In May 2016, residents of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo experienced a serious wildfire, named the Horse River Fire. The region was then hit hard in 2020 by significant ice jam flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic.
To aid in recovery of the region and its resilience building, the Canadian Red Cross supported a series of workshops and engagement activities, including the Fire & Ice program, that brought together a small cohort from the social profit sector to embark on a creative learning journey filled with dialogue on topics about resilience and disaster risk reduction.
During the Fire & Ice program, participants learned about ice jams, glaciology, and wildfire, while gaining new skills in writing and photography through a series of expert workshops. Following the workshop series, participants reflected on their learnings and completed individual reflections. To learn more about this program and see the creative outputs from participants, stop by the Main Concourse at Macdonald Island during opening hours from June 25 to July 10. The hope is that this exhibition inspires the surrounding community to embark on their own reflective learning journey.
Photo by Dr. Cynthia Lane
The learning journey started with a workshop called ‘Photography as a tool for Storytelling’ run by Meris Kieller who taught participants how to use different photography tools to tell a story.
Following Meris, Dr. Shawn Marshall led a workshop called ‘Glaciers, Water, Ice, and Us,’ which introduced participants to the relationship between water systems and life and discussed how this relationship is changing under the threat of climate change. Dr. Uldis Silins and Dr. Kira Hoffman then presented an engaging session called ‘Wildfire in a Changing World,’ where participants learned about how wildfire changes water quality and the relationship between humans and fire in a dynamic world. Wrapping up the workshop series was a ‘Writing about Change’ workshop from Fort McMurray local Kevin Thornton, who provided participants with tips for bringing their narratives together.
Once participants gained knowledge from experts, participants went into the field to reflect on their learnings. In the field, participants took photos of ice, water, snow, and evidence of wildfire, and wrote short narratives about change.
Rasha Hassan, photographed by Steven Bonisteel
Therese Greenwood, photographed by Steven Bonisteel
Monica Booth, photographed by Steven Bonisteel
“Fort McMurray has always been a community of great tranquility and strength. In times of despair, we have continuously come together as one and revealed our resilience as a whole. The Wildfire that struck our town in 2016 was a great example of our collective stability.” – Rasha Hassan
Rasha is the Events and Communications Supervisor at the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo. Rasha is passionate about people and committed to helping them. She is a connector who loves to bring people together. In and out of her professional life, she is always finding herself in the middle of planning fun and memorable events for the people around her – which is why event planning is right up her alley. Rasha always believes that working in an environment with people of different backgrounds, races and nationalities can be a rewarding and fulfilling professional experience. It always inspires innovation and productivity.
“What is resilience? It comes not from forgetting the scars are there, but from allowing them to blend into our souls as we, too, rise up again.” – Monica Booth
Monica is a freelance writer who has called Fort McMurray home since 2010. Originally from Ontario, Monica received her Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a post-graduate certificate in Public Relations from Mohawk College before heading west to start her career. Since then, she has worked for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and now helps local non-profit organizations with their social media content. When she’s not writing, you can find Monica in her ever-expanding vegetable garden, studying herbal medicine or hiking the Birchwood Trails with her husband and two little boys.
“My rethink started with a refusal to cast the wildfire as a villainous psycho. It had been dubbed “The Beast,” a nickname often quoted in the media, as if it was a supervillain deliberately attacking a city. That never sat well with me. The fire wasn’t alive, and it wasn’t intentional. Naming it bestowed a mantle of inevitability, as if it were created outside of human control, not started by a careless spark.” – Therese Greenwood Therese has more than two decades of experience in strategic communications, media, public engagement, and stakeholder relations with public sector organizations in Ontario and Alberta. The recent recipient of an Executive Certificate in Public Sector Leadership from Queen’s University’s Executive Education program, Therese is interested in working with highly engaged teams whose strong relationships and effective storytelling reflect strategic community priorities. She has also worked as a reporter, editor, broadcaster, and journalism teacher, and holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario. Originally from the Thousand Islands region, Therese has lived in Wood Buffalo for the past four years.
The Resilience Institute
The Resilience Institute was born from the passion of a number of social and natural scientists who felt there were huge disconnects between climate science, communication, and action on climate change. That passion drove us to create a registered charity that today is focused on climate change and sustainability through community-based education and research. Our theory of change is that rapid transformation towards climate-safe futures is best achieved by effectively weaving holistic knowledge systems with scientific and technological advances.
Taking a transdisciplinary approach, our multi-year initiatives involve Indigenous Peoples, natural and social scientists, and industry/NGO partners collaborating on activities that foster innovative solutions and transformative change.
Canadian Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross Society is part of the largest humanitarian network in the world, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Canadian Red Cross is the leading humanitarian organization in Canada through which people voluntarily demonstrate their caring for others in need.
Fuse Social is a charitable organization committed to strengthening the capacity of all social profit organizations in Wood Buffalo through education, development, innovation, research, and collaboration.