Mayor of Slave Lake
May 15…. It’s a day that most from this area will never forget.
Most years I don’t really acknowledge the date. My thought has always been that I didn’t want this date to define me as a person, nor did I want it to define us as a community. It has been seven years since that fateful spring day in 2011, but for more of us it has changed who we are as a people.
When I think back to that time, it was the most exhausting time of my life. Being a father, a husband, a business owner, a town councilor, fire fighter, and a student (I was working on an accelerated post-secondary educational program) I was being pulled in so many directions. It was lots of early mornings and a late nights. Lots of meetings, lots of advice, lots of planning, and lots of work to get done.
It was a time when I saw a community hurting, that needed help, that had lost and needed the most from me. It was exhausting, not just for me, but for all of those around me. Too many were called upon to do things that without the fire, they would never have been asked to do. It shaped us as people and as a region.
I saw the best in so many people. Neighbours were more neighbourly, friends were more friendly, employers more supportive, people cared stronger than they ever had before.
Friends were made across Canada; people from all backgrounds, from all corners of this great province came together to help a small town in rural Alberta.
I won’t ignore that there was frustration, and at times we saw that emotion pour out of people. For some it wasn’t their finest hour, but that was not most of what I experienced. That was not the core of what happened here; it was not who we were as a region. Instead there was a general feeling of let’s roll up our sleeves and get the work done. There was also a sense of let’s make things better.
In the schools, the businesses, government and neighbourhoods I saw support like never before. On the street I saw tears, but also saw lots of hugs. We leaned on each other, we talked it out, we rose to the occasion even when physically it seemed impossible. I was so proud of the community and its people. We came together as a region, we rebuilt, rose from the ashes, and persevered.
In our own house we took a new appreciation for life. We invested more time in family where we could. We set goals professionally. We made new friends and invested time in those friendships. We took in everything we had time to do, and tried to make time for those things we didn’t. I have never lived so much. Our house was damaged in the fire, and a month later we flooded out like most who didn’t burn to the ground, and rebuilding through all of that sucked to say the least. That being said, we didn’t replace what we had; we looked at how to make it better.
I wish I could express accurately in words how I feel, but I can’t do it justice. But I will try. I am deeply proud of the people of the region. I think we are better than we were before. We leaned on each other, we supported each other, we rolled up our sleeves and made this region strong again.
I’m thankful for all who have been part of my life and I’m thankful for the millions of Canadians who financially contributed to this region’s recovery. I am so thankful to my family, those who are blood and those who are honorary members who supported me through it all. I know my life is richer because of all of it. To those who are reading this, I hope you had a similar experience. Most of all I hope it has changed the way you live your life for the better.
I hope that attitude is still part of your everyday life, and effort you put into your family, friends, your hobbies and your work is the core of how you live your life. After the fire I saw so many give everything they had to living and I hope seven years later you still do.
The biggest lesson I learned from the fire of 2011 is life is short and can change in an instant. Don’t waste it.
Thanks to all for being part of my own journey, and I hope along the way I had some positive impact in yours!