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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

McMurray Musings' Moments: Top 15 of 2015

As I began compiling my top 15 of 2015 I quickly realized one thing: I am absolutely abysmal at math. As I jotted down notes it rapidly became apparent that the list was much longer than 15 moments, but one of my other flaws (in addition to poor math skills) is a stubborn nature that prevents me from whittling things down to fit some arbitrary number (this is how I go into a shoe store with the intent of buying one pair and walking out with three). I am however remarkably good at justification and downright sneakiness, and in order to encompass all my top 2015 moments and memories I decided to stack them into categories, neatly allowing me to cover even more territory and still fit into the number 15. And now that you have that glimpse into my head, let’s talk about my top moments and memories of 2015.

It should be noted that these are MY moments and memories, and as the saying goes YMMV (which actually means “Your Mileage May Vary” but for this means “Your Memories May Vary”). These are my favourite moments, the most compelling and the most meaningful (and unlike many “top news stories of the year”, this one doesn’t need to be read in the tone of Marvin the robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which should be a reference you understand and if you don’t you should really read some Douglas Adams immediately).
So, 2015: what a year! These are my memorable moments and events in no particular order:

1)      igNIGHT – The second year of the annual public art display featuring lighted artworks was, in my opinion, even more spectacular than the first. In a community still struggling to understand what is and is not public art (e.g., Weather Catcher = not public art), igNIGHT was another step in the evolution of developing our appreciation of the concept of public art. It lit up the cold dark nights in our community and allowed hundreds of residents to enjoy public art – and frankly it was a true delight.

2)      Communities in Bloom Committee – At the end of 2014 I was appointed to the CIB Committee, and while still very much a novice horticulturalist I have over the past year developed an even deeper appreciation of the work of Wood Buffalo Communities in Bloom. About far more than pretty flowers, CIB encourages residents to not only beautify but to develop pride in our region. My fellow committee members are people I have come to not only respect but admire, and my time on the committee will continue in 2016, a fact for which I am profoundly glad as I am so very proud of what this committee does in our communities.

3)      Opening of the Redpoll Centre at Shell Place – What a phenomenal moment it was when the Redpoll Centre, operated by the United Way of Fort McMurray, first opened their doors at Shell Place and provided a new home for several local social profit organizations. Having seen the incredible collaborative opportunities found in the original home of the Redpoll Centre on Franklin Avenue, it was a genuine delight to see them in bright, fresh new spaces where they can continue to strengthen our community and work together to make it an even better place.

4)      Elections galore – What an astonishing year it was in politics. From the Orange Crush in Alberta to the Red Wave federally, changes were in the wind and the mind of voters. As someone who embraces the concept of change I welcomed both, although I must admit I was particularly delighted when Justin Trudeau was elected as our new Prime Minister. Having had the opportunity to spend time with him, and to see him interact with the Intrepid Junior Blogger, I had long believed he would be the individual to run our country one day. And now he does.

5)      Each one teach one – When I was asked to teach two courses on Communications through the FuseSocial Academic program I was initially hesitant as I was dubious about both what I had to offer and my skills as an educator. As it turned out it was an amazing experience as it made me realize how much I have learned over the past few years while also recognizing how much more I need to learn. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity, as someone I once interviewed explained the concept of “each one teach one” to me, and I was delighted to have the chance to live that ideal.

6)      Driving Miss Amelia – Amelia isn’t a person. She is my car, the new Ford Explorer I bought this year through the amazing people at Northstar Ford. And while she isn’t a person she plays a fairly central role in my existence, as she and I have already been on a few adventures, with far more planned for 2016. The very first car I have ever bought on my own, she is named after Amelia Earhart, and despite the onboard GPS I have managed to get lost on more than one occasion, just as her namesake did. But just as her namesake, Amelia and I would rather have fun getting lost than be bored sitting still. Need a new car? Go see Northstar Ford. I cannot recommend them highly enough, as they turned a first-time, terrified and uninformed car buyer (me) into a fan of their incredible service.

7)      Bill 10 – Remember Bill 10? What a gong show that was, and perhaps for me the definitive moment in my relationship with the PC party of Alberta. Ensuring that LGBTQ students have the right to form Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools, regardless of their school district, was simply the right thing to do, despite initial serious missteps from the PC government. I have no doubt this will be ensured under our new NDP government, although there are some in our province (and region) who continue to resist this idea – but then again there were those who resisted the idea of allowing women to vote and black people to be free from slavery. The protection of LGBTQ youth is simply another step in the long journey of civil rights. It’s wonderful to see us making some significant tracks on that path.

8)      Nathaniel Crossley – Once, several years ago, I interviewed a rather shy young boy who was just beginning to do something remarkable by raising money to build wells in Africa. Over the years Nathaniel not only raised a significant amount of money for this cause, but travelled to Africa to see the communities impacted by the wells he helped to build. And this year he was recognized in Washington DC at a gala hosted by Africare, where he was awarded the honour of being named a Young Philanthropist. He is no longer a shy boy, but a confident and charming young man who is still early in his journey of making an impact in our world. I can’t wait to see where his adventure takes him next, and I am beyond honoured to have been even a very small part of it so far.

9)      Jeremy Snook – One evening this fall I sat down and did an interview about another young man, but this time he wasn’t present to tell his own story. Instead his parents, Brian and Gail, shared his story with me, one that brought me both to tears and to awe as they told me of their son who died at the age of 19 from an incurable form of brain cancer. It was one of the most profound interviews I have ever done, and gave rise to what is likely one of the most personally meaningful pieces I have ever written. I was humbled to be given the chance to write it and to share the story of a very unique and beloved young man who lived his life with no regrets and no excuses.

10)   Grand Opening of Shell Place – Official disclaimer: these comments are reflective only of me and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. Now, that being said, one of the most incredible moments of my entire year was standing on a stage in the middle of the Baseball Stadium at Shell Place and watching as over 2400 community members cut the ribbon marking the official opening of Shell Place. It’s a good thing I was the MC that day, as that is likely the only thing that prevented me from bursting into tears due to being overwhelmed by the emotion of watching hundreds of local students and community members help to open the very facility they will enjoy for decades to come. Both personally and professionally it was a pinnacle, and one moment in time I will never, ever forget.

11)   Snye Point Park – While some of the plans for the revitalization of the city centre of Fort McMurray came to an abrupt halt, the completion of Snye Point Park in time for the Western Canada Summer Games was a remarkable achievement. As someone who grew up in Saskatoon, a city famous for the bridges and riverside parks it boasts, I had long wished to see the waterfront in our community truly reflect what a gem we have right in our downtown core. One day this summer I watched some of the water events at the Snye and marvelled at how this development would change the enjoyment of our waterfront for decades. Bravo to the RMWB and all those involved in ensuring Snye Point Park will be a prime destination for both community residents and visitors to the region.

12)   Wood Buffalo Food Bank – Spending the last year serving on the Board of Directors at the Wood Buffalo Food Bank made me not only appreciate my own good fortune but made me truly grateful for the hard work and commitment of the staff of this organization. One of my favourite memories from this year will always be driving the Hospitality Van with my fellow board member Dennine Giles during the annual Syncrude Food Drive, delivering hot chocolate, coffee, cookies and deep gratitude to the many volunteers who supported the drive this year and helped to fill the shelves at the Food Bank. I am humbled to be able to serve this organization, and so very grateful for what they do, and I am reminded on a regular basis of what an incredibly generous community we live in.

13)   SPCA Vet Clinic – I admit it. When SPCA Executive Director Tara Clarke toured my colleagues and I through the new veterinary clinic at the SPCA I kinda got all teary-eyed. Maybe it’s because three members of the Triple M Zoo – Sirius the cat, Smaug the cat and River the ferret – all came to us from the SPCA. Maybe it’s all those years I spent managing vet clinics and my memories of how veterinary care truly makes the difference between life and death for the precious creatures who entrust their very lives to us. Maybe it’s because I know how hard the staff at the SPCA work, and how devoted they are to their mandate. Whatever it is, I got all weepy over the sight of x-ray equipment, a surgical suite and all the materials needed to ensure the good health of every animal that enters the doors of the SPCA. I am so proud for them, and of them, too.

14)   Bo Cooper – What a sad list this would be if I didn’t mention one of the most remarkable things I have EVER seen in my fourteen years in this community. The way an entire region has rallied to raise funds for a young man facing the fight of his life is not only astonishing but heart-warming, particularly given that the need comes at one of our most difficult economic periods. It is one of the most stunning things I have ever witnessed as people from every demographic come together to fight for and with Bo Cooper. Our hearts and minds are with him and his family, and his fight has become ours, too. There aren’t even enough words to really capture what this has meant, as one has to see it and feel it to understand the magnitude of the impact this has had on our community.

15)   Never a dull moment – First, go back and read my disclaimer on Number 10. Now, let’s talk about a year filled with some of the most memorable events ever seen in this region. From the Grand Slam of Curling Syncrude Elite 10 to the Monster X Tour, from two CFL games to a concert featuring legends of rock Aerosmith, from the spectacular Western Canada Summer Games to the Fort McMurray Half Marathon to the announcement of the arrival of WMBL baseball in Fort McMurray, it has been one heck of a ride. Some of the events found me at the very middle of them, like when I got to spend the day being Kevin Martin’s tour guide (quite a coup for someone who knows very little about curling except the joy of small town bonspiels) or when I got to spend the day working as local crew for Aerosmith. I got to put members of the media into a monster truck and grin as they shrieked when it tilted them around the corners at full speed, and I got to be there when the green and gold of the Edmonton Eskimos hit the field at Shell Place. I was there when the spectacle of the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games unfolded before me, and it was a pure joy to simply be a spectator and stand there in awe and wonder. I will never forget the moment when a fan saw me walking onto the field at Aerosmith and ran up to me, recognizing my blue jacket, and thanked me for helping to bring the act to Fort McMurray. I stood and watched as Steven Tyler performed under the setting northern sun. From the events in which I was directly involved to the events at which I was only an attendee, I was honoured to have the opportunity to be there at all and to see them taking place in Fort McMurray, Alberta: my home town.

So, there you have it. That’s my list, my top 15 of 2015 (don’t bother pointing out the bad math and calisthenics I went through to fit it all in). Yours might be different, although some might be the same. For me, though, 2015 was a pivotal year in my life, both personally and professionally. There were hard moments, too, and ones which carry sad memories. Fundamentally though I believe life is a game of perspectives. When the moments that take your breath away outweigh the moments when the breath has been knocked out of you I think you can count it as a good year – and so 2015 has truly been an amazing year for me, despite the occasional dark moments. One can look back in sorrow at all the things that went wrong, or one can reflect on all the moments that touched us and changed us from who we were into who we are today. This list is my moments from 2015. Perhaps it will inspire you to pause and reflect on yours, and to remember yet another year in this place blessed by the abundant boreal forest, the dancing northern lights and the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege to know.

Happy New Year, Fort McMurray!

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