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2019 YMM Builders

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2019 YMM Builders

John Wilson

For the Love of Building Community

John Wilson is a well-known name in our region. For 35 years he has been a pillar of business, and philanthropic circles, and despite moving to Calgary now remains involved in the community.

He arrived in Fort McMurray in 1977 with his father to establish H. Wilson Industries Ltd., a heavy equipment business specializing in paving, road building, and sewer/water services. The 1980s saw him emerge as a powerful businessman. John, 67, sold H. Wilson Industries to Volker Stevin in April of 2010. A sewer and water, asphalt/paving and site construction business, H. Wilson is front and centre in supporting local social profits – the red trucks you see at every major food bank drive.

So what keeps him busy nowadays?

“My wife Leslie and I have been together for 40 years. We have four adult children all residing in the Whistler and Vancouver area. My family is active in the outdoors and we like to spend time skiing, golfing and hiking in the mountains around Whistler,” shares John.

His love for skiing led him to building a small ski hill in McMurray in the 1990s. That labour of love eventually became Vista Ridge All Seasons Park, of which he was board chair for 23 years. In fact, Vista Ridge named their quad chair after him. A “builder” by nature, he chaired Keyano’s Syncrude Sport & Wellness building campaign. He sat on the Keyano Board and chaired it for a number of years receiving the Board Governance Award. The Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inducted him under the category of “builder” in 2013. In 2012 John was named to MacDonald Island’s Wall of Honour, and wait for it…when he retired his employees gifted him with a 1966 Corvette Stingray.

Councillor Phil Meagher shares John’s love of skiing, and has exponential respect for his community work.

“John always wanted what was best for our community. He lived here, worked here and played here. His children were involved in many activities and John himself was a very accomplished athlete in many sports. He participated in different clubs and no matter which hockey rink in the city you walked into, you would see the Wilson sponsorship on the bottom of the team jerseys. Our ski hill, Vista Ridge, would not be here today if it were not for the efforts and sacrifices John made with his company’s equipment and free labour by his crew.”

“The 2004 Arctic Winter Games were dubbed the ‘Best Arctic Games ever!’ Fort McMurray put on a show like never seen before, and who to credit but John Wilson as Games co-chair. John insisted that we would put on the best games ever and we did!  I think the thing that separates John from other leaders is that John is just as comfortable in a room full of executives as he is in a room full of regulars Joes and Janes like myself. He’s our community saint, and salt of the earth for sure!” Councillor Meagher enthused.

Active in the social profit circle as well, John was the President of the United Way Board of Directors in 1998, an organization he still supports along with the Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association, and the Wood Buffalo Humane Society. He also co-chaired the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games.

“I have made community involvement my cornerstone for over 35 years and my efforts have been (and still are) focused on Vista Ridge, Keyano College, CAREERS Next Generation (which links youth with local businesses). Although I reside in Calgary, I continue to call Fort McMurray my home. I continue to spend time in the community with Hedco Group and continue to support a number of community organizations,” he notes.

Cindy Amerongen, Executive Director, Northern Lights Health Foundation (NLHF) notes, “John Wilson’s legacy of community development and building community capacity is apparent everywhere you look.”

“His enormous energy and personal drive has contributed to the governance of Keyano College where he was acknowledged with the creation of the John H. Wilson Exemplary Governance Award and the creation of a wall to commemorate the award. John’s contributions to the regional sport community through Vista Ridge, numerous provincial, national and international competitions and his personal support for a number of sports and athletes has created a dynamic sport culture. As a personal and business sponsor and donor, John has contributed well over $2 million to our community including a $500,000 donation to the NLHF’s Gratitude Campaign. His generosity, humour and dynamic spirit is evident in all of his interactions,” she adds.

Melissa Blake, former Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor, worked with John on numerous initiatives, and recalls his contributions.

“John has been an amazing community booster for decades in the region! He very successfully built his business up, but it’s the whole region that reaped the rewards. His unending contributions to a variety of good causes are just the start. He rolls up his sleeves and literally digs right in, just look at our spectacular Vista Ridge as a shining example of what I mean. When not building from the ground up, he’s leading a number of successful games, mentoring those around him and inspiring us all to ‘be more like John.’”

“Be more like John” – sums it up well. Thank you for continuing to build the region, John, we are stronger for it!



Jack “Torchy” Peden

A True Community Builder

Jack “Torchy” Peden remembers visiting his father as a little boy in 1957, living on Franklin Avenue behind the shipyard, – and falling in love with ships. The family moved to Fort McMurray permanently in 1962, and Torchy made friends with several ship captains strengthening his love for the vessels. That love would eventually saw him rescuing ships from the old shipyard – now the Fort McMurray Heritage Shipyard, and home to the Jack “Torchy” Peden Centre.

“I joined the Fort McMurray Historical Society around 1997 and soon after became very involved in trying to rescue the ships sitting in the old shipyard. We managed to get the ships from the Department of Public Works and the Canadian Coast Guard,” recalls Torchy, 71.

“This was the beginning of building the park along the Clearwater River which is now called the Fort McMurray Heritage Shipyard. The reason my name is on the Interpretation Centre is because I spent thousands of hours working at the park: overseeing the restoration, moving/placement of the ships; procuring contractors, business/volunteer donations, onsite work/gifts in kind support for the ships. This includes the railway cars, interpretive centre building and the property (moving ships, painting ships, landscaping, planning, securing funding, etc.). The project was a huge part of my life for about 14 years and I’m very proud to see it every time I drive by it. The ships are a beautiful reminder of the unique transportation service that was once a major part of Fort McMurray and all the northern communities on the river system to the Arctic.”

Roseann Davidson, Executive Director, Heritage Park thanks Torchy for his work.

“Torchy’s love of history and passion for this community makes him a true community builder. He was instrumental in the development of the Heritage Shipyard Museum which interprets the history of transportation in this region. He has volunteered thousands of hours to this project. The Heritage Shipyard Museum opened to the public in 2014. Torchy is a tremendous asset to the Heritage Society. He served on the Board of Directors for many years and continues to advocate for Heritage Village and Shipyard museums, our community and our region.”

But, why do they call him Torchy? It was a nickname given to him when he was born. Evidently, he had reddish hair like Torchy Peden, the famous Canadian Sports Hall of Fame bicycle racer back in the 1920s and 1930s.

“Of course my real name is Jack Hamilton Peden, but almost everyone calls me Torchy,” he shares.

Torchy and Mary Jane will be celebrating their 52nd wedding anniversary this December. They have three children and enjoy spending time with their grandchildren.

Back to Torchy’s history in town. After selling his family’s construction company, Torchy moved to Fort McKay in 1972 with his family. They ran the Little Arrow Cafe and bought the Hudson Bay store there.

“During this time my wife ran the McKay businesses while I worked for Bechtel and Pool Construction building the new Syncrude plant site. While in Fort McKay we formed many friendships, and still keep in touch. My wife started a Girl Guide troop there and many of these girls are now the elders in the community. They are always so welcoming to us when we visit. We have many good memories of our days in McKay.”

When the family moved back to Fort McMurray, Torchy joined Syncrude and worked there until he retired in 2006. At Syncrude, he was critical in launching the Woodland Bison Recovery Program. 

“I was there when the first bison were unloaded onsite. It was a great experience, interesting, challenging, and I really enjoyed it. The program still exists and is a successful part of Syncrude and the Fort McKay First Nations,” shares Torchy.

Will Gibson, Media Relations Advisor with Syncrude recalls Torchy’s contributions.

“Torchy helped build both Syncrude as well as Fort McMurray and we were proud to support his work at site and in the community. He helped build our Mildred Lake site as a contractor with Bechtel before joining Syncrude as an employee in 1980. With his knowledge of animal husbandry and friendships with community members in Fort McKay, he was a natural choice to help us establish the Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch in 1993. After retiring from Syncrude in 2006, Torchy remained active in the community, particularly with the Fort McMurray Heritage Society.”

“He made an invaluable contribution in helping to establish Heritage Park so important landmarks and equipment in the region could be preserved and enjoyed by future generations. We were proud to support Torchy’s work as a volunteer,” Gibson notes.

Indeed, this love for building community and volunteering is what makes our town special to him.

“Fort McMurray will always be my home. I have seen it change from a small town to the city it has become. No matter its size, it still has the feel of a small town where people are friendly and get to know their neighbours. There is always a need for volunteers and I encourage people to join in and help some organization or community event. The rewards are well worth the effort. I am glad I spent the time building the shipyard and hope people will enjoy touring it and learning about Fort McMurray’s history. It is a great place to live and raise a family.”



Dave Tuccaro

Pillar of the Indigenous Community

The art of business attracted Dave Tuccaro in grade six. A little boy in Fort Chipewyan - his teacher would ask the class to buy marbles from her on Monday, and sell them back to her on Friday.

“I would earn them from the other boys during the week going from 50 to 500 marbles, buying them for 50 cents, and selling them to her for five dollars. That was pretty good return on investment. I knew I was a business man,” recalls Tuccaro, 61.

Indeed, he started small, but quickly gained ground. A member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation from Fort Chipewyan, Dave joined Neegan Development Corporation as General Manager in 1991. He became the group’s leader in 1993.

In 1998, he started two more successful service companies – Tuc’s Contracting (a trucking company) and Neegan Technical Services (laboratory and geotechnical services company). Additional companies have since followed - including WPS, Re-stock and TPS. Today, with eight companies and 30 years of success in the community – Tuccaro Group remains hundred per cent Aboriginal owned. Neegan – his first company’s name is a Cree word, which means “first or ahead.”

Dave did not keep this desire to be first and ahead to himself despite being dubbed the richest Aboriginal man in Canada at one time. He wanted the local Indigenous community to grow with him funding education and employment opportunities in the region. He did just that 26 years ago this led him to spearheading the creation of Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA). The group started with eight local Aboriginal companies only, now there are over 130 Aboriginal businesses in town. NAABA is well-known as a connector between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal businesses.

Leanne Hawco, Executive Director, NAABA appreciates all that Dave has done for the group.

“Dave is one of the original trail blazers advancing Aboriginal businesses in this region and across Canada. Without even trying, he has been a voice and inspiration for hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs. Along with other innovative Aboriginal business leaders, Dave co-founded NAABA 26 years ago. To this day, there are not very many business associations like NAABA.”

“The association, along with Dave Tuccaro’s influence has resulted in one of, if not the strongest Aboriginal business communities in Canada. After decades with NAABA, Dave still calls it (the association) his baby and cares deeply for its success and the success of the entrepreneurs who make it strong. Just by having a conversation with Dave you know he is passionate to give, inspire and influence and this is why he is a true pillar of our community,” Hawco emphasizes.

For Dave, NAABA is a source of Aboriginal businesses helping each other out as well. He remembers not having this resource when he needed it the most.

“When I started out, there weren’t many people to ask for help. Once NAABA was launched, the big companies started taking us seriously too. And, by using NAABA’s companies they know for sure they are partnering with Aboriginal businesses. It is great to see these companies providing goods/serves to the oil sands, and to their own people. They may be my competitors now, but that’s good. It is healthy competition, and it keeps you on your game,” Dave shares.

Dave’s championing of Fort McMurray is not limited to the Aboriginal communities. He was a Director on the very first Northern Lights Health Foundation (NLHF) Board and remains an Honorary Member today. Last year Tuccaro Group donated $250,000 to the NLHF’s Gratitude Campaign. His companies support minor hockey, Keyano College – Dave sat on the Board of Governors for a term in the late 1990s, and helped start the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship program there. He co-chaired the 2004 Arctic Winter Games. He supports the local H.E.R.O: the Helicopter Emergency Response Organization, and chairs the Indspire Foundation, which is a “national Indigenous registered charity that invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.” Dave has contributed to Indspire by starting scholarships and bursaries. The list can go on.

Canada noticed his business and philanthropic successes soon. In 1994 he was honoured by his hometown of Fort Chipewyan as “Outstanding Business Person;” in 1995 he was awarded the Regional Aboriginal Recognition Award. In April 1998, Dave was named to Financial Post Magazine’s impressive “Top 40 under 40” list, an honour highlighting Canada’s most notable leaders. March 1999 saw him receive the sought-after National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his contributions to the world of business as well as commerce – it is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a member of the Aboriginal community. Additionally, he has been inducted into the 2012 Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame.

Success for Dave is “what you work towards.”

“You look after your employees, and you give back to the community. My focus has always been youth, who are starting out, and Elders, who have already given us so much – everyone else should either go to school, or should be working.”

Amid the massive success, and the litany of honours – Fort McMurray remains the one constant for Dave.

“We’ve had our ups and downs. What impresses me is we always fight back as a community. There are so many opportunities here. The oil sands are here for the next 150 years – I want people to think of this as a long-term home, not a money-making short-term town.” 


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.