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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How a Wine Auction Reflects the True Nature of Fort McMurray - 4th Annual SMS Wine Auction

When you face adversity or challenge what do you do? When issues arise that seem insurmountable what happens? Well, if you are local event gurus Events With Vizability you don’t just rise to the challenge. With determination, resiliency, grit, and resourcefulness you tackle it head on and wrestle it down until it cries ”uncle”.
When I heard about the spring flooding at the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre I was saddened for them, and what it would mean for the facility and all those who work there and use it. And when I heard that the re-opening would be delayed due to a shortage of construction materials caused by province-wide flooding I worried not only about what it would mean for all the staff and users of the facility, but for the annual SMS Wine Auction, a fundraiser for the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

Three years ago this annual wine auction was one of the very first events I attended as “new media”. I recall very clearly receiving an email inviting me to attend, and being both a little stunned and a whole lot honoured. Back then even I didn’t fully understand my role as a blogger (or that I was in essence creating it as I went), and to have someone see some value in what I did was pretty humbling. And so I attended the wine auction, and I was incredibly impressed with the event, and the people, and the concept.
I attended again last year, and was once again thrilled by the decor and the ambiance, and most of all the commitment to creating a spectacular event for the guests while still raising a lot of money for a very worthy organization doing vital work in our community. And so this year when I heard that the SSWC would not be open in time for the annual wine auction I worried, because I know the importance of these fundraisers, and I know the time and dedication given to them. I should not have worried, though, because some organizations and businesses are designed to conquer challenges – and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo and Events With Vizability are two of those.

When they lost their venue and could not secure another they needed to think outside the box – quite literally outside the box of mortar and bricks buildings and into the concept of an event tent, large enough to hold hundreds of guests and fine wines and silent auction items. They had to switch from thinking about a field house to thinking about a parking lot, and the challenges it would present to transform it from parking stalls to a park to match the theme of “Wine in the Park”. And in the end they had to face some challenges they did not expect, like a parking lot prone to flooding when it rained (which it did, more than once, including the night prior to the event), and like cold fall air creating condensation inside the tent. But they persevered, creating decor pieces from hundreds of pounds of live moss and baby’s breath. They covered a parking lot with artificial turf and when it got wet from the flooding they pulled out shopvacs and industrial fans. They brought in furniture made just for the event, and decor pieces designed for the theme. They got heaters to ward off the cold evening air, and they brought in bottles and bottles of wine. They worked until late at night to start again early in the morning (and I suspect in some cases didn’t go home at all). They took a challenge, and they didn’t just meet it. They rose above it, refusing to compromise on their vision or direction, and soared above as they did what they had been told couldn’t be done. They created wine in the park – in a parking lot in a tent.
They invited me in a couple of days before the event for a behind the scenes peek. I have come to a new respect for those who create these events, having been part of a few myself now, and knowing what goes into them in terms of blood, sweat, and tears. They showed me the moss and the furniture, and they shared with me the challenges. And what I saw was resolve. Determination. Perseverance. Courage. And a whole lotta hard work, the kind of hard work that takes the investment of all you’ve got, never knowing for certain what the return on that investment will be aside from the knowledge you have given it your all.


In the end, though, the return on investment was a beautiful evening in a parking lot tent. I spent part of Saturday evening wandering through that tent, watching as people stopped seeing the tent and began seeing the park, green foliage and moss. I watched as people became immersed in the experience, not noticing the still-slightly damp artificial grass and the gentle blowing of the tent sides. I watched as it ceased to be a challenge, and became instead a triumph.

I think what I really saw this past weekend, though, was a testimonial to what we do in this little place called Fort McMurray. This place is often faced with challenges, whether it is flooding or fires, inaccurate stories from outside media or jabs from celebrities. We face challenges in traffic and infrastructure and so many other things, and so we do what we have learned to do – we rise to meet the challenges, and we go a bit further. We rise above and find a way to soar, a way to think outside our boxes and pursue innovative and creative ideas. We refuse to compromise our dreams and our vision, and we aim high, never allowing ourselves to aim low simply because we know we can achieve “low”. No, we aim high because we know we can meet the challenges – and conquer them. We are bold and resilient and brave and determined and resourceful, and when a door closes we climb through a window. Perhaps on Saturday night other people saw a gala event, but I saw so very much more. I saw this community in a microcosm, played out in a tent with people from this community who refuse to give up or give in, and who always, always find a way to make it work – because that is just what we do here. When we can’t have our wine in a premiere venue because they have suffered a devastating flood we take our wine into a parking lot, and create Wine in the Park – because in Fort McMurray? We don’t give up or back down – and we never will.

My sincere thanks to
Events With Vizability
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo
for the behind the scenes tour,
the invitation to attend,
and their commitment and dedication
to what they do and this community.
I particularly appreciate
that three years ago
they saw value in this blog,
and invited an unknown blogger
into their event -
cementing their place in my heart.

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