Sam at 10 in Abasand, Fort McMurray
“When I tell people at university that I’m from Fort Mac it’s amazing how many of them are, too,” says my daughter as we drive home from the airport.
What catches me isn’t that other kids at her school are from Fort McMurray; it’s that she says she is from Fort McMurray.
I pause and say: “You tell them you’re from here? Not from Calgary?”
You see, she spent the final two years of high school living in Calgary, choosing to leave Fort McMurray for a variety of reasons; and when she did I somehow assumed that when it came time for her to claim her hometown, she would claim our larger and admittedly likely more-exciting-for-a-teenager neighbour to the south.
She looks at me with that expression kids reserve for their parents when it is clear they are a bit senile or perhaps just dumb; “of course I say I am from here, this is my hometown”. And she gazes out the window as we drive home, watching the snow drift and the valley of downtown Fort McMurray come into view.
And I smile, because this is truly something I have always wanted: for my daughter to one day proudly say she is from Fort McMurray, Alberta.
This year marks the longest continuous stretch I have lived in one place, including as a child. Fort McMurray has now been my home for longer than anywhere else, and I know that while I have deep and abiding affection for Toronto and Saskatoon, the other contenders for my heart, that Fort Mac (and yes, I call it that with love) will always be where I consider home. It is the place where I have found people who inspire me, thrill me, love me, encourage me, compel me and on occasion drive me completely fucking crazy; who could ask for anything more than that?
My daughter came here as a child, of course, and had little choice in where to grow up. But the truth is she grew up here, in this place of opportunity and challenge, this quirky northern Alberta city-that-is-not-a-city and that is marked by an incredible vibrancy and energy (and one that has nothing to do with oil).
That she has chosen to claim it as her home town, eschewing her other home of late, makes me even more determined and committed to ensuring this community continues to be the place where children like her are proud to call home.
Communities don’t just happen; they are built by the people within them, and if the people who reside in them so choose, communities can falter and fail. Just as with brick and mortar buildings, communities need maintenance and tending, investment and loving care. And just as with buildings, with neglect comes consequences.
And to be very frank, just as with buildings when the exterior conditions become more harsh, that maintenance becomes more critical. When cold winds blow and hard rains pound a building, the necessity of shoring up the walls and roof becomes very clear; and in our region in the past few years we have seen the cold winds of economic change and the hard rain of blow after blow, including a devastating wildfire that threatened to topple us entirely.
And yet here we are, tending to our home. And why do we do it?
For me, it’s all about the kids, ones like my daughter who will undoubtedly leave one day and venture far away, but who can carry with them the strength, courage, tenacity and pride they found right here in their hometown.
As the car rolls on, I glance at her as she gazes out the window, seeing her hometown roll by. And I smile, as I am filled with pride; in her, in us, and in our hometown.