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Strength in Numbers: Community and the People Who Tie it Together

(2 votes)

I came to Fort McMurray not knowing what to expect. Who would I meet? Why were they here? Where did they come from? Little did I know that what I would find would be so eye-opening. This place is a microcosm of culture, excitement, and drive to make lives better in every way shape and form. The people I met and photographed embody all of these features. But hey, you’re reading this magazine, you already know this. What you have here is special, and most importantly, it is the people that make it this way. 

Editor’s Note: Paul Swanson is one of 35 Canadian winners of the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward awards for emerging photographers, following his series of photos featuring life in and around Fort McMurray.


Steph Link

  • Stage Manager at Keyano College Theatre Company
  • From Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray for 3 years

Why Fort McMurray: What I do here can’t be done anywhere else. The community has the most supportive volunteers and there are endless possibilities when it comes to making things happen.

What I learned from Steph: Possibilities can come from anywhere at any time. Steph has a passion to not only do what she loves, but make sure that while doing that she helps so many others do the same. A love for the arts can take you all over the country, and sometimes can leave you in the most unlikely place creating something unparalleled anywhere else.

Photographed at: Keyano College Theatre.


Jack Avery

  • One of the early employees at Great Canadian 
  • Oil Sands (now Suncor) 1967
  • Retired: Fort McMurray Public School District, WWII Veteran
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 49 years

Why Fort McMurray: This is my home and these are my friends.

What I learned from Jack: Fort McMurray has changed over time…like anywhere. But the passion and dedication to community and making Fort McMurray the best place for its residents has stayed true. Friends and family are some of the most important connections, and Jack is a perfect example of how those connections can shape someone’s experience in a community.

Photographed at: Royal Canadian Legion Branch #165.


Stephanie Ewasiuk

  • Kindergarten Teacher at St. Gabriel School
  • From: Edmonton, Alberta
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 4 years

Why Fort McMurray: It’s a great life up here, even if it’s cold!

What I learned from Stephanie:   The opportunity to do what you love can sometimes take you anywhere.  Then, what you do with that opportunity can be so important. The willingness to help people settle into a new home, grow community ties, and strengthen the experience people other than yourself are wonderfully common traits found quite prevalently in the City.

Photographed at: Ms. Ewasiuk’s classroom.


Russell Thomas

  • Works at United Way Fort McMurray; ex city councillor
  • From: Camsak, Saskatchewan
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 19 years

Why Fort McMurray: This is a place where if you can dream it, you can make it real.

What I learned from Russell: When you go to some place new it is up to you to make it what you want, but the most important part of that experience is the attitude you approach it with. Russell has dug deep into the culture that makes Fort McMurray as unique of a place as it is, and with the right amount of commitment and drive, helps showcase the truly unique aspects of the people in the region.

Photographed at: Russell’s studio behind his house.


Aaron Bessons

  • Supply Chain Manager at Nexen
  • From: Cameroon, Africa
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 6 years

Why Fort McMurray: It’s a great community and great place to work

What I learned from Aaron: Sitting above one of the many indoor soccer fields at Keyano College, I realized that this city is completely defined by the people who live in it. Who would think that a soccer team in a city in northern Alberta would be one of the best examples of multicultural diversity in the whole country?

Photographed at: Keyano College indoor soccer fields.


Mary Thomas

  • Executive Director of the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo
  • From Mumbai, India
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 6 years

Why Fort McMurray: The City makes sure everyone knows it can be their home.

What I learned from Mary: It doesn’t matter if you’re in a city whose population is half that of Canada or one only a tiny fraction of that size, everyone wants to feel at home no matter where they are. Mary is one of so many people that want to make sure Fort McMurray feels like home to everyone here.

Photographed at: Fort McMurray United Church, MAWB Office.


Tyran Ault

  • • Team Lead, Tours & Events - Suncor Energy; Councillor - Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
  • • From: Fort McMurray, Alberta

Why Fort McMurray: I want to give back to my community.

What I learned from Tyran: There is an undeniable desire to give back to your community in Fort McMurray and so much of it comes from the generations of people that have grown up here. Helpers fuel this community and you see them in every part of the city. What they love about the city they make sure everyone else notices.

Photographed at: Timberlea neighbourhood, Fort McMurray.


Travis Kendel

  • Environmental Engineer at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
  • From: Fort McMurray, Alberta
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 26 years

Why Fort McMurray: I love it here, it’s got everything I want.

What I learned  from Travis: The key to understanding a place is to look at it through the eyes of someone from there. Passion for where you are from spans generations and is just as important coming from a 26-year-old as it is a 70-year-old. What makes home feel like home special is all about attitude, and if Travis has one of the best.

Photographed at: Travis’ garage.


Christina Traverse

  • Kennel Owner and Musher at Mush McMurray, Realtor with Sutton Realty
  • From: Fort McMurray, Alberta
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 25 years

Why Fort McMurray: It’s a giving city that gives to everyone

What I learned from Christina: When you grow up in a place that is as involved with the well-being of not only you, but everyone else, you can’t help but want to give back. Not only is it a community full of hard workers, but in an area of the country where play is just as important as the work, people take complete advantage to make everyone’s experience the best it possibly can be.

Photographed at: Mush McMurray Kennels.


Don Scott

  • Owner of Don Scott Law Office; Lawyer; former Member of the Legislative Assembly - Fort McMurray Conklin, Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education
  • From: New Brunswick
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 14 years

Why Fort McMurray: So many opportunities and so much potential for everyone.

What I learned from Don: Fort McMurray is looked on by the whole world but what is one of the most exciting aspects of the city is the people that make it up.  Representing such a fresh and diverse population is an opportunity unparalleled to most other places in the country.

Photographed at: Former office in Edmonton, Alberta.


Bill Loutitt

  • Vice President of the Métis Local 1935
  • From: Uranium City, Saskatchewan
  • Has lived in Fort McMurray: 41 years

Why Fort McMurray: I have no reason to leave my home.

What I learned from Bill: When you talk about what makes a home everyone has different answers, but the feeling is usually the same. Fort McMurray is a home, and it has been for longer than most people even bother to think. What makes your home special to you? It’s that same feeling of specialness for everyone here.

Photographed at: Métis Rights & Development Symposium, Fort McMurray.


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