Wearing a cardigan and other style choices in Fort McMurray

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.

The QE2 Code

To be on the safe side, I googled the QE2 Code, the Queen Elizabeth Highway 2 Code and the Alberta Highway 2 Code and didn’t find anything so I hope I’m not stepping on somebody’s toes with this.

Sometimes referred to as the QE2, Alberta’s Highway 2 stretches from north of Edmonton to south of Calgary and then onto Lethbridge. It’s the longest highway in the province, and based on my experience driving it, I feel there’s an understanding between users. There’s a code. A knowing. Like if you asked someone from here they would say “you bet.”

It’s best if I just describe it to you.

Heading south on QE2 out of Edmonton there is construction, which means a lower speed limit to the maximum 110 kilometres and a warning that fines double when workers are present. Once the construction zone hits, everybody slows down and the jockeying begins (change lanes, make sure you’re doing 80, speed up, pass the car you’ve been sitting behind since South Common). It’s all done smoothly and, barring some meathead still doing the 110 maximum, the pre-race has started. Eventually the construction dissipates, cars speed up and then it looks as if there’s a person standing at the “end of construction zone” sign vigorously waving a green flag. Suddenly 110 isn’t the maximum anymore. It’s barely the minimum.

In my mind there’s only one way to drive in the prairies: fast. I don’t think I’m alone with this one. On the QE2 you have to drive fast. There are secondary highways so it’s not as if there are no other options. And those secondary ones, such as the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22), show off the beauty of driving in Alberta (Seriously. Drive to Longview). Admire the sites on secondary, take the cue from the metaphorical NASCAR green flag bearer on the QE2 and put your god damn foot down hey. You think you may be going fast when you take a peek at the odometer and it says 140 until someone blows by you in the passing lane. It’s not a surprise and at times you might be that person ripping by.

This is all a good thing, of course. Driving fast out of town does more than just get you to where you want to go quickly. I’ve always thought music in the car sounds a lot different than music in your headphones. Also, taking off gives you that appreciation for where you are and knowing there’s way more to see. Our fast travel ticket to the mountains, the badlands, a saloon with good steak in Longview, or the United States of America (I hear Whitefish is lovely), is available year round and people should use it more often. 

Every time I put my god damn foot down hey when getting out of the construction zone on the QE2 I appreciate it a little bit more. It doesn’t feel like a boring drive and based on how fast you’re going it won’t take long to get there anyway. People fly between Edmonton and Calgary all day, every day and there’s even been talk of putting a rail line between the two cities. We don’t have the population, yet, for a train between Edmonton and Calgary so we can at least put that idea to bed in the short term. Besides, there’s no better place to let your wheels do the talking.

If you asked the average Albertan have they made it from Edmonton to Calgary in less than two hours you’ll be surprised at how many say you bet. That’s the QE2 Code. Everyone drives fast and it’s OK if you want to drive faster. 

Lady Macs drop home opener against Barbarians

The newly-christened Lady Macs roller derby team battled hard, but lost their debut bout of the season against a more experienced side from Kimberley, B.C. at Thelma Crowe arena in Canmore, Saturday (April 27).

Despite dropping the bout 246-132, the home opener against the Bavarian Barbarians representing the East Kootenay Roller Derby League was an overall success for the Bow Valley team and its newfound fans.

Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Masked rioters bill approved by senate committee

A bill proposed by local member of Parliament Blake Richards that would make it illegal to wear a mask during a riot or unlawful assembly has cleared a major hurdle and could become law sometime this summer.

Following first, second and third reading in the House of Commons, Bill C-309, otherwise known as the Concealment of Identity Act, was approved by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Thursday (April 25).

The intention of the bill, as Richards has previously stated, is to stop those looking to cause trouble at peaceful demonstrations by making it an indictable offence for wearing a mask or disguise while participating in a riot.

If passed, the Criminal Code would be changed to include the offence that could lead to a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

New business recycles pesky propane bombs

Roughly 500,000 propane cylinders are sold in Alberta each year for various uses such as camping, but what happens to all those potentially explosive materials when they’re eventually discarded?

While some municipalities offer services to collect these cylinders and other types of hazardous waste like paint and solvents, there remains a contingent of people, particularly campers, who struggle to find an environmentally-friendly way of disposing these little one pound propane bombs.

Calgary native Jeff Sands, owner of Propane Busters, has an answer and, more importantly, a solution to this issue that’s sustainable, environmentally-friendly and runs on two wheels.

Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outloook.

Alberta between mild and extreme ‘petrostate’

Oil is by far the most popular natural resource making headlines on a weekly basis in Alberta and for good reason – the Province has relied on its vast reserves of petroleum for both economic and political reasons.

With impending decisions to be made regarding the future transport of this coveted resource, whether it be through pipelines such as Keystone XL or by rail, Alberta will continue to be known in some circles as a “petrostate,” but to what degree is a topic economics professor Alan MacFadyen has tackled extensively.

Last month, MacFadyen, an Emeritus at the University of Calgary who established the petroleum economics program within the Department of Economics, examined this, and the history of Alberta’s oil industry, during a talk at the Seniors’ Centre in Canmore.

According to the professor, the Province is somewhere in between a mild and extreme version of a “petrostate.” Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Canadian Rockies supports teachers’ agreement

The Canadian Rockies Public School (CRPS) board has vowed to support an agreement reached last week between the Province and the Alberta Teachers Association which outlines salaries for teachers, workload and hours of instruction.

Trustees from the CRPS board unanimously voted in favour of the tentative four-year agreement during the in-camera portion of its regular meeting on March 20, citing stability in allowing the school board to focus on its vision and goals.

“The labour stability for four years is a very big component of that, which helps us continue to move forward,” said CRPS superintendent Chris MacPhee. “The board is confident in the reassurances that the education minister (Jeff Johnson) is giving in support of the agreement moving into the future.” Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outloook.

Economists toy with sales tax idea for Alberta

Following an announcement by Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner that the Province’s projected deficit leading into the 2012/13 budget will be around $4 billion, the idea of implementing a sales tax as a way out has once again reared its way back into the conversation.

During an economic summit a few weeks ago in Calgary, which was set up by Premier Alison Redford and attended by members of all provincial parties, the topic of creating a sales tax was favoured by some of the province’s leading economists.

Todd Hirsch, a senior economist at ATB Financial, was one of the moderators at the summit and pointed out this option shouldn’t be very surprising despite the fact the province has never had a sales tax. Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Slow year ahead for Alberta as price of black gold drops

Oil is Alberta’s business, however, the price of Western Canadian Select, which is made up of heavy conventional and bitumen crude oil, has been decreasing.

With the Province’s reliance on this huge energy commodity, both politicians and economists point to a sluggish Alberta economy limping into next year’s fiscal budget, which will be made public in March.

According to Net Energy Inc., a crude oil trading system based in Calgary, Western Canadian Select has been trading at roughly $35 per barrel less than benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude.

Though the price of Alberta oil has always been offered at a discount, the differential between what’s shipped out of the province compared to WTI or other world oil prices has increased quickly and put Premier Alison Redford’s government under pressure. Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Winter in the Canmore mines

Canmore mine lamp house and entrance to Coal Mine No. 2.
Canmore mine lamp house and entrance to Coal Mine No. 2.

Every winter the old lamp house located beneath Three Sisters Parkway in Canmore groans with age. The windows have all been knocked out, the roof is in disrepair and the frost has taken its toll on the walls with those that are still in tact subjected to graffiti.

It’s safe to say the building, which was where workers met and collected their lamps before heading into Coal Mine No. 2, is not what it once was, but neither is the town itself. Continue reading