Fear and Loathing

Over the years I've become somewhat desensitized to unbalanced coverage of Fort McMurray.  I stand off to the side with my skeptical smirk as media entourages come through with earnest expressions and vacant promises of telling a story that at least dimly resembles the picture that we paint, while enjoying a coffee visit at Coco Jo's or taking them on a ride-a-long tour through our neighborhoods.

The recent article published in the UK edition of GQ magazine, "No country for young men" by Alex Hannaford, not only served to enhance our mistrust of visiting journalists, it has also incited the wrath of many us who consider this home, deep down to our cores.  In truth, I'm less angry and more befuddled as to why they consistently decide to go down the seedy road.  Why?  Well, I guess it's because sensational copy sells, as do pictures of party goers cavorting at Showgirls.  And let's be honest, the sales imperative is a powerful motivator in the publishing business.

But it is in the personal stories that the impact of this disproportionately negative reporting is felt.  A musician coming to our community for a gig this weekend asked for my help yesterday morning on Facebook.

"On a scale of 1-10 how dangerous is Fort Mac?," he wrote.  "My girlfriend is kinda freaking out."

Now, to be completely fair, this fear and loathing may have come from the girl's dad who used to work up here, but still....she's "freaking out" with fear about coming to our community.

At the time that a national news anchor came up to do a series of broadcasts from our community, we had a student all registered and ready to join us at Keyano College who changed her mind after seeing the tilted coverage. The fear inspired by the distorted crime stats outweighed her desire to get a quality learning experience in the north.

And I'll never forget the nurse in Edmonton who, while preparing my son for a procedure, found out where we came from.

"Fort Mac," she sneered.  "How can you live there?"

Like Rodney Dangerfield used to say "Don't get me started."

I launched into my five minute elevator speech about why people come to Fort McMurray on a two year plan and stay for a lifetime, how we're the most giving community in the country, and the big spirit that defines us.  By the end of the rant, she was chomping at the bit to arrange a trip north.  She was entranced by what we were describing and compelled by our passion.

Is our community perfect? Absolutely not.  We have our issues, just like every other community on the planet.  But there is a richer, deeper, more compelling story to be told about Fort McMurray.  We just wish some of these reporters would choose to tell that story.  I think it's just as compelling, if not more so, than reading about where young men with too much time and money on their hands decide to deposit their loonies.


  1. Bang on! I would challenge any media type to spend some quality time here and write the real story of our community. When I first passed through FM a decade ago, my first impressions were informed by my own experience and not the media as I rarely watch television. I'm glad I had a chance to see the community through my own eyes and not a picture filtered through the media. Anyhow, my first impression was of a place of hussle and bussle, yes, but also of great potential...as if it were on the cusp of something big. Fast forward 10 years and those first impressions formed a large part of my decision to move here. Fort McMurray?! Heck, ya. That's the place I want to be. I knew it was rich in history and there were lots of places waiting to be explored. Are there issues? Of course. But my initial enthusiasm remains. In fact, its just gotten bigger.

  2. I've lived here since 1975 and have witnessed a lot of changes over the years. Fort McMurray has grown from a small community where a trip to the grocery store was where you were guaranteed to see a friend or at least a familiar face, to where it's more the norm to not recognize anyone when out running errands. To me it feels more like a big city with people rushing around with an anonymous vibe and sticking to themselves as opposed to small town of saying hi with a smile. I've gone on dog walks and as I'm passing other walkers have had my smile and hello ignored with the other persons obvious effort to avoid eye contact. This was not a one off, but happened enough times over recent years to be commented on as just "weird" (I don't think I'm hideous or scary haha). Sure it's a long boring drive from Edmonton, sure it's in need of our roadways revamped (someday it will be finished...!), I too hate the lineups that we seem to always be standing in. That being said, I do love how so many larger and well organized community events have been happening recently and how that part of "big city" is here! How people are quick to help out when news of a co-worker or community member in need is heard. How beautiful the river valley is in the summer/fall (I have to admit to loving my winter getaways...made possible by the industry in which I get my livelyhood). It makes me angry how I have yet to read/watch any media coverage that shows the true nature and bigger picture of my home. My hope is that the media steps up to the plate and shows the good (bads been overdone) of the community/industry that in my opinion is carrying the rest of the country.

  3. I was moved to Fort McMurray in 1970. Around 3,500 people lived here. I was seven at the time. Came from a farm. This was a big place for me at the time. Had seen bigger cities like Edmonton. I am 100% pure Alberta beef. I still live here and I am going on 50. Population Is close to 100,000 today. Could be more if everyone that lived in camps were counted on any given day.
    If it was not for what mother nature had hidden in the ground under a foerst of trees. Most everyone in Canada and parts of the world would sitting in there house or maybe a card board box. Growing up here was the best. I played and learned with many friends during my school years. Ate cookies that tasted like Tarsands, they were known the world over. Seen my first heavy hauler mining truck when I was 8. It is on display in the Interoperate centre. Guess what when I seen that truck at 8. I told myself I would drive it when I got older. Guess what I did! Growing up in Fort McMurray I was able to relize so many of my dreams. As I know many other people have and will in the future. In stead of reading or watching all the negative b.s. Get on a plane or bus or train or just drive here in a petrol operated means of transportation. Come and see the place. Visit Fort McMurray for your self. Stay and learn or leave and wonder. Sure it has it goods points, bad points. Just like any were else on this big planet were us humans live, we create it. If there is one thing I have learnt in life. If you are doing good, there is always someone that is trying to bring you down to their level. Maybe it is the McMurray way, could it be, or is it just human nature, hmm I wonder. I have so much more to say about my home, but have to turn off my computer to save on electricity that is produced by coal, computer made of oil by products, have a bite to eat, food delivered to the store by truck that burn fuel. Someday human's will quite winning and get up off the couch and start working together for the betterment of all. And all is big. Write some good news, Is this what school produce, winner's, god, and it is the law to send your kids there and pay taxes for that kind of education. We have to stop electing the greedy to run our countries and elect people with some real vision, Get the greedy out and elect people that will do good for all, not just their pockets and their friends pockets, but all of your pockets. God, people still without proper food and shelter, I heard that when I was a kid. Stop world hunger. How long does it take to feed someone, when you sit there with a plate over filling. The rest thrown in the garbage. Till next time!

  4. I have to agree wholeheartedly with the essence of the comments made here.... I moved to Fort McMurray in 1977, with a plan to stay two years (being from that big province back east). To cut a long story short, my wife and I still live and work here, and we have raised our family of four children in this wonderful community. Three of my children still work here, which says a lot about their commitment to the community as well. I am sickened by the fly-in / fly-out media visits, who are only coming for a sensationalist story, they do not ever attempt to capture what drives people to make this place our home. Take a look in your own back yard people, is it really so different in other cities ?? Probably not, but, as the saying goes, you don't s#@t in your own bed !!!

  5. I moved here, with my parents, in 1970. I remember the one-lane mud trail called Highway 63 (maybe if it was still the mud trail, fatalities would be down (no, I'm not suggesting that, just musing)).

    I have yet to meet someone that wasn't willing to make FMM home not embrace it and love it. There is so much good about this town it is crazy. Those that say that "there isn't anything to do in this town" especially drive me up the wall. Fort McMurray is an exceptional place to live.

    It looks like I've got to leave this town that I have called home for over 40 years (and my wife, over 30 years). The destination is Calgary, which based on a recent tour, looks pretty desolate. Where are the forests that permeate FMM? I am going to miss My McMurray.

  6. E. (Betty) CollicottMarch 13, 2012 at 8:36 PM

    Right on, Russ - You know, this has been going on for much longer than the recent barrage of garbage reporting....
    My children and I arrived in Ft. McM in March, 1971, following my husband who was working for Suncor (and yes, the Highway 63 was gravel, from Wandering River north).
    Even in those early days, I recall seeing CTV and CBC TV filming on Franklin Ave., often choosing places/buildings to shoot that were NOT the norm. Same with radio, newspaper, and/or magazine coverage - you can literally count each positive feature, but we've lost count of the many, many negatives....
    So - how can we, those still there and those who have left but still love it, help to try to change it??
    What we do is to speak of it positively, and to try to change the opinions of those we are speaking to, one at a time.... we may never "convert" the world, and it makes good sales to have scathing headlines and stories, but isn't it true that they still "love our oil"?!?!
    Ft. McM, you have changed so very much over the years - but, we love you still! You have treated us well and we grew up with you!


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