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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Legacy of Penhorwood

They have stood there for years now, a stark and troubling reminder of a dark stain on our history. As time has gone on they have become more and more decrepit, no longer home to families but instead the playground of vandals and miscreants armed with cans of spray paint. They have become almost symbolic of development and boomtown ethics gone wrong – and now, thanks to three million dollars from the RMWB, the Penhorwood condominium complex is coming down.

This is a story that began at almost the same time this blog did. In fact one of the first stories I wrote about was the midnight evacuation of hundreds of residents given just minutes to abandon their homes. I still feel a shiver when I think of that as I cannot quite imagine their thoughts; disbelief, anger, fear.
Shortly after it happened I found myself sitting with a structural engineer friend looking at the inspection reports from the complex after I took the rather bold step (I realize in retrospect) of asking the RMWB Department of Planning and Development to show me those documents. I can only imagine what they thought of this request at the time, as I was a simple stay at home mom and nobody really knew me at all back then. I didn’t know what I was looking for or even the right questions to ask, but I hoped I would find some answers in those stacks of documents.

My friend and I sat in an RMWB office reading the documents, and he expressed concern over things he found troubling, but the story was far more complex and far deeper than what could be told from inspection reports. And besides, the real story lay in the people who invested in those buildings, left homeless and without recourse until the dust settled on the court battle, a battle that is nowhere near conclusion as of yet.
The one thing that is nearing conclusion, however, is the physical buildings, the scene of heartbreak and despair and disappointment. These buildings will now come down, taking with them the mold and the graffiti and the blight on our landscape, but what will remain is the memory of this sequence of events and the people it impacted.

I have heard some saying they are sorry the buildings are coming down as without the physical reminder they fear the residents of these buildings will be forgotten. I think, though, that while the buildings served as a physical reminder they were doing us tremendous harm as visitors and new residents looked at them and saw a dark history there. The buildings need to come down – but the history cannot be forgotten. As the adage goes, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and in a region of significant growth memories can far too often be short and we can forget such incidents – but we cannot allow that to happen, because we cannot allow Penhorwood to happen again.
I am grateful the buildings are coming down, and I am equally grateful our council has taken the step of bearing the responsibility for their destruction as it was long past time for them to go. My only hope is that we do not forget what happened late one night at Penhorwood when people no different from you and I were given mere moments to leave their lives behind, in many cases leaving them with emotional and financial scars that persist to this day and which will likely forever mark their lives. The demolition of Penhorwood will remove the physical stain of those buildings, but it will not remove the stain on our history and nor should it. Penhorwood is part of our history and legacy in this community – and we would do well to remember it, lest we repeat it.

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