Thursday, December 29, 2011


If you're privy to my Facebook you probably know that things are different here now. Without going into a plethora of detail, Lisa and the kids are now back in Ontario shortly and I continue to stay here in Fort McMurray. Sometimes life just doesn't head in the direction you hope and this is one of those situations. At the end of it all, I love my son dearly and take comfort in knowing that he will be well provided for.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Na Shledanou Mr. Havel

Growing up as a bit of political junkie as well as one of those "artsy types" the name of Vaclav Havel was one I was familiar with. It wasn't really until I visited Prague a few years ago that I think I appreciated his significance. It was hard to imagine walking down Wenceslas Square, as sunny and peaceful as I remember it on that July afternoon and realize that it wasn't that long ago that it was full of tanks and police. How times have changed and Havel can take a sizable chunk of the credit for it.

One of the places I visited in Wenceslas Square was a former police headquarters where Havel was held on I'm sure more than a few occasions. It is now a museum. Coming from our Canadian democracy and seeing this was quite the eye opener. It made me realize the depth of the love and conviction this man held for his people that he would challenge authority and wind up in a cell like the one I saw that day. And this was just the mocked up version for tourists so I can only imagine what it would have been like in its original state. Things sure have changed in the meantime. Today, this former police station is flanked by a McDonald's and a small casino (or at least it was when I was there.) Difficult to imagine.

Sadly I didn't pick up any of his plays when I was there. (I did pick up a very interesting satire on the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the anarchist writer Jarolsav Hasek.) I now really wish I had but with luck I will be able to remedy this lapse.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had politicians in this country who didn't just run their mouths but backed up their words with action?

The National Gallery in Wenceslas Square with a statue of King Charles in front.

Wenceslas Square (summer 2007)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chiquita Goes Bananas

According to media reports, banana producer Chiquita is looking to ban fuel sources derived from the Oil Sands. This comes from a company responsible for human rights abuses in Central America, crushing unions and the infamous Banana Massacre. Backed by the United States, Chiquita was complicit in the deaths of perhaps 2000 people. (This is actually where the term "Banana Republic" originated.) And yet, this fruit company is trying to take the high road by jumping on the environmental bandwagon. Apparently, it is more ethical for Chiquita to fulfill its oil needs by purchasing from such democratic bastions as Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, they don't have unionized workers, they just shoot you. This is also where they flog women like animals and back international terrorism among other such progressive and ethical practices. And God help you if you happen to be homosexual.

I get tired of the Oil Sands here becoming the global scape goat for all the evils of the world. The economic benefits span well beyond the borders of this province and indeed the country. I work with a few guys that came here to work because of the freedoms and choices we have, freedoms and choices that don't exist in other countries but where Chiquita apparently feels it is ok to take their business. Our GHG emissions are minimal compared to countries like the US and China and even the EU. I see that the PM and a few Alberta politicians have added their voices to this silly myopic decision. (NDP feel free to chime in any time. This is a union town after all and union jobs are on the line.)

Don't point fingers Chiquita. Don't demonize us. You have no right to the moral high road here. You fund designated terrorist organizations. Please. Don't lecture us. This action is nothing other than blatant hypocrisy.

Contact Chiquita here and tell them what you think.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ah, The Life Of A Contractor

I tried sitting down once and thinking about all the different contractors that work out at site. I know, I know.....but it was a long ride home that particular day. Anyhow, the number of companies I came up with off the top of my head grew until I couldn't keep track of them all in my head. My employer is but one of at least a handful other companies that deals with scaffolding out at site. I heard something like 1000 companies bid on all the contracts that are available at all the different projects.

As pertains to my work, our current contract was due to expire at year's end and unfortunately the men in suits in ivory towers down in Calgary have spoken. A competing bid was successful which means we will be relinquishing our yard in the new year. Such is the life of a contractor. Don't worry though, I won't be finished up tomorrow as there is a transition period of 120 days so I have plenty of time to get my resume out there. Likely, many of the guys will go "into the field" as apprentice scaffolders, something I've given some thought to over the past year. Some will likely get taken in by the new contractor or stay with the company and head to other projects. So there are plenty of options. This IS Fort McMurray after all.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Body Parts"

I'll chalk this one up to not partaking in my morning coffee ritual before catching my bus to work.

More and more often at work I find myself with a radio attached to me. Initially I wasn't too fond of it namely because it drives me crazy to hear how my voice sounds over the radio if I'm standing close to say one of the other foreman or one of our truck drivers and hear my voice coming from their radio. Over time though, I've learned to grin and bear it and I take my being given a radio as a sign that I'm an important cog in determining how the yard gets run and that my input may be somewhat useful. Now, I don't mind the radio chatter and find it breaks up the monotony of a slow day and the nosey old lady part of my (yes, I know that is a scary thought) often finds myself tuning in to radio conversations I hear between other contractors as I go about the course of my day.

The easiest way to catch radio chatter is on the bus on my ride in. I usually sit fairly close to the front so I can catch what's being said on the radio. I find this helpful to find out what's going on if traffic is hectic or the weather is being temperamental. Anyhow, this morning I caught something on the radio that at first I thought was my imagination running amok. It was 5:30am after all. But hearing a few gasps from other passengers around me made me realize that this wasn't a dream.

Now, I didn't clearly hear all of what the dispatcher said. But I recall hearing something about slow traffic on the highway, a few garbled words about a particular location and then the phrase "body parts along the side of the road." The lady was quick to add "no, not human body parts" much to our collective relief. I perked up though for a few minutes and scanned the ditches through the morning darkness. Seeing nothing, I quickly dozed off. When I woke and got off at my stop I imagined the whole episode had been part of some strange psychotic dream (such things will happen more often as I get older some people jokingly tell me.) But no I heard mention of it from a couple passengers as they disembarked as well. So I'm sure it wasn't some sort of weird collective experience.

Now, I've had some strange things happen to me on the bus. I've missed my stop, got off at the wrong stop and once ended up getting on the wrong bus entirely and ending up at Albian Sands which is about as far north as you can travel before hitting the winter road to Fort Chipewyan. THIS little gem though had me chuckling to myself all day and will be difficult to top.

(view from Super Test Hill, southbound Highway 63, roughly 25km north of Fort McMurray, Feb. 2010)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

There has a been many a time the past year where I've sat down to try to do an overview of what Fort McMurray has to offer its residents and visitors. Like Icarus, ascending toward the sun, I come crashing down every time. In the two years I've been here I've seen a great deal but yet I know I've only scratched the surface. I am always hearing and discovering new things.

Enter local writer and fellow blogger, Theresa Wells of Fort McMurray Musings. In response to some recent bad press out of Edmonton about our city, she wrote this fantastic article for a popular Edmonton website to help set the record straight.

Not only does it combat some rather myopic views about Fort McMurray it is also a great read and nicely showcases all the wonderful things about our home here. Perhaps the one thing I can add is that we are home to an amazing Junior A hockey team. The Fort McMurray Oil Barons seem to put an entertaining and competitive team together year after year. In their 30 years history they've racked up some impressive stats with very few sub .500 seasons. In 2000 they won the RBC Cup right here on home ice. At the moment they sit second in the league with a record of 26-3-0-3 and the lowest "goals against average" in the league. Many times last year I remarked how I'd much rather stay here and catch an Oil Barons game then venture 5 hours down the highway to waste money on an Edmonton Oilers game. Ah, the love of the game...

But I digress.

I first came through Fort McMurray back in 2002. Back then this was just a jumping off point for getting to the small town I was working in at the time in Northern Saskatchewan. I never guessed I would buy my first home here and set down roots. Looking back, this place has changed so much. MacDonald Island then was a mere shadow of what it has since become in the intervening decade. This was the most obvious change I noticed when I think back to then but I've discovered plenty of other hidden gems as well. To be honest, I think that I moved here at a very exciting time. There is just so much going on as Theresa's article mentions and the city is evolving in so many exciting ways.