In the aftermath of this week’s devastating wildfires in Fort McMurray, we have been witness to some remarkable acts of human compassion and bravery.
Strangers marching up and down highways clogged with evacuees to offer them food, water and gasoline. First responders foregoing food and sleep to battle an unstoppable inferno. And countless families and businesses opening their doors and their wallets to help in whatever way they can.
But as with any catastrophic event, there is always the tiny but truculent minority of people who use it as a soapbox for their personal agendas. That this terrible fire burned Fort McMurray - Canada’s great oil sands capital - was enough for them to proclaim it justified, even worthy of celebrating.
These people don’t deserve any more attention than they’ve already received, but they give us a good opportunity to tell the real story behind how Canada’s oil sands community is pulling together to help Fort McMurray recover.
Oil sands camps have become a safe refuge for those displaced by the rapidly spreading wildfires.
Shell is moving out all non-essential staff at their Albian Village camp to create space for families in need of shelter. Their 2,000-person camp is 95 kilometres from Fort McMurray and offers a safe space for those who need it most. Suncor has done the same, reducing production and removing staff to accommodate the huge need for evacuee space. Husky Energy, Syncrude, Athabasca Oil Sands, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and ConocoPhillips have all taken steps in recent days to free up beds at their camps for those who have fled the city.
But it’s not just evacuees. Fort McMurray’s oil sands companies have willingly shut down operations during an already difficult economic situation in order to help first responders and other officials combat the blaze. They’re offering use of their airstrips and other infrastructure, and even deploying their own staff and equipment to help fight fires in the area.
They are by no means alone. Canadians across the country have united behind Fort McMurray as only they can. Alberta’s neighbouring provinces have rallied with manpower and financial support. The mayors of Toronto and Lac Megantic have called on their citizens to donate to the Red Cross - as have the public sector unions in Ontario. Banks have offered extended mortgage holidays for displaced residents. Hotels are offering free rooms and restaurants free meals. CFL and NHL teams have come forward with donations. Even Canadian golfer Graham DeLaet is donating $500 for every birdie he makes on the PGA tour this weekend.
Because this is about compassion and community - about Canadian resourcefulness, not our resources.
Fort McMurray’s road to recovery is a long one and, sadly, we almost certainly haven’t heard the last of those who see this event as some kind of comeuppance for our energy capital.
But we know the real story of our energy citizens, and it’s one filled with the kindness and generosity Canadians are known for. So let’s be sure to tell it.