Fort McMurray, home of the modern pioneer

McMurray Musings Connects

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Contributor

There is no shortage of tales of uncertainty during this difficult economic time in our region. The news of layoffs, of skilled individuals unable to secure new jobs and of people turning in keys to houses and walking away has likely reached the ears of every person who resides here now. One could not blame us if we were a dispirited bunch, low on morale and bereft of hope, and yet the most astonishing thing is how this community always seems to rise to new heights even in the middle of the most challenging of circumstances.

As an example one can look to the recent Northern Lights Health Foundation Festival of Trees. This annual event is always popular and always a significant fundraiser for the foundation that does so much to support health care services in this region. This year, however, the generosity of the community absolutely knocked it out of the park, a home run of epic proportions when fundraising records for the event were broken – and this, despite a fragile economy.

Other fundraising events report similar results this year, with revenues close to previous years or in line with expectations. The recent grassroots fundraising effort for a Fort McMurray firefighter’s battle with cancer is yet another example of this trend.

Bo Cooper, facing his third bout with cancer and having exhausted his lifetime limit of traditional chemotherapy, needs to travel to the United States for experimental but extremely promising medical treatments. Unfortunately the cost for this treatment is extremely high, and his family, friends and colleagues have found themselves in the position of needing to raise funds for the chance to save Bo’s life.

It has been nothing short of astonishing to witness the proliferation of fundraisers for Bo Cooper’s treatment, from a Go Fund Me account to a fundraising hockey game and silent auction taking place in Anzac on December 19 to a wine raffle. Local businesses have hopped on board, from pubs to dog groomers, all contributing to the cause and helping to ensure Bo Cooper will have access to the medical treatment that may save his life.

One should note this is not being led by a single organization or individual, but rather a true grassroots collective of community members who are committed to this cause and who are racking up success after success in fundraising as a result of their efforts. But they, and the Northern Lights Health Foundation, and the other organizations in this town, could not do this alone; they do it because they have the support of the members of this community who dig deep even when times are tough.

A journalist friend from another city follows our stories closely, intrigued by what happens here as for some reason we have that effect on people who spend any time here. After the record-breaking success of the Festival of Trees, they contacted me and simply said: “How do you do it, despite the fact that everyone knows your economy has tanked this year?”

It is a fair question. How do we do it, Fort McMurray? How do we not only maintain our fortitude and resiliency in the face of these challenges but even rise above to create things like the fundraising successes we are seeing? I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the people who come to this place and make it home.

My great grandparents were prairie pioneers, some of the very first to clear the farm land and build not only houses and barns but lives. They were not only resilient and strong but they rose above, surviving things like the Great Depression. And I think they did it because that is the nature of those who answer the call to be pioneers.

I realized some time ago that fundamentally the people of this northern region are pioneers too, just in a different era and in different ways. We come here and build houses and businesses – and lives and a community. We are a tenacious bunch, not likely to give in or give up despite what is thrown at us, and we have this incredible ability to come together in not only the good times, but the bad. We are the modern pioneers, and this spirit is why and how we do it, the reason behind our generosity and our support of our community.

We are the modern pioneers, and just like them we celebrate our successes and meet our challenges together. This attitude is perhaps the essence of the “big spirit” we claim, an indomitable, irrepressible approach to our community and our commitment to each other. It is not just humbling to witness; it is incredible to be part of it, a community of modern pioneers surrounded by the vast boreal forest and under the dancing northern lights.

– Connect Weekly –