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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reach: Telling Our Story of Fort McMurray

A few weeks ago Doug Roxburgh, one of the creative minds behind our local Shaw TV outlet, contacted me to ask if I would participate in a series he was crafting about the oil sands and our community. I was hesitant at first - I had just come off some time away from work and was still struggling to recover from my recent corneal perforation, a traumatic episode in my life that had impacted me more than I anticipated. I agreed, though, because I can never resist the opportunity to talk about our community and our region, and because I have always felt that if I can contribute in some way to changing the dialogue and narrative about my home city that I have a responsibility to do it.

The resulting video, the first in a series, is a piece of which I am quite proud because I appear with some other notable locals. One of the things I talk about in the video is the concept of "reach", or the ability one has to reach or influence people through traditional and social media as well as simple everyday interactions.

Celebrities who visit our region tend to have a lot of reach. A single tweet from Leonardo Dicaprio can reach millions of people around the planet within moments, and there is no denying the power of that kind of reach and influence. I think at times we become disheartened because we feel we do not have the same reach or ability to share what we feel is the true narrative of Fort McMurray - the story of our home and our community, the place we have chosen to raise our families. I think we forget, though, the power of our collective reach.

At the beginning of this year I posted a photo in this blog and coined a very simple hashtag for Facebook and Twitter: #myhiroshima. It was born of frustration at the comments of Neil Young and his audacity in comparing Fort McMurray to Hiroshima, and it was quite truly a spur of the moment idea. There was no grand masterplan, no calculated communications strategy behind it. There was no way I could have foreseen that others would pick up on that hashtag and begin tweeting beautiful photos of our region with it, sharing a different narrative of Fort McMurray than the one Neil told.

Those photos and that narrative ended up being covered by news outlets across the country, a provocative hashtag and some amazing photos that showed a side of our region that had rarely been shown and was little understood. It was a moment of revelation for me, because it was not my reach that had inspired it but rather the collective reach of all of our community members who shared their photos and their story of life here. I knew we had hit the mark when others began insisting it was a campaign from an oil company or pro-development PR firm, because the reach was so significant they felt the desperate need to discredit it. How incredible it was to explain to them that it was a simple grassroots movement from the very people of the place the photos depicted, and that no big oil or big money had been required for them to come together to tell a new narrative of life in Fort McMurray. It was a stunning moment of triumph, not for me but for all of us because it showed a collective strength and flexing of our muscle to reach audiences across the country and world. I received messages from Europe and Asia as the photos made their way there, clear evidence of the impact we had together.

A couple of weeks after filming my video piece with Doug I had the opportunity to meet with a small film crew from the Globe and Mail. This one was different as it was focused on my professional work and not my personal, but it was still an opportunity to share in the telling of a different narrative of our community, including the place where I happen to be so very proud to work. It might have been a part of my everyday workday, but it became part of a new narrative of Fort McMurray rarely before seen on a national scale.

If you watch my face in the videos I think you see one thing: a sense of pride. Pride in my role both personally and professionally, pride in where I am employed and pride in our home community. You see while others decry our industry and even our community I am so proud to be from a place with such tremendous resiliency, generosity, spirit and energy. I have lived in other places and while I have called them "home" no home has ever felt like this and no other home has ever inspired me in the way this place does. Why? I suppose it is because I am a part of this narrative and the opportunity to tell it, both personally and professionally, feels like the kind of experience that only comes along once in your life.

Today I share both videos with you and hope you enjoy them, because they both tell a narrative of Fort McMurray. It isn't the only narrative, of course, as there are others, but it is the narrative of my life here and I hope of others, and for that reason alone it is worthy of telling. Share the videos on your social media, email them to family and friends, and tell your story of life in this community, because while we may not have the reach of a superstar celebrity we should never, ever underestimate our collective reach when we work together - a lesson I have learned right here in Fort McMurray, a place where we have achieved so much simply by believing we could do it - together.

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