If there’s one thing that apparently stands out in the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, it’s a navy blue cardigan. The old man/woman looking type. Something that’s not sold in the Mark’s Work Warehouse or any of the shops in Peter Pond Mall like Volcom or Supreme Apparel. In a sea of tight t-shirts, plaid button-downs and anything East Coast Lifestyle, this type of pullover (no, it’s a cardigan) seems to stick out like someone getting their car washed every week during winter.
Before the folks that haven’t even been to McMurray judge or perhaps reassure their preconceived notions about it here, let me say that the Mac can be a happening place when it comes to fashion. I’m serious. Take yourself to East Village Pub in Eagle Ridge any Saturday night and you will see the absolute best tight t-shirts, plaid button-downs and anything East Coast Lifestyle you have ever seen. Ever. Joking aside, Fort McMurray is a diverse place and the diversity of clothing is no exception. The only thing that crosses the line is the navy cardigan. Like driving slow in the fast lane or not having your shit together by the time you get to the front of the Hortons line.
Someone asked me a couple weeks ago if wearing said cardigan was an Ontario thing since the previous owner of this beaut (I inherited it) and another transplant from back east used to sport this type of gear. I think it’s a stretch to stereotype only Ontario folks for having the gall to wear this kind of sweater in such a place as this. I’ve seen similar “hipster” style clothing strutting down Franklin Avenue. I know because I was probably the asshole strutting. I will admit, however, that climbing into a souped up 4×4 while your 100 per cent wool navy flutters in the wind isn’t ideal round these parts, but there’s a lot that can surprise you about Fort McMurray.
Driving into town I think there should be a billboard that says “I don’t want to be a product of my environment – I wan’t my environment to be a product of me.” Put it right next to the “safe, resilient, together” sign and the one advertising Boomtown Casino as the best boom in town, whatever the hell that means. If you haven’t gotten the quote I’d suggest you shut your laptop after reading this and watch The Departed. I don’t care how late it is. Stay up and watch it. Anyway, I couldn’t pick a better quote to describe the MO of the folks that live here or have made this place home. Many are from other cities, provinces and countries, but there’s a growing contingent of born and breds that are reshaping what Fort McMurray is.
My story coming here is probably the same as a lot of folks: work. I took a job and moved to a small city where I didn’t know anybody, in northern Alberta, in January. Most people probably do things like this because they have to, be it for financial reasons or maybe a lack of work experience. And then there’s those that like a challenge, and the people that stick around here long-term fall into that category. The surviving bitter cold mornings, afternoons and nights where the sky is black all the time is tough. The being ostracized by people that have probably never driven a kilometre north of St. Albert is annoying from time to time. But the real test is being away from friends and family. Also, the less attention paid to the short-sighted or narrowed-minded the better off we’ll all be. Even the short-sighted folks will get bored and move on to ripping someplace else instead. Like Moncton. Although I have been there too and thought it was alright.
What I’m saying with all this is that there’s way more to Fort McMurray than just tight t-shirts, plaid button-downs and anything East Coast Lifestyle. It’s changing everyday. It’s been through booms, media blitzes and one of the scariest looking fires anyone has ever seen. And it’s done it all with confidence. A sort attitude that reminds everyone here to hold their heads high and keep their shoulders back. Smack away criticism like it’s a god damn tar sand beetle.
It’s true, you won’t get the selection of stores, restaurants, concerts, sports games or navy cardigans as you would in other cities. And the 4×4’s, the no bullshit hard work ethic and the hold the door open for the next person reputation that’s made this place home might never change. As much as we try to dress something up, even in a navy blue cardigan, some things don’t change overnight and for the better. The only change I can promise is your impression of this place when you actually take the time to see it, live it and feel it. Best grab your cardigan when you do. It gets chilly.