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McMurray Musings - Catching Up With Some Usual Suspects

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I am proud to say this column has been a fixture in Your McMurray Magazine right from the beginning; originally though it had a different focus. Much like my blog at the time, it started as ramblings and reflections from my own life, but I quickly realized that it was the wrong direction and that I had the opportunity to do something unique: showcase individuals from our community who might not get a lot of media ink, but who were doing remarkable things. And so, Not Your Usual Suspect was born.

Since then, I have had the chance to showcase so many people (and one dog) who have had deep and lasting impacts on the Wood Buffalo region. It turned into a genuine joy, because sharing their stories allowed me to get to know them better, and I am delighted to say all of them became someone I call a friend. There is a bond that develops between a writer and their subjects, and through writing about these individuals I developed a deep and lasting affection for each and every one.

Over time, lives change. Some of the individuals featured in this column have moved on to other places, like Natasha and Bailey Dunbar and their family, who relocated to Fort Saskatchewan. They continue to honour the memory of Morgan, Bailey’s twin who took her own life after being the victim of relentless bullying, through the work of “Morgan’s Mission”, raising awareness of mental health and suicide in their new community just as they did in Fort McMurray. Suhail Panjwani, the local teacher who started a remarkable hip-hop crew based not only on the love of dance but respect for the history of the genre, moved on to Calgary, where he continues to pursue his Master’s in Education and teach at the Edge School for Athletes. Julie Yekimchuk, who came from southern Alberta to join our community, found herself headed south once again in order to advance her career and become a certified ophthalmic technician.

Others have stayed in Fort McMurray and continued to make their mark in this region. Ashley Laurenson is now the manager at Nerdvana Comics and Collectibles, working to reopen the store quickly after the fire in May, and she continues to be an active part of the local filmmaking community. Kelli Stewart is as passionate about dance and youth as ever, working as an instructor at the MI Dance Academy at MacDonald Island Park and sharing not only the gift of dance but of acceptance and understanding with her students.

Sadly, sometimes life changes in ways that we cannot foresee. Vilia Tosio, the ardent advocate for breastfeeding and mothering, died early in 2016 after a battle with brain cancer. Her loss was keenly felt in a region where she had a larger-than-life presence, and where she did so much good for so many families. In October 2016, Winky, the canine half of the duo Winky Rides, passed away after a brief illness, leaving behind his companion Sandy and an entire community to mourn the passing of an incredible dog.

As I reflect back on the last four years writing this column, what strikes me is what an honour and privilege it has been to not only interview but come to know every individual I featured. Every single one of them, whether they are still in our community or not, had a significant impact on the lives of the people who reside here, and every single one of them touched my life in ways I cannot explain.

If one were to line up a group of unusual and yet deeply compelling suspects, I think one would be hard pressed to find any more worthy or interesting than the ones I have had the opportunity to feature in this column. Each and every one proved to be what is best about Fort McMurray; unique, passionate, innovative, collaborative and generous. Every one of them brought something new to our community, and every one of them was a pure joy to showcase. As we close out four years, I want to thank them for agreeing to be profiled, and I can only say I am truly looking forward to many more years of unusual suspects sharing their stories in YMM Magazine, and being the person who has the honour of helping them to tell their tale.


A freelance writer, blogger and professional communicator who is passionate about her child, her work, her pets, her community and the power of words, Theresa Wells believes perfection in life is achieved when she is surrounded by amazing people, fantastic stories, cold gin and really hot shoes.