Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Thoughts On This National Day of Mourning

Today marks the National Day of Mourning in remembrance of Canadian workers killed either on the job or from work-related diseases.  Its a sombre day and an important one.  I'll be the first to admit that prior to moving here I didn't really think all that much about safety on the job.  Mainly this was because my work environment and the nature of my work were very different from what it is now.  I recall a time about 10 years ago when I had to evacuate a school because of a fire alarm.  Yes, the building was actually on fire as it turned out but fortunately no one was hurt).   Other than this one incident I haven't really run into any other situation that I would consider life-threatening.

Since moving here I have had a couple of scary moments where the risk of severe injury was very real. I came close to potentially losing part of a finger when working closely with a forklift and I've had a truck and trailer back in to me.  In both cases they can be chalked up to simple inattention and a desire to "get the job done".  I pride myself on a good work ethic, though these were times when it came back to bite me in the ass a bit.  Anyhow, needless to say, I appreciate the importance of a strong safety culture and strive towards there never being a "next time." 

In my situation, events unfolded well but it is on this day that I am cognizant of the fact that for 145 other individuals in 2012, events did not turn out okay.  145 is the number of people killed on the job across Canada.  But it is more than that....what this number doesn't tell you are the number of spouses that were left struggling, the number of people that lost a good childhood friend or the number of kids who now have to deal with the fact that mom or dad isn't going to be coming through that front door after work anymore.

Take a moment, if you will, to think about workplace safety and remember those who lost their lives on the job.  Thanks.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fort McMurray's Downtown Redevelopment Plan...or Why I Can Always Count on Politicians to Bring Out My Inner Skeptic

A couple posts ago I mentioned about the recent demo of the Oil Can, a local drinking establishment that's had a pretty colorful history.  Its pending demolition is but a small part of a redevelopment plan for Fort McMurray's downtown core.  The scope of this project is in a word, massive and I only fully realized this over the weekend after perusing a study proposing nothing less than a complete overhaul of downtown.  Part of the plan in revitalizing downtown is a proposed civic area, much needed and overdue I should add.  Initially I suspected this would take the shape a pedestrian mall or some other outdoor area but no.  It seems council has it mind to build a rather monstrous arena capable of seating 6000-7000 people in this block.  Yes, I know, my biases are starting to show and I've just barely reached the end of the first paragraph here.  (And of course, this new office tower-like structure which sits where the Oil Can once did just has to be brown brick.  It not like the brown brick federal/provincial building directly across the street isn't already an eye sore.  Typical government planning for you.  Yes, we know one ugly building wasn't enough, so we decided to give you extra.)

To be fair, geography and history haven't been kind to our downtown when it comes to its development over time.  I'm hard-pressed to think of another city of comparable size whose downtown consists of just one main street.  Interestingly, someone, no doubt a politician, decided to name our main drag Franklin Avenue, after the failed northern explorer.  I'm not sure if they were being cautiously optimistic by doing this or if they just had a warped sense of humour.  Anyhow, I digress.

As I mentioned, redevelopment is much needed and I appreciate that this city (and this city block) has undergone tremendous changes (even in the short time I've lived here).  Fort McMurray's first drugstore (which now sits in our local heritage park) used to sit on Franklin along this block.  So it's not like buildings haven't come and gone before.  I also appreciate that change must happen if the city is to attract more residents and have them stay long-term rather than just see them as part of the so-called "shadow population".

I've heard a lot of negative opinion about the arena project so I rather surprised (or perhaps I shouldn't be) to learn that city council voted to go ahead with the plan.  Leaving aside the fact that I get the distinct impression this was always going to be a done deal, no matter what, I think this arena will only make more of a mess of traffic downtown.  Various proposed solutions to garner enough parking don't have me convinced this is a good idea and if I've heard it correctly, a traffic feasibility study hasn't even been completed.  To be fair, there are plans to redevelop some of the arteries into downtown but it seems the cart is being put before the proverbial horse here as this arena is slated to be opened for 2016.  I'm not saying an arena is a bad idea in and of itself, but its proposed location just seems wacky, for lack of a better word.   Nearby MacDonald Island (home of the largest rec. centre in Canada, I shamelessly add) would seem a much more logical location to me anyway.

The other problem I have is the expropriations that will take place to acquire the rest of needed space.  Affected by this are an A&W, The Keg restaurant and a law office.  I'm pretty sure the law office was represented at the council hearing last night.  Normally I don't care for lawyers, but having read the argument posted on another blog, I have to say this lawyer actually makes a lot of sense.  So along with a law office, our downtown will be losing two eating establishments in a town that is already hard-pressed for eating out.  Plus, and this is where my upbringing as a child of business owners kicks in, I just don't like the idea of public officials having these God-like powers to boot out businesses.  Its not like council members  will be out of work the day after the expropriation order goes through.  (I should add that, to their credit, two councillors saw fit to vote against this insanity.  Councillors Meagher and Kirchner, you have my vote in the next election.)  We already have Mac Island (for conventions, civic events, and sport) and the Casman Centre, where our Junior A team plays so another major venue just seems a tad superfluous.

Sorry, but if the city wants to encourage me to spend more time (and I also assume, money) downtown, this arena plan just isn't going to do it.  Another large rec centre is in the works not too far from where I live here in Thickwood so odds are I'd be much more likely to use that one then to venture downtown.  Plus, we also have Mac Island and the Casman Centre.  Really, how many ice surfaces does a city of 80,000 need?

Speaking of Mac Island, I know there was a great deal of controversy surrounding its construction with all the delays and the workers camp that sprouted up there to accommodate all the needed workers.  I've heard it argued, that, hey, there were a lot of naysayers that said the idea of a rec. complex on MacDonald would never fly, but look at it now.  So apparently, this arena project will turn out just the same.  But just because things turned out positively in the case of Mac Island doesn't, in my view, mean it will happen again here.  Much different circumstances and issues this time around, so its an apples versus oranges kind of argument to me.

I'd like to hope I'm wrong about this.  Really, I would. but my inner cynic just has me thinking otherwise.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rooftop Campout 2013

One of the things that impresses me about Fort McMurray is how generous the community is when it comes to supporting various charities. Its a little-known fact that on a per capita basis Fort McMurray residents have been the biggest supporters of organizations such at United Way for a number of years. Unfortunately, good things like this often get forgotten in the sea of ignorance and negativity that the city can get in the media.

When I heard a group of local firefighters (6 in all i believe) had been camping out on the rooftop of a local pub to raise money for local charities here I made a point of stopping by to say hello yesterday and make a donation, of course. The guys have spent a couple of chilly nights up there (it dropped into the minus teens last night and we picked up a centimetre or two of snow) and the event wraps up on Sunday.  I work outside, and while I've never done much in the way of cold weather camping, I definitely feel for them. Among the charities benefiting from their efforts here are the Fort McMurray Food Bank, Santas Anonymous, the Centre of Hope and the Boys and Girls Club of Fort McMurray. Added to the list this year is Powerchair Football.

A boot lowered down the side of the building was used to collect donations from passers-by and I heard on a local radio station that union local has thrown out a challenge to other unions to see which one can contribute the largest donation.

I imagine it was a cold night for them last night but they were in good spirits when I stopped by.  They enthusiastically obliged me a photo when I told them I'd give them a shout-out on my blog.

Friday, April 5, 2013

No More Oil Can

The final chapter on a well-known downtown fixture was written this past week as the Oil Can Tavern was demolished after having sat vacant since last summer.  The building had been around since the 1930's, and for good or for ill, helped give Fort McMurray its reputation as a boom town.

Even in death, there remains some controversy as the block on which it is located is part of a downtown redevelopment plan involving the construction of a 6000-7000 seat arena.  I'm not sure of the wisdom of such a structure smack dab in the downtown core in a city already plague with traffic and parking issues but I'll leave that debate for another day.

I'm sure there are quite a few people who have lived here much longer than me that stopped to look and perhaps recall some stories surrounding the former pub and the role it played in the fabric of our ever-changing city.