Tall tales on the Toners

By KEVIN THORNTON, Connect Contributor

Brendan and Michelle Toner at the Keyano College Foundation’s annual gala. Photo: SEAN MCLENNAN, Keyano College

Brendan and Michelle Toner at the Keyano College Foundation’s annual gala. PHOTO: Sean McLennan, Keyano College

Michelle and Brendan Toner will always stand out in a crowd, and not just because of their height. As tall as they are (Michelle at a fraction under six feet, Brendan a good bit over),

Brendan is happy to put it into perspective: “Michelle’s brother is the tall one in the family. He’s six foot nine and is one of the few people who has ever made me feel short. And our son, Sean-Patrick, who currently wears a men’s size small hat (he is two), may beat his uncle one day. We’re hoping he ends up in the NFL – as a left tackle – that’s our retirement plan.”

Both Brendan and Michelle are self-effacing to the point where it was hard to get this interview done. They met here in Fort McMurray – Michelle says that Councillor Sheldon Germain thought they’d be a good match for each other, (the two men worked together at for the Catholic Schools Board).

Their recollections of their first date are a little different. Michelle jokes that all his friends, while trying to help, actually did a terrible job in their sales pitch about Brendan, “but it all worked out in the end.”


Brendan, however, has a starrier view of that night. “I asked her to come to a football party after a provincial semi-final game on Remembrance Day 2006, and called my Dad the next day to say that I’d met the girl I was going to marry.”

Michelle had moved to Fort McMurray for a job at Keyano College in a facility that didn’t exist. “I came to Fort McMurray earlier in 2006,” she says, “straight out of Grad School at the University of Windsor. It was a year before the Syncrude Sports and Wellness Centre was even built and I was hired to be Keyano’s Sports Marketing Manager. When I first got here, I knew I wanted to get involved and be part of the community. So, I took a coaching clinic thinking I could coach volleyball at the Junior High level.” That was how she was introduced to her husband, and the rest is history.

Brendan is a vice-principal at Father Patrick Mercredi Catholic High School. Quite apart from the dedication of being a teacher in the first place, he is also reluctant to talk about what else he does and why it is so important; but his wife isn’t.

“Brendan is far more involved than he would ever say.”

“Brendan is far more involved than he would ever say. He has been a community coach for 17 years and we have taken kids, as far as to fields in Hawaii and San Diego for football tournaments. He won’t say anything, but I can always see the influence he has on these kids. Team sports teach so much to youngsters and Brendan is really good at getting the best out of them,” Michelle said.

“Each year, when Trappers Football hosts their Alumni Weekend, you can really see how much of an impact he has had. These alumni are now grown men with wives and children, yet still show him every bit of the same respect they had for him as a coach, teacher and mentor. It is a lifelong connection and I’m proud of the effect he has.”

Brendan has to do the same for his wife, filling in the blanks, where Michelle shrugs off the accolades. “Sports has helped make Michelle who she is today and most of her volunteer work is still within that framework,” he says.

Indeed, apart from her work as a volunteer at the recent Western Canada Summer Games, the list of activities Michelle is involved in is staggering. She has served as Chair of CIBC Run for the Cure, helped run the National Men’s College Volleyball Championships here in 2009 and works pretty much all the fundraisers that Keyano puts on over the year, except for their one night off, The Keyano Foundation Gala, (see the picture).

Then there is the stuff they do together, when they can. “Most weekends,” she says, “from September to March, you will find us in the gym or on the field. If it’s not Trappers Football or basketball, it’s the Huskies. My daughter actually asked me when the season was starting because she loves it so much. The athletes are such great role models for the kids and I want them to see what a positive influence sport can have .”

– Connect Weekly –