I can’t really describe what I experienced today. It was something I never thought I would experience and hoped I’d never have to experience. I was one of the lucky ones. Highway 63 at MacKenzie Blvd was shut down just as I was approaching the intersection. I watched as the trees on the west side of the road crowned with flames. I saw a burst of fire jump up as flames engulfed the Shell. It looked more like a bomb than a forest fire.
When I first realized the situation, I said that this was Slave Lake all over again. I was wrong. With all due respect to the good people of Slave Lake, this was worse. I fear that, when we’re able to see what remains of Fort McMurray, we’re not going to like what we see. Regardless, we are Albertans, and we will rebuild.
Fort McMurray gets a bad rap. The east hates it. It’s been referred to as “Mordor” by know-nothing idiot celebrities. It’s been trashed by the political left. It’s picked up nicknames like “Fort Crack”
The real truth about Fort McMurray is very different. It’s a place where so many of us, both in Alberta and country-wide, have lived and worked. We’ve sat down for dinner at Moxies, drank a little too much at Showgirls and lost too much money at the Boomtown Casino. We’ve waited in enormous lineups at Tim Hortons off 63, excited for that last coffee or donut before heading to site. Through all of this, we’ve made some pretty great memories of McMurray, whether we’d like to admit it or not.
I’ll never forget my first real night out in McMurray. While working on the Noralta Lodge Village construction crew, we went into town to celebrate a co worker’s 30th birthday. It wasn’t just our group celebrating though. It was everyone in the bar. People who’d never even met the guy were buying him birthday drinks, or putting a 5 down on roulette for him. Fort McMurray isn’t just a place to make money or find a job. It’s a place to feel part of a community. It’s a place to make friends and memories.
For me, Fort McMurray was a place to start anew. After returning from college in Ontario, I faced massive debt. After spending a few years trying to pay it off with a local job, I made the decision to go to McMurray on an electrical apprenticeship. What I found was more than just money. It was a new beginning. I matured. I learned a lot about myself. Yes, I also paid off my debt. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the things I learned and accomplished in Fort McMurray.
At the end of the day, what made Fort McMurray wasn’t Moxies. It wasn’t Showgirls or Boomtown Casino. It wasn’t Tim Horton’s or even City Hall. No. What made Fort McMurray was the people. Albertans, regardless of origin. Our provincial motto is “strong and free”, and it’s that for a reason. We’ve proven it before. Edmonton’s Black Friday, Calgary’s flood, and the massive fires that hit Slave Lake in 2011. We rebuilt each and every time. We banded together, as Albertans, and ensured that our people were taken care of. We will do that once again.
Fort McMurray – you are not alone. You have all of Alberta behind you. Together, we are Alberta Strong.