Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

You May Say I'm a Dreamer

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I dream of the day when the walls of the Penhorwood condo complex fall, taking with them the bitter sting of a painful part of our history. That pain will always exist of course for those caught most directly in that debacle, but at last the daily reminder, the abandoned and derelict buildings, would be gone and crumbled into dust.

When it was recently announced that the buildings had been ordered demolished due to safety concerns I was delighted. Here, I thought, was progress - but sadly I am rather naive at times and a friend who is far wiser than I said this was likely no final blow that would bring the buildings down, but perhaps just another moving of the chess pieces in a giant game where the condo owners have proven to be the pawns. Someone, one of the others involved in the legal wrangling, would protest the demolition order, they said, counter it and say the buildings should stand until the final bitter litigation is finished. I hope they are wrong, but I fear they are right.

The Penhorwood condos are a sad testament to the issues that have plagued our community. Regardless of where one lays blame - and there is plenty to share - the reality is that it impacted people in our community in ways that left them reeling, and some still are today. This ongoing travesty has likely had immeasurable impacts in terms of stress and health effects, let alone the measurable financial effects.

I have written about Penhorwood many times, from shortly after the evacuation order that gave dozens of people, including families with children, only minutes to leave their homes. I have written about the subsequent decay of the buildings as they fell prey to graffiti and vandalism, and as their appearance began to betray the dark history they contained. I have written about the ongoing struggles of those who lived in these buildings, those who invested not only their money but their belief in this community when they bought homes in those condos.

For the last few years we have sat patiently in this community waiting for one set of buildings to fall while waiting for another empty plot of land at Willow Square to be filled with an aging in place facility. Are these two connected in any solid or tangible way? No, not really, but I think in the heart and emotional mind of this community they are, as we see one set of buildings that contains nothing but sad memories and broken dreams continue to stand while another building remains the stuff of dreams and hopes for the future. In a place where so much has been accomplished through the realization of dreams, both individual and collective, it feels like these dreams - of an end to Penhorwood and the beginning of the real future of Willow Square and a home for those who need it in our community - may go unrealized. The two may not be connected anywhere but in our hearts and in our ability to continue to believe in the future of this community, but that connection still exists, I think, at least for me.

There seems to be some progress, tenuous perhaps. The demolition order for Penhorwood seems a good step, and the recent announcement that the securing of the Willow Square property appears to be going ahead seems another. The steps have been so small, though, so tiny, that for years it seems we have been standing still as we watch one set of buildings decay while another piece of land sits empty, and our faith in both ever being resolved diminishes.

This post is not intended to be an indictment or a fault finding mission. It is perhaps most an expression of frustration from someone who loves this place, who chose this place over all others as home when the opportunity to leave arose and who believes in it and our people. Recently I was asked - during two separate interviews - why I chose to stay in Fort McMurray when my marriage ended and I could have easily left, and the answer was easy: because I love it here and because I believe in it and in the other people who have chosen it as their home, too. I believe in us, and I believe that one day Penhorwood will fall into dust and a sad reminder will disappear and that those who were most injured will be justly compensated for all they have lost, and I believe that one day the fence around Willow Square will come down and construction will begin, providing a home for those in this community who love and believe in it - and who built it - too.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope you will join me and continue to not only dream but to believe, because this community needs not only dreamers but believers and most of all doers who are willing to do what it takes to make it the place others will some day choose as their home. I cannot tear Penhorwood down with my hands and I cannot build Willow Square with them - but I can continue to watch and write and advocate and ask and dream and, yes, believe. I can believe that one day I will be there when one set of walls come tumbling down and another set of walls begin to rise - because this is my home, this is my community, this is my Fort McMurray, and I believe in it - and in us.


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