Posts Tagged ‘ McMurray ’

Fort McMurray

When I first drove into Fort McMurray on April 30, 2012, it was a gorgeous sunny day. I’d just spent the past three days driving through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, finishing off with my first-ever drive up Highway 63, just a few days after a fiery head-on collision claimed seven lives on what is commonly referred to as ‘The Highway of Death.’

I was 23 years old, and had just done something I never thought I’d be able to do: graduate from college. I was restless, bored of my hometown and, finally equipped with an education, I was ready to get out of town. In fact, at that time I was exclusively applying for jobs out of province, that’s how badly I wanted to leave Winnipeg behind.

Fort McMurray answered my call.

I vividly remember hesitating for just a moment when I was officially offered my position as a reporter at the Fort McMurray Today daily newspaper, my false bravado finally giving way to anxiety and uncertainty as I realized all at once everything saying ‘yes’ to this opportunity would mean.

I sold the large majority of my possessions, sublet my apartment, packed everything I owned into my brand new 2012 Toyota Corolla, hugged my mom and dad, and I drove away.

I called Fort McMurray home for 13 months after that. From fist fights at black-tie galas to 8-hour city council meetings to black bears shot in backyards, I became a journalist, made lifelong friends, fell in love with photography, and grew into the person I am today.

Fort Mac wasn’t perfect. Far from it. Everything you’ve heard about the place is probably true, to a lesser extent, and everything you’ve heard in defense of that is probably also true, to a lesser extent. People like to exaggerate. So just marry the two opinions together and I’ve got a crisp $5 bill that says that’s a perfectly accurate depiction of Fort McMurray.

But to me, Fort McMurray was an opportunity that nobody had to give me. I wanted to find out what I was made of and Fort McMurray was there for me to make as much or as little of that opportunity as I chose.

It’s been an interesting feeling the past few days, watching footage of the city burning, the journalist still in me longing to be there just for that one photo…

I may not miss the city, but I would be ignorant to deny owing it a massive debt of gratitude, and I think that sums up many people’s feelings toward Fort McMurray lately. Much of the time it’s but a pit stop for the transient who are looking for something missing in their lives; in many cases, you’ve had it with you all along, but people seem to find it in Fort McMurray.


“It’s going to SPACE!”

It crossed my mind the other day how quickly people become dissatisfied with pretty much all aspects of their lives eventually, myself included.

I work as the city reporter for the Fort McMurray Today, and some days I’ll do nothing but cover a variety of topics that aren’t interesting to me whatsoever. And I’ll find myself thinking back to some of the outrageously fun work I had an opportunity to do at the Winnipeg Free Press a while back, and all of a sudden I’m saying, “I wish I was a sports writer,” or some other unnecessarily negative comment.

Luckily, I had the good sense to take it upon myself to remind… myself… of some of the jobs that I had to work before I went back to college.

The first job I ever had was when I was probably 14 or 15, and it was at The Chamois car wash in Winnipeg. I got the job for a couple of reasons: All of my friends had gotten jobs there and I wanted to work with them, and they all told me I’d be hired on the spot. Understandably, I had absolutely no business sense back then (compared to the bare minimum that I have today) and it didn’t occur to me that being hired literally five minutes after asking for an application was probably not a good sign.

What I understand now is that the turnover rate at that child-dominated sweatshop was through the roof, to the point that they were hiring whoever walked through the door.

I had the honour of working in “wipedown”, which meant that after the cars came through the wash, I got to wipe them down by hand, and get soaking wet in the process; I’m talking from head to toe. Well, a typical Winnipeg winter came around, as it usually does, and there I was, sending cars off through the giant garage doors, while standing a few feet away from -40, and a wind chill that practically had me on my knees trying to bargain with my creator.

Needless to say, I was glad to contribute to their high turnover rate.

But mostly I think about Boston Pizza, the last job I had before college, and ultimately my inspiration to go find a better life for myself. They treated me so poorly that I think my parents are still boycotting them back home.

But the point is, these are the places that I was forced to work when all I had was a high school education (or less). The 10-year old version of myself would punch me in the face if he heard me complain about ANYTHING work-related today. All I’ve ever wanted to do was write for a living, and now I do that every day. That should really be the only pertinent information.

Louis C.K. does a great job of pointing out flaws in humans like this, that most of us never even think of.

Here’s his take on all of the things that people take for granted these days, and it’s painfully accurate, and worth watching.

“How quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.”

Bag Boy

I’m finally starting to relax a little here in Fort Mac, as I get settled in here and accustomed to my new home.  It just keeps on getting better-looking around here as Summer comes closer, which I think is helping the process.  I will be posting photographic evidence of this claim, so look forward to that.

My drive home.

I got to spend the day checking out a full-scale wildfire exercise the other day, which was pretty cool, and I will possibly – I cannot stress the word ‘possibly’ enough here – be golfing, which would be the first time ever, on behalf of the Fort McMurray Today, for charity on Friday.  If this does happen, I will be sure there are plenty of cameras on site to capture the most hilariously embarrassing moment of my life.  I suppose there is a remote possibility that I will just turn out to be an indescribably talented golfer, a la Happy Gilmore… but don’t hold your breath.

Gregoire Lake

Anyways, now the reason you all clicked this link.

The bag boy’s name is Sean Graham, and it took me all of about a week to learn his name, so I guarantee you that every single citizen of Fort McMurray knows who this guy is.  It’s not a terribly long story, and I don’t have all of the details, so here it is:

Gregoire Lake…

Mr. Graham, probably a little younger than me, proposed that all plastic bags found in grocery stores, or any stores, be removed permanently.  I assume this was some sort of enviro-friendly-fueled suggestion. Council, obligated to take all requests from their citizens seriously, said, “Okay, we will put this suggestion to a vote on Date X.”

Date X came around, and apparently only a couple of councillors actually cared enough to show up for the vote, and of course, the ones who DID care enough to show up, were the ones who were in favour of the suggestion.  The vote passed, and Fort McMurray is now a plastic bag black hole.  Only in a small town, folks.

…Gregoire Lake…

Hmm, have I written enough to be able to stuff all of my photos into this post?  I have no idea.  If not, I’ll just throw the rest down below.  Have a good night!

“We Are The Mac… Are You The Mac?”

Call me. …or email me… But don’t fax me, the world has forgotten about that.

So my first couple weeks at the Fort McMurray Today are in the books.

I’ve been having a good time here so far.  It’s pretty tough to pack up and move to a new city, and then try to figure out what exactly people care about here, and report it within about 48 hours of arriving.

I often find myself asking “Is this new information?” to some of the people who have been here longer than I have, because I simply don’t know.  But with everyday that goes by, the job gets easier, as I learn where things are, what goes on there, and the things I write about start to be follow-ups or add-ons to things I’ve written about maybe a few days ago, so I actually know a moderate amount of information on the topic.

I think part of what I love about this industry, and maybe this is going to sound bad, but as a journalist, it’s your output that gets measured.  Nobody really cares what the hell you do all day long, as long as you have good content at the end of the day.  Some days, yes, that might mean lunch doesn’t even cross your mind, but other days maybe you give’r and get four interviews done before noon, and take a nice leisurely lunch.

My beat has been pretty interesting thus far.  I’ve covered everything from a stolen excavator to a city council meeting.  Duncan, I think you should consider sending the first years to Fort McMurray city council from now on, things got pretty heated.

I also get to take a lot of photos here, which is something I hadn’t actually considered when looking for a job, but am definitely glad it’s something I’ll be doing a lot of here.  I don’t think I used the college’s cameras once in CreComm, but I practically slept with an HD video camera every night, because of my IPP.  I really came to love shooting video, and taking photos isn’t all that much different.  It really helps round out your portfolio too, if you can have an article that you wrote, accompanied by a photo that you took.

My living situation is what will take more getting used to than my job.  If you’ve met me (or, maybe more appropriately, not met me) you know I’m a pretty solitary person.  I enjoy being independent, and not having to answer to anyone except myself.  So living with people is an adjustment, but luckily the people that I live with are pretty nice. They bought me a fridge for my room so I mean… what more is there to say?

The actual city is beautiful, and I live in a pretty quiet, nice neighbourhood.  My drive to work every morning is more scenic than anything you’ll ever see in Winnipeg.  Also, if anyone’s wondering, that whole thing about Winnipeg drivers not being able to merge? Myth confirmed. It’s a Winnipeg thing.

So I think that’s pretty much it for updates since I last posted.  There’s a pretty ridiculous story about a kid who single-handedly got plastic bags removed from all of the stores here, making grocery shopping next to impossible, so maybe I’ll tell you about that next time around.

Leg 3 – Fort McMurray

*written May 1, 2012

Sorry this is a day late, but after a nerve-wracking five-hour drive, and unpacking all my things and getting settled, I found myself suddenly quite exhausted and called it an early night last night.

Finally nice out.

I hadn’t heard about the huge crash on Highway 63 until my mom told me about it while I was in Edmonton.  It was definitely good for me to know about it, so that maybe I’d be a little more careful than usual on the drive, but it definitely raised my stress level and made me quite anxious to just get on the road and get there.  Especially reading all of the user comments on various stories, calling the highway a “death trap” among other things.  Not gonna lie, I probably envisioned over 50 varying incarnations of my own death before going to bed that night.

The drive itself wasn’t as bad as I was prepared for it to be.  As a responsible driver, the worst part about driving on that highway now is fear of the not-so-responsible drivers.  There are so many inclines and declines on that highway that a lot of the time you can’t see the road directly in front of you because you have to make it up the incline first.  Those are the times you hold your breath and just wait for a car going 150 km/h to appear right in front of you, passing someone in the other lane.  That’s exactly what happened last Friday.

Yes, a house.

Then there are the “wide loads”.  Flat-bed trucks carrying anything from huge machinery, to ready-to-move homes.  Yeah, they’re going about 40 km/h, and on the highway it’s enough to drive the most patient motorist batshit crazy.  The worst part is, when you finally decide to pass them, you’re starting from 40 km/h and you spend so much more time in the wrong lane, when a regular pass is done in about four seconds.  Not to mention that all of the wide loads have entourages in front and back of them to notify the world that they’re there.  I call it “School Bus Syndrome”.  Why do school buses need the strobing blinding light on top of them? They are gigantic and yellow, people don’t need a flashing light to notice them.  I digress.

So I got into Fort McMurray pretty early in the afternoon, and found out that it would be about five hours before I’d be able to get into the place I was staying.  So I took the time to walk and drive around and check the place out.  It’s an absolutely beautiful city.  You actually drive way down, off the highway to get into the city, so the entire place is surrounded by these big, wooded hills.

Pretty standard shopping centre, near where I'm staying.

They’ve got pretty much every standard chain you’d find in any other city, whether it’s a restaurant or a grocery store, but I was dismayed to find they do not have an Applebee’s.  Which means I have zero places to take a girl on a first date.  I’m actually embarrassed to have just written that, but Ashley made me.

So I’m staying in a house with three other people, but it actually turned out to be a pretty sweet deal for the city I’m living in, where a standard one-bedroom apartment will run you about $1,800/month.  I have access to everything in the house, and a bedroom and my own bathroom, which is what I’ve found is a rarity when rooming with people here.  All for only a couple hundred dollars more than I was paying in Winnipeg.

So many of the residential areas here are just a massive jumble of houses/condos.  Fort Mac is a “boomtown”, and you can tell with one quick look around that when it suddenly became a boomtown, it was a mad dash to develop residential areas.  Houses are just crammed one next to the other, no driveways, park wherever the hell you can, oh, look over here, a random paved area off the side for parking, and six houses just in the middle of nowhere.  It’s definitely not like anything I’ve ever seen before.  People are there to work, not live. And I don’t mean that in a bad way or anything, I just mean that getting to Fort McMurray is the first priority for most people, and comfort of living is second.

The area where I’m staying is nice though, quiet, and will be great for rollerblading  in when it gets a little warmer out.

But this post is getting a little lengthy, so I’ll stop there, and will try to post again once I have a few days of work under my belt.

Leg 2 – Edmonton

Gonna be a short one today, folks.

I ended up getting about 12 hours of sleep in Saskatoon, which was nice, so I got on the road probably a little before 10 a.m.

I knew the drive from Saskatoon to Edmonton was going to be a lot shorter than the drive the day before, but it just seemed to breeze past.  It was probably a little under a six-hour drive, and thankfully it was a little more scenic than yesterday.

Almost the second that I pulled onto the highway, it started to rain – again – and rained for probably the first three or four hours of the drive, even when I was well into Alberta, so those clouds covered some pretty good distance.

Did you know there’s a town called Borden, Saskatchewan? I found that pretty funny because it sounds just like “bored in Saskatchewan” which is all I ever was driving through.

There was a section of highway just over the Alberta border that apparently mother nature forgot.  All of a sudden, I look out my window and it looks like November in Winnipeg outside.  It’s 10 degrees celsius out, but this snow apparently could just not be bothered to melt. Very odd.

So I’m in Edmonton now, just had some pizza and am about to call it a night so I can get on the road for Fort McMurray pretty early tomorrow morning.  Reason being that seven people were just killed in a head-on collision on the highway I’ll be driving on, which is apparently pretty treacherous, so I’d like to give myself a good amount of time to make the trip.

I also want to have as much time as possible in Fort Mac to get settled and check the place out before jumping right into work the next day.

I think I’m obligated to at least complete the blog series, and do “Leg 3”, so I’ll try to write that one up tomorrow evening after I’m settled in Fort McMurray.

Leg 1 – Saskatoon

So today I started the three-day journey up to Fort McMurray, where I’ll be working starting May 1st.

The plan was to get up around 5 a.m. and be on the road around 6.  But unfortunately for poor Plan A, I stayed out pretty late last night, as it was my last night in Winnipeg, and actually set my alarm for 6, and then promptly ignored it for about an hour when it went off.

But I eventually picked up my 50-pound head from off the couch, and got on my way.

The trip from Winnipeg to Saskatoon is almost 900 km, so today was definitely “trial by fire” for my brand new car, which had just surpassed surpassed 100 km the night before.

This was definitely the longest distance I’ve ever driven in one sitting, and I wasn’t really sure how it would affect me, if at all.  Despite only having about three hours of sleep, I really didn’t get drowsy at all during the drive.  Some parts of Saskatchewan were horrendously mundane to drive through, and I found myself battling boredom most of the time over drowsiness.

Obviously enhanced. It was pretty gloomy though.

It rained pretty heavily for probably almost all of the time that I was in Saskatchewan, which got a little tiresome, and actually made the landscape look even duller, which I didn’t think was possible.

When I was finally within about 80 km of Saskatoon was when I really started to feel like, “Alright, I’m over this drive for today”, and did start feeling a little tired right towards the end.

But no big deal, I made it into Saskatoon (after driving through The Motherland AKA Regina), and got set up in a room at the Holiday Inn for the night.

Things I’m looking forward to tonight:

1) Sleeping in a BED.

2) Sleeping for a long ****ing time.

3) Complimentary breakfast tomorrow morning.  Yes, tomorrow morning, but I am choosing to look forward to it beginning tonight.

The drive from Saskatoon to Edmonton is quite a bit shorter than the marathon I drove today, so it’ll be nice to just relax tomorrow and get on the road a little later, and also enjoy some nicer scenery than what Saskatchewan has to offer. Spoiler alert, it’s nothing.

I still have no idea what’s going on with my apartment yet, I guess technically it’s not rented out for May 1st as originally thought, so I may end up with an unexpected $700 on my tab, so that adds a little bit of stress, but ultimately I’m just focusing on the opportunity ahead of me, and not letting the negatives get to me.

So the rest of my night includes enjoying the NHL playoffs, having a quick dinner and getting a good sleep before saying goodbye to Saskatoon tomorrow morning, and hello to Edmonton later in the afternoon.  I’ll try to give another update tomorrow as well after I get into Edmonton. Nothing too riveting yet, the good stuff will come when I get to Fort Mac and start work.


Wind Turbines. Probably the coolest thing I saw in Saskatchewan. Pretty sure I yawned.