My email inbox is an interesting place some days. Recently I got an email from a student at one of the many universities in our country, and he was asking for some guidance for students who may be considering coming to Fort McMurray for work positions, often of the co-op or summer employment type. The question was if I could advise them on some blog posts or resources to learn more about life here, and it honestly sparked some ideas as I thought about the "best" way to learn about our region and community. The email I would send in reply is below - and instead of sending it I will just send a link to this post to the one who inquired, and I genuinely hope the information I provide is of use, and gives them, and their fellow students, some thoughts on the "real" Fort McMurray:
First things first. Please put down that national newspaper or magazine, and stop reading their story about Fort McMurray immediately. I can virtually guarantee the author of the article you are reading has spent little time in our community, and while they are providing you with one perspective of life here (often choosing to focus on the salacious side) there is far more going on in our community than they can or ever will capture. Now that you've put that down let's talk about the real Fort McMurray, shall we?
Welcome to Fort McMurray! This is a place of incredible opportunity and potential, and we are genuinely excited that you are considering employment in our community! You have probably never been here before, and it seems quite likely your knowledge of us is based on the aforementioned newspapers and magazines, so I am going to ask you to do something: start fresh. Forget everything you think you know, and be ready to learn about us with an open mind, because we are quite likely to be very different than you imagine.
I know that some of you might think reading this blog is the best place to learn about this community, but this blog is just one of the many showcasing the work of those who live here. I would suggest you visit Russell Thomas' blog for his perspective on life here as an arts advocate and dedicated family man, as well as former councillor, and Verna Murphy's blog for thoughts on being a mom, wife, foster mom, and woman in this place. Then meander over to Kevin Thornton's blog for some of his articles from the various publications he writes for, and take a quick stop at Silver's blog for some thoughts from a student in the region (and while she doesn't write about Fort McMurray all that often I think it might be nice for you to see that there are students pursuing their studies here, too).
Speaking of publications I would suggest reading the Fort McMurray Today for stories on politics, environment, and the oil sands, while if you want to understand the community you need to read the weekly Connect. And if you want to see what we look like at the many events we organize and attend I would suggest you check out Snapd Wood Buffalo.
And if newspapers aren't your style then check out Your McMurray Magazine for longer stories about this region, as well as information about the many places, people, and things that make this community tick. Or perhaps you are more into radio, in which case you should check out MyMcMurray for news, or maybe wander over to Mix 103.7 for their coverage. If you are of a more visual sort then check out Shaw TV, which provides great synopses of local events and happenings.
Now that we have covered some basic resources let's talk about Fort McMurray.
We aren't what you think we are.
That's right. Whatever you have heard or read we are both more and different than what you think. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for the Edmonton-based Kikki Planet website, and the information contained in it remains true for the most part even now. We are younger, more culturally diverse, and more interesting than you likely believe. We also have some significant challenges, but we are working on them as we go, and you can be part of the process if you choose to be - or you can become one of the challenges.
If you come here and fall prey to the drug scene please don't blame it on Fort McMurray or boredom or the "nature of the town". Your drug use (or alcohol abuse, or criminal involvement) is your own choice, just as it is for every person in every community, and it is unfair to blame it on a community that works very hard.
And yes, we work very hard here. In fact we work exceptionally hard, but that hard work pays off tremendously for our careers and our families, and if you decide to come here please understand that while this may be some of the hardest work you will ever do it also quite likely has the most potential for incredible benefits.
And while we work hard we also know how to have fun, and we have dozens of organizations dedicated to sport and recreation and volunteerism. There is never really a reason to be bored here, because you can do everything from walking dogs at the SPCA to sorting food donations at the food bank to playing softball in the summer to curling in the winter to everything else you can do everywhere else.
Wait, can that be right? Is this place really that similar to where you are now? Well, yes, and no. We might have a little less retail and fewer restaurants, but we have an incredibly robust community that is intent on providing its residents with quality-of-life options that rival those found in other centres. And what we have is a collection of people who work, play, and live here, and who are committed to making this place not only their home but the kind of place that attracts bright young people with potential, just like you.
So, there you go. That's Fort McMurray in a micro-nutshell. There is far more to us, but the only way you will ever know it is to come and experience it for yourself. All I suggest is leaving behind all the stories you have heard and all the things you have read, and arrive here with an open heart and mind. Get involved in your career with your co-op or internship, and then get involved with our community, because I can guarantee you will find something you didn't expect, and that will surprise you. Who knows? You might even find the place you decide you will call your future home - and we will welcome you then, just as we will welcome you now.
Best wishes in your studies and future,