Jim Carter

Jim Carter

YMM Builder

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Jim Carter – On building sustainability in Industry
By Carol Christian, YMM Contributor

For Jim Carter, being involved in the community that you call home is not only the right thing to do but comes from a natural tendency to help. Regardless of which community this oil sands pioneer called home, he became involved, whether creating business opportunities, furthering education or helping grow arts and culture.

“I don’t know if I’d call myself a community builder,” he mused. “I’ve always taken a position that I want to do something in the community that I live in.”

That “something” is usually in the form of not-for-profit support or getting involved in an initiative people are trying to get underway. Start-up or creating are common themes in much of his community contributions.

When Jim first arrived in 1979, Fort McMurray had a population of about 20,000 residents. To him, it was a city. He’d just moved from Grande Cache, which boasted an estimated 3,500 people. Before that, it was the smaller community of Labrador City. While he lived in Grande Cache, Jim helped get the first golf course going.

His involvement with Fort McMurray, a community he would reside in for 28 years, was devoted.

Some of the more notable community-based commitments he recounts include his time serving on the Keyano College Board of Governors.

He also chaired the construction committee when the smaller performing arts centre was built. A strong believer in supporting youth through education, he was instrumental in creating the co-op apprenticeship program.

Jim was also on the start-up team for Vista Ridge along with other like-minded residents, such as John Wilson and Jim Moore.

“We really turned it into the success story that it is today.”

Key in the creation of the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA) along with Eric Newell, the pair is credited with helping the original eight NAABA members set-up their not-for-profit association. They were also supporters of local Aboriginal businesses.

When he retired and moved to Edmonton, Jim became involved with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors, even chairing for four years. He is still involved with the orchestra including with the plans to expand the Winspear Concert Hall.

“I certainly have always lent my abilities to help to make a community a better place. I really believe in doing that.”

When Jim made the move to Fort McMurray it was to be the manager of overburden at a fledgling Syncrude Canada.

“I thought (Fort McMurray) was pretty darn good because I was coming from a town of 3,500 people I’d been in for about five and a half years. It was quite a bit bigger than anything I had lived in for a number of years,” he said.

He recognizes that back in those days, every mining community was a small community so there was a natural tendency to be involved in the community.

A common feature in mining or resource communities such as Fort McMurray is that many people living there are from somewhere else.

“For most of my career, I was in a management position. I also understood the benefit of having a strong community to support a company that wants to be successful,” Jim said.

That is a relationship that works both ways. A strong company needs a strong community behind it.

He admits that helping build the community is also a little self-gratifying. If you have a hobby or favourite activity that isn’t offered in the community that is now home, you pitch in to help make it happen.

“It’s important for people to be involved.”

He recalls that Syncrude’s plant really started up in 1978.

“We were building a company and arguably we were building an industry. There was only one other player at that time and that was Great Canadian Oilsands.”

This company was the predecessor to Suncor Energy.

“Along with that was building a community. It was particularly important to Syncrude because we moved our head office from Edmonton to Fort McMurray in 1985. We had some very senior people in the community, and it sort of caused a requirement to have some pretty good facilities, but it also provided the people who could help make that happen,” he explained. “I think communities really benefit when you have a head office in the community.”

He acknowledged that it’s always a loss when a head office leaves the community.

While Fort McMurray has lost many of its heritage residents, whether because they’ve retired and moved from the community or passed away, Jim said there are still many working on building and strengthening the community

“The benefit that I had when I was there and anybody that was there of my vintage, is that we were there right from the beginning of the start-up of the original facility and saw the growth of the community over that time,” he said.

“It sort of stumbled a little bit in the eighties. But when we got into the nineties, we had business in the shape that it was going to be an economic success story. When you grow up with that, it really helps you have a sense of responsibility for bringing the community along with you at the same time.”

He knows some people have moved into the community after much was in place and are ambivalent about becoming involved with the attitude of ‘What’s here is here.’

Even if that’s the case, Jim points out, “the existing things need to be sustained and to do that, you need to have champions of the various causes in the community to make that happen.

“I do believe there are still a lot of people that live there (that) are certainly doing what they can to help the place remain very vibrant and it’s really important to do that.”

Jim firmly believes anyone can be a community builder.

“Everybody has something to contribute and I always say that everybody has an audience to convene. If you want to get something done, even if it’s a small group of friends or a large group of people, you can get together to make something happen. It’s something we can all do and that enables you to make a contribution and move things forward.”

As someone who has lived through challenging times in Fort McMurray, he knows residents have been through a lot of tough times in the last few years with the Horse River Fire in 2016, the flood earlier this year, the downturn in crude oil prices and the generally negative public opinion of hydrocarbons. This has all been compounded by challenges brought by Covid-19.

Though difficult, he encouraged residents to not let it get them down.

“They’re very valuable to our national interests and provide a tremendous service for all of Canada. Of the five million barrels of oil that Canada produces every day, four million of it comes from the oil sands and that wouldn’t be happening without the tenacity and hard work of all the people that have pioneered the oil sands and made it the economic engine that it is today,” Jim enthused.

“It will be another day to be appreciated. We’re not getting off hydrocarbons any time soon. Over time, the people will begin to realize the quality of the oil that’s produced and the integrity that goes into that and the environmental consciousness that goes into all of that. When you compare it to other regimes around the world it’s far better oil than you can find in other places.

“I think people from Fort McMurray should hold their heads high. They deserve to. They work hard. They make a great contribution nationally; not to mention that our greatest export as a country is our energy to the United States and it would not be possible without the oil sands.”

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