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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Be Part of the Process - Northside Community Recreation Centre

At times it is astonishing to me to think how Fort McMurray has changed in just the twelve years I have been here.

When I arrived entire neighbourhoods that are now fully functional were not even cleared fields. MacDonald Island Park was just a small recreation centre, Shell Place wasn't even a dream anyone had envisioned yet, and the thought of a recreation centre on the north side of the community was something people weren't even talking about - but how things have changed.

MacDonald Island Park became part of my life here very quickly, as even back then it was the hub of activity for the Intrepid Junior Blogger and her skating lessons. I watched as it grew with the expansion and became not just the hub, but the heart, of the community. I was part of the engagement process for Shell Place, then known as MIPEX, and I sat in many sessions as we talked about the future of the facility, and what the community wanted to see happen on the land that holds the Suncor Community Leisure Centre, Miskanaw Golf Club, and so much more. I was there when the expansion plan that has now become Shell Place was approved by mayor and council, sitting there in chambers as a community member.

And in the last year or so I began a new era of my life here when I joined the team at MacDonald Island Park and was part of the transition from MIP to the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo. I have been part of transitioning Mi Team, that proud group of employees, into ONE Team, a group that I think is even prouder and even stronger. I have been part of watching Shell Place come to life, mostly in awe in recent months as I see the plans I once viewed on paper take shape in reality and beginning to realize what it will mean for my community. I have been part of opening a new recreation centre in Anzac, and realized how a recreation centre can impact a community, and particularly its youth. And I have been involved in the talk around a recreation centre on the north side of Fort McMurray.

I reside on the north side, in fact, just as the bulk of our population now does. I have seen the areas here grow rapidly, residential neighbourhoods springing up and the infrastructure often struggling to keep pace. I have seen schools built and filled, repeatedly, and a birth rate skyrocket as our young demographic builds their families. I have seen a lot of change, and one of the changes now being discussed is the possibility of a recreation centre located on the north side to serve our residents.

Abram's Land, the parcel of land across from Dickinsfield, is the site for the proposed recreation centre. The engagement process began shortly after I began working with MI Team, and has been going on for the last year. It has already been through two rounds, and is now in the third round. The level of conversation and interest has been nothing short of amazing, especially for me as a community member who recalls the days when MIP was a rink, some curling sheets, a golf course and not much else. I have been honoured to be part of the process, but the process is ongoing and it still needs something.

It needs you.

You see, there is an online presentation and survey about the proposed Northside Community Recreation Centre, and it is just waiting for your input. Just as with Shell Place this is a community-driven process, with members of our community directing what this recreation centre will contain and how it will serve us. Your input isn't just important - it's vital, because this recreation centre belongs to all of us as residents. It is, and should be, our choice.

I have now been on both sides of this particular process, and it remains as fascinating and intriguing as ever. My favourite moments have been the conversations, both before I did community engagement as part of my job and now. I have learned so much along the way, and I have had the opportunity to find out what matters to the people who share this community with me.

The conversation on the proposed Northside Community Recreation Centre is ongoing. This is your opportunity to be part of the discussion, and to direct the future of this community. There are no right and wrong answers, because it is all about what we as a community want to see, and what we believe matters. What I do know, though, is that having an opportunity to be part of the process matters, because I have done it now from both sides and I see how crucial it is.

So, if you are a resident of Fort McMurray and haven't done so yet I encourage you to please visit the website and fill out the survey. Fort McMurray is changing, and in this case you have the opportunity to determine how it will change. This is your chance to have your say in the future of our community - please use it!


Monday, April 28, 2014

The Day After

I awake to two reproachful glowing green eyes looking into mine. There is a paw on my nose, thankfully with claws sheathed. I suspect he thinks my nose is like some sort of "push start" button, capable of bringing his hoo-mans to life. When my eyes open he issues a soft "mrrr" noise and pushes harder on my nose. I have apparently forgotten to close my door, and Sirius Black Cat has decided that at 6 am it is time to get up.

Bleary eyed I walk out of my room into the tsunami-like debris masquerading as my house.

A garment steamer has been abandoned in the middle of my living room.

The fridge is virtually empty, the bright bulb revealing only pizza boxes and left over Chinese food.

There is a mountain of shoes at the front door, dropped there in haste as opposed to being cleaned and promptly returned to their shoeboxes as per my normal habit.

Both sinks have a mountain of dishes, and one is topped by a precarious tower of crushed Coke Zero cans.

Lipstick ringed coffee cups clutter every counter and table top, set down in various stages of consumption and never picked up again.

There is a pile of mail and flyers, including things like my income tax return and unpaid bills.

There are no less than seven laundry baskets scattered around, as my laundry strategy appears to have been to collect more laundry baskets in order to contain the growing piles.

The trouble is I no longer know which is clean and which is dirty, and each one is topped with soft black fur as the cat has apparently claimed them as new beds.

The dog stares at me mournfully, and the reproach in the cat's eyes are magnified twice over in the amber eyes that share sadness at far too much time left on her own.

I remember staggering home last night in a state of exhaustion, the Intrepid Junior Blogger fixing me with a stare and saying: "Oh, do you still live here?", a nod to my absences of late and perhaps the only notice I will get that she has missed me.

It is the day after Dancing With the Stars, and I feel like I have been run over by a very large and heavily loaded truck.

It was an amazing experience that began months ago, slowly building towards the crescendo finale on Saturday evening when several local celebrities (I still hate that word, as I am a writer and not a celebrity) paired with their dance partners to raise money for the Fort McMurray SPCA. The night before some of the women in the competition also participated in The Catwalk, a fashion show fundraiser associated with Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo, and adding another layer of fun-filled exhaustion to the experience.

Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo was a tremendous success by any measure, with over $70,000 raised in voting alone. It was a fun evening of dancing and friendly competition and great food and..it was exhausting, something I had never expected when this all began months ago.

There are so many people to thank, so many stories to share, so many posts to write - but today I just savour having completed an experience that was challenging and wonderful and utterly and completely out of my comfort zone. And it is all because of one thing, the one thing that made me agree to devote my time and energy to raising money for the SPCA.

It was all about a small black cat with glowing green eyes  who came to us in the SPCA cat room and who now completely owns our hearts.

In the end it was all about Sirius Black Cat.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Unmasking the Real Nature of Anonymous


It is no secret that the anonymous commenter has been the bane of my existence for some time. The anonymous comments that have come my way in the last three years during the writing of this blog have ranged from the kind to the very unkind, but the very worst have been the ones that did not comment on my opinion or my thoughts. They focused on me as a person and my character.

I was contacted recently by an individual who has a keen interest in online interactions. A genius no doubt, with a set of skills that is used to unravel mysteries and beat challenges. One of the things they are most interested in is the ability to trace supposedly “anonymous” comments to their source, and reveal the identities of those who have left words they believe are masked in secrecy.
What they told me, in short, is that anonymity is an illusion.

There is no guarantee, they said, and it takes time. Sometimes it is successful, and often times it is not, but in this case there has been a history of successful revelations of the identity of those who have left anonymous hate-filled messages for others.
But it can be tried, they said, should I want to pursue it, and it is something they do for fun and for the challenge, and for no other reward or recompense. They said that those who are victimized by the anonymous commenter often have a burning desire to know who it is, the NAME of those who would attack us as people. They suggested, though, that perhaps this was the wrong question.

They suggested the real question one might wish to ask is: Who the hell do these people think they are?
I have on many occasions challenged an anonymous commenter. Meet me for coffee and say these things to my face. Reveal who you are. Show yourself, since you have me at a disadvantage, knowing who I am but hiding yourself in the murky shadows of the internet. It is an offer that in three years has never been accepted.

The hallmark of anonymity, you see, is cowardice, at least in this kind of anonymity which is simply used to spread hatred or do harm.

The one who offered services to unmask the anonymous may well be right. Perhaps the real question is who the hell thinks it is acceptable to attack one’s character or personhood? Who thinks this is reasonable, to call someone stupid or far worse, to leave words that they know will hurt and cause pain?
The reality is the anonymous commenter knows it is not acceptable or reasonable, because if they did they would see no reason for anonymity. They would not fear attaching their name to their words, but that they do not shows that they themselves acknowledge the very fact that their actions are, at the end of the day, indefensible.

The reality is that the anonymous commenter is quite likely not a stranger, as my new friend has suggested. They said they could possibly help me unmask them, but they cannot help me if we learn it is a family member, a friend, a colleague or a fellow writer. They said that in their experience the ones who have chosen to be anonymous do so because of their proximity to the individual, and not because they are strangers – because a total stranger has no need to be anonymous. They cautioned that we might get the answers, but that the answers may be more painful than we expected, and do even more harm.
Will I pursue this? Doubtful, as it seems to fall on the fringes of the internet, a murky world where ethics and morals seem a bit shadowy. They have offered to help in the future should I ever request it, with no guarantee of success but with a fairly strong track record of finding ways to unmask the anonymous. But first I need to come terms with the real question, you see.

Maybe the question about anonymous isn’t who they are – but who the hell they think they are.
 

 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Small Black Cat, A Vote, and Making Our Lives Whole

He is a plush black cat, with soft fur and an ever-inquisitive nature. He isn’t much for cuddling, but when he chooses to join you on the bed or sofa you feel honoured when the purring starts. He is demanding, as cats often are, greeting us on our arrival home with meows requesting his supper. He torments the dog, he is enthralled by the ferrets, he has destroyed my drapes, he has tried to escape his house “imprisonment” several times, and he has quickly become a linchpin in our home.
In another community he would, very likely, be dead.

We adopted Sirius Black cat in September of last year, fulfilling the Intrepid Junior Blogger’s long held dream to own a cat. We went to the Fort McMurray SPCA, and after considering a long list of candidates it was this small black cat (who thanks to his appetite is no longer so small) who captured our hearts.
As a black cat he is among one of the ones often not adopted. In other communities such animals are often euthanized as the shelter fills with new arrivals, and so, our little Sirius Black, who now owns our hearts and directs our actions, would very likely not even be alive today without the local SPCA.

This is a fact that hurts me, because Sir Black has become a central focus in our house. The IJB, heading into high school, has indicated that when she leaves home she intends to take Sir Black with her, and I know that while I will miss her fiercely when that day comes so too will I miss this not-so-small black cat. He is a part of our lives. He is, in fact, family.
This weekend I am a participant in Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo, a fundraiser for the Fort McMurray SPCA. There is one reason and one reason alone that could get me to overlook my inability to dance, my nerves and my hesitance to make a fool of myself publicly: the incredible bond between people and animals.

Having worked in veterinary clinics I have witnessed human-animal bonds that can only be described as love stories. I have seen grown men, big burly ones, cry when a pet was ill. I have seen the joy of a reunion between an owner and an injured, but recovering, pet. I have seen the sort of unconditional and pure love that often eludes us in our human interactions, but that is the hallmark of our relationship with our pets.
I jokingly refer to my house as a zoo. I have a dog, a cat, and three ferrets. I am the lady you see with a shopping cart loaded with cat litter and cat food and dog food and pet treats and dog shampoo and cat toys. I am the one with the veterinary clinic on speed dial. I am the one who has invested in her pets with her wallet, but even more so with her heart – and it is because they give me far, far more than I could ever hope to give them.

I must admit something. I believe life without animals is hollow, and lonely. I know there are those who don’t like animals, or who don’t derive the same joy I do from being with them, but this is so foreign to my existence that it seems to be from a different planet.
To me pets are life. Pets may not be your whole life, but I believe they have the ability to make your life whole.

I am going to ask you something today, and it is a very rare request. If this blog has ever touched you – made you laugh or cry, made you think or even made you angry – please go to  Dancing With the Stars and vote. Vote for me if you wish, or vote for one of the other couples dancing this weekend. It costs you $20, and it isn’t for me, you see. It is for Sirius Black, who was once a stray cat but who is now so very loved, and all the other animals the SPCA has cared for over the years, and all the ones yet to arrive at their doorstep. It is for the human-animal bond, one that often goes back to our childhood with memories of a beloved pet. It is to celebrate that bond, and the animals who have loved us in a way that touched our hearts, and healed our souls.
I would also ask that you share the link with others. Tweet it, Facebook it, or email it to those who you know or think may have felt that connection with an animal.

You see in the end this isn’t about dancing or an event or voting.
It’s about a small black cat, and thousands like him, the animals who are not our whole lives, but who make our lives whole.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Stranger in Our Midst


His name was David Threinen.
I was nine years old when I learned his name. My father was reading the Saskatoon Star Phoenix as he did every day when he suddenly looked deeply upset, threw the paper down on his plate, and left the table muttering: “That sick bastard.”

My father was not perfect, but he rarely swore in front of his children, and when he did it was in German so there would be a chance we would not understand. I knew even at that tender age that whatever he had seen had upset him in a way that I had never seen before, and so I picked the paper up and read the story about the man who had been arrested for the murder of four young children in our community.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday, even though it was almost four decades ago and my father has now been dead for almost ten years. I won’t forget that moment or the weeks that came before it, weeks when my parents, farm folks who had moved to the city, questioned their decision as children my age began to disappear. I remember the conversations we had, the talks about staying away from strangers, the way I no longer could walk to school alone or even go to the local playground without one of them or one of my adult sisters. They closed a protective shield around me, terrified that the stranger preying on children in our city would somehow find his way to me.

And in the case of Threinen it was a stranger, the “stranger danger” we tell our kids about, but the reality is far darker as we have learned this week in Fort McMurray. It is not the stranger we do not know that we need to fear. It is the stranger in our midst.
Yesterday the world of children, parents and our entire community was rocked with the revelation that a local education assistant has been charged with several counts relating to the creation and distribution of child pornography, as well as counts of sexual exploitation and assault. I learned the news while sitting at my desk in my office, and when I read his name I suddenly understood what it felt like to be sucker punched, because this was a person who has been in my child’s life for years.

He is no stranger to us, having taught in her schools and having been someone who knows her by name. Seeing his name associated with hideous charges made me feel a million different emotions at once: anger, fear, betrayal, sorrow.
I could not stop the tears and I knew I had to do exactly two things. I needed to go home to the Intrepid Junior Blogger, and I needed to have a conversation with her that a parent hopes to never have with their child.

And so there we sat, me asking questions and her replying, with her puzzlement growing at each query. She liked him, she said, all the kids did. He had always seemed fine, fun in fact. No, he had never been inappropriate with her in any way, and why was I asking and what was this all about?
When the word “pedophile” left my lips I could see it in her face. Shock, disappointment, disillusionment. She has had a tough year, this kid, seeing at least three adults she liked and respected fall in front of her. This last one, though, was perhaps the hardest.

I have had difficult conversations with my child, but last night we had one of the most difficult I have ever experienced or ever hope to have in my life. I suspect similar conversations occurred in hundreds of houses last night as parents much like me asked the same questions and revealed the same news to their children.
It isn’t the strangers we need to fear, as the cases like the one that impacted my life as a child – and had lingering effects that have lasted for decades – are the rarity. It is the stranger in our midst, the ones with deep and dark hidden secrets that we need to fear. It is why we must have conversations with our children from a very young age, discussing with them appropriate and inappropriate interactions with adults and older kids, and ensuring that they understand that those who prey upon children may well be someone they know, and who knows them.

My thoughts today are with so many impacted by the revelation that will forever change our community. They are with the victims and their families, young lives altered forever by a pain I cannot imagine. They are with all the children who knew this individual, who trusted him and liked him and who now find their faith and trust irreparably broken. They are with his coworkers and colleagues, who now realize they had a stranger in their midst but that they worked with every single day. They are with parents all over this community who were reminded, in a very dark way, of the risk that exists for our children. They are with all of us right now; a community battered and bruised by the news of someone we thought we knew who it now appears was, in fact, a stranger to us all.
Years after the morning newspaper incident I spoke to my father about Threinen. I asked him what happened on the prairies when he was growing up and something like this happened, or when it was learned that someone was preying upon children. My father, a gentle man who never spanked his children, who loved kittens and puppies, who was as soft as a tough country farmer could ever possibly be, said: “It’s funny how sometimes people just disappear, nobody knowing where they have gone but knowing for certain they are never coming back”, and I realized in that moment that at one point in time there was a form of justice meted out against those that harmed children that did not involve police or court rooms or jail cells. I didn’t understand it then, didn’t understand the helpless vulnerability you feel when it comes to your children or the rage that rises within you when you learn that they, or children like them, have been victimized by a predator.

I understood it last night as I laid in my bed, my mind filled with dark thoughts of rage and anger. I leave the justice in this case to the justice system, acknowledging that the accused is innocent until proven guilty and that it is not my role to be his judge or jury. And yet somehow last night, lying in the dark, I found myself echoing the words my father said almost forty years ago.
“That sick bastard,” I whispered in the dark. “That sick bastard.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For Everything There is a Season


For everything there is a season.
It is perhaps one of my favourite passages, well written, succinct and to the point. For everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to build up and a time to tear down.

Right now in Fort McMurray it is the time to tear down. Not to tear down our community, our achievements or what we have accomplished – but to tear down the plethora of vacant, derelict, neglected and decrepit buildings littering our downtown core.
From the Twin Pines motel to Penhorwood to the unfinished condo development, we have buildings that been sitting idle for some time, often counted in years and not months. These buildings have become a target for graffiti taggers, for vandals, for vagrants and local youth. They are an eyesore, a public embarrassment and a safety risk.

RMWB Councillor Keith McGrath is pursuing a motion to have the properties expropriated by the RMWB demolished in order to begin to improve the appearance of the downtown and attract the investments we so desperately need if we are to continue to redevelop – and revitalize – our downtown.
Make no mistake. Our downtown core will die if revitalization does not occur, and we are already seeing signs of the kind of decay that, if left too long, may well be irreversible. I fully support Councillor McGrath but I would go a step further. I would suggest that we need to look into ways to force the demolition of all buildings that have been left vacant and derelict.

There are many ways this can be accomplished – through increased taxes on vacant properties, forcing the issue through financial means. It can also be done through court orders if a property is deemed unsafe (Penhorwood comes to mind, as it has come to my attention that there are people currently finding refuge in these buildings at night, exposing themselves to significant risk). The issue often comes down to one of expense, and who will pay for the demolition, and I will be very honest – as a taxpayer and resident I am quite willing to see some of my tax dollars going towards demolition of this nature, because the current state of our downtown hurts me.
I recently sat down and spoke with a visiting journalist. Seeing our downtown core through their eyes was deeply troubling for me. Their words were not kind, but they were not inaccurate, either.

Ugly.
Abandoned.

Empty.
Desolate.

Dirty.
These words were like an arrow to my heart, because I know the tremendous potential of our downtown core. I know the heart of this community, the passion and the commitment to making it a better place – but right now we are failing in our downtown core, and I see troubling signs of it every day as new graffiti appears, and more buildings sit vacant, idle, empty and devoid of the vibrant and energetic life that exists here.

I won’t pretend to know the entire solution. I don’t know how to fix all that ails us, but I think I know where to begin. There is a time to build up, and a time to tear down. And right now, in Fort McMurray, it is the season to tear down, as we move towards a future of building up not only our hopes and dreams but our community.

For everything there is a season. It is now the season to tear down the decay, the vacant, the dirty, the abandoned and the desolate and welcome the season of renewal, rebirth and welcome the future, and whatever it may bring.
 
 

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Alberta Story

It was, to be quite honest, one of the highlights of my year.

The invitation to speak to a Grade Four class about blogging and writing was a delightful offer, but the time I spent with those bright young students quite likely did more for me than it did for them. It was inspirational, in fact, seeing their enthusiasm and answering their questions. Their wisdom, so young and pure, shone through as they shared their thoughts about writing and telling stories. At the end of my talk I offered that if they blogged again in their class blog I would share it here on my blog, and so today I am doing exactly that.

This little student blog is the brainchild of their teacher, Ms. Tebay, and it is an outlet for not only creativity but the sharing of life stories, just as I do in this blog. Their most recent set of posts is all about how they and their families came to live in Alberta, and since I have never really shared my own story of my arrival here I thought I would do so today.

Twelve years ago I was living in a small town in northwestern Ontario called Cochenour. We had been there for five years, and it is where the Intrepid Junior Blogger was born, in a hospital in nearby Red Lake. It is a lovely place, surrounded by trees and lakes and wildlife. It was a very different experience for me, life in a small town, as I had grown up in Saskatoon and spent some years living in Toronto. The Intrepid Junior Blogger's father, an engineer by profession, had always had an interest in working in the oilsands, and so when the opportunity came and the job offer arrived we accepted it - and I came to Fort McMurray having never seen it before, my first glimpses of it on the taxi ride from the airport.

Things have changed over twelve years, to be certain. The IJB has grown, and this is her hometown, even though she was not born here. My ex-husband chose to move to Calgary just over a year ago, and I chose to remain here, in the place that long ago went from being a new adventure to being, quite simply, home. I fell in love with this place, and the people, and the potential. I found a sense of belonging, a community and an ability to contribute to making this a better place that others would want to call home, too.

That is the story of how I became an Albertan, and recently chose to remain one. It is my Alberta story.

In April the 4L Class at Westview School has been blogging their own Alberta stories. I have read every single entry - in fact I have read every entry the students have blogged, delighted by their imagination and enthusiasm and sheer pleasure in writing.

Today, with the permission of their teacher, I am sharing their blog with my readers, in the hopes that you too will read their entries and perhaps leave them some words of encouragement as they explore the world of writing and blogging, a world that has given me so much and made my own world grow so much larger. To say I am fond of these students is an understatement, as I am far beyond fond. The time I have spent with them is time I treasure, because it reminded me of the potential of our youth, the charming honesty of nine year olds, and why this community matters so much to me.

Fort McMurray matters because it is filled with people like the 4L Warriors, students who reminded me why making this a better place matters, and of the responsibility we as adults bear to make sure this place is a wonderful place to call home.

Today I am delighted to virtually introduce you to the Grade 4L class at Westview School - I hope you enjoy their entries as much as I do, and I hope you too are reminded of the reason we work to build this community. It is, after all, because of young people just like these ones, and ones I am so very honoured to count among my friends.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consent Required - Written Consent for Vaccination in Alberta

I am a strong believer in vaccinations.

As a parent (and pet owner) I have always believed that vaccines are powerful ways to protect those in our care from the diseases that once destroyed and claimed lives. As a parent I am an equally strong believer in informed vaccination, and in the necessity of being in charge of our children’s health care, such as giving consent for medical procedures, including vaccination. I believe this a crucial part of protecting the health of our children, and as parents and caregivers we must be responsible for our children’s health care.

Over the years I have both consented, and refused consent, for school-hosted vaccinations and medical tests for the Intrepid Junior Blogger. She is fully vaccinated for all the usual diseases of childhood, but in Grade One when they were doing routine tuberculosis testing of all Grade One children in the school I refused consent after a conversation with my physician and doing research that indicated that such routine testing for tuberculosis in areas where it is not endemic is of little value. I signed the form public health sent home through the school “consent refused”, and the Public Health Nurse called and I explained my reasoning.
In Grade Five when the IJB came home with another form I once again refused consent. This time they were vaccinating for Hepatitis B, but I had already decided she would be vaccinated for both Hepatitis A and B and since this was not offered through the school vaccination program I opted to have her vaccinated privately. I also rejected consent for vaccination against HPV after a long discussion with our physician who indicated they felt there was no harm in waiting until she was older and more mature to do this vaccination, and so it has been during her career in school, with most suggested vaccinations gaining my consent but some being refused for one reason or another. With each refusal came a phone call from the Public Health Nurse and we discussed my reasoning, and that was always the end of it, which is just as it should be.

Regrettably recently in our community this was not what happened to a young boy. When the vaccination consent form went home it was not returned by the boy’s parents, his mother, father, or stepmother as they had determined he too would be vaccinated for both Hepatitis A and B and thus they did not provide written consent for his vaccination. And there the story should end, except that in this case the boy was vaccinated on vaccination day without consent, and, despite him explaining to the nurse that he had recently had a needle, the vaccination went ahead.
No harm was done, at least in the physical sense as the dual vaccinations has proved to do him no injury – but harm was done in the sense that he was vaccinated without the consent of his parents. His parents have handled it remarkably calmly, while I would have likely reacted slightly differently.

I would have gone ballistic.
Regardless of how one feels about vaccinations I suspect we can all agree that consent is a fundamental part of medical treatment, particularly when it comes to our children. There can be myriad reasons we may refuse consent, and to vaccinate a child without proof of consent is deeply worrisome to me. What if the child has a medical condition, eg an allergy to a component of the vaccine (and I have witnessed vaccine-induced anaphylaxis in animals, and it is not something to underestimate as it can pose an immediate risk to life)? What if the child has an illness and a physician has determined that vaccination poses a risk? What if the child has a psychological fear of vaccination and their parent has chosen to vaccinate them privately as opposed to a herd setting (which incidentally is what we have done since the IJB was tiny and after a serious bout of anemia and subsequent medical intervention was left with a severe phobia of needles)? What if a parent has rejected vaccination for other reasons?

Now, in the above case a claim has been made that oral consent was given to vaccinate, and so it has become one word against another. In my belief, though, vaccinations should never be administered without written consent. This should be the only acceptable form of consent in our school system, and it should be required prior to vaccinations being administered. This written consent could come from a parent or whatever adult is acting as a parent of the child, or "in loco parentis" to quote the legal term, as there are cases when parental consent cannot be obtained and so the adult(s) responsible for the child's care should be allowed to provide this consent.
I firmly believe in vaccination. I also firmly believe in consent, and in consent that is unequivocal. Allowing oral consent to suffice leaves too many loopholes for those who may not understand the question or to what they are giving consent. It can end in the kind of incident that occurred to a local family, and it is, in my view, unacceptable.

In May one of the parents in the case I describe will join with MLA Don Scott to present a petition asking the provincial government to amend the law in such a way that only written consent will be accepted as consent for vaccination. This petition is now being circulated in our community, and as a mother and a concerned community member I will not only sign the petition but lend my support to this cause and encourage others to sign as well. I am including a list of locations where you too can sign the petition to demand that only written consent be accepted as consent for school vaccination programs.
What I know is this: If the IJB had been vaccinated without my express written consent I would have been outraged, as while I firmly believe in vaccination the concept and ideal of consent is a crucial part of the health care process. I had always assumed that without my written consent no medical procedure could be performed on my child (unless in an emergency situation, when lifesaving measures need to be implemented). I firmly believe that unless you have written consent in hand the appropriate action is to not vaccinate, because there may be reasons for not vaccinating that are not only sound but vital to understand prior to administering a vaccine.

I not only lend my support to this petition but to the demand that ONLY written consent be accepted for vaccination of children in Alberta. Now that I understand oral consent is deemed acceptable I must advocate to change this, because it matters and because I believe it allows incidents like the one I share today to occur - and while this one ended without serious health repercussion this may not always be the case.
I worked in veterinary clinics for a decade, and you may wonder why vet clinics are so adherent to the policy of consent forms. Unless the vet is standing in front of you almost any medical procedure done on your pet will involve a consent form, signed and dated, because almost every veterinary clinic has a horror story of oral consent gone wrong, and procedures being done when an owner has not given proper consent (a good number of lawsuits and malpractice claims in veterinary clinics centre on exactly this scenario, and I have seen many play out). If veterinary clinics require written consent for any procedure done in the absence of the owner of the animal then does it not make sound common sense that the same should be true of any procedure for children done in the absence of parents and caregivers, including vaccination?

I believe in vaccination, you see. And I also believe in consent, which is why I write this post today, and share the story with all of you. These are the locations where you can sign the petition asking the Government of Alberta to change the law to require written consent from parents or those acting as parents for vaccination of children. I can guarantee this - my signature will be found on this petition, and my email to the Minister of Health has already been drafted - and if you feel as I do I encourage you to do the same.


- Superstore Pharmacy (Downtown)
- Just Kidding Boys & Girls Clothing (Downtown)
- The Eye Place (Peter Pond Mall)
- Peter Pond Dental Clinic (Peter Pond Mall)
- One posted upstairs and one posted downstairs on Sportchek community board, right before you walk in (Peter Pond Mall)
- Back on Track Wellness (Timberlea)
- Shoppers Drug Mart Front Desk and Pharmacy (Thickwood Medical Centre)
- Dave Hill's Pharmacy (Thickwood)
- Family Foods (Gregoire)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tag - You're It

It is time to reclaim our community.

The rash of graffiti “tagging” is one that began slowly, but that has spread across the community in astonishingly rapid fashion as “taggers” tag buildings, fences and cars. Tagging is all about laying claim and bragging rights, and not about graffiti as art (which can be just as problematic but at least in skilled hands can look artistic). Tagging is about ownership.
Graffiti taggers are using cans of spray paint to claim our community, one building, fence and car at a time. They have no regard for personal property, and no right to attempt to lay claim to things that do not belong to them, a fact on which I think most of us can agree.
And frankly it looks like hell.
Tagging makes our community look like a war zone, where people have stopped caring and where anyone can simply take out a can of spray paint and merrily claim us with their pseudonym.
But it is time for the tagging spree to end, because we need to reclaim our community. This week the RCMP charged a local individual with mischief. More charges are likely to come, and more taggers are likely to be identified, but I have grave doubt that this strategy alone will prove to be the solution. I believe we all have a role to play in this, because leaving tags in place encourages more tagging, and so we must work to undo the damage they have done. But we have an even greater role, because I believe we have been complicit in this. We have made it far too easy for the taggers to flourish, because we have allowed areas of our city to fall into decay.

The Penhorwood condos, the Twin Pines motel, and all the other vacant and empty buildings are powerfully attractive to taggers. Allowing buildings like this to stand allows the taggers a canvas, and as they cover these buildings they become far bolder, tagging buildings that are not vacant, and fences, and cars. 

One of the most powerful deterrents to tagging is building a strong and beautiful community, one in which such tagging is not tolerated and where it seems discordant. As long as vacant buildings are allowed to stand, as long as we don't remove the tags as soon as they occur, and as long as we spend more time punishing the taggers (with punishments that, if we are honest, are unlikely to deter them) than building strength and resiliency in our community, we will very likely continue to experience this tagging spree.

So what do we do? 

We join together to do spring clean ups and remove the detritus and garbage left over after a long winter. We demand our city tear down vacant buildings they own, and to require owners of other properties to do the same if they have left the buildings abandoned and derelict. We begin to remove the taggers' canvas, slowly squeezing them out of existence. We provide incentives of some sort (tax breaks, perhaps?) to those who invest to beautify their properties. We work on developing our neighbourhood groups, perhaps creating groups that maintain our own neighbourhoods and keep them free of trash and tagging. We develop neighbourhood gardens, shared spaces where we grow together. We work less on "demonizing the tagger", as my wise friend Dave Martin said, and work more on creating a beautiful place where tagging would simply seem out of place. And, perhaps, we provide some spots in the city where graffiti is welcomed, large mural projects like the skateboard park in Borealis Park downtown, and where serious graffiti artists (and they do exist, but often as quite a separate form from taggers) can practice their art.

We reclaim our community from the taggers by working on developing that vibrant and energetic downtown core that we have envisioned, and we don't need to wait for developers and a finished waterfront to do it. We can do it right now.

We have begun with things like the Urban Market during the week, but how welcome it would be to see even more events occurring downtown, during both day and evening hours. If we can attract more people to the downtown core, turning it into a vibrant place full of people, we limit the taggers' opportunities to do their damage in solitude, because they will be observed. 

We reclaim our community by changing the canvas. And nobody can do it but us, so if we really wish to see the rash of tagging end then I think we must acknowledge something. 

Fort McMurray, we've been tagged - and now we're it.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

One Tiny Tabby Kitten - Bill 205 in Alberta

I remember it pretty clearly, even though over the years I have tried to block the memory out of my head.

A small examining room in a veterinary clinic, a veterinarian, me, a tearful woman, and a handful of frightened looking children. On the table a small kitten, a tabby of the usual colouring, gasping in a way known as "agonal breathing", or the last few breaths before death. The kitten, about 12 weeks old, appeared to have a fractured skull, and there was silence as everyone stood there, knowing it would end with a needle of what we referred to as "the blue juice", Euthanasol, the drug we used to euthanize animals in a humane way, coloured with blue dye so there was no mistaking what it was when you reached for the syringe.

"He threw it against the wall," blurted out one of the kids, staring down at the floor. The woman shot him a quick and anxious look, and quickly said "It was an accident, not on purpose", but of course everyone in the room knew that this was no accident, and that in a fit of rage someone had picked up this vulnerable little kitten and slammed it against a wall hard enough to fracture the skull and cause massive injury to the fragile brain inside.

At the end it was just a small tabby kitten on the table, an empty syringe, a family gone home, a suddenly very tired looking vet who disappeared upstairs for a moment alone, and me in tears as I pulled out the tiniest of bags to dispose of the body.

A subsequent investigation into the incident by the police revealed the kitten wasn't the only in the house being abused, and the small frightened children had good reason to be scared. Were it not for the voice of the tiny little terrified soul who told the truth there is no telling how long the abuse would have continued, or if the tiny kitten would have been the only vulnerable creature in the house to end up fatally injured.

The entire episode shook me to my core.

It is, sadly, far too common a story in our country. I have known vets and staff from across the nation who have similar stories of animal abuse and neglect, of varying degrees. The link between animal abuse and domestic violence has been well-established now, as well as the link between the mistreatment of animals and other violent behaviour. Those who will abuse the most vulnerable, it seems, are far more prone to acts of violence against other humans, and this is a link we ignore at our own peril. I didn't understand it until that day in the examining room, but I have never forgotten it or doubted it since.

This week MLA Len Webber will introduce a private member's bill in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. It asks the provincial government to review the legislation that protects animals in our province, and to increase the penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals. It is in response to legislation that has not been updated for many years, and that does not reflect our current understanding of the magnitude - and the impact - of animal abuse. It is anticipated his bill will easily pass, as any member of legislature who votes against this should be viewed with a suspicious eye as someone who does not like animals (and as my father liked to say: "never trust a man who doesn't like children or animals"), or someone who does not understand that animal abuse is a significant issue in our society that must be addressed. But passing this bill is only the first step, because until the legislation is amended nothing will change.

Today I lend my support to Bill 205, which is the bill to amend the legislation and allow for stiffer fines and penalties for animal abuse. I not only believe it is important but I believe it is crucial, because as our understanding of animal abuse grows so too does our understanding of the link between violence against animals and domestic violence. This isn't just about horrific abuse of cats and dogs but about a pattern of abuse that touches our lives as people. This is about violence and neglect.

For me this is about a tiny tabby kitten and a small group of shattered children who watched it dying.

Please lend your support to Bill 205. Facebook your support, Tweet about it, talk about, email or write or call your MLA and tell them that you expect them to speak out in support of ensuring appropriate punishment for those who choose to abuse animals.

Support the Animal Protection Amendment Act, because it won't just protect animals, as I learned over two decades ago in a tiny veterinary examining room. It may have the power, in the end, to protect all those in our society who are vulnerable. And as Gandhi said:


Saturday, April 12, 2014

When a Carnival is Just a Little Bit More - Sustainival



I first met Joey Hundert, the creative mind behind Sustainival, the world's first green carnival, two years ago. He had invited local media to come and check out his process that converts used cooking oil to biodiesel, which is then used to fuel the rides at Sustainival, a carnival much like all the others that tour this country and stop in small cities and towns and shopping mall parking lots.

And it is true that Sustainival looks no different, as the rides look exactly the same, and they serve mini-donuts and poutine in the food concessions and you buy ride tickets and, inevitably, someone turns very green on the Gravitron. But Sustainival is vastly different, because Sustainival is sustainability in action.

We live in a place where sustainability gets a lot of lip service as a concept. We love the idea, in fact, this buzzword that gets tossed around for every project and every idea, but it is the reality that eludes us. Most of us don't even know what happens to our recycling after our bins are emptied. We struggle when asked to point to a concrete example of sustainability. We love the word. We love the concept. We are just a lot less certain about how to achieve it.

And sustainability matters in Fort McMurray, because we are fundamentally economically based on a resource that is not sustainable. Oil supply is finite, and one day it will disappear. Oh, not this year, of course, and maybe not for 50 years, or 100 years - but one day it will, and if we think long-term and with a long vision to the future we need to be thinking about what will happen to this community when that day comes.

That day has come for other communities, perhaps smaller than ours, but when their resource-based industry dried up so too did the communities, slowly fading into dust and disappearing. I have been thinking for a very long time about the future of our community, and how we avoid the demise others communities have seen. And I believe it lies in sustainability.

I truly believe that we could become a type of "Silicon North", not based on computer technology but on the development of green technology, exploring new avenues of sustainability and ways to achieve the things we want but with less reliance on fossil fuels. I believe we must encourage our citizens, and particularly our youth, to be thinking along these lines as future career paths, because in those bright young minds may lie the solutions to some of the gravest problems the world faces. And I believe a carnival may just help those young minds start to move along that path.

What does a carnival have to do with technology and youth development? What does it have to do with the future of our community? What does mini-donuts and turning a peculiar shade of green have to do with anything?

I saw it in my own Intrepid Junior Blogger, who two years ago watched as used vegetable oil began the transformation to biodiesel. She and I walked around the carnival, and as we went I could see the lightbulbs in her mind beginning to turn on, illuminating one by one as true understanding of the concept - and the reality - of sustainability dawned.

"The rides," she said. "Fuelled by cooking oil?"

"Yes," I answered.

"The lights," she said. "Cooking oil?"

"Yes," I replied.

"The concession stands where they cook the mini-donuts," she said. "Cooking oil?"

"Yes," I said.

"The mini-donuts," she said. "Cooked in cooking oil?"

And I smiled because she had completed the circle, and in that mind that some day may determine our collective future connections had been made, not because of a class in school or a boring slide show but because she was eating mini-donuts and about to board a ride, fuelled by the very same kind of cooking oil that had made the donuts.

Sustainival has done far more in our community than bring us a carnival. Last year through 'The Green Beast' they partnered with local schools to ensure students could enjoy the carnival and learn the same lesson the Intrepid Junior Blogger did that day. They partnered with local social profit organizations and 'The Green Beast ' race became a "fun"draiser of the best kind, with teams zooming around the course enjoying the rides, eating the food, learning about sustainability, and in some cases raising money for entities like the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. Sustainival has brought us a glimpse of the future, and it has been showing us sustainability in action, not in words.

I believe Sustainival is one of the best things to ever happen to Fort McMurray.

We talk a lot too about changing our image, about the message the world reads about us, and we fight negative articles with our positives and we denounce those who treat us with derision. But what better way to change the image, to change our message, than putting our money where our mouth is and creating and practicing sustainability? What better way than through a carnival that mixes fun with future, and provides not only learning opportunities but mini-donuts and carnival rides? What better way than an innovative idea that takes something traditional, something many of us grew up attending, and turn it green and bring it into the future?

And that is why I am delighted that this past week RMWB Council voted unanimously to provide $125,000 in funding to Sustainival. I have seen far more money spent on far less, and with far fewer long-term positive benefits (and possibly even community-sustaining implications). I believe that members of our council truly understood the value of Sustainival, and they earned my respect in doing so.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger recently announced her career plans. Heading into Grade Ten next year, she has always waffled and wavered on what she wanted to be "when she grew up", always sighing that she didn't understand the kids who just seemed to know what they wanted to do. But a few months ago she came to me and said "I want to be an engineer. I want to make a difference in the world through technology", and off she went to begin planning her high school course load, with a heavy emphasis on maths and sciences. While I cannot say it was her experience with Sustainival that determined this career path I do firmly believe it was a factor, because it was one of the pieces of the puzzle that showed her in a concrete way how technology can be married with fun - and change the world, even through a little carnival and some mini-donuts.

And that is why Sustainival is just a little bit more than a carnival. In fact, it is a great deal more, with far-reaching and broad implications for our community both present and future. And the best part? It is also a helluva good time, although both the IJB and I have agreed that eating poutine directly before boarding the rides is a very, very bad idea.


To learn more about Sustainival please visit:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Three Years Ago Tomorrow

Three years ago tomorrow I sat down at a keyboard and typed out the first entry in the blog that would go on to change my life.

I had no idea back then that there was power and impact in what I was doing. I had no expectation of success, and no idea that in three years I would have written over 700 posts and attracted 500,000 page views. I didn't know where it would lead, the opportunities it would present, the challenges that lay ahead or the moments of joy.

All I knew was that somewhere deep inside me I knew I had to write it.

I needed to write my story of my life in Fort McMurray, a place often talked about, written about, filmed and yet rarely understood. I knew that there were so many stories here worth sharing, both ones belonging to me and ones belonging to others, and I knew that we had to start to share them somewhere. And so it began.

There have been some high points along the way, moments of excitement and joy. There have been times when I have been humbled by the sheer magnitude of the trust that others have placed in me, and when I have been stunned by things I have learned, both things of wonder and things of sorrow.

And there were moments I almost quit, too. The first venomous anonymous email, directed not at my opinion or my skill as a writer but at me as a human being. The first deep disagreement with a reader. The first of many challenges, but each and every one toughened my skin, made me dig deeper and harder and, frankly, refuse to give in, because my parents didn't raise any quitters.

I have learned so very much in three years - about myself, about Fort McMurray, about our region, and most of all about the people both in and outside of our community. I have had the chance to share my story with journalists, filmmakers and readers from all over the world - but it has always, in the end, been about the readers who call this place home, the ones who choose Fort McMurray to live, work and play.

I have been asked on occasion to describe what I "am". A community leader, an advocate, an agitator, a journalist?

I am a mom. I am a writer. I am a pet owner (correction, the cat owns me). I am a home owner. I am an employee. I am a friend. But most of all I am an average citizen and resident of a community that I happen to believe is the most fascinating, most complex, and most challenging place on the planet. It is a place of tremendous dichotomy, with wealth and poverty. It is no utopia, and it is no Mordor. It is, quite simply, my home.

I owe thanks to so many people for the last three years, far too many to name. They are the ones who have been my friends and supporters through this journey, the ones who asked me to write for them and about them, the ones who told me their stories, the ones who agreed with me and argued with me, the ones who invited me to events, the ones who helped me to learn and understand, the ones who took me under their wing and made sure I met the people I needed to meet...and the ones who read this blog, just as you are doing right now.

There were times when I thought the journey was coming to an end, but now, three years after it began, I know this journey is still just beginning. I write this blog today because tomorrow, on the third anniversary of my first blog post, I have the kind of day when I will likely not have time to catch my breath let alone sit down to write. But you see that is what my life is like in Fort McMurray now, full and rich and complicated and absurdly wonderful. And for all of that I have only one word:

Gratitude. Because the last three years, in all their complexity and opportunity and challenge, have been the best years of my life - and I am so very, very grateful to every one of you for being there to share the journey with me. It means more than the words on this page can say, so just know that my gratitude is deep and profound. And with that I will end this post with two simple words, heartfelt and extended to every one of you that has been a part of the last three years:






Monday, April 7, 2014

Slashing Penalty in Fort McMurray

There is no doubt that sports inspire passion among players and fans. While I am not an athletic type I can well appreciate the enthusiasm with which people greet sports events, and how ardent they can be when cheering on their team. On occasion, though, that passion can turn a bit ugly, as appears to have happened last night at the Oil Barons game in Fort McMurray.

The Oil Barons are a well-loved local hockey team, and with good reason as they are stellar players in their league. Last night they played host to the Spruce Grove Saints. The game didn't go well for the Barons, from all reports, ending in a 5-1 loss. But what happened after the game is the real issue, when a "fan" (and I use the term very loosely) took it upon themselves to vandalize the Saints' bus by removing the valve stem from the tires.

Some reports have indicated the tire(s) were slashed, while others say it was removal of the valve stem. It doesn't really matter as in the end the pertinent point is that it was a deliberate and willful act of vandalism, and one that reflects badly on all of us. The actions of one person can have tremendous impact, and in this case I fear the visiting hockey team went home with a bad taste in their mouths as their victory on the ice was countered with damage to their property. In essence the Saints might be a rival sport team, but they are also visitors to our community, and just as we don't injure guests who come to our home we should not cause harm to those who come to our town.

The reality is that the actions of one person do not speak for all of us. While we may be ardent supporters of our local sports teams we do not support this kind of poor sportsmanship and this sort of reputation-damaging idiocy. As we head into 2015 and several sport events of provincial and national significance our reputation DOES matter, because people have worked not weeks or months but years to secure these events for our region. And last night one idiot, in one stupid act, threatened to diminish all that hard work, tarnish our reputation and make us look like goons who cannot handle losing (remember how nobody likes a sore loser? Yeah, that one).

But we are not going to just let this slide, you know, because one jerk does not speak for an entire community. I personally want to congratulate the Spruce Grove Saints on their win, and I want to thank the Oil Barons for their efforts, and for all their hard work, both on and off the ice, in our community. I want to apologize to the Spruce Grove Saints for the actions of one person who does not reflect my own sentiments or thoughts (and, I would dare to say, nor those of the rest of our community). Yes, we are proud of our hockey team and yes we are passionate fans, but we know that stooping to these kinds of malicious shenanigans is simply not part of sport, and nor should it be. It also is not, and should not be, part of a proud and healthy community.

It was a disappointing night in Fort McMurray, both in terms of a loss for our team and the reprehensible actions of one person. I am an eternal optimist, however, and I believe on both counts we can, and will, do better in the future. I wish the Oil Barons good luck as they head to Spruce Grove this week for game seven of the AJHL North Division Final, because they carry with them the good wishes and support of true fans and community members. And to the individual who thought their actions last night were some sort of clever retaliation for a loss on the ice? I say this: you get a personal penalty for slashing, because on this one your team - your community - does not stand behind you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Intrepid Junior Blogger Rants Rick Mercer-Style

This is from some time ago when the Intrepid Junior Blogger was given a school assignment to create a Rick Mercer-style rant. In true Mercer style we found a mural wall and she ranted away while her mother held the iPhone to video (so all quality faults are in fact my own as I am an abysmal videographer). The thoughts, words and script are all her own, though - I was just there as technical help.

All I can say is that one day this kid is going to be a formidable force. At fourteen she already has some fairly complex thoughts on some fairly complex issues - and this is just one of them. These are the conversations that occur in my house on a daily basis - and it is in these discussions that I find hope for our future, because it rests with youth like the one I happen to live with, and the other youth I know who are very similar to my own. There is great optimism to be found with these young adults, I believe.

With her permission I share it with you here today, because she believes this is a serious issue. And so I give to you the Intrepid Junior Blogger, and her thoughts on cyber bullying:



The Boulevard of Broken Dreams


All photos credit to
the fabulous photographer
Joanne Leitch




They stand there still, empty and abandoned. They have now been there for three years in this state, a cluster of buildings that were once homes. It is hard for me to believe I wrote about them first almost three years ago, and that over three years ago, on March 11, 2011, the residents in these buildings heard a knock at their door late in the night, telling them they must evacuate.





The residents didn't have days or weeks or months to leave, you see. They had mere minutes to gather their belongings and flee, the buildings deemed too unsafe for habitation. I cannot even begin to imagine their disbelief and shock. I cannot imagine the anxiety and fear and stunned realization that their home was no longer their home. And now, not days or weeks or months but years later the buildings still stand, a sad reminder of an end to dreams and hopes.


Penhorwood is Fort McMurray's very own boulevard of broken dreams.


For some time these buildings were simply an unpleasant reminder of a dark moment in our history, and then, as the months wore on, they became an unsightly eyesore right across from one of the gems of our community. As time wore on the building began to fall into disrepair, with broken windows and the signs of lack of human tending becoming apparent.





And then the graffiti began to appear, and the blight of these buildings began to grow, sharply contrasting with all the bright plans for our downtown core. For how can we plan and build for that bright future when this stark reminder of a dark past continues to stand? How can we look ahead as long as these buildings are still there? And it is worse still, because now these buildings, empty and abandoned, pose a threat to the safety of our residents.





The easy access the graffiti 'artists' seem to have is worrisome. They seem to have found ways and means onto roofs and into the units themselves, which means that others can find the same access. Local youth looking for a spot to hang out. The homeless looking for shelter. And these buildings, once just a sad reminder of broken dreams, now become a real threat to safety.




I fear that someone, a graffiti tagger or young adult or homeless person, will be injured in one of these buildings. A fall from the roof, a fire, an injury from broken glass, inhalation of the black mold that now festers inside...all of these are real risks.


Somehow over three years ago these buildings were deemed unsafe for habitation and yet they stand there still, despite the initial concerns of the instability of the structure of the buildings. Why are they still there? An ongoing court case, an unsettled issue, a never-ending saga of hopes and dreams and development gone terribly wrong.

In the end why they still stand doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that the time has come when these buildings must come down.


What a horrifying smack in the face these must be to the residents who fled in the middle of the night. What a brutal reminder of an event that left many lives in disarray, with financial and emotional repercussions still rippling through their lives. What a travesty.

My understanding is that a court order can be sought to level these buildings as being unsafe for the community and presenting a risk to those who are trespassing in them. Do the final inspections, write the final reports, take the last pictures, and then tear them the hell down and close this ugly chapter in our history, before a new page is written when someone falls from a roof or off a balcony. I humbly suggest that our municipal government address this issue immediately, and before a further tragedy compounds an already horrific saga. I think our community has lost enough to Penhorwood in the last three years - our hopes, our dreams and our faith. We cannot afford to lose any more.

It is time to level Penhorwood. It is time to let the courts sort out the mess but without the daily reminder of a dark period in our history. As long as they stand Penhorwood is nothing more than a boulevard of broken dreams, right in the heart of our community.



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ch-ch-changes

There is a song that runs through my head a great deal recently. I have always been a fan of David Bowie, and thought him quite a brilliant lyricist and vocalist. And the Bowie song running through my thoughts at every turn in this community? This one:


Changes. This is what Fort McMurray is going through right now, changes large and small that will impact us in ways we cannot quite imagine yet.

Today I went and wandered around the new Shoppers Drug Mart in Stonecreek. Perhaps it shouldn't be a big deal, the opening of a new drugstore, but it is when it is in a neighbourhood that desperately needs these retail options, and when it is surrounded by a large complex that will be filled with stores and services. It seems such a small thing and yet it is a harbinger of things to come.

The recent chatter about a big box centre, the ongoing development of the City Centre, including the return of the Urban Market this summer, the rapid pace of development at Shell Place, the new  Tim Horton's in Eagle Ridge, all the news stores and services and opportunities and...well, a lot of changes.

I reconnected with someone recently that I have not spoken to since I was 19 years old and living in Saskatoon. During our discussion it turned out he had grown up in Fort McMurray, something I had not known (or at 19 had not really cared about) and when he learned I live here now said it must be "crazy up there" - and I didn't actually know what to say, because we are still in the middle of incredible growth in population. Our demographic becomes more diverse every day as new immigrants to our country choose to come to Fort McMurray to start their life in Canada. We see more babies born, more families arrive, more houses being built, more roads being finished, and more changes than I have ever seen before in a community.

I wonder at times if this is how the people felt during the Gold Rush, as change occurred at such a rapid pace they couldn't keep up. I can no longer attend all the events to which I am invited, finding myself triple booked on some nights and facing difficult choices. There are new stores I have not yet explored, and new groups I know very little about. Three years ago, when I began this blog, I found it much easier to keep track of such things, but in the intervening time the pace of growth has quickened and I have been unable to keep up. The changes, it seem, just keep coming.

It is an exciting time to live here. It is a time of challenge, too, because these changes affect the fabric of our community, and it is up to us to both direct the changes and our response to them. We need to ensure that the changes don't become a freight train that drives us, and that we instead are the engineers who drive this particular train of development and change. We have a lot in our hands right now. We hold the present of this community, and the future, and the changes we are seeing now will determine what that future will be.

This is a time of ch-ch-changes - and how amazing it is to be a witness to it, as we see the future unfurling before us every single day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Mother and a Daughter, A Father and a Son

You could hear a pin drop when he speaks, despite how many people are in the room. He has a mesmerizing presence, one I have seen before but one that is unfamiliar to the Intrepid Junior Blogger who stands transfixed behind him. She has somehow managed to find herself front and centre on the stage, her red hair rapidly fading to salmon pink but brightened by the red and black lace dress and red boots. I can see it on her face. She is completely enthralled.


He, of course, is Justin Trudeau, and we are at MacDonald Island Park where he is speaking to a crowd gathered to greet him and local Liberal candidate for the Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election Kyle Harrietha. Even before he arrives there is a buzz in the room, a building energy. The crowd has come to see the leader of the federal Liberals, and to hear him speak. Some have seen him before. For many, like the IJB and I, this will be the first time to see him in person.

And when he enters there it is, the presence and charisma for which his father was known. I remember it well from my days as a child and watching Pierre Elliott Trudeau sweep onto a stage. He was controversial in many regards, as politicians always are, but no one could deny his presence or his intellect.

Intellect is what always mattered when we discussed politics when I was growing up. My father, who was deeply interested in the political world, thought staunch allegiance to any one party was foolish, and he advocated voting and supporting depending on the time, the issues and the people in the party. And like my father I have, over the course of my life, voted for candidates from every of the three major federal parties as I felt appropriate for the time and circumstances.

Justin Trudeau carries the legacy of his father, and all that entails, both good and bad. But just as my daughter is her own person separate from her mother so too is Justin, and so too he should be evaluated on his own merits as opposed to those of his famous father. This is one of those lessons my father taught me, to judge each and every person as individuals, and one of the lessons I am proud to teach my daughter.


Last night I went on Twitter to share a photo of my daughter at the event and to comment that Justin is a powerful speaker, much like his father. I was stunned by the reaction, because almost immediately I was set upon by his detractors, much like rabid dogs in their attack. One comment in particular enraged me, stating that Trudeau's support from young women proved the "shallowness" of the Liberal party. The condescension in that comment - that my child, because she is young and female, could not possibly form an intelligent or informed opinion on a political party or leader - outraged me. The ageism, the sexism, the sheer audacity to imply that she was incapable of independent thought angered me to the boiling point - because it is youth like my child who will one day lead this country, and my child is quite likely more informed about politics than some adults in our nation.

One can often tell your impact from the amount of defense you generate. No one feels the need to respond to an opponent who has no power, no impact and no influence. But when they feel the need to rise to attack (and attack not only the politician but those who are impressed by him, including young women) you know they are feeling threatened.

And so perhaps they should be. Justin Trudeau brings new life to a party that was on the precipice of disaster not so long ago. Say what you like about his ideology and politics, but one cannot deny his charm, his charisma or his presence - and one should never, never underestimate their value in politics, either.

My daughter, who at fourteen is passionate about science and politics and the world and in making a difference, believes in hope and hard work. Last night after we left the event she stopped at one of the pianos at MacDonald Island and played a bit, and as she played we chatted about what Trudeau had said. We talked about the message that Canada as a country is strong not in spite of our differences but because of them. We talked about a message of this country being an incredible place of diversity with room for all opinions and thoughts (despite those who would claim young women are not entitled to those). We talked about the future.

And then we packed up and headed home, a mother and daughter who have both been impacted by someone with a famous last name. To see her watch Justin reminded me so much of my youth spent watching transfixed as his father spoke. I recognized the look on her face, the wonder and the inspiration. I knew that this would be a pivotal experience in the journey of one young woman, because once, a long time ago, it was in my own. My daughter and I share so many things, as I learned when I reconnected this week with someone I have not seen in almost thirty years and who commented when seeing a photo of my daughter that she looked so much like me three decades ago. So too do we share the legacy of a famous Canadian family, a father and son. A mother and a daughter, a father and a son - sometimes life is a circle, and last night it circled around once more for my daughter and I as we shared yet another moment in our lives in Fort McMurray.