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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wading Into the Snye

Perhaps it is the very name of the group that throws me off a bit. The issue is a small body of water in the centre of Fort McMurray, a surprisingly small body to be so hotly contested. It has in the past been the place where boats were launched, and float planes departed and arrived. It has been an active spot for decades in this region, and it does not belong to any one person, but rather to this entire community. And that is why I wonder a bit about the name “Save Our Snye” – and the “our” to whom it refers.

The group Save Our Snye is apparently intent on saving the Snye – and for some that means continuing to allow it to be used for the traditional purposes, including motorized watercraft and float planes. These activities, while traditional uses of this part of our waterways, are not necessarily compatible with the redevelopment plans for the downtown core, and so the current plan is to possibly restrict future usage of boats and planes and other motorized craft on the Snye. The funny thing is many of us – including me – also want to save the Snye, but not necessarily for the purposes of motorized recreation. We want to see the Snye preserved as a lovely quiet spot in the middle of the city, a hub for community activity where families can gather and enjoy parks, and sky, and water.

I am concerned by this usage of “our”, because the Snye belongs to all of us. It is indeed OUR Snye, and does not belong to any one group or individual. The future of the Snye should be decided collectively, and in the upcoming election it is sure to be an issue that will arise. At that time we will have the opportunity to vote for those we feel will represent our views on this issue (and many others), and determine the future of our Snye.
I am troubled too by the way this issue seems to be dividing along the lines of length of residency. Occasional comments I have seen seem to cast those who are “new residents” as the enemy, with “old residents” being the ones intent on saving the Snye. This troubles me in ways I cannot quite express, as who determines what length of residency counts as new or old? What length of time of residency allows one to speak to the issues in this community or hold an opinion? Does my eleven years give me more rights than another person’s five? Does someone’s twenty give them more rights than my eleven? And in the end if we are talking length of residency then don’t we all need to acknowledge we settlers were preceded by the First Nations peoples? How far exactly do we want to take this discussion? And is dividing it along these lines truly helpful in the long run, building community and creating cohesion? Or does it further distance us from each other, and keep us from recognizing that each and every resident, regardless of length of residency, is entitled to a say in the future of this community?

I suppose the other thing that troubles me is the argument that because someone has always done something is reason for it to continue. That reasoning:  “well, we have always done it this way” is no longer good enough – not for this world, this country, or this community. The fact that the Snye has always been used for boating and float planes is not good enough reason for this to continue forever. As this community changes so too will some of the things we hold dear, including places like the Snye. These growing pains are not unusual in a rapidly growing community – and we are feelings the pangs right now. As we go forward we will need to assess all the "well it has always been this way" scenarios, and determine if it still makes sense now, and into the future. If good, solid reasons for preserving the status quo exist and can be presented I am always open to them - but the simple statement "well, it's just how it's always has been" has never carried much weight with me, as if we stuck to that belief we would have never progressed as a society, or civilization. 
I am sympathetic to those who use the Snye for these activities, and who wish it would continue. And I recognize and respect their right to advocate for preserving that usage, but one should not assume that they are the only ones intent on saving the Snye. There are many others who may not wish to see boats on the Snye, or float planes, but who wish to see the Snye not only survive but thrive. I think in the end we all want to save our Snye – we just may not agree on what purpose we want to save it for. I too want to save our Snye - because it belongs to all of us, and I hope that is never overlooked in this dialogue.


  1. So intelligent yet so uninformed ignorant and misleading. Again another article and opinion from yourself that misrepresents what the Save Our Snye is really all about. This is hardly the proper venue for me to properly express what the issues regarding the movement is all about. Continue to mislead,and be mislead all you wish but unless you actually talk to one of us that are leading the group, you are continuing the division of groups that you speak of. Not a single person leading the Save Our Snye group has ever said the things you are accusing us of or tried to justify any of our causes with length of residency. Can a concerned long standing resident that is sympathetic to our cause may have said something like you say. Certainly. But it is far from what the real issues are. We call ourselves Save Our Snye and we have always said all user groups are encouraged to attend and participate. Either motorized or non. It was advertised. It is in the council meeting presentation . You continue to paint a picture that is purely about division about issues that are irrelevant. We welcome any opportunity to work together on any and all issues regarding the Snye and its uses and users but our main goal has always been the health of the Snye Waterbody and we state that at every meeting with public, city officials, and media. Again its in the minutes of our council presentation from a year ago. Yet here we are today with another article of rehashed thaughts that are not at all factual. You try so hard to be a insightful writer but this has proven to me that you have little desire to try and understand the real issues at hand and put a slant on a story to sway public opinion for some reason. Your credibility has suffered dramatically for defending your position or opinion rather without actual knowledge of what we are and about and why we formed. Again we invite you to meet with us. We would gladly discuss the Snye with you. Weather you lived here for 1 month or 100 years. Gene Ouellette

    1. One other comment, Mr. Ouellette - if the true goal of your group is to preserve the health of the Snye as opposed to any other goal why does the Facebook page have the following as the "About" blurb? I see no reference to preserving the health of the Snye in this, and this appears on the page as the stated reason for the existence of the page, and thus assumedly the group. Please note this is verbatim from the page, and cut and pasted directly:

      " This group is for the concerned citizens of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo who are against the proposal by municipal staff to close Morimoto Drive and eliminate access to the Snye for use by vehicles, boats, floatplanes, quads and snowmobiles.

      We implore our elected representatives to keep the Snye accessible for continued use by vehicles, boats and planes and to not destroy this most important part of our history."

  2. Thank you for your response, Mr. Ouellette. Contrary to your speculation on the Save Our Snye Facebook Group page I have in fact chosen to publish your comment, as I always do if comments are respectful. Why you would assume otherwise is a mystery to me, as I have never and do not fear dialogue, as it would be impossible to write this blog if I did.

    For the record I had a conversation with Tom Weber months ago, around the time Save Our Snye began as a group, so please do not spread the misinformed and misleading view that I have never spoken with leadership of the group. I have followed the interactions on the Facebook page, which is assumedly administered by someone in your group, and I have followed appearance at council and in the press. My intent is not to "mislead" anyone as this blog is simply my OPINION of life and situation as I see them.

    I do not believe my credibility has suffered in any regard as you have acknowledged individuals associated with your group have commented about length of residency, and I believe I have seen such comments on the Save Our Snye Facebook page. If you do not understand why these comments reflect on the group as a whole I can't explain it to you, but comments made by individuals within your group in a public setting on a page assumedly controlled by your group will reflect on the group. Please note I said "occasional comments" and at no point did I suggest it was the leadership of Save Our Snye making the comments. In fact not once in the entire article did I even comment on the leadership of the group, but rather things I have noted and seen within the group as an outside observer. Perhaps instead of trying to defend against these comments you should seriously consider if there is some validity, and if so how to address them.

    I would be happy to meet with you, just as I was happy to speak with Tom Weber months ago. The difference is that I may never agree with some of the comments coming from members of your group, and I may always have concerns with those who wish to divide issues along lines like length of residency or assuming those who differ in opinion do not "care enough".

    I do not write this blog to "sway public opinion" and never have. It is a chronicle of my life in this community, and my view as to how I see issues. I recognize others will not always agree with me or see things the way I do, but that in no way diminishes my right to express how I see them, or the fact that I have my own perspective.


  3. I too have been following this story in the news, on social media and through the SOS facebook group. Yes, a few of the members attempt to maintain control, but the sad fact is that most of their group members look like a bunch of angry people sitting around cursing the local government for doing things that they don't immediately understand. Even if it's not the case, that is just how it looks to someone who's trying to understand both sides of the story. Maybe SOS needs to retire, as its message has been lost in a sea of raving busybodies.

    I hate that as someone who has only been here for a few years and who is actually excited about the developments going in and the parkland being redone and the ecosystem being helped as a result of their plans, I'm considered the enemy because I apparently know nothing about the history there. Because I've only been here a few years, I can't possibly be invested in this community enough to read up on its heritage. Its insulting. I know what was there before, and I know what it was used for. And guess what, some of those things are unpractical and dangerous in that area now. I don't want to be walking my kids or my dog along that narrow strip of water when a PLANE lands. But I've only been here for a few years, so according to some members of SOS, my opinion does not matter as much as theirs.

    Even if SOS is not against development, the unfortunate truth is that they are against development that leads to any of them losing privileges, even if it benefits the entire community as a whole (notice I said PRIVILEGE, not rights. Landing your float plane on the Snye is NOT a right just because you've been doing it since 1978). I know some SOS members are angry that the city is proposing condos on the waterfront. I think putting condos there will only lead to more people walking around and spending time outside, even when the sun goes down. How many people use the waterfront at night right now unless they're making a drug deal?

    Do you see what can happen when you open your eyes and look at what the community really needs? We NEED change, because this is NOT a small town anymore. We're growing up, and some people are scared or pissed that it means they can't just continue to do whatever they want. Welcome to a city that is just like any other, with rules and regulations and plans that will improve it for EVERYONE, not just a small and loud group.

    Lets be real. It's not "Save OUR Snye". It's "Save THEIR Snye", and if it wasn't for local Council's ability to see the greater vision of what the Snye can be for a lot more of the city than just SOS, nothing would EVER change and the waterfront would continue to be a decrepit dump that feels as dangerous as it looks.

    I wonder if the angriest SOS-ers also campaigned vocally against MacDonald Island before it was built. I wonder how many of them thought they could do something better. I wonder how many of them ate their words when it opened its doors and became the best thing that ever happened to Fort McMurray. I wonder how many of them will do the same when the waterfront is done.

  4. Thank you for posting the response Theresa. I will be sure to look at that about page and get that changed. That content you posted was in fact the original wording on a petition from the night we were formed and someone posted it. I will reference my response to Toodsky on our page regarding the use of FB as our method of communication. As always with any community driven group that is complete volunteer based, there are inherent problems of keeping the overalll message crystal clear. That being said a public forum really is the only way to allow the individuals to voice their concerns. Although it may be tough to hear some extreme views sometimes with the occasional slandering bash we do try to keep that moderated to a minimum. What continues to puzzle me are there are people like yourself and Toddsky that say you understand what we truly are trying to accomplish. You say you keep up on the FB page. You heard us at the council meetings. Yet your submissions to the public that I have seen to date have been misleading themselves. We the leaders have communicated in plain English numerous times that you have heard and for whatever reason there remains a disconnect of understanding and a spin put on that only yourselves can explain. I merely am still trying to understand how after a whole year people like yourself and Toddsky say you know the issues after hearing what we say as leaders of the group. Yet you keep rehashing the thaughts and concerns from a select few of extreme view supporters of the group. I am really not too interested in responding further on this topic as it is becoming apparant that after a year and you knowing the facts we will continue to beat our heads against the wall trying to get our point across. I believe the views that you bring forward that are causing you concern are truly being caused by people doing exactly what you are doing. Reporting or commenting on views of a few and using it as a method to say that is truly what SOS is about. I feel like I'm rambling on saying the same thing over and over now. To that. . I would encourage a meeting to open dialogue between us leaders and yourself with intent to promote a clear understanding of the facts. Also I sincerely hope that we can work together for a Snye that works for majority of user groups. Again we are willing to work with others yet others continue to say they cannot work with us in this regard. That is truly disturbing for a public space. This will be my last comment on this forum. Thank you for allowing me to respond.

    1. Mr. Ouellette,

      Please note i have NEVER indicated I cannot work with the SOS leadership, so I am not sure to whom you refer, but it is not to me. You conveniently ignored that I have in fact communicated with someone who identified themselves as a leader of the group, and that I did so because they contacted me. I believe that shows my willingness to speak to leaders of the group as I have in fact already done so.

      I too have a Facebook page for this blog. It is carefully moderated because the reality is that if I allow controversial comments to be posted there that I do not either counter or remove, and that I do not agree with, it appears I am tacitly endorsing them. You say on one hand that these are extremists who do not represent the group, and yet they seem to be allowed to say these things on a page controlled by the group. Can you see how confusing it may be to an outside observer that these comments appear to be allowed and yet at the same time also disavowed?

      Toddske speaks for himself, and you can be sure that if he makes comments involving me that reflect on me that we would have that discussion. We are not one and the same, and do not have the same viewpoint on many issues. The only "spin" I put on this situation are my observations and opinion, and I do so for no reason other than what I do in this blog is share my personal observations and opinion. When I write as a reporter I do so in a style that avoids bias, but when I am writing here, or a piece to be published as an opinion editorial, i engage in the dialogue as a person with an opinion, not as a reporter.

      Please note once again that at no point in the original post did I comment on the leadership of Save Our Snye - not once. I was commenting on what I have observed as an outside person with an interest in the issue. On the Facebook page the leaders of the group aren't even clearly identified, so how is the average person to determine who does and does not speak as a leader within the group? Add to that an "About" statement that even you appear to acknowledge doesn't reflect the true goals of the group and what you have is a situation confusing to the general public as the leadership is fuzzy in terms of identification and the vision/mission statement appearing on your major method of communication isn't accurate to the goal of the group. You can take that as "spin" as you like, but it is an observation, pure and simple, and perhaps instead of viewing it as spin you could consider it for validity.

      I also did NOT say in the post that the comments of a few are what SOS is "truly about", and I never indicated such. I was clear to state they were occasional comments, and I did not indicate they came from group leaders, or that they were representative of the entire group. That they do occur is acknowledged even by yourself, but what you seem to be saying is that others should not observe or comment upon those comments as I did, and only comment on the stated goals of the leadership. That's a bit like saying one should never comment on the extreme views held by some in religious organizations and only comment on the ones espoused as the true doctrine. The extreme views are out there and they are being expressed - are you saying that others like myself should simply ignore them as if they don't exist when in fact they do and are being expressed publicly?

      Thank you for your comments, Mr. Ouellette. I would once again suggest that instead of seeing the original post as an attack on SOS or the leadership (which it was not, and was not intended to be) you consider it the observations of someone viewing from the outside, and what they see occurring. I receive many comments on this blog and my other writing and I always consider them for validity, because on occasion we can find ourselves so immersed in a subject or issue that we fail to be objective. I am as always happy to meet with the leadership of SOS and discuss the issue.


  5. While I don't agree with much of the City Centre redevelopment, and in particular the arena, I do agree that the Snye and riverfront in general need to be developed in a manner that encourages leisure activities rather than just be a spot to go crazy on one's snowmobile, skidoo, jet boat etc. I also agree that the impression I have of SOS is that they are a group of mostly well intentioned individuals who may be resistant to change of any manner in Fort McMurray (and Lord knows the pace does become tiring at times). Unfortunately the SOS folks are up against government and big business and with the Snye and waterfront development being a key component of these plans 'm guessing that the money will do the talking in the end.