We have good bones in Fort McMurray. Our riverfront area downtown is this incredible gem, the kind of property most cities would die to have as it is a natural and unique focal point. Our surrounding boreal forest is amazing at this time of year, green and lush and beautiful in every respect. We have outstanding facilities, like those at MacDonald Island Park where I am so fortunate to be employed and the Syncrude Health and Wellness Centre at Keyano, the two serving as anchor points along our long downtown corridor. Most of all we have phenomenal vibrancy and energy in this region, most of it found in our most precious resource: our people.
What we need is just some cleaning up and enhancement, I think as I drive around. The ever-present graffiti mars far too many surfaces. Despite the demolition of the doomed condominiums at Penhorwood there are far too many desolate and vacant buildings. There are areas where a deeply troubling dispirited feeling have set in, places for which there were once grand plans but which now sit quietly and in anticipation, waiting for something – anything – to happen. Willow Square is just one of those spots, a place where great hopes and dreams now sit idle and where weeds and dust gather now instead.
I do not pretend I have the solutions to what we need to do or the path forward on this. I know that when I drive visitors around the community in recent months I have felt far more defensive than normal, feeling as if I have to explain the vacant lots, empty buildings and graffiti. Some from otuside choose to interpret these as signs of some sort of downfall of my community, a harbinger of things to come as the price of oil dwindles and an economy based on it falters – but I do not see that. I still see a community in transition.
We have come a long way since I arrived here almost fourteen years ago. I still see the community as it was then, smaller and still prone to the cycles of boom and bust, but no less robust or resilient. Many things have already changed significantly in my time here and I have no doubt things will continue to change – hopefully always for the better, seeing new growth and new opportunities come to our community.
I know one thing for sure, though. We have good bones, Fort McMurray. All that remains to be seen is how we edit our masterpiece.