A few days ago I wrote about a visitor to our community that had suffered an unfortunate incident while they were here. Serben Free Range, a 4th-generation family farm, has been a frequent visitor to the community, bringing their farm fresh produce and meats to us for the last couple of summers. It's quite the trek for them as their farm is located some distance away, and as a small family business it is a leap of faith for them to return time after time, never knowing if they will break even.
When they were here a couple of weeks ago at the Urban Market the unthinkable happened. Someone stole their hard-earned money from the market, a disheartening thing to have happen to any small business but perhaps even more egregious given that they are visitors to our community. It would have been very easy for the Serben family to say "forget it - we aren't going back there" - but that's not what they said or did. In fact they said they believe in our community, in our sense of family and unity, and that they were coming back. And in that simple belief I think they captured the hearts of many, including mine.
You see I know how easy it is to carry a grudge or write off a place because of something that happened to you there as a visitor. And we live in a place where so many of the narratives told about us by others are dark and negative. It would be so easy to take that story of a theft and add to the dark and negative narrative, but that isn't what the Serbens did. Instead, they came back again with their fresh produce and meat to the next Urban Market, smiling as usual and welcoming the people of Fort McMurray.
And the people of Fort McMurray welcomed them back, as I witnessed myself when I dropped by and saw the line-up of people at the Serben Free Range tent, showing their support for a small family farm, the kind run the traditional way and by true family farmers. But the people of Fort McMurray did even more.
You see a small group of people decided it might be nice to do something special for their Serbens, to thank them for their ongoing commitment to Fort McMurray but also to thank them for believing in us even when they had every reason not to. That small group of people told some other people about the theft and about their hope to give the Serbens a nice experience on this visit - and, unsurprisingly, the response was incredible.
The Fort McMurray Sawridge Inn quickly offered a complimentary room for the Serbens to stay in the night of that last Urban Market, so they could rest after a long and busy day. MLA Don Scott, after being told of the theft and the Serbens continuing desire to come back to the community, quickly offered to pay for their meals during their stay at the Sawridge to ensure that this trip would cost them little and they could instead recoup some of what was lost in the theft, including perhaps some of the sense of the true nature of this community.
Because the true nature of this community is that when someone believes in us - even when they have seen a side of us that is less than flattering - then we will return that belief ten-fold. We are a loyal bunch, a quality that I have always felt one of the most important and one that is far, far too rare in this world. True loyalty - the kind that looks past flaws and imperfections and sees the heart - is the kind that should be treasured and honoured. The Serbens have shown their loyalty to Fort McMurray, the kind that looks past a troubling incident and instead sees our heart - and Fort McMurray showed their gratitude by filling their coffers at the last Urban Market and arranging a little surprise for their stay to show gratitude, kindness and loyalty of our own.
I am told the card given to the Serbens read simply: "Thank you for believing in us - Signed, Fort McMurray", and that sums it up pretty well as what anyone from this community knows is that those who believe in us will have our loyalty, our friendship and our gratitude. Serben Free Range and the Serben family are no longer visitors, really - this past week they became part of the Fort McMurray community, ones who might have to travel a little ways up the highway to reach us but who are one of us nonetheless, and who will always find they have loyal friends - and a second home - here. Such is the true nature of Fort McMurray.