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Tribute to Guy Boutilier

Many sentiments have recently been shared about the late Guy Boutilier. Perhaps the most dominant is that Boutilier was a great Albertan … and then some.

The man who became Fort McMurray’s youngest mayor at 33 and former MLA was a staunch supporter of his adopted community and the oil sands; instrumental in many amenities still enjoyed by residents. He also coined the phrase, “We have the energy.”

Laurent Auger and Boutilier were both 18 when they first met in Antigonish, NS.

“He had just been diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic. Right away, I truly admired his can-do attitude and the no-self-pity approach that he demonstrated all his life.

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“He cared deeply about Fort McMurray. He always said that he got involved to make a difference,” remembers Auger, a life-long friend and Boutilier’s chief of staff at the Alberta Legislature.

“His relentless energy was transmutable.”

First arriving in Fort McMurray to temporarily work as a co-op student for Syncrude in the early 1980s, Boutilier returned after finishing school in NS. It was here that he met the love of his life, Gail, and they married in 1988.

Boutilier had many accomplishments, and Auger recalls one involving selective highway snow clearing. In winter, the road grader would arrive at the city limit, lift its blade, go through town, then lower the blade again when reaching the city limit on the other side to continue its work, recalls Auger.

That made no sense to Boutilier, who advocated to the province that the blade stay down. It soon did.

He developed a Shaw cable show with his sister, Debbie, called This Week in Sports. When Debbie left the show, Boutilier mentored a young sports reporter, Dan O’Toole, for the role. O’Toole went on to work at CTV, TSN and ESPN.

Auger speaks of other accomplishments, including Boutilier’s involvement in the development of MacDonald Island Park; being a colour commentator for the Oil Baron’s home games; being an integral member of the group that brought the Royal Bank Cup Junior National Championship to Fort McMurray in 2000; and his fight for Willow Square after it was cancelled by his own PC party. Boutilier soon found himself sitting as an Independent after publicly expressing his displeasure.

Additionally, Boutilier won as coach of the Fort McMurray team at the Quebec Winter Carnaval International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament in 1996.

“Guy cared deeply for his community,” continues Auger. “He had a can-do attitude added by an immense amount of energy to build a better community for everyone.

“He deserves all the recognition reserved for people that have made a difference, and he sure did.”

Mike Mellon was one of those players on the peewee team during that memorable tournament.

“We achieved first place in an international tournament in front of a crowd of 18,000 fans,” remembers Mellon. “Guy was a highly competitive individual who always strived for success. One of his signature plays, the wide shot, was often utilized late in games to create scoring opportunities.

“Guy had a knack for connecting with his players and inspiring us to perform at our best. I fondly remember receiving one of his Harvard sweatshirts as a reward for maintaining discipline and avoiding penalties throughout an entire tournament. It was a proud moment for me.”

Eric Newell, a former CEO of Syncrude, worked with Boutilier on a task force struck to address notably increasing property taxes – a result of rising municipal administration costs – while maintaining high-quality services. Newell gathered major stakeholders, including Syncrude and Suncor, to create the task force, which was chaired by Mayor Boutlier.

The task force worked for the better part of 1994, developing several out-of-the-box efficiencies, most notably the creation of the RMWB, an amalgamation of smaller communities, including Fort McMurray. The Municipality of Wood Buffalo came to be on April 1, 1995. The name was updated to the RMWB on August 14, 1996. Their work also resulted in a 20 per cent cut to overall administrative costs, surviving the Klein Government’s fiscal restraints while maintaining high-quality services.

“This was a huge testament to the bold and creative leadership provided by Canada’s youngest mayor,” acknowledges Newell.

Brian Hatfield knew Boutilier for about 35 years after they first met at an Oil Barons game. He eventually became co-campaign manager for Boutilier’s first mayoral campaign.

Hatfield recalls a time when he and Boutilier were in Palm Springs planning to watch some of the pro golf tournaments.

“We were walking up the fairway … (and) came across a golf ball. Guy picked it up and said, ‘Hatter, it’s a beautiful Titleist.’ A minute later, we heard this man sing out, ‘Put the ball back,’ and of course, Guy gave it a good throw up the fairway. I am sure the pro hit the best shot of his life with Guy’s help,” chuckled Hatfield.

“Guy was a great person for Fort. McMurray. He loved his community. Everywhere he went, he talked about Fort McMurray. He talked to everyone he met and never shied away from any discussions, whether it was good or bad,” he adds.

“He loved being mayor. He loved being an MLA, and he loved Fort McMurray,” says Joan Furber, a long-time friend.

“He definitely had a love of seniors.”

Boutilier’s mother died young, and he was soon ‘adopted’ by Olive Woodward, a local senior in Fort McMurray. She had also ‘adopted’ Vaughn Jessome, another long-time friend of Boutilier’s and his former constituency manager while an MLA.

“We shared Olive,” chuckled Furber, who had known Woodward since she was a child growing up in Waterways. “We would fight over who was her favourite.”

While he was mayor, Woodward called Boutilier to tell him the seniors were having problems crossing the road at Fraser Ave. and Main St. from the neighbouring seniors’ apartments to the Golden Years Society.

“She called him and said, ‘You need to do something.’

“That’s why there are stop signs there. Guy had them put in right away so the seniors would have an easier way to get across the street,” explains Furber.

“Guy was so persistent in everything he did. When he wanted something for Fort McMurray, he wouldn’t quit bugging the ministers until they gave in,” recalls Debbie Hahn, friend and former employee of Boutilier’s. “For instance, the downtown bypass was designed on a napkin in the Garden Cafe, and a couple of years later, it became a reality.”

If he decided it was good, he never took no for an answer. That included her own job offer.

“I told him I had to think about working for him, and he gave me a basket of wine and chocolate that someone had given him and said, ‘You start on Monday,’” she laughed.

Boutilier was also instrumental in the creation of Stepping Stones Youth Home, noted Jessome.

He recalls when Boutilier was Minister of Environment, a youth homeless count revealed 85 youths were homeless with no services available to them. They couch-surfed and lived in the woods or under bridges. Of those youth, 80 per cent were still going to school, while 70 per cent were working a part-time job.

Approached by an advisory committee to develop a program to assist homeless youth, Boutilier immediately arranged a meeting with the Minister of Children Services, who helped the committee draft a funding model for a home and wrap-around services for these youth. He also secured approximately $450,000 to renovate a home owned by Wood Buffalo Housing into a youth home.

The youth home became a reality within a very short timeline, said Jessome. Opening in 2011, it has helped more than 1,000 youth and re-integrated them back into their families rather than a life on the streets.

“Guy loved his family and his community and never stopped working hard to ensure we had all that we should. RMWB is a better place to live today because of the long days and tireless efforts of Guy,” states Jessome.

 

Photos:

  • Guy Boutilier, left, and Vaughn Jessome with Olive Woodward when she celebrated her 99th  birthday in 2010. Woodward passed in 2013 at the age of 102.
  • Guy Boutilier driving his train during a Canada Day parade accompanied by his wife Gail, and son, Mark. Photos supplied

About the author

Author Profile
Carol Christian

Carol Christian loves to write and tell people’s stories. She is a former journalist with a few awards, but no Pulitzer…yet…and loves being behind the camera catching awesome smiles and beautiful landscapes. 

She is a strong believer in teamwork and helping others, and lives by the Golden Rule. Always engaged with her community, Carol is a long-time volunteer who always gives back. She thoroughly enjoys the outdoors, and all the pursuits that go with it … hiking, camping, and kayaking, and so on.

Carol is a human slave to two furry felines, believes music and books are amazing. 

With a love of exploring, travelling is a big part of her life… and why her credit cards are always maxed out.

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