View from Quebec
They were very interested in the relationship between industry and the college, along with the various ways we engage with one another. Obviously, the uniqueness of our geographical location, being in the epicentre of oilsands development, led to questions about our programming mix and programs directly meant to feed into the behemoth that surrounds us. But they were also interested in arts, recreation and culture and the role the college has played in being the arts hub for over 30 years.
"This is an amazing facility," said one of the delegates as we walked into the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre. Going from the Canadian Natural Gymnasium to Shell Field to the Alberta Building Trades Field they uttered one superlative after another.
As we ended back where we started in the lobby of the Arts Centre - unable to duck into the main theatre as technicians were in the middle of setting the lights for The 30 Steps, opening this week - I asked them to share their first thoughts about Fort McMurray compared to what they understood now.
"I honestly thought this was going to be an outpost," said one person, surprised and delighted that we're actually a dynamic community and region of over one hundred thousand.
"When we got on the bus this morning for our tour the driver warned us that we were going to run into some traffic," shared another. "Traffic? That was impressive to me. I didn't picture that in my mind."
Putting into context some of the incredible growth we have gone through and will go through, one of the delegates shook his head and said that we've all been using the same numbers as we tell our story. "It's remarkable how 'on message' everyone is!"
They were also struck by the passion with which we were talking about our region. That "fire in the belly" was constant throughout the day and left quite an impression.
"Maybe there will be a migration of talent from Quebec to Fort McMurray after this," suggested Nicholas Gafuik from the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, the host of the Wood Buffalo tour. I certainly wouldn't complain because this was a great group of people with a keen interest in what is happening in our community.
"We'd like to thank you for the tour and would like to give you this small gift of appreciation," said Marie-Christine on behalf of the group, handing over a bottle of Quebec maple syrup in a bottle the shape of a maple leaf.
"I thank you, and I thank you on behalf of my wife who absolutely loves maple syrup!" I effused, tickled pink with the kind gesture.
I get to do a lot of cool things as part of my roles as Director of Marketing and Communications and as a Councillor in Wood Buffalo, but being able to share our Big Spirit story with first-time visitors to our region ranks right up there at the top as the coolest. Seeing the shock, awe and delight in the eyes of people whose understanding of Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo and oilsands has permanently shifted is like a shot of adrenalin with my morning coffee. I LOVE it!