I want to make something clear off the top: Fort McMurray is not perfect. We are no utopia, and we have issues with which to contend. Some of those issues are the same ones every community faces and some are more unique. I am no wearer of rose-coloured glasses, I see the challenges facing our community quite clearly and have written about them often. I also know, however, that this community has not cracked and is not broken.The recent story in the Globe and Mail Report on Business is an odd piece, a mish-mash about a condo development that went horribly wrong, some shiny new buildings, a road that links us to the world and the struggles of our local homeless population (which are not much different than the challenges faced by the homeless anywhere). What little commentary there is about the residents of this community paints a fairly bleak picture juxtaposed against the chatter of new buildings and airports. It is far too short a piece to speak in any detail to any of the true issues facing this community, but of course that’s not the point of the piece. It has painted my community with broad brushstrokes, failing to note the fine details that shade every facet of the place I call home.
The words in the piece are telling: gaudy, petro-mansions, overstuffed, crumbling, “glorified mining camp” and similar phrasing, all designed to tell a very specific tale of Fort McMurray. And there are some words notably absent, too.Words like generous. Philanthropic. Naturally beautiful. Potential. Opportunity. And, perhaps most of all, resilient, a word that describes this place, this community and these people who are far from cracking and who instead rise to meet the challenges that face us.
Fort McMurray has not cracked under the oil boom’s strain, no matter what the headline says, and anyone who calls this place home knows the headline is far, far from accurate.Fort McMurray is facing the kinds of challenges boomtowns face, and yes, we have encountered some problems along the way, like the Penhorwood condos. But as someone who has lived here for thirteen years I have not seen Fort McMurray break or crack. I have instead seen problems arise and then people come forward to address them. In fact it seems a great deal like the other communities I have lived in that face problems and issues and has to work to address them. Fort McMurray is really not so different in this regard from the other places I have lived, although in one respect we are quite different. Unlike the other places I have lived this place attracts media attention, which often focuses on the problems and not the potential, the challenges and not the triumphs.
Recently my sister visited Fort McMurray for the first time. I think she went away with a far different understanding of this place than the one she had formed through national media. She saw not just the problems, although we drove by the Penhorwood condos and we saw some of our local homeless. She saw the problems and the potential, the strength and the resiliency. She saw the life I have built here, the life the Intrepid Junior Blogger leads here and the lives of tens of thousands of people who have chosen to call this place home. I don’t think the headline she took home was that Fort McMurray is cracked. I think she left with a headline about a place of opportunity and potential, and with great opportunity and potential comes equally great challenges. I think her headline, though, reflects the nature of the people in Fort McMurray who welcome such challenges and who will do everything they can to ensure our community does not crack under any strain.There are so many headlines that reflect this community – but this is not one of them. This is just another in a long string of headlines that fail to capture the entirety of the Fort McMurray story, just as the piece has done. But that’s okay, you see. Perhaps the only way to capture that story is to live it, and I am so grateful that I am one of the people who have the chance to do so, because it is, as the British say, a "cracking" good story, and one that far too often goes untold.