Monday, September 26, 2011

From Ecuador to Scotland - Fall Trade Show

I have to admit I look forward to the Fall Trade Show every year. It is a chance to go and explore the world's wares and time old favorites.  And judging from the overflow parking so does Wood Buffalo.
As I was working in the Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council Booth, which we shared with AHS, I decided to head out early to get the all elusive parking spot I heard rumour of. I usually drive a nice small car, but as my husband had decided to head out in the car to Edmonton to watch the Father Mercredi Baseball Academy Team, I was driving "Big Blue" - a 2500 Dodge Ram.  After a nerve racking experience at the airport parking lot the night before I was looking for the biggest, easiest parking spot known to mankind. To my great relief there was a big field being manned by wonderful volunteers directing parking.  I drove right to the end and parked as far away as I possibly could, gathered my stuff and headed off for my shift. 
As I walked in the doors at MacDonald Island I was greeted by a swift entry line and a blue tourism bracelet that would serve as my passport to consumer Nirvana.  I had a plan.  I would work my shift at the AHS booth and then spend the evening exploring the rest of the Trade Show. The three hours that I spent at the booth flew by.  I was busy reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, talking about Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council and explaining the new website where you can find valuable health information from a single, reliable source.

Things had slowed down by the time I was ready to head out into the fray of  Fort McMurray's very own Fall Trade Show.  I gathered my things and headed towards the main entrance to experience the whole Fair from start to finish.  There is a technique to exploring a massive event like this.  I like to take a strategy employed by maritime search and rescue called track line patterning. Works every time.  I wandered by booths promoting kitchen utensils, the latest in floor cleaning initiatives and products, holistic health, baby wear, clothing, jewlery and well..basically everything you didn't know you were deparate need of.  Then I feel the magnetic pull to that which has attracted adventure travellers for years....Ecuador. There hanging from a plastic hanger is a soft wrap made from the wool of  that classic Andean pack animal which has been a source of warm wool and transportation in Ecuador for centuries...  the llama. Granted I don't know of any blue, white and black plaid llamas, but it was perfect. Purchase made.  Moving on with my track line patterning I move into Hall B and find Scotland.  My ancestoral heart sighs....home. I spend time looking into the history of family names, tartans, and of course the ever commercial products of Guiness.  Part of the booth is Scotland and the other Ireland.  Being Scottish, English and Irish I am drawn to spend most of my time here. After talking to the booth owners about certain historcial questions I make a small purchase and move on to finish the entire Trade Show.  My stomach begins to growl in earnest so after a quick look at my watch I decide to head home.  So ends my day at the Fall Trade Fair. As I make my walk across the now almost deserted field I spot "Big Blue" parked under a tree in full fall bloom and  I am again reminded how lucky I am to live in such a vibrant community. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remembering 9/11

With words that echo through the years to heal the wounds of the present, the world pauses to remember 9/11. "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."~Abraham Lincoln, The Gettsyburg Address. No one will forget where they were and what they were doing when the news of the terrorist attack came across the airwaves. The images are burned into our collective souls. Let us not forget the 26 Canadians that died on that fateful day. We are a global community united in memory for those who lost their lives and those who were left behind to rebuild from the ashes of a terroist attack. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The RCMP Regimental Ball

As I slipped those two blue and white Wood Buffalo RCMP Regimental Ball tickets into my purse to head out for the evening I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew was that my friend and I where heading out for the night and there would be men in uniform, good food and a band. 

As we entered the room it was hard to miss the RCMP officers dressed in their finest Red Serge and it was quite an incredible sight. Everywhere you looked people were dressed in their finest black-tie attire mingling among the formally dressed RCMP. There were silent auction items strategically placed to support Fort McMurray Victim Services for the patrons to bid on.  At each table setting was a gift of the official RCMP Wood Buffalo Detachment Regimental Ball Challenge Coin emblazoned with Maintiens le droit which means Maintain the Right.
It was also hard to miss the intricate ice sculptures adorning the room.  They were everywhere from table centerpieces to life size RCMP to a Martini bar made entirely of ice.  I watched in fascination as the bartender poured the Martini through the maze of  ice to arrive at the waiting glass.  From my table I had a clear view and more than once conversation was stopped mid-sentence as someone who had come over for a conversation looked on as the process repeated itself.

After the dignitaries had be marched into the room and the piper had been paid, which is by tradition a quaich containing a dram (about 3.5 ml) of whisky, the Ball began in earnest. The food was beyond belief, there were awards handed out for service, and we toasted the Queen. The evening had threads of historical information that wove their way throughout the night. Truth be told I loved those parts of the evening. What I did not realize was that while the custom of dining is believed to began in the monasteries, it was adopted by the early universities, and later spread to military units when the officer's mess was established. British officers of the 19th century were drawn from the aristocracy, and while they considered themselves gentlemen, they were not necessarily men of means; third and fourth sons had little chance of inheriting title and lands under primogeniture. While the pooling of resources may have been out of economic necessity, the regimental officer's mess maintained the social stratification of English society and ensured that the traditions of gentlemanly conduct were maintained and inculcated to junior officers. So begins the Regimental Ball. Bet you didn't know you were going to learn something about history when you first started reading did you? 
In my opinion the Regimental Ball supported one of the worthiest unsung heroes of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray Victim Services. This is a not-for-profit organization that provides immediate, short term crisis intervention services to people affected by crime, tragedy or disaster. One of the many important tasks Victim Services members undertake is accompanying RCMP officers to notify next-of-kin when someone has died. It's members can also be seen  accompanying  victims of crime through the often bewildering court process, and helping victims find their voice in the criminal justice system. They also provide information, support and referrals to other agencies for victims of crime. It is because these people with hearts of gold and compassion for their fellow man that the victims of crime can believe once more that there is good in the world.
The most touching and memorable part of the evening for me happened at the beginning of the night when in recognition of their fallen comrades the brave men and women of our RCMP had set A Table For One. This so touched my heart that I have copied it down to share with you.
``We call your attention to this small table, which occupies a place of dignity and honour near the head table. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our Force are missing from our ranks.  Our Comrades are unable to be with their loved ones and families tonight, so we join together to pay our humble tribute to them, and bear witness to their continued absence.
  • In their honour, the table, set for one, is small, symbolizing the frailty of one member, and our everlasting memories:
  • The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of motive and their intention to serve their country's call;
  • The single red rose signifies the blood shed in sacrifice and reminds us of family and friends;
  • The red ribbon represents our determination to never forget them;
  • A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate;
  • The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless tears of families and friends;
  • The glass is inverted as they cannot join us in the toast this night;
  • The chair is empty. They are not here;
  • The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope that their lives were not given in vain;
  • The Canadian flag reminds us that they made the supreme sacrifice in the service of law and order for our country.
Let us remember them and never forget their sacrifices.  May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.”

Monday, September 5, 2011


What an amazing weekend in celebration of SummersEND.  Events Wood Buffalo kicked one out of the park once again with this concert line up.  I am a country fan from way back.  Growing up with the likes of Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash providing the musical backdrop to a young life surrounded by horses, rodeo and cowboy hats.  I still have fond memories of my horses and the words of wisdom from my parents, " You can't ride with a saddle until you learn how to ride without."
So it was with great anticipation that I discovered that one of my favorite artists of all time was coming to Fort McMurray...Reba McEntire.  And she did not disappoint.  It was a prefect blend of old and new songs that had the crowd on their feet cheering and singing along. Reba herself tweeting about her experience in Fort McMurray. "Wow!!!! What a great audience tonight in Ft. McMurray AB!!! Thanks for the super hospitality!!"  & "Beautiful up here in Ft. McMurray, AB Canada!!!!!"

The second night was the Dierks Bentley Concert.  Once again the crowds came to partake in a fun night full of cowboy hats, stomping of cowboy boots and dancing.  As we sang out the words to our favorite songs it was clear that Fort McMurray has a country heart.

 The third night George Canyon took the stage.  It was clear that the crowd, many who had been to every concert, had not lost their love for Country music.  We sang along to Johnny Cash Classics to the ole' time favorite " Battle of New Orleans".  With a sense of humour George had his band serenade each other with Tina Turner's "Private Dancer" that soon had the crowd laughing and cheering them on.  The song " I Want You to Live" was dedicated in honour of the Portraits of Honour that provided the backdrop for his concert was heartbreakingly moving. 
 When the dust has settled and the cowboy hats and boots put away we will have lasting memories of a weekend celebration that has once again proved to the world that Wood Buffalo is the best place to live.  We have Big Spirit and unyielding pride in our community and this was a weekend for both. 

Portraits of Honour

I had the distinguished honour of being part of the executive team that brought Portraits of Honour to Wood Buffalo as part of SummersEND.  On a warm summers day near the end of June I went to a meeting at the event chair's house, Roger Hebblethwaite, for what I thought was going to be a small project.  It was soon apparent that this was going to be  much bigger  than I first thought.  Not one to back down when people throw a challenge my way I decided to dive in with everything I could bring.  As my list as media coordinator started to grow, I added on helping with the Dedication Ceremony.  It was great getting to know more people in radio, TV, and print. The one thing about Fort McMurray is that when there is a good cause, we line up behind and do it up right. 
We came together as a community to Celebrate, Honour and Remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice within our Canadian Military and those who have returned home with lasting physical or emotional injuries. The Canadian Military has served our country with pride and distinction.  The Mural is a great symbol of that heritage. The Portraits of Honour Mural  stretches 10 feet tall by 40 feet wide and features the faces of the 157 Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew who have lost their lives in Afghanistan.  The Mural serves as a reminder of the foundation of courage on which Canada rests.  As the passing of time makes ‘remembrance’ increasingly difficult, it is endeavours such as this where we can  pay homage to the achievements and sacrifices made by those who served Canada in times of war, armed conflict and peace and to promote an understanding of the significance of these efforts in Canadian life as we know it. As a Country, we have prospered because we’ve always had citizens willing to stand up and answer the call to serve in hours of need. Over the course of two days during SummersEND we honoured our veterans, past and present, for their unyielding sacrifice and dedication to our great Country. Canadian soldiers are our sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. They come in every possible type, as varied a group as can be found in any Canadian town or city.  Some families wait and worry in silence for the safe arrival of their sons and daughters to return from their mission, while other families have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Country.
It started with a Motorcade escort through the city on Sept. 2nd with about 60 motorcycle riders, Veterans, Support Our Troops tractor-trailer, support vehicles, firefighter truck, City By-Law, news crews and four RCMP to make sure it came through the city safe.  It was an impressive sight. 

 At the private reception that evening  there was not a dry eye in the house as the parents  of  fallen hero Lt. Justin Boyes spoke to the room.  The impact hitting home for everyone in the room. 

 The morning of September 3rd brought with it a flurry of activity as there was a public pancake breakfast and the colouring contest for the youth of Wood Buffalo were recognized.  Then the Dedication ceremony began amid the backdrop of 157 Canadian Flags with then names of the fallen soldiers emblazoned on them reminded the people present just how many 157 souls are.  You could feel the memory  of the fallen soldiers come alive in the words of Master Corporal Chris Downey as he addressed the gathered crowd. 

 In the evening, thousands more from the community had the chance to remember, honour and celebrate the heroes depicted on the mural as country star George Canyon performed his headline act with the Portraits of Honour mural as his backdrop. As he sang the heart wrenching " I Want You to Live" it was clear the crowd could sense the loss that the families of the fallen heroes.

I leave you with the poem that was read by Angela Boyes, Mother of Fallen Hero Lt. Justin Boyes :
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.