New friends old stories

There are some people you meet in life who seem to fit right in, like they've been around all along.  Joyce and Peter Hunt had that effect on me.  They popped into my office yesterday while on a whirlwind tour of the community preparing for the local launch event for Joyce's new book on the early history of the oil sands - Local Push Global Pull.

They didn't have a lot of time, but in that short 20 minute visit, we touched on so many points of common interest that I just didn't want it to end.

As Joyce recalled in her speech this afternoon in front of a full audience of fans at the Fort McMurray Public Library, she had seen a photo of a slide that I had built in my front yard last winter, likely posted on Facebook or somewhere else online.  She stared at that picture, thinking to herself that the house looked very familiar.  Intrigued to find out, she sent me an email and I was able to confirm that we in fact live right across the road from their first Fort McMurray home, at the corner of Armit Crescent and Demers Drive.

That point of connection about a year ago began an electronic correspondence that finally resulted in a face to face meeting yesterday.  Between then and now, Joyce faithfully kept me abreast of her publishing project and allowed me to assist in sharing her story in a blog post that sits in the top 10 most viewed list of my 440+ posts over the past two and half years.

Joyce and Peter have many fond memories of Fort McMurray having spent 30 years in this community before departing for other opportunities in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), South Africa, Mobile (Alabama) and finally Calgary.

"What do you remember about the flood of 1977?" I asked.

"I remember we didn't get flooded, though the street was under water," recalled Joyce.

As the founding members of the local Opimian Society, Peter and Joyce had a precious collection of wines that proved to be their greatest concern with the rising waters.

"We were very careful about transporting those bottles up to a friend's place in Beaconhill," said Peter.  "I made sure they were tea toddlers, because I just didn't want to take a chance."

The couple's history in Wood Buffalo spanned three decades, but if you include into that history Peter's storied father LACO (Leonard Arthur Charles Orgar) Hunt, you would go all the way back to 1931.  They presented me with several books, one of which is Rebels, Rascals and Royalty - The Colourful North of LACO Hunt.  Written in the voice of his dad, this illuminating memoir was edited by Peter's mom Barbara.  I'm only a few chapters in but I'm completely hooked.

One of the other titles that they passed along (and I read from cover to cover last night) is Tales of the Tarsands by Dorothy Dahlgren.  A Jean Publication (Bernard and Frances), the book contains compelling short narratives about a variety of subjects and characters, from the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway and bush pilots to legendary packer Tom Lusk and young Englishman Eric Borradaile who discovered that he had been saved by a trapper who had supposedly died two years earlier.

Suncor's Mike Windsor introducing Joyce Hunt at the book launch event at the Fort McMurray Public Library
As Joyce highlighted some excerpts from Local Push Global Pull, she effortlessly took us on a journey through dusty archives, old maps and newspapers from over a century ago.  The facts, advertisements, quotes, sources, flowed out of her, reflecting nearly 30 years of passionate research on the early years of what has grown into the dynamic oil sands industry that we know today.

I was thrilled for her and Peter as every seat set out for the event was full.  That the questions that came at the end of her presentation were so rich and interesting, only added spice to what had already been a tasty afternoon.

Local Push Global Pull is available in a number of locations in Fort McMurray - at the Keyano Bookstore, Frames and More, Oil Sands Discovery Centre, and Heritage Park - or you can order it online through


  1. Sorry to have missed the launch....and I was even downtown around that time too. It looks like a very interesting read. I'll be keen to pick up a copy at my next opportunity. Thanks for the post.

  2. Russell
    It truly was a delight to meet both you and your wife this past weekend, and what a thrill it was for both my husband and me to be in Fort McMurray. I truly loved the air of excitement and self-confidence we felt throughout the community as we visited various parts and visited with old friends. It is a community that we loved so very much during the decades that we lived there. It's time to revive the bumper sticker that says: "I Love Fort McMurray."



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