Letter from The Editor
I never thought I would be writing a letter like this. No one can imagine or prepare for an experience quite like the one my city of Fort McMurray and our neighbours throughout the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo went through during the past few months.
I really don’t have any profound words about the overall experience. I will leave that to the brilliant and compassionate contributors who have filled these pages of our commemorative edition. However, what I can do, is share some moments, and share my gratitude.
Like I’ve said from the beginning, we have over 88,000 people personally affected, and just as many stories. We can’t tell all of them, but we’ve done our best to share as many as we could. As for my story, and my thoughts, I’m still processing. I’m going to take the path of gratitude and I want to use this as an opportunity to give thanks.
To our creative, passionate, and talented contributors: It is your stories that have made this edition come to life and will last forever. Thank you for sharing your hearts and lives in these pages and for helping other stories to be heard.
To my fellow residents: We all are facing so much and have been forever changed through this experience. Those who have lost their homes and businesses, my heart pours out to you for your profound loss. I want to thank you for your resilience and your willingness to jump right back in and rebuild. I know we don’t have all the answers, and there are many frustrations, but I really hope everyone is patient and does not lose the fighting spirit. Let’s have hope and faith that our city will return to it’s former glory – I have no doubt it will be rebuilt even stronger than before.
Our first responders and emergency services personnel: Thanks to the incredible bravery and courage of all of our first responders and emergency personnel. Because of your calm and safety-focused nature, we all made it out ok. I want to give special mention to an old friend, a mentor, and a personal hero – Dale Bendfeld. You made tough decisions, sacrifices, and saved countless lives and homes. You even found time to chat with me, console me and update me on my own home, just steps from the REOC. Also, Paul and Andrea Spring from Phoenix Heli-Flight. While working tirelessly to save other homes and maintain safety of evacuees, they lost their own home. I also want to add that so many more were in a similar situation, including Anthony Hoffman, whose story is within this magazine. You’re all heroes and we all say thanks.
To the Northlife Anzac Church (formerly Willow Lake Baptist Church) and Pastor Neil Scott: When we fled south, we went to Anzac to see if they needed help and I stopped at the little church on top of the hill to get better cell reception and to use the bathroom. As a child growing up in a small town on the ocean, I was told churches were put up on high hills so you could always find them in times of trouble out at sea. This church was no exception. Let me tell you all – this church, and Pastor Scott, offered a beautiful place of refuge that awful evening. Not just for me, but for many others who stopped as traffic was at a standstill. From staying to keep the doors open, letting kids play, helping with phone chargers and food, their building and heart were there for evacuees in their worst moments of fear. Perhaps most beautiful of all, were his offers of prayer.
To the Kennett family: Doug, Susan, Ben, Mike, Danny, Jennifer, Annabelle and Emily. You opened your doors to my family and gave us a comfortable and safe haven when we were forced to evacuate. With no questions of how long we would be there, nor once making us feel like we couldn’t stay for months, if required. We love you. You’re not just friends, you’re family.
Todd Cole and the Town of Clarenville: One of my most poignant moments of this whole experience was on May 16 when Clarenville, NL hosted a benefit concert – “Music for Friends” – led by organizer Todd Cole. Up to this point, I hadn’t really had a good emotional cry. Finally, sitting there, surrounded by generous people, and talented musicians playing great music to a background of all the memorable images of the fire and the relief efforts, I cried. It was great therapy for me at the time, and I believe it helped me move into recovery mode. I spoke on-stage that night and thanked everyone. That evening I found comfort in an old teacher of mine, Derek Carter, also from the same area as me in Newfoundland and had been living with his family in Fort McMurray for quite some time. Holding hands we listened as the news came pouring in that the northern part of town was under evacuation orders. Derek had lost his house and we both gave our thanks to not only the Town of Clarenville, but the entire country and world, who had stepped up to help our city. We live in a very generous country. This experience has reinforced my gratitude of being Canadian and being truly proud to call Canada my home.
My dedicated and amazing colleagues: Kerri, Andrew, Pauline, Wendy, Chris and Tyler. You’ve all stepped up, taken on bigger roles and helped each other out while we grapple with the business implications. While trying to do our best to tell the stories of the past month, you work with grace, compassion and lift me up and allow it all to come to life. A special note of thanks to my friend Heather who stepped in, without hesitation, to fill the gaps, as our team scrambled to put this commemorative edition together.
To my Fort McMurray media colleagues: You all stepped up. I’ve never been prouder to be part of a media community that went above and beyond for the residents of Fort McMurray. You provided the information to people when they needed it the most. Special shout-out to John Knox. He’ll know why.
To my family: the best husband, Jason, my beautiful kids Madison and Jayden, my parents Pauline and Vaughn, my in-laws Rick and Beverly, grandparents Robert, Hilda, James and Elizabeth, and the rest of my extended family and friends. Your support has been incredible and helped me through a very challenging time. When an outpouring of love comes your way throughout such a dark time, it truly turns the light on and helps you see again.
There are so many more people to thank. It’s not just the firefighters who save lives and stopped the fire from hurting our city. It’s the people supporting them, feeding them, making sure they had a bed to sleep in and all the strangers who stepped up to put themselves in the direct line of attack of “The Beast”. I dedicate this edition of YMM to the unnamed heroes.
The team at Your McMurray Magazine and Balsom Communications truly hope this edition will live with you forever, as we all remember and honour the events that have taken place. We have worked hard with countless writers, photographers, clients and supporters to give you a local publication – OUR story. Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo community is resilient. It is strong. It is together. There are a lot of questions without answers. Let’s all be kind to one another. Let’s help each other. Let’s get to know our neighbours. I know that we can and will rebuild, stronger than ever, one day at a time.
Let’s all stay #YMMStrong forever.