Who Are You?

By Theresa Wells

For the past week or so a song has been running through my head.  Perhaps you are familiar with it, either from its history as an iconic song from an era gone by or because it was the theme song for a popular television crime show. The song? “Who Are You?” by The Who. And why is that the song in my head? Well, I suppose it’s because I think Fort McMurray has a slight identity crisis.

This past week I met with no less than three groups of people who were asking for my help in understanding our community. They asked a lot of questions about us, what makes us tick and what we care about. The core of it all, though, is who we are. The fundamental question they all asked was “who are you?” – and it is a question I struggle a bit to answer because we are so very many things.

We are a city of baby strollers and jacked up pickup trucks. We are a community of residents who have been here for decades, and those who have been here for minutes. We are Canadians who have been Canadians for generations, and those who have not yet become Canadian citizens, but who hope to be. We are young men and old men and young women and old women and children and every culture and every possible demographic and every economic class and…well, it gets a bit exhausting to list all the things we are, actually. We are a bit of everything, the true melting pot of Canadian culture right here in a community in northern Alberta. It is so hard to say who we are, but it becomes much easier to say who we are not. When I am asked that question then the words flow, because I suppose my passion for this place makes it much easier for me to point out who we aren’t.

We are not a city of cynics. I have found more excitement over innovative ideas here than anywhere else I have ever lived. This is a place open to the big, bold ideas often rejected elsewhere. This is the home of “we can” and not “we can’t”.

We are not a community of disbelievers. We believe in our sports teams, our philanthropists, our students, our leaders, and ourselves. We support the endeavours of those who strive for excellence or who want to make this community (and world) a better place.

We are not easily discouraged. When we suffer a setback of some sort we show the kind of resilience and community spirit that pulls us together. Whatever the event – an apartment fire, an unexpected death, or a highway that needs to be twinned – we find a way to come together to do what needs to be done.

We are not quitters. When faced with adversity we forge ahead. We find ways to make things fall together when they seem to be falling apart. We use that open attitude to new ideas to allow us to create new opportunities and adventures, but that spirit also helps us get through the difficult times.

We are not closed to the needs of others. With a history as the most philanthropic community in the country on a per capita basis we prove time and time again our willingness and desire to help those who are in need.

We are not who many think we are. This is a tough one at times, because I think we all know there is an image that has been foisted upon us. I think, though, we have become far better at sharing with the world we really are in this sense, and the world has begun to see that their pre-conceived notions of our identity are incorrect and that we are far more than they thought. We are just as complex as every other community in the world, in many ways exactly the same and in other ways quite unique.

Perhaps that is the most basic point of all this, actually. Who we are is no different than who anyone else is. The desire to understand Fort McMurray is very strong, but in reality while we have some unique aspects we are not that much different from every other community in Canada. We love our kids, we work at our jobs, we drive our cars, we live in our houses, and we volunteer in our community. We enjoy our beautiful summers and we complain about our sometimes excessively long winters. We work hard, we play hard, and we live our lives under the northern lights, surrounded by the boreal forest. In some ways it may be easier to say who we are not, but in the end the only answer to “who are you?” is: we are Fort McMurray. And, quite frankly, we are proud to be.

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