A wonderful article featuring Alan Doyle and Seamus O’Regan’s recent trip to Keyano College from Fort McMurray Today:


“Who said oil refining had to be good looking?” asked Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle during Thursday’s Keyano College Global Address Speaker Series. “Don’t apologize. We’ll fix it when we’re done.”

Joined by Melissa Blake, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and CTV National News correspondent Seamus O’Regan, Doyle and the others discussed Fort McMurray’s infamous reputation, the former reputation of Newfoundland and Labrador — where both Doyle and O’Regan hail from — and what residents of the Oilsands City can do to sway public opinion.

This discussion paired with the third Community Image Summit, held earlier in the day, also at Keyano College. The summit discussed the idea of changing the negative associations with “Fort Mac” first on a local level, and then presenting the new, truer image to the rest of the world.

“Love the place your from, and don’t be afraid to tell people about it,” explained Doyle. “My father’s advice: It’ll only be good if you make it good. It won’t get good by itself, and that always sort of works for me. You’re in a wonderfully unique position in this town to be the masters of what comes next, so take it and go.”

O’Regan was apt to agree, saying it was Doyle’s conviction and love for his home on the east coast that convinced the correspondent to stand a little taller and speak a little prouder when it came to correcting false assumptions about his home province, saying “passion and pride will change people’s minds.”

“It was the most natural thing in the world to me, because I am so proud of where I’m from and who I am,” said O’Regan. “I like sticking it to people who would make fun of where I’m from. I just can’t believe that you would do that. But what Alan taught me was tactics. You’ve got to take no prisoners; you’re either proud of where you’re from, without apology, or you’re proud of where you’re from with some apology.

“When I thought about it, the second wasn’t me. So I changed tactics. I became more assertive. There’s a way to go about it with tact and good grace, but with pride and by being firm.”

And so the night went, with two men from Newfoundland confessing their admiration for the ever-growing heart of the oilsands, saying McMurray’s image can and will be changed within the next 10 years.

“It’s exciting to know that soon this is going to be one of Canada’s biggest cities. It’s exciting to watch a city grow. New towns don’t exist out east,” Doyle said, joking that even doorsteps in Newfoundland are at least 200 years old.

Fort McMurray’s push towards reshaping its public image has long been in the works, and largely comes as a result of drive-by journalists shining a spotlight on the less flattering aspects of oilsands life.

“The perception I suspect (people) have is of a working, industrial town where everybody’s blue collar and focused only on the job and paycheque. The reality is more like what you see in me; you’ve got families here, people who’ve made this home. They’re inside industry, they’re outside industry, they are heart and soul kind of people,” said Blake.

The key message, Doyle said he wanted to get across, was simply to be Fort McMurray, to own it and to be proud.

“Be yourselves, and don’t ever try to be anything other than that. That includes answering the tough questions,” said Doyle. “You think everything’s perfect in Newfoundland? That everything’s pretty in Newfoundland? It’s not.

“We didn’t set out to do it because it’s a beauty pageant, and that’s true of a lot of other industries in a lot of other towns around the world. I wouldn’t apologize for trying to harvest a resource that the world really wants and trying to do it in as environmentally friendly was as possible. That’s an awesome thing, and the fact that you’re doing it up here and actually even caring enough to do it environmentally friendly is huge.”