By Carol Christian
When it comes to their renowned support for the community they’ve called home for 27 years, turns out it’s a bit of payback from a couple who have also become fierce advocates for Fort McMurray.
Marty and Dennine Giles arrived in Fort McMurray on June 4, 1995, from the Airdrie area to pursue a dream.
“When we first came up, there was obviously a fear of jumping into something so big with no guarantees. We had one son who was nine months old so it was a massive leap of faith,” remembers Dennine. “The community came to our business and supported us right from the beginning. They came and in doing so took care of our little family. We in turn knew we had a responsibility to take care of the community. We have maintained that commitment and will continue to maintain that commitment until the end of time.”
The couple opened their first North Star Ford dealership on October 10, 1995, with 18 employees.
“I sold cars as a summer job between university semesters and loved it so much. New technology, new models, new ways of doing business,” enthuses Marty. “I just love the car business as it is never boring, and in my opinion, the most challenging and interesting business in the world.”
Since its start, the business has grown from one dealership to five facilities: three locations which do service work in the RMWB: Fort McKay, Gregoire and Confederation Way, which is the sole sales location. There are also full-service parts and sales facilities in Calgary and Cochrane.
“We currently employ 335 Northstarians in Alberta,” says Marty.
It was a desire to strike out on their own that brought the Giles north to Fort McMurray.
“We learned an opportunity was going to be coming available in Fort McMurray as there was currently no Ford presence in this market. We applied with Ford and were fortunate enough to be awarded the point,” explains Dennine.
At that time, Ford had a Dealer Development program, requiring the company put up 80 per cent and the dealer, 20.
“We sold everything we had including our RRSPs and moved up. We loved the community immediately. We had neighbours stop by to introduce themselves. We had welcome notes dropped in our mailbox and even a chocolate cake was dropped off,” laughs Dennine.
“The community welcomed us so graciously and supported us immediately. Fort McMurray is like no other place on earth. It immediately had our hearts.”
It was that welcome that is why the Giles continue to call Fort McMurray home today, adds Marty.
“Nothing made us stay. The community embraced and supported us from the beginning, and the opportunity to grow and be part of something world-class was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Even though we have opened locations in different cities in the province, we don’t see ever leaving except maybe now that I am getting old (and) not being here very much between December 27 and March 15,” he chuckles.
The couple started being community donors almost from the get-go.
“It wasn’t much at first, but we did what we could,” remembers Marty who knows the support of the communities has a role in North Star’s success.
“We would be nothing without the support of the communities we do business in and one of our company’s values is we must do our part to leave the community better than we found it,” he explains. “Also, when we see our friends, employees and customers affected by certain gaps in the system, we think it is our responsibility to fill those gaps when we can or be part of filling those gaps.”
Dennine agrees, adding, “Marty and I made a declaration very early on that we will take care of the community that has so graciously taken care of us and that we will always work to leave our community better than we found it.
“We feel that we are all one family here and family takes care of family.”
The Wood Buffalo Food Bank, FuseSocial, Canadian Red Cross, United Way Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo, Keyano College, Waypoints Community Services Association, the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association and Vista Ridge are a few of the numerous organizations benefitting from the Giles’ support. Plus, who can forget those generously adorned Christmas trees at the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s Festival of Trees?
While a city is comprised of roads, buildings, stores and other concrete infrastructure, Dennine states that it is the people that make a community.
“Fort McMurray is a strong, resilient, vibrant, tenacious community. Up here in the beautiful north, we have grit. Throw at us what you will, we will rise and we will rise together. Sure, we may get mad at each other from time to time, but like every strong family, we don’t let anyone else from outside put us down. We will stand up to all those who come in our way!”
Marty notes that for the most part, people who have never gotten to know the community or its people, or see what industry is all about, pretty much shun Fort McMurray.
“That’s okay as I am not judging them, but it does make us rally behind a cause and what I like with us, is that when someone comes after us we circle the wagons like no other community I have ever seen or heard of.”
Being called a community builder is not necessarily a term that Marty would use to describe himself.
“I think I’m a good dressing room guy so to speak, who will go in the corner and grind it out. A good team guy I think, and am good for mood and morale, but a leader is like Winston Churchill stuff and I don’t see myself like that.”
Dennine is equally humble.
“The term community builder seems so large. We are a small family who flew in one day in June 1995 and have tried to follow our commitment to take care of our community. Being recognized for doing that is amazing. I’m so incredibly grateful to be called a community builder!”
In encouraging others to be community builders, Dennine points out that COVID has shown people that being away from one another is not the way humans are supposed to live.
“We get some much from our connections to one another. Now, imagine connecting with others for the sole purpose of making your community a better place and helping others. You can’t pay for that feeling; it’s priceless! Knowing you are making a difference in a community is like no other.”
People need to look in the mirror and honestly ask themselves if they are doing what they can to help, adds Marty.
“It doesn’t have to be huge, but it has to be what you can do. If monetary help isn’t an option, no worries. How about being a mentor for Big Brothers and Sisters or volunteering with The Salvation Army, coaching a sports team or bringing whatever skills you have to help others?
“If you have been helped at some point – and not many people can say they haven’t – then do what you can to pay it forward.”