary time for them, I think, and an uncertain one as the world around them changed so rapidly, and they found themselves navigating very new territory. I was deeply grateful that the Family Crisis Society was there to guide them through it, and I can now report that they moved on to another community where they are happy, and thriving, and whole, and recovered from a traumatic time. And they did so because there was a social profit organization there to see them all through it, an organization that is so very vital in this community.

For that reason the local Family Crisis Society has always been of tremendous importance to me, because I witnessed first hand the work they do and how they changed the lives and outlooks of some people who are very important to me. For that reason it was my genuine pleasure to attend the Coast to Coast Kitchen Party last night - to eat great food, to meet Chef Michael Smith, to enjoy a great friendly atmosphere - but most of all to celebrate and raise funds for the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society and the work they do.

Last night I arrived at MacDonald Island Park for the event, but I had the advantage of knowing the work that had gone into this beforehand. You see I walk right past the curling rink surface every day when I arrive at work, and for days I had been watching as it transformed from the normal concrete into a landscaped map of Canada, with sod and trees and mulch and plants. I had watched the enormous Canadian flag be hung (the largest Canadian flag in western Canada, apparently), and I had watched with awe when Chef Michael Smith arrived and flung himself into the preparations. He had no idea I was watching, but I was, witnessing a famous Canadian chef as he carried boxes and bags and worked right alongside all the others preparing for the event. Perhaps some chefs are divas, appearing at the last moment for their moment to shine, but not Chef Michael, who I saw work tirelessly to get ready for the event. I was impressed before I even heard the man speak, and last night, during the event, I was delighted to listen as he choked up while discussing his pride in being Canadian. I saw a man who is authentic and sincere and genuine, and it was a pleasure to listen to him speak - and oh yeah, to eat his food.

It wasn't just his food, though, but food from chefs from all across the country, representing every province. There was food, so much food that even today I have a bit of a food-coma going on. I started with the strategy of eating coast to coast, going from east to west, but quickly abandoned it as a poor strategy when I realized I would never make it alive. I instead focused on what I really wanted to try, and soon found myself eating salmon from BC (prepare by my dear friend and Sawridge chef Ken Bowie) and the delectable reindeer from the NWT (I am afraid I will have to explain to the Intrepid Junior Blogger that I ate Rudolph, and while I felt shame I felt zero regret as he was, in a word, delicious).

By the time the desserts arrived I was so desperately stuffed, but I couldn't resist the peach almond tart and the raisin bread pudding, a pudding served warm and with a rum sauce that pretty much made me cry tears of joy (and anguish as my belly protested). The food was glorious, the company at my table (complete strangers, but kind ones) good, and the atmosphere festive and very kitchen party indeed.

There were so many entertaining moments, most of them involving Chef Michael as he did things like teaching Tim Reid, COO at MacDonald Island Park, how to take the cork off a champagne bottle with a cleaver (this looked ridiculously dangerous but went much smoother than I feared), and organizing a little whipped-cream-making-competition using audience participants to produce the whipped cream for the desserts by shaking the cream in jam jars (I must admit my table deferred from using the whipped cream produced as we were a bit dubious about the efforts of the person from our table who took part, and instead opted for the other sauces).

There was a live auction, too, with super-auctioneer Ross Jacobs in charge, and one that raised a tremendous amount of money, including two trips to PEI to spend time with Chef Michael. Each trip went for a colossal $30,000, but money well spent I suspect for an adventure that will live forever in the memories of those who go.

And speaking of Chef Michael - well, at the end of the evening (just as the amazing Natalie McMaster began to play) I had the chance to meet him when he signed the cookbook I had purchased. I admit I am not much of a cook, but since I am now embarking on a new adventure of my own (new house, single parenthood, and a teenage daughter who likes to eat) I thought perhaps it was time to learn a few things about the kitchen (as opposed to knowing only where the wine opener is and how to turn on the dishwasher). I stood in line and when the time came I chatted with a man who is the genuine article, a professional chef with a huge heart, and one who has, I think, taken this community into that heart. Earlier that night on stage he had commented that he thinks those who judge this community need to come and visit it and learn who we really are, and I could not agree more, of course, since that is what I always say to those who say unkind things about us. They simply don't understand us or know who really are - but I think that Chef Michael does, and I am truly glad to know that he has become an ambassador for us as he goes out into the rest of the world, sharing his story of who and what this community really is.

Last night was one of those amazing nights in Fort McMurray, you see. After I spoke to Chef Michael I headed home, too full and suddenly too tired to stay a moment longer. I carried in my hand the book he had signed, autographed to "McMurray Musings", as I had shared with him this blog, and why I write it. It was raining softly, and when I went by the back doors as I headed towards my car I could hear the fiddle music and the sounds of laughter. It was a lovely final moment for me as I reflected not only on the success of the event but on the success of organizations like the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society. You see these fundraisers are wonderful to attend, but they are the glitzy side of the hard work done every day by the social profit organizations in this community. Most days for the Family Crisis Society don't include famous chefs and fine cuisine and live auctions. Most days are about simply getting the job done, meeting their mandate, doing what needs to be done - and changing lives, like the lives of the people I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The work they do every single day is what keeps some people from tragedy, and they are the glue that puts the broken pieces back together. And so while I am truly and profoundly grateful for last night and a wonderful evening I am in fact far more grateful for the work they do every day, and for the fact that they were there for people I care about when they needed them. This is what the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society is, you see. It is about being there for those in need, and events like last night give them some of the resources they need to do so. It was a pleasure and honour to be there., not just to eat the food and listen to the music and meet Chef Michel Smith - but to honour and celebrate an organization that makes a difference in our community, every single day.

My thanks to:

Chef Michael Smith
and all the wonderful chefs
for the amazing food and experience

All the volunteers who worked so
very hard to create this event

The community members who came
and dug deep to donate to a great cause

The staff at MacDonald Island Park
for all their hard work for this event

But most of all
the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society
for what they do every single day
and for changing lives

Thursday, July 25, 2013

UDSR, What is it Good For?

On occasion blog post titles occur to me out of the blue, for no particular rhyme or reason. One of my favourite songs of all time is this one:

What does it have to do with this post? Well, honestly very little, except that the UDSR - or Urban Development Sub-Region, for which the acronym stands, is the very opposite of being good for absolutely nothing. It is, in fact, exceptionally good news for all of us in Fort McMurray, because it addresses an issue that has stifled us for some time: lack of available land on which to grow.

The projections are that this region is going to rapidly grow in population. And while the housing market right now is in a bit of a slump when that growth begins and those properties sell there was, until today, very few options remaining for land development. It isn't just residential properties affected, either, but commercial, too, part of the issue being land tied up with oil leases. Today, on a rather historic day in Fort McMurray, that changed when Minister of Energy Ken Hughes, MLA Don Scott, and Mayor Melissa Blake came together to announce that the development of the UDSR is rolling ahead, moving light years in a single day. Oil leases covering the land within the proposed development area will be cancelled, and the lease holders compensated. This land, now free of encumbrances, will then be available for the RMWB to utilize as we grow. 

Now, some have raised fears about housing prices dropping, but that isn't really what this is about. This isn't about flooding the market with land but rather releasing it in a responsible manner so that growth of our community is not restricted in the manner it has been. And there are still issues to address, like the lack of funding to develop the access roads to Parsons Creek and Saline Creek, neighbourhoods that cannot be functional until those roads exist. And there is ensuring that the land is released in a responsible way, and that it does not prove detrimental to existing home owners - but the beauty is this: Fort McMurray can now grow, and grow in both the commercial and residential sense. The sudden availability of land will have a profound impact on our ability to attract new residents. It will perhaps prove the defining moment in this region as we see another round of massive growth, making us into an urban centre. This may well be one of the most pivotal moments in our history.

Maybe you think I am exaggerating, but all I can say is that ever since I have been writing this blog the issue of lack of land for development has been one I have heard time and time again. I have heard it from almost every person I have ever interviewed about the future of this region, and I have heard their concern about the impact it would have if land was not available for development. The fear that our growth, progress, and future could be stifled was very real, and the more I read the more concerned I became, too. Today, however, I think many breathed a sigh of relief - because the UDSR became a reality, and now we have room to grow.

So, back to that title, and the song. War, what is it good for? Well, as the song says, absolutely nothing - but not so of the Urban Development Sub-Region, which I believe will, in the end, be good for Fort McMurray, this entire region, and all of us. Now go listen to Edwin Starr and The Temptations and have a little dance party, much like our lovely mayor did today when she danced out of joy upon sharing the news that Fort McMurray is on the grow yet again - and finally with the land to make it happen.

You can find more information on
today's announcement and
the Urban Development Sub-Region

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Community Crisis is Not Your Political Opportunity

This last week has been a crisis in our community. A local MLA, well known and well regarded, was charged in a prostitution sting while in Minnesota on government business. This incident was deeply troubling, no doubt, and deeply painful to many in a community that despite what others may think is tightly knit. The shock waves travelled deep and far, and it has been a painful time. And what has not made it any better is the political opportunism it seems to have inspired.

Just two days after the news broke the official opposition began a series of automated phone calls to determine community reaction to the incident. Never mind that a good number of the public polled hadn't even had the chance to learn about the matter yet, or give it any serious thought. Never mind that many who did know were still in the early stages of sorting through the fallout, and trying to formulate their thoughts. That was all immaterial in this political game, one that sought to capitalize on a deeply troubling incident. I am not sure if anyone in opposition gave any serious thought to these tactics, as all it did was deepen a very fresh wound. Those who did know about the charges were still reeling from the shock, and hadn't even moved on to thoughts of what should or must happen. But opportunism waits for no man - or constituent - and on it rolled, with a Twitter campaign.

The Twitter campaign was designed as another poll of sorts, but one in which all could participate, whether they reside in Mike Allen's constituency or not. And so they did, retweeting the request that he resign as MLA immediately, ignoring the fact that this is between him and his constituents, not between him and every voter in the province. This is a local matter, and one where we, the people of this region, should decide if we wish to have him resign or stay on as our now-independent MLA.

To be very honest I am of very mixed thoughts about all of this, seeing validity on both sides of the argument of whether to resign or stay on, but one thing I am very clear on is this: a crisis in my community is not a political opportunity for others, and it should not be viewed that way. Those who wish to capitalize on a painful and difficult time are no better than the others who have abused this community through slanted media reports. This is a time when those who are members of this community must come to a decision, and one made without the "helpful" influence of outsiders who offer their opinions on what we "must" or "should" do. Call me belligerent, but one way to get my back up is to tell me what to do - and I suspect a whole lot of Fort McMurray is a lot like me in this one respect.

So, to those who think this is a time to push or pull us in one direction or another - stop. This is a time for those within the community to arrive at a decision, whether you like it or not. This is between us, and each other, and our MLA, and not part of a little political game. I do not like seeing my community used as a pawn, and it makes me seethe with anger to see others think they can infringe on our rights as residents and constituents as we make this decision. The decision as to what happens now does not rest with the opposition, or the government, or anyone BUT the people of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, and our MLA. I respectfully ask that you allow us to exercise our rights in this regard, and allow us to determine our own future. My community crisis is not your political opportunity - and I suggest you take note of this for future reference, whomever you happen to be, and whatever angle you happen to want to pursue. This is a community, proud and united and, right now, hurting a bit, and I think we would appreciate being allowed the time to come to grips with the past - and our future.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - The Sign: A Bothersome Thing, and Alanna Bottrell

As Act Two of TEDx Fort McMurray approached the final moments, and lunch and growly tummies loomed large, one last presenter for the morning took the stage - and when I say "took it", I mean "grabbed it in her ferocious teeth and shook it around much like a pitbull with a poodle". The diminutive-in-stature-but-not-in-intellect Alanna Bottrell closed out Act Two of YMM with her presentation on the dreaded "sign".

Now, in my experience the sign Alanna talks about is unique to the Fort McMurray experience. I do not recall ever seeing this sign anywhere else, a sign that fundamentally says "we can treat you, the customer, however we want, but don't give us any lip or you are outta here" (okay, it doesn't really say that, but that sentiment seems to be the essence). Alanna is a gifted writer, and she presents her thoughts on the sign - and on ways we can really improve the YMM experience - with both eloquence and humour.

I had known Alanna in a superficial sense prior to the TEDx experience, but I was delighted to have the opportunity to get to know her better and discover that she is as delightfully quirky, irreverent, funny, and brilliant as you would guess her to be from her written words. She might have been nervous about her performance before she presented but I was thrilled to watch as she threw down the gauntlet and challenged "the sign" and all those who display it to change the dialogue by removing the sign and creating ways to welcome instead.

It is always an incredible moment to see someone shine, and Alanna shone brightly at TEDx Fort McMurray when she reminded us of the importance of welcoming people into our stores, our facilities, and our communities. I know it got me thinking both personally and professionally about how we approach the public - do we welcome them in, or do we try to push them out the door with signs that we think are protecting us in some sense but that are likely just setting the tone for an experience because we have come to expect it to play out that way? What would happen if instead of a sign we painted a red welcome mat to every door? What if we got rid of a sign that immediately sets up a confrontational tone and instead opened the door to dialogue and relationships from a place of acceptance and mutual respect? Perhaps we could set a different tone, and create new, positive experiences for everyone. Perhaps we would see the sign quietly be taken down and this one bothersome thing be relegated to a dusty storage room, or, better yet, a garbage bin.

As I ponder this bold future I present to you the charming, unorthodox, and uproarious Alanna Bottrell - and her thoughts on a very bothersome thing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - Golden Goose or Ugly Duckling?, and Liane Lefsrud

One of the most exciting things about being involved in TEDx Fort McMurray was the opportunity to meet fascinating people. The next presenter at TEDx Fort McMurray that I profile is a woman named Liane Lefsrud, and she is someone I found intriguing when I saw her presentation for the first time.

Liane is many things, and one of those things is a researcher. She has been doing some research into the dialogue between the terms "oil sands" and "tarsands", and how that dialogue has changed over time. The irony is that I have had this discussion with people, although in a far more speculative sense than Liane, who has put some solid hard work behind it, and found evidence of how that dialogue has changed, and why. What is even more interesting to me, though, is the effect those words and that dialogue have on the very conversations we have surrounding the oil sands/tarsands.

I have always maintained that no matter what we called them - oil sands, tarsands, or anything else - what mattered was NOT the terminology but the way we were framing the dialogue. It has become a deeply adversarial one, either for or against development of a controversial resource. This dialogue, and the language that has developed around it, has become more divisive than helpful. By focusing so heavily on the terminology we have allowed ourselves to be defined by it. In the end what we CALL it is far less important than what we DO with it, and HOW we approach the discussion at all.

Lianne is not only brilliant but beautiful, and an absolute pleasure to watch present as she is so very poised and precise. I love how she weaves this narrative together with her slide deck, and I love how she is bringing to the fore the very dialogue I have been thinking about. After I first heard her present during our initial rehearsal I told her how very excited I was to share this with my blog readers at some point - and so here it is. This is the lovely, charming, intelligent, and very on target Liane Lefsrud as she presents "Golden Goose or Ugly Duckling?" at TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When A Hero Falls in Fort McMurray

I sit here early this morning with a heavy heart as I write this. There have been very few times during the course of writing this blog that I have felt at such a loss for words, and struggled so hard and long with an issue. I have lost sleep, and shed tears, and had dozens of conversations. I have laid there late at night staring into the darkness, hoping that the silence of the night would help me to identify all my feelings and find a way to express them. In the end, though, it was a discussion with the Intrepid Junior Blogger that led me to write this post, a conversation in which she, wise beyond her years, simply advised me to be honest. And so I shall.

I write today, of course, about the recent incident involving Mike Allen, MLA of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo - and someone that for the last two years has become important to me. When I first began this adventure Mike held a seat on RMWB council, and he was one of my very first supporters and encouragers. He shared my posts, retweeting them and emailing them to others. He and I would have coffee together on occasion, and we would discuss all sorts of things, from local government business to other matters in the community. When he announced that he would stand for nomination of the PC party in the provincial election I put my support behind him, because I believed he was the best representative for our community. I will not hesitate to admit that I worked on the campaign to get Don Scott elected, and so I worked beside those doing the same for Mike, our paths often crossing. I was at the victory party when they were both elected to office, and I have been in contact with Mike ever since, watching as he began to take on stronger roles and do more and more for our region with issues like Highway 63. And, then, this past week, when the news arrived from St. Paul, Minnesota,  the bottom fell out.

When I was told that Mike had been arrested, and the nature of the charge, I cried. I cried because I knew what it would mean for him professionally, and personally. I cried because I couldn't quite put it together in my head. I cried because I knew the aftermath of the incident would be ugly in every regard, although even I underestimated the vicious nature of some of the things that have since been said. I cried because I knew I would need to tell the Intrepid Junior Blogger, who had been at the victory party too, and who had worked on the campaigns. The IJB is a young woman, almost 14, old enough to understand prostitution and the exploitation of others. Old enough to understand the severity of being charged with a crime in another country, particularly when there representing our province and on government business. Old enough to be deeply troubled by it, just as I was. Old enough to know the truth.

And so, later that day when all the brouhaha had faded away a bit, I told her. I cried again when I did so, and while we did not talk about it much that day we did so again last night, when I shared with her my deep internal struggles over the entire topic. I told her about the phone calls I had received from media after the news broke, calls asking for the "Fort McMurray reaction", calls I rejected because I couldn't even articulate my own thoughts and feelings in a sensible way, and I certainly wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else. I told her about the wide and varied reactions, from forgiveness and acceptance to sheer hot anger, the harsh and cruel words others said, but how others expressed their support. I told her how some had seemed to want me to feel a certain way - disappointment, or anger, or vengeful - and how I could not seem to feel much of anything for longer than a few moments, each emotion quickly being replaced by a new one. I told her about my hesitance to judge anyone, because I do not believe we are on this earth to place ourselves in judgement of others. I told her how some had asked if I would demand Mike resign from his role of MLA. I told her how confused I was, and how I did not know what to write. And she told me tell you all of this, because it is the truth.

I will admit that I have felt anger, seething anger because so many of us, myself included, have fought long and hard to share the "good story" of our community, to replace the tawdry headlines with ones that reflect who we truly are as a community. Seeing our city name tied up in this hurt me deeply, and felt like a blow to all the work that has been done to show the world that we are not the place they might think we are. I felt anger, too, for the people of this community, people who I knew felt betrayed and let down and disappointed. I have felt sorrow, mostly for Mike's family, because they too would have seen some of the viciousness of those who attacked him (and while I understand anger I think there is a point where it simply becomes an evil cruelty, and neglects to recognize that others, even politicians, are human). I felt embarrassment, knowing how I would feel if it was a visiting elected official from St. Paul caught in a prostitution sting here, and how that would make me view the place from where he originated. I felt concern for Mike, too, because I knew the stress of this all could take a tremendous toll on his physical health and well-being. And I have cycled between those feelings - anger and sorrow and embarrassment and concern dozens of times a day, going from one to the next, and never fully being able to grasp what it all boiled down to - until I asked the IJB how she felt. And when she replied I realized she was right, and that I felt the same way. She said, very simply, that it hurt.

I looked into those beautiful brown eyes as she told me how it hurt to see someone you have looked up to fall in such a way. She explained that no one is perfect, and that we all make mistakes, but that this was so hard to understand. She told me it did not change the good things Mike has done, both since his election and before, but that it had changed the way she looked at him. She told me that it is hard to see a hero fall. And I realized that in the end I too, more than anything, was simply hurting over it all.

In the purely political aspect I have to say I do not know if Mike should resign his seat as an MLA. I believe he had to resign from the PC party, as they would have likely demanded it anyhow, and justifiably so. I swing between thinking he must step down, and that he can no longer represent us effectively in his new role as an independent, to thinking that perhaps he should stay on and try to redeem himself. I do know that redeeming himself would take immense work and fortitude, because it will not be an easy task, and may be impossible. I wonder if we would find another representative who would do better for us, or if in fact we could find ourselves worse off in some way. In the political sense I want what is best for our community, and I am still not entirely sure what that is.

In the community aspect I know that Mike has significant support within this community, and I am genuinely glad to see he does as I think he will need it regardless of his decision about his future as an MLA. I know too, though, that he has lost the faith and trust of many who voted for him, and regaining that will be a long and hard road. It is not an easy path ahead of him.

In the personal aspect? I do not condone what he has done, not in any sense as I am both a woman and the mother of a young woman, and I reject a "business" that far too often preys upon young and vulnerable women and men. Sexual exploitation and human trafficking are very real issues, and they weigh on me heavily, and so I cannot turn a blind eye to what he has done - but I also cannot and will not condemn him as an individual or a person. Why? Because as the IJB has said no one is perfect. Because I do not sit in judgement of my fellow man. Because I am not the judge and jury, and I am not a deity. Perhaps there are those who feel quite comfortable condemning others, and judging them - but I am not one of them. I can condemn the act, but not the individual, and so that is the path I have chosen.

It has been a difficult week in Fort McMurray. It has been a week when I have travelled through so many emotions, and when I suspect many have been through similar journeys. Perhaps others arrived immediately at their conclusions - anger or acceptance, rejection or forgiveness. But not I. I continue to feel and think my way through all this, balancing my personal feelings with my feelings as to what is best for this place I love and call home. I have gone through great inner conflict, including whether to even write about this subject at all, knowing that what I write would be unlikely to fully please anyone, and knowing that writing it opens me to attack, too (and I have on occasion been on the receiving end of vicious attacks, and know how easily some find it to be cruel to others who share this earth). In the end, though, I asked the IJB if I should write about it and she simply said "It's what you do. You are a writer, so write it, and do what you always do. Just be honest" - and so I have. The simple honesty is this: it has been a painful week in this community, and my heart hurts for so many reasons and on so many levels. And for once, on this very rare occasion, words have failed to capture what I feel, and so I will allow myself to just feel my way through all this, one day at a time.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - Sustainable Communities and Kevin McNiff

The past three blog posts (just prior to my little rant on airlines) were based on Act One of TEDx Fort McMurray. Today I bring to you the first presentation in Act Two, a part of the day that was themed simply "YMM". As some know YMM just stands for Fort McMurray, and is the airport code for our city. The presenters in this act all spoke about matters relevant to this community and region, and first up was local EMT Kevin McNiff.

Now, I had actually seen Kevin speak once before, at a PARTY program presentation. PARTY is designed to help young adults understand the impact of impaired or dangerous driving by re-enacting a crash scene and presenting speakers who talk about the very real impact - physical, emotional, and legal - of these incidents. At the presentation I attended Kevin spoke in his role as an EMT, and what impressed me was how honest and raw he was with the Grade Nine students, and how he connected with them because they sensed his authenticity. He did not mince words when describing what he sees at these collisions, and he did not hesitate to use strong, powerful language to convey a compelling message. I decided right then that I wanted some day for the Intrepid Junior Blogger to speak to Kevin, because I knew that after speaking to him she would never set foot in a car with an intoxicated driver.

I was delighted when I learned Kevin would be a fellow presenter at TEDx Fort McMurray. What I could have never predicted, though, was what he would speak about, and what an amazingly thoughtful and intelligent man he is. I must admit I am 90% in love with Kevin, not in a romantic sense as Kevin is quite happily expecting his first child with his lovely wife, but in the way you fall in love with people who inspire you, and people who make you think. Kevin is one of those people, but he is also desperately funny and totally irreverent and wildly silly and even loves a good pair of shoes almost as much as I do. There were many touching moments with Kevin backstage - hugging him after the dress rehearsal when he teared up while showing an ultrasound picture of his unborn baby, and when he hugged me after my rehearsal, and told me I almost made him cry.

When Kevin performed on the day of TEDx I did cry watching him. I cried because he was talking about the future of our community, and the future for our children. I cried because when he choked up while talking about his baby I was holding the hand of my own Intrepid Junior Blogger, maybe almost fourteen now but forever my baby. I cried because I was so damn proud of him, and I am proud to say I know him.

When I introduced Kevin to the Intrepid Junior Blogger he said: "Are you proud of your mom? Because we all are" - and that comment alone cemented Kevin in my heart forever. I present to you today Kevin McNiff - EMT, soon-to-be-father, tremendous human being, and truly kind and wonderful soul. I am incredibly honoured to know him, and for this I thank TEDx and the journey we shared.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Come Fly With Us - With Respect

When I heard someone mention the incident on Twitter I thought back to the times it has happened to me. Perhaps it has happened to you, too, when you were on a plane headed home to Fort McMurray from Calgary or Edmonton, Toronto or Vancouver. There you were, settling into your seat and eying up the person beside you, trying to figure out if you were stuck beside a snorer or a talker, when you heard the voice of the flight attendant. Along with their usual patter about seatbelts and oxygen masks they toss in a few words about Fort McMurray – some snide comment about how “everyone must be so excited to go there!” or some other tasteless joke about your destination. And as soon as you hear it this sour feeling comes over you, because they are not talking about “some city”. They are talking about your home.

It has happened to me. I recall once when the Intrepid Junior Blogger, seated beside me, turned to me and said “I can’t believe they just said that”. Nor could I, which is why I called the airline to complain when we got home, to express my displeasure, but I also now know that in the future I will do something else. If I ever hear a flight attendant make that same sort of comment I will push my little flight attendant button and confront them directly – not in an angry way, but in a way that makes clear that this is my home they are joking about. I will ask them if on flights to Toronto they ask if everyone is ready to go “to the centre of the universe”, or if they only joke about Fort McMurray.

And that is a genuine question. Do they joke about heading to places like Yellowknife? Do they make such snide comments about all their destinations? Or is it reserved for places like us, ones that have a controversial media image? And if so isn’t it even more important that they be circumspect in how they talk about us and not feed into the baseless imagery that others use to portray us?

Here’s the thing: we pay their salaries. Those of us who live here pay a great deal for airline travel, and I do not pay to hear sly comments and innuendoes about the nature of the place I have chosen to call home. Perhaps it is based in their lack of knowledge about us, in which case we may want to educate them. Perhaps it is based on their own lack of understanding that this is a proud community, one that stands united and reflects all the best things about our nation – diversity, innovation, creativity, and generosity. And that is why I think maybe these flight attendants could use a little sensitivity training about our home, and think about the things they say about us, and why.
So, to the airline traveller I ask this: if you hear a flight attendant or pilot say something unkind about Fort McMurray don’t just sit there and seethe. Confront them, in a polite way, and ask why they feel it is acceptable to make such comments about your home. I suspect they will react with surprise, because I do not believe these comments to be malicious in intent  but rather simply made with a lack of thought and knowledge. Then when you arrive home write an email or make a call to the airline, and tell them about the incident, too, and ask that they advise their employees that they need to treat the passengers who call Fort McMurray home with respect, and that this respect extends to how they speak about their home.

And to Westjet and Air Canada, and any other airline servicing Fort McMurray now and in the future I say this: We are a community. We are the home for tens of thousands of citizens. We pay to fly in your airplanes, and we help to pay the salaries of your employees. We pay handsomely for this, and we do not pay to be insulted or to listen to sly comments or snide jokes about our home. We have very low tolerance for these shenanigans, and frankly you and I both know that you are making a ton of money from the flights in and out of YMM, one of the busiest airports in the country. So I think it is about time you ensure that we are accorded respect and dignity – including how you speak about our home, Fort McMurray. We will come fly with you, and we expect to not only reach our destination safely but to do so with our baggage - and dignity - intact.

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - Performing Arts and Claude Giroux

It was rather lovely to see the third act of TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought, close with someone I knew even before I became McMurray Musings. The first act, simply called "Art", ended with presenter Claude Giroux, and his thoughts on performing arts, particularly theatre, an area in which he has considerable experience.

I first encountered Claude several years ago when he was the Executive Director of Events Wood Buffalo. EWB was offering a summer camp, but not a camp of the usual sort. No, they were offering a week-long circus camp, an opportunity for children to learn some of the circus arts, and I knew the Intrepid Junior Blogger had to attend. The camp, Starfish Circus, was run in conjunction with a group out of Kalamazoo called "The Aerial Angels", a collective of women that the IJB and I had seen perform at interPLAY, and of whom we had become very fond. I admired their strength and courage and pure determination while the IJB loved to watch them soar on the aerial silks or perform on the aerial hoop - and so we signed her up for circus camp. I spent a good deal of my week at that camp too, as a volunteer, and what I saw impressed me because Claude is passionate about the arts, and particularly about the performing arts. He and I have met many times since then, our paths crossing often, even after he had moved his family to Vancouver to pursue his career there (although leaving one foot firmly planted in Fort McMurray as the Artistic Director of Keyano Theatre).

When I saw Claude's TEDx talk for the first time I was transfixed. Claude is a performer too, with that big booming voice matched with a big booming personality, irrepressible and funny and irreverent all at the same time. His passion for the arts rings out through his presentation, and his desire to keep it alive clear and strong. I too am passionate about the performing arts, as the circus camp experience has never been forgotten by the IJB. I think that camp, and the moment when she performed on stage for the final performance, suspended ten feet above the ground in an aerial hoop, only her hips keeping her from falling to the stage, hooked her on the performing arts. Since then she has performed in several dramatic productions in her school, and expressed her intent to learn more of the circus arts, perhaps even becoming a street busker on evenings and weekends when she is a bit older. She got a taste of the stage, and what she tasted she loved. It was a kind of freedom of expression that enchanted her, a sort of epiphany on what the world can hold.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger
at Starfish Circus Camp

I am delighted to say that the video of Claude's performance has, as they say, "gone viral", with thousands of views in a few short days. I must also say, though, that I am not in the least surprised because he delivers a profound and important message with passion and clarity. His love of the performing arts shines, and through his passion you can find your own for an art form that goes back as far as human history - because the performing arts are, in the end, the telling of stories, something we as humans have done since the first gathering around a fire in a cave.

I present to you the charming Claude Giroux, and his thoughts on the performing arts:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - When You Have No House Build a Home - Dave Martin

Act One of of TEDx Fort McMurray, held on June 8 at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, was focused on the arts. The opening presentation from visual artist Lucie Bause set the tone for the first act, and the next presenter was someone I have met but did not yet know well. I can now say I know Dave Martin a bit better, and I am honoured to do so.

Dave is a local educator, although he came here some years ago from England. When he came he brought with him his memories of that country, but he also brought his musical talents and his skill for finding the beauty in any situation - because that is what Dave seems to be able to do.

I had had the pleasure of hearing Dave perform before at some local events, but had not heard the stories behind the songs he crafts. And it is a craft, songwriting, an art that combines the soul of a writer with the ear of a musician, finding a way to tell a story with song. Dave does it well, and in a way that I find deeply touching, enough so that when I first heard one of the songs he shared during his presentation I found myself fighting back tears because it spoke about home, and about how home is what we feel, not what makes up the four walls that surround us.

Dave Martin is, in a word, remarkable. He and I chatted briefly after the long day at TEDx and we discussed his involvement in a group designed to put musical instruments in the hands of youth who otherwise would not have access to them. This is beyond exciting to me, because I think one of the purest forms of expression is music, and I think art of any sort allows us to explore not only our creativity but our hearts.

One of the things Dave does during his presentation is ask us to think of what our song is. What is the word or phrase that best describes us, our approach to life, our view of the world? Is our song a dirge or a hymn, a pop rhythm or a salsa beat? What is your song? Watch Dave Martin's presentation and then scroll down to see my song, the song I have been singing for a few years now, and the song that has changed my life.

Dave's TEDx presentation challenged me to think about my song, and about how I am singing it. It was, in fact, exactly what I needed as my song was what I needed to get through my own TEDx presentation later that day, and the song I need to wake up to every day to conquer the world and slay all the dragons. Watch Dave and when he asks, be ready. What is your song?

This is my song.
A year ago when I was doing 
a photo shoot the photographer asked me 
to pick up a piece of chalk
and write the very first word 
that came to my mind.
Unhesitatingly I wrote one word:
Passion for writing,
passion for people,
passion for community -
passion for life.
My song is a song of passion.
What is your song?
Isn't it about time you figured it out?
And then start to sing it,
or sing it louder than ever before?
This is your life.
Sing your song.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought - InTer-CoNNecTion and Lucie Bause

I was delighted yesterday to receive an email. Now email often delights me, although I have a darker view of my occasional hate mail, but yesterday’s email was not only delightful but the polar opposite of hate mail. It was “joy” mail, an email I had been anticipating for days. It was the announcement that the videos from TEDx Fort McMurray 2013 were now on YouTube.

I could, I suppose, put all the videos in one blog post, but to me that would be disrespectful of my fellow presenters. You see over the course of my own TEDx journey I became both immensely fond and proud of the other ten presenters, even though at the beginning many had been total strangers to me. We may still not all know each other well, but we shared an experience that is a bit difficult to describe in words. We shared a journey, one we each took on our own but that was part of a larger collective journey. I remember the first time I saw each of the presentations, and I sat in wonder at them all. I saw strength, and passion, and courage, and beauty. I saw ten people who spoke from their heart and their heads, giving themselves to the experience. I saw nerves, and fear, and all the things we each brought to that stage. And on the actual day of TEDx Fort McMurray I saw how each of us had grown, how far we had come in our journey. So, I decided each presenter video deserved – actually demanded – its own blog post, and so this is the first. I have decided to follow the format of that day, which was divided into four themes – Art, YMM, Technology, and Courage. And so today I bring to you the first presenter of TEDx Fort McMurray: Shift in Thought – Lucie Bause and “InTer-CoNNecTion”.
First, a few of my own thoughts about Lucie. I had actually seen Lucie’s art online before I met her, and been transfixed by her mandala-like paintings. I had found her website in the course of some work I was doing at my “day job”, and had been entranced by these circular paintings that seemed to just draw me in. There is something mesmerizing about those circles, the colours, the repeating patterns...they swirl around you and into you, until you feel a part of them. Right now several of her pieces are on display just outside my office, and Lucie won’t know this but often during the day when I need to refocus and collect myself I will go and gaze at her works, finding they calm me in some inexplicable and magical way. So, when I heard Lucie’s story, the journey that inspired these works, I was once again mesmerized. I know what it is like to take a journey of heart, soul, and body that changes you. I know how an experience can change the way you see the world, and can become a part of you that you must find a way to express or you feel you will explode. I know what it is like to have something burning inside you that you must share.

When I sat in the darkened theatre on June 8, the day of TEDx Fort McMurray, I had tears in my eyes as I watched Lucie present. While she may not consider herself a public speaker she is most definitely a storyteller, perhaps one who prefers to tell her tale on canvas but one who does a damn fine job with words, too. Today I present to you the lovely, talented, inspiring, and amazing Lucie Bause.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"The Green Beast", Sustainival, and Visionaries

I first met Joey Hundert last year during the Big Spirit Festival. He had sent out a media invitation, asking local media types to come and check out Sustainival, his brain child of carnival meets sustainability, and being a curious type I of course took him up on the offer. I have always been glad I did, because it brought Joey, his genius, his passion about sustainability, and his carnival into my life.
Joey might not be from Fort McMurray – he is from our neighbour to the south, Edmonton – but I think he has adopted us as a second home. And there is a good reason for that, because there is tremendous synergy between Joey, what he does, and the vision we are creating for this community. We live in a place where I think more than anywhere else sustainability matters. We are fuelled by the oil industry, and we are proud of it – but we also recognize the vital importance of preserving our environment and exploring other options. We believe too in sustainable resource development, and so Joey and Sustainival – his carnival that runs on biodiesel produced from used cooking oil – fits very nicely into this community. That is why I am beyond delighted that Sustainival will return to Fort McMurray this year, over the Labour Day weekend. But this time Joey isn’t only bringing the carnival – he is also bringing “The Green Beast”, an amazing race-type adventure that is designed to use the carnival to educate about sustainability. It is designed to make the concepts of sustainability accessible to everyone, and doing so in a fun manner. And, along with everything else Joey does, I think it’s brilliant.

You see Joey is a visionary. He is, however, the very best kind of visionary, one who translates his ideas into action. He takes his dreams – like a sustainable carnival – and makes them into reality. And this is exactly what he is doing once again with “The Green Beast” – a new vision that he is launching for the very first time right here, in Fort McMurray. Why here? Because this is the land of visionaries who take dreams and make them into reality.
Sometimes I think we forget how fortunate we are here. It is easy even for me, after a decade, to forget that not everywhere is like this. Not everywhere embraces new ideas with enthusiasm and zeal. Not everywhere has the “why not?” attitude, stuck instead in the “why should we?”. Not every place is as open to innovation, creativity, and novel ideas. Not every place is as welcoming as Fort McMurray is to those who have passion, drive – and vision. I would guess that is why Joey has chosen to launch the very first “Green Beast” competition right here – because this is a place that values the creative, innovative, and bold. And Joey Hundert is all of those.

“The Green Beast” is a race utilizing the carnival, and it will be immense fun for those who participate. There is a fundraising portion, too, benefitting local social profit organizations. There will be prizes for the winners, and there will be bragging rights. But even more than that there will be learning along the way, and a sense of accomplishment in yet another of the string of “Fort McMurray Firsts” – the first ever “Green Beast” race, a success due to a community that believes in vision, drive, passion – and sustainability.
Last year when I met Joey I was deeply impressed. He is one of the people I would like the Intrepid Junior Blogger to look up to, because he is a tremendous role model for youth like her. He is someone who is creative and brave, innovative and ambitious, and he has a shining passion for what he does. These are the traits I would like to see in my own child, and to be able to have her meet people like Joey is one of the huge benefits of what I do. The funny thing is that I find Joey inspiring too, because at times I think even people of passion and vision can lose their drive. They can get bogged down by the everyday (in my case, like a house move and a chaotic life involving one teenager, one dog, and three ferrets, and, oh yeah, a fulltime job). You can still hold the passion and the vision but the drive can falter – until you meet people like Joey, who recharge your drive with their own. I defy anyone to spend 10 minutes with him and not be inspired to do something to better the world – because Joey is one of those people who make you believe that you can.

As for Sustainival? Well, I remember the old Blueberry Festival days, and the carnival. We went when the IJB was little, and this year we will go to Sustainival on the Labour Day weekend, at MacDonald Island Park where the old carnival used to be. This time though we will ride rides fuelled by biodiesel while we snarf down mini-donuts and elephant ears. And while we may feel guilt about the donuts and the elephant ears we will, I think, feel proud of participating in a sustainable carnival, one fuelled by the very kind of oil that fried those donuts and elephant ears.
I was at the press conference yesterday where Joey, Mayor Blake, and others announced Sustainival coming back to town, and the launch of “The Green Beast”. It was an honour to be there, because this initiative is something special, and we are incredibly fortunate in this community to be in on the ground floor of something that is destined to be a tremendous success. I had a chance to chat with Joey a couple of weeks ago, and was pleased to hear that he and Sustainival have logged significant success since they first came to town a year ago. I was pleased, but not surprised. You see I happen to have faith that anything Joey does will succeed, because Joey is a man of vision – and one of action. It has been my privilege to simply be a witness along the way of the success of Sustainival, Joey Hundert, and now “The Green Beast”. I sincerely hope all of Fort McMurray comes out on Labour Day weekend to be part of it too – because I think one day you will look back and be grateful to have been there. I suspect you will be incredibly proud to have been in on the beginning of something spectacular. I know I will be – because I already am.

Learn more here about
The Green Beast!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Dragon Ladies are Coming

When I titled this post I thought a great deal about what the two women it is about have in common. Oh, there are differences – one is American, and one is Canadian. One is a marketing and communications professional, and one is known for food, arts, and crafts (and no less a marketing genius than the other). Both, though, have garnered television fame. Both have become household names across this country, and beyond. Both have written books. Both are incredibly powerful and influential women. Both are dragons, I think, one on a show with that word in the name and the other a dragon in her industry. And both are coming right here, to Fort McMurray.
The women in question? Arlene Dickinson, of Dragon’s Den fame (but perhaps more importantly famous in her chosen profession) and Martha Stewart, known from television and achievement in her industry. And both are coming here in 2013 as part of the Northern Insights Speaker Series.
I was at the press conferences announcing the visits from both these women. I was beyond delighted, because I am a fan of both. I love Dickinson’s style, both professional and personal, and I love her success in the Canadian marketing industry. I love Stewart’s ambition and tenacity, and her ability to meet any challenge. Even more than that I love what these two women have accomplished – because I have a thirteen year old daughter.
I think it is tremendously important to be able to show my daughter women who are strong, intelligent, ambitious, and successful. She and I have watched Dragon’s Den for years, admiring both Dickinson’s business acumen and her fashion sense. She and I have enjoyed Stewart’s sense of home style. She and I have both most enjoyed watching two women do well, because role models matter.
In this world of Lindsay Lohans and other celebs-gone-bad it is so important to be able to share with my daughter women who are able to use their skills, talent, and ambition to succeed. That isn’t to say that these individuals have not faced challenges or made mistakes – but rather that they have met those challenges and learned from those mistakes, using them to continue to build their success. They have encountered challenges and roadblocks just as we all do – but what matters is how they have dealt with them, and how they have continued to succeed.
I think it is absolutely remarkable what the Northern Insights series, through the Fort McMurray Public Library, is bringing to this community. We have already been visited by renowned intellect Malcolm Gladwell, and iconic entertainer Bill Cosby. These two visits were remarkable in that not only did we learn from them but we shared with them the narrative of this community. I suspect both now have a new perspective on Fort McMurray, and I think this is tremendously exciting for this community. The upcoming visits from Arlene Dickinson and Martha Stewart have this same potential, the possibility of learning from them while they learn about us. It is a chance to have an exchange of information of a powerful kind.
For me personally though, this is a remarkable opportunity for my daughter, the Intrepid Junior Blogger. This is a chance for her to see two women who have done well, succeeded in the wildest possible way, and who are the kinds of role models I would like to see my daughter follow. These two women are not perfect, but it is perhaps their imperfections and how they deal with them that is the most inspiring, because none of us are perfect or without flaws. Both have encountered failures and challenges, and both have risen above in a manner worth emulating.
I am very excited to see these next two speakers in the Northern Insights Speaker Series. I know that after each visit my daughter and I will have a great deal to discuss, and that it will open doors and windows in both our minds as we explore our own ambitions and potential. And that, as someone is well known to say, is a good thing!

Tickets to see
Arlene Dickinson
on September 4
go on sale July 24
tickets to see
Martha Stewart
on December 4
go on sale October 23.
These are two dragons
you don't want to miss!