Last month, I logged on to an online economic development forum run by people who did not live in Fort McMurray five years ago, when a wildfire levelled swaths of the city and sent 80,000 residents scrambling to escape the inferno. The organizers talked about how, miraculously, no one was killed in the flames that circled the town and how quickly we rebuilt our homes, our businesses and our lives.
Fort McMurray likes to think of itself as a “get ‘er done” town. We brag that one year in our work-centric, high-energy oil town is like five anywhere else. Disaster recovery and insurance experts were delighted when, in the first three years after the fire, whole neighbourhoods literally rose from the ashes.
It was our finest hour, the forum said. We should tell our story. We should set the record straight about our town, a target of criticism as the centre of Canada’s oil production. We should market ourselves as a bastion of resilience.
This month marks the fire’s fifth anniversary, when our trauma was supposed to fade in the rear-view mirror. But Fort McMurray’s recovery cycle has been interrupted with new catastrophes, including a flood that swamped our downtown and my next home with it. The pandemic’s economic uncertainty is another burden in an oil town that realizes the future of energy is shifting.
Commitment. Good intentions. Triggers. Setbacks. Fatigue. Stumbles. Tears. Recommitment. Fort McMurray knows what to expect on the long, bumpy road to pandemic recovery. After all, we are the last word in resilience.
Therese Greenwood’s memoir What You Take With You: Wildfire, Family and the Road Home, was a finalist for the 2020 Alberta Book Publishing Awards from the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.