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60+ Impact Awards

Celebrating Seniors’ and Elders’ Contributions to The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo is a region filled with people of all ages who are making a difference every day. Because of them, our community is a vibrant, inclusive, and beautiful place to call home.

A large portion of these impact-makers are the elders and seniors in our region, and so this year we are so excited to introduce 2024’s 60+ Impact Award winners.

Chosen by a selection committee comprised of community members, this year we are so pleased to be celebrating 10 recipients: Larry Bourque, Rita Dizak, Isabelle Doblanko, Byran Fayant, Stephan and Elaine Hibbs, Elder Rita Martin, Hope Moffat, Phil Paulson, Brenda Singh, and Harvey Tulk.

Larry Bourque

One of the worst things about getting older is the inevitable loss of friends.

Larry Bourque, 82, knows this all too well.

“A lot of my friends that are in my age range are now gone,” said Bourque, who moved to Fort McMurray in 1976 from New Brunswick. “But I am very fortunate in that a lot of my best friends are the kids that I coached in hockey or fastball and they are  around 55 to 65.”

Many still call him coach.

Bourque had learned early in life about the power of sport.

“When I was a kid playing minor hockey and going to school, I learned a lot about my ability to lead by example,” recalled Bourque. “I was never the best player on the team, no matter what I played. But I worked hard and tried hard, and it seemed to work. The people I was playing with kind of looked up to that.

“I set a standard to work hard and achieve championships. I always felt it was best for a team to work together and play for a team championship.”

He coached his two sons – Dan and Gary – in local minor hockey and, along with Barry Buchanan, Dave Tease, and Ralph Tobak, formed the Profoot Junior C hockey club.

A team that caught the attention of local hockey fans when they beat Westlock Warriors 5-4 and 10-8 to win the 1980-1981 Alberta Junior C Hockey Association championship best-of-five series.

Provincial titles on the fastball diamonds are also part of his legacy.

He would later assist with the Fort McMurray Voyageur Junior B hockey team that played out of Frank Lacroix Minor Hockey Arena..

The names of the local athletes he mentored are part of local folklore: Brad Chaffey, Len Hodder, Tim “the Rocket” Humphrey, Rob McMillan, Rob Hogue, Mike Willier, Brian McConnel, Don Flach, Norm Ingram, Jeff Davies, Glen Buchanan,  Jason Wood, Mike Yacheyko, Frank Dempsey, Doug Donald, Fran Gow and the list goes on-and-on.

“Larry was more than a hockey or ball coach to a lot of us during the late 70’s and beyond,” said Tim Humphrey. “Larry was our “Life” mentor. Larry was our second dad to most of us. Larry taught us about being part of a team and how to respect others. Many of our families became great friends of Larry and (his wife)  Luci. Larry and Luci would open their house for us.”

Bourque would later coach senior men’s hockey.

For the last 15 years has coached old-timers hockey teams, such as the Fort McMurray Sudseekers, which travel to compete in world championships.

Bourque’s coaching also included career and life advice.

“Larry was a shift coordinator in the upgrading area, and a person was a shoo-in for hire if your application had Larry’s name as a reference. As it turned out, a few of the players would have a great career, “ said Humphrey.

Bourque is proud of the role he played in these men’s lives.

“They all became very successful. I am very proud of those people that we brought in as kids, as young engineers or for other careers and how well they turned out and how valuable they became.

“Even as young men, they would come to me and ask me about things pertaining to their careers and investments. They trusted my opinion, and I was always ready to sit and talk to them.”

It was through sports that Bourque also found a world to escape.

“My work was 24/7, and I found that when I could go to the field or rink, I would be able to relax.”

In sport, each and every child has the energy and desire to achieve. It is someone’s responsibility to unlock that age of enthusiasm.

Larry Bourque is one such individual that has held that key.

Rita Dizak

When Rita Dizak was 14 years of age, she volunteered at the Calgary Zoo during summer vacation. Since then, there has been no monkeying around when it comes to the world of volunteerism.

Upon her arrival in Fort McMurray in l988, she became what one might refer to as a “Super Volunteer.”

Among the organizations and events that she has contributed to are Timberlea School Moms & Tots, Father Mercredi Social Justice Committee and Santa’s Anonymous,  Ukrainian Cultural Society and Ukrainian Avrora Dancers, Trappers Football & Alumni Association, Big Brothers  Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo, Stepping Stones Youth Home,  Junior Achievement, Support Through Housing Team Society, Ukrainian Newcomers Settlement Committee and the list goes on-and-on.

Why?

“That’s a good question. I have to stop and think about it,” said Dizak, 68. “As long as I can remember, I have had this innate feeling of connection and compassion for people.  I like to be involved, to help and see things happen.”

Dizak retired in 2012 after a career in the Fort McMurray Catholic School system focusing on Special Education, Literacy and ESL, with the majority of time spent at Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School.

She has the qualities that many organizations are always on the lookout for. “At this age and stage, I can reflect on what qualities I offer. I am reliable, personable, and, I believe, a good leader who is able to bring out the best in people. I love to plan and organize things and work towards goals in the most efficient and productive way possible.”

Keith Bergey, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo Board Chair, speaks of Dizak’s commitment of 16 years and counting to the local organization. “When Rita was required by our bylaws to retire from the Board for the mandated two years after serving for ten years, she still volunteered at nearly all of the events and even recruited her family to assist. The moment Rita was again eligible to be a Board member, she stepped up and was unanimously welcomed with open arms. The energy that Rita pours into the Wood Buffalo region is, in my opinion, truly inspirational. I find myself driven to contribute more when I witness Rita’s undying commitment.”

Lee-Anne Kumka, Co-Chair of the Ukrainian Newcomers Settlement Committee, also highly praised Dizak. “A number of community members came together to assist those fleeing the war in Ukraine after arriving in Fort McMurray. Rita was one of the first to step up and volunteer. She has attended meetings, connected with agencies willing to assist, planned, set up, and executed events, and overall, she is a fantastic contributor.  Because of her committee work, she was one of the members who received the Hetman Humanitarian Award in December 2023.”

In l988, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council initiated the annual Hetman Awards to acknowledge significant volunteer achievements of outstanding Albertans. To date, 260 displaced Ukrainians have made Fort McMurray their new home.

The accolades continue with comments from Brian Fung, Board Chair of the Support Through Housing Team (soon to be Support Services Wood Buffalo). “Rita is committed to integrity and trustworthiness and works tirelessly with our Board, agency and others in the community on the best way forward for individuals and programs within the region. She is always one of the first to put up her hand when something is asked of the Board, and takes the initiative to speak up and reach out when she sees something that might be improved upon.”

Not that she is not busy enough, but Dizak recently became a Board member for the newly formed Ivan Franko School of Ukrainian Studies.

“Volunteering is my passion. I am also very fortunate that my husband (Dan) is very supportive, and I often bring him along to help.”

With her dedication, Dizak is making sure that, for many, life is a little better.

Isabelle Doblanko

“Go North young woman” is a phrase that could and should be associated with Isabelle Doblanko, who, at age 20, left  Kennedy, Saskatchewan, in 1975 to move to Fort McMurray.

“I wanted to go north, and I knew with the name Fort in it that Fort McMurray had to be north,” recalled Doblanko, 69, with a chuckle. “I looked on the map and saw Wandering River, and it had an arrow pointing north from there that said Fort McMurray. So I knew it would be far north.”

Here, she found that her fortune was not just measured by material possessions or financial success but by the richness of one’s experiences, connections and personal growth.

On her arrival, she volunteered at Fort McMurray Big Sisters, coached girls’ softball and became a member of the Fort McMurray United Church, where she remains a whirling force of energy.

“Throughout these many decades, Isabelle has shared her time, treasure and talent in every aspect of church life,” said fellow parishioner Alison Mackay. “She has served many official positions, some more than once.  She has also been enthusiastic and dynamic in the life of the congregation beyond her formal roles: repainting walls and laying flooring, flipping pancakes and organizing suppers, participating in Christmas pageants and acting as the church puppeteer.  Her true calling, however, was always in worship leadership, music and welcoming others to our church.”

Of her relationship with the Church, Doblanko said, “Church has become a large part of my life. It is an important part of our community. It also offers areas of help that the mainstream of society may not have. It is a welcoming and faith community for all people.”

In 1989, she married Allan and later welcomed daughters Janet and Karen into the fold.

Once again, Doblanko would jump in to assist in her daughters’ cultural, school and sports activities.

Culture: Her dedication to honouring her husband’s Ukrainian heritage by actively participating in the Avrora Ukrainian Cultural Society and volunteering her time and effort in various roles demonstrates her commitment to preserving and celebrating the traditions of the Ukrainian community. Serving as President, making dance costumes, and assisting in organizing events such as the annual Malanka New Year’s Celebration,

Doblanko played a vital role in maintaining and passing on cultural practices to future generations.

School: With her girls attending École Dickinsfield and then Westwood Community High School, Doblanko was involved in a multitude of school activities. In fact, she would become an Educational Assistant and later Librarian at École Dickinsfield.

It is here that she became known as “Mother of the  West.”

Doblanko explains: “There were many young teachers graduating straight out of university in the east that were hired by Fort McMurray Public School District. They knew no one, and they were thousands of miles from home, so if they needed a button to be sewn on or a shoulder to cry on…they came to me.”

It was at École Dickinsfield that she created a weekly quilting club, which she still leads. In retirement, she still fills in at the office and in classrooms when they are short-staffed.

Sports: As the manager for her daughters’ ringette and hockey teams, it was her involvement in the planning and execution of the 2010 Provincial Midget Female Hockey Tournament in Fort McMurray that truly showcased her leadership and organizational skills in a larger-scale sporting event.

As a key volunteer for the tournament, Doblanko worked closely with representatives from MacDonald Island to develop a structured framework for hosting this and future provincial competitions.

Doblanko was also part of the board that established Unity House.

Of her life in Fort McMurray, she concluded: “I have met many great people through work and volunteering. I have been able to give back to the community that has been so good to us.”

Bryan Fayant

In 1992, Bryan Fayant, who was in his late 30s, received his Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Calgary.

Raised on the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement located in the northeastern, central part of Alberta near the Saskatchewan border, Fayant’s path to post-secondary education had its challenges.

“It took a while,” admits Fayant, 72, of the journey. “I had gone through what some people did when they were young. I was into drugs and alcohol and on the streets. But I decided to get sober and clean.”

The start of post-secondary schooling in Social Work was a turning point for Fayant, as he hit the books at Blue Quills First Nation College, a satellite campus of the University of Calgary.

The First Nations University would change its name in 2015 to University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills.

Fayant’s vocation would find him, according to one biography, ”working years in the alcohol and drug field, social services, economic development, the political arena, community development and environmental policymaking,” in various provincial locales, including stops in Edmonton, Lac La Biche, High Prairie, Grande Prairie and now Fort McMurray.”

Around 2003, he began his relationship with McMurray Metis Local in 1935, where he was eventually hired for four years. He then left for five years, returning in 2012.

During this time, his duties included “Assisting the McMurray Metis in developing its goals – like a Cultural Centre, funding for its governing operation, developing relationship industry and supporting education for the children.”

In 2016, Fayant, like many, went above and beyond with the rebirth of Fort McMurray and region after the Horse River Wildfires.

His title was Disaster Recovery Strategist at McMurray Métis Local 1935.

But it was more than just a title.

Due to the fact that the McMurray Métis Local 1935, on 441 Sakitawaw Trail, had burned down – along with approximately 2,400 homes and buildings in Wood Buffalo –  they would relocate to the CNRL offices and partial Nistawoyou Association Friendship Centre.

They were “able to provide basic necessities such as clean water, home cleaning kits, food hampers, and information about access to Canadian Red Cross and AHS Counseling.” This lasted until the fall of 2016 when they were able to move into a temporary office.

“For the first few years, it literally involved assisting all of the Métis members who got burned out and lost their homes. We worked with them and helped them to recover. We were making sure people felt safe, had a place to go to, and felt supported.”

Asked if it was ever a 9-to-5 job, he replied, “It wouldn’t be uncommon to have weekend or evening meetings. I don’t call it work. You get mentally exhausted if you call it work.  You have to appreciate what you do.”

Even eight years later, the Horse River Fire memories remain. “When there are smoke and fire alarms and fire alerts, people still get triggered and start crying.”

Dr. Stephanie Montesanti, with the University of Alberta, has collaborated on a mental health strategy with Fayant since 2018 to co-design a regional Indigenous mental health strategy and has received high praise for his ethics.

“Bryan worked in different settings with competing political agendas, in communities experiencing high stress due to environmental disasters, and with Indigenous communities under duress. Bryan, in my experience, is always fair and ethical and works with people in a way that is intrinsically moral—he does not take ethical shortcuts.”

She continued: “The people that he works with understand from the way that he talks, acts and feels that he is honest, compassionate and cares about the people and communities that he works with. While he is loyal, a very hard worker and very effective, people value him most because they trust and like him.”

Fayant has a new title, Stakeholder Relations Manager McMurray Métis.

Fayant calls “Fort McMurray home” and says he will continue to “create a place of belonging, promote the Métis culture and give people a purpose and strong sense of community.”

One such ingredient is his personal time hosting a monthly Bannock and Jammer on the first Wednesday of each month.

“We’ve got the bannock – you bring the jams! Feel free to bring any musical instrument of your choice, fiddle, spoons, and guitar, or just come listen, tap your toes and sing along.”

Stephen & Elaine Hibbs

Beginning its work in Canada in 1882, 14 years later, The Salvation Army citadel was built in Triton, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Located on Triton Island, the small town of Triton was isolated from the mainland.

Boats or ferries were the main means of travel abroad.

That was up to 1968, when a causeway was built linking it to the mainland and close by Pilley’s Island.

Stephen and Elaine were just teenagers when the geographical connection was established.

A few years later, a different connection was made when Stephen married Elaine.

Soon after, in 1981, the Hibbs would be commissioned as officers (ministers) for The Salvation Army.

After 31 years of serving at various locales, in 2012, they were appointed to a position at the Fort McMurray Salvation Army.

“It’s like the RCMP in that they move you around,” said Major Stephen, 68, of the Protestant Christian church organization they have dedicated their lives to.

For both, it was a good move.

“Our oldest daughter was working and living here,” said Stephen of Tonya, who passed away in 2020. “We had been here three or four times prior, and we knew that it was a city that never sleeps and an oil city that at the time was 30% Newfoundlanders. It was truly a working city, and the Salvation Army’s presence here was growing.”

Elaine, 67, was also looking forward to being close to family after their globetrotting career.

“All of our kids live here now, and we now have 10 grandchildren here. Our extended family is around 50 people here in Fort McMurray.”

The Hibbs started to invest themselves in the community.

Highlights included a ribbon cutting ceremony on October 11, 2015, which symbolized the conclusion of the Lawrence Oxford Project, a year-long renovation at The Salvation Army’s new building in Thickwood Heights.

Deidra Ference, who nominated the Hibbs for the YMM 60 + Impact acknowledgment,  said that they went “Above and Beyond,” especially “for their outstanding service and dedication to the community of Fort McMurray during the significant challenges of the 2016 wildfire, 2020 flood, and the COVID-19 pandemic and much, much, more.”

Another nominator, Dawn Wellman, added: “They tirelessly provided essential support and assistance to those affected, offering comfort, shelter, and essential supplies.”

Stephen said of The Salvation Army’s response to the Horse River Fire, which destroyed approximately 2,400 homes and buildings:  We were called first to respond to the first responders and then the community at large when they came back.

“Everybody did what they could and did the best they could. It was great teamwork. We could all sit around the table and say, “We got these challenges. How do we solve them? The challenge for us has always been the volunteerism and resources.”

Reaching out to assist individuals was a challenge during COVID-19, said Stephen.

“You become a little bit more creative and start using things like Facebook, texts and phones to reach out to people in their homes. Challenges create opportunity.”

Another challenge was the closure of the Thrift Store located on MacDonald Avenue. It was closed for a year due to COVID-19, which preceded the 2020 flood that caused water damage to the facility. Funds generated from the Thrift Store go towards their programs and services in the community.

Originally, the Hibbs felt their Fort McMurray tenure would be short.

‘We looked at what we could bring to the community, and we came with the understanding that it would be four years, but we stayed for nine years,” said Stephen, who, after working side-by-side with his wife on a daily basis, announced their retirement in February.

“Originally, we had planned to move back to Newfoundland,” said Elaine. “But we are staying. Fort McMurray is a very special place for us. It is a city that has our hearts.

“We were servants and here to serve people. When we went through the tragedy (loss of daughter Tonya), we had so much support from the community and friends. It showed us that you just don’t touch people for what they want but for what they need.”

Stephen is looking forward to retirement in Fort McMurray: “Man, this is the land of opportunity to retire here. You get a chance to volunteer more. It’s going to be exciting and electrifying, like being at an Oil Barons game.”

Hockey and The Salvation Army are akin in that they are both looking for the save to claim victory.

Elder Rita Marten

“sakâwîyînowak‘s Teachings”

Rita Marten was born December 9, 1947, in Gull River, Alberta, which is located in Wood Buffalo National Park southwest of Fort Chipewyan.

“Born in my traditional territory, my parents lived off the land. My father was a hunter and trapper,” recalled Elder Rita, 76, who spent her early years in a rustic trapper’s cabin.

At the age of seven, Elder Rita attended Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan.

Every summer until she completed Grade 9, she returned to her traditional territory.

“I would spend two months on the land with my parents. It was a beautiful life. We were so free, and they taught us about the traditional way of life.”

In her personal bio, she expanded on those childhood memories. “I remember walking in the bush trails, listening to squirrels and chickadees, chewing spruce gum, and picking  frozen berries in a cup.”

Another aspect of her sakâwîyînowak heritage was learning the bush Cree language and culture, something that Elder Rita has passed down to several generations.

Prior to receiving her Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta, she started as a Cree language Instructor in 1970 at Bishop Piche School.

“Cree is my first language and my culture. It was taught to me by my mother and my father based on their parents’ knowledge and ancestral teachings since time immemorial.”

Her teaching resume is impressive. Cree language Instructor for K–12, Family Liaison and Supervisor of Native Language for Northland School Division, Mikisew Cree First Nation’s (MCFN) Education Director and Director of Education with the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC).

The nomination for the YMM 60 + Impact award stated, “Elder Rita is a well-respected advisor, a storyteller, a keeper of history. Elder Rita is truly a gift to our region. She is a teacher by nature and has the kindest ways to share her wisdom and knowledge with a work ethic that is unwavering

“She is one of the Language keepers who strive to keep the Cree language alive through daily lessons and coordinating programs, translating documents, and recording history for the Mikisew Cree First Nation.”

The accolades continued with this response from Sandy Bowman, Mayor of the Regional Municipal of Wood Buffalo: “Elder Marten is more than a repository of knowledge; she is a living embodiment of the rich history and cultural tapestry of our region. Her dedication to preserving and sharing the Cree language has not only enriched our community but has also become a beacon of cultural pride for generations to come.”

As the first female Chief of MCFN from 1986-1988, with an additional nine years as a council member, Elder Rita continues to share her ancestral teachings with everyone who is willing to learn.

According to her bio, “I am currently working as a consultant for the Language and Culture Revitalization Program for M.C.F.N. Currently, we are pursuing a partnership with A.T.C.  to develop a Cree language app and a Cree font keyboard. The keyboard will be based on the original Cree syllabic chart that my grandfather Joseph nachowêsis and other M.C.F.N. Elders were taught by missionaries circa the late 1800s.”

Having taught Cree to countless Individuals over the years face-to-face, she admits that the transition to the world of online education was a new adventure.

Elder Rita takes the next level of the past, present and future by embracing Northern Cree language, culture, and computer technology.

“I started (online teaching) three years ago.  I am from the old school, so it was difficult at first to learn the new technology, but you have to keep learning. The younger generation are into technology era, that’s a great way to see World view.”

She concluded: “We want the young people to know all about sakâwîyînowak, people from the land, how they lived, survived and enjoyed life.”

Phil Paulson

Tradition: The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Anzac’s Phil Paulson lives by this definition.

Moving to Fort McMurray in 1982, Paulson relocated five years later to Anzac.

“We were looking for a (rural) home,” recalled Paulson, 65. “Then we discovered that they had some acreages in Anzac and the rest as they say, is history.”

A heavy-duty mechanic by trade, Paulson, who retired in 2019, deems that Anzac has changed during this time: “There has been a lot of expansion in Anzac with a new school, new fire hall, rec centre and a lot of new homes.

“The school is a large factor in bringing people together. Some of my grandkids are going there now, and you start meeting the parents and their kids.”

The school in question is the Anzac and Bill Woodward School, which is a one-campus/two-school model with Grades K-4 in Anzac School and Grades 5-12 in Bill Woodward School.

It is within that school community that Paulson is now passing on his passion for Indigenous-Led Land-Based Education.

Land-based learning typically uses an Indigenous and environmentally focused approach to education by first recognizing the deep, physical, mental, and spiritual connection to the land that is a part of Indigenous cultures.

Paulson started learning about this tradition later in life.

“When I was growing up on the farm (Dugald, Manitoba), there was no bush around us. It was on the prairie.  Our (Metis) heritage was something we did not talk about until I was about 20 years old.

“A lot of the stuff I teach l had to learn on my own. When I came up here, I gravitated towards the bush, and I learned by trial and error.”

Paulson, a member of the Willow Lake Metis Nation, also had mentors like Justin Bourque, a local trapper, who introduced him and his wife, Stephanie, to the trap line principles.

It was also during his path in northern Alberta, that he and his wife became immersed into the Black Powder society.

“When we first learned about muzzle-loading firearms (through Fort McMurray Fish and Game Association), we became involved with the Black Powder. Everything evolves around the life of the fur trader. We talk about the fur trade pre-1840, and we do a re-enactment of the lifestyle. We also learned about traditional things like lighting fires with only flint and steel.”

In regards to the Indigenous-Led Land-Based Education in Anzac he remarked: “When it (teaching) started out, it was for a group of Indigenous kids but the classes couldn’t fill up so they opened it up to all groups. We have kids from all walks of life.

“We get them out and teach them different things. When you are working with the kid, and they succeed…it really puts a smile on your face. They have a lot of focus and problem-solving skills.”

Justin Bourque, President of Traditional Teachings Inc. and  sokan Generational Developments, has high praise for Paulson: “Phil’s love for the outdoors is contagious, inspiring others to connect with nature and appreciate its beauty. Whether participating in community events, leading nature excursions, or simply sharing stories around a campfire, Phil creates opportunities for people to come together and build stronger bonds within the community.”

Amy Savill, principal at Bill Woodward School, adds that Paulson goes above and beyond in his school involvement: “ Phil goes the extra mile to help set up student’s camps, teaches them how to cook food, survival tips, knot tying, how to set up a tipi and everyone’s favourite, starting a fire with traditional flint and steel.

“He always attends our functions and supports in any way he can. He is a great neighbour to all of us. He is the guy who will help plow your driveway, fix your flat tire or any other issue that he may be able to support. He always graciously volunteers his time, is the first to arrive and the last to leave.”

Asked what he hopes his legacy would be, Paulson concluded: “My primary concern is keeping history alive.”

Hope Moffat

Hope Moffatt was first introduced to Fort McMurray when she taught Kindergarten and Grade 1 at Gregoire Park School from 1985 – 1987, with the school closing that summer and the 53 students relocating to Greely Road School.

She would move to Red Deer, Alberta, to continue her teaching career at Red Deer College and Poplar Ridge ECS (Kindergarten).

The world of post-secondary education in Fort McMurray would benefit from Moffatt’s knowledge when, in 1994, she took on the duties of Instructor and Chairperson for Childhood Studies at Keyano College.

She would retire 23 years later in 2017.

Not one to sit on her laurels, Moffatt hit the books during her time at Keyano to attain her MA in Human Development, and after retirement, she received her certificate certification as a trainer in nonviolent (compassionate) communication.

She would then create her new business venture, Northern Hope Consulting, which shadows Alberta’s Early Learning and Care Curriculum Framework, better known as Flight.

Flight is, according to its literature, a curriculum framework intended to guide the significant work of early learning and child care educators with young children (ages 0 – before six years) and their families in centre-based child care and family day home settings.

“I got pulled back into the early childhood world when they were starting programs through the province of implementing (Flight),” said Moffatt, 76.  “I’ve been teaching young children or adults who are caring for young children for probably 40 years. So this was perfect. It was what I do.

“I am speaking up for children and advocating for what they need…be it playing or for the people who support them through learn-to-play.”

Through her network, she created pedagogical partnerships with various childcare organizations within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in order for them to establish themselves and flourish.

“I love joyful learning,” said Moffatt, whose daughter Lainey Flett is a teacher at St Kateri Catholic School. “I love seeing educators who all of a sudden have the light bulb going off and then make a new connection with the children.”

One such organization is Children First: Eagle Ridge Nest, one of four centre-based childcare services in the region that Moffatt has mentored.

“Hope has been an active advocate for high-quality child care to be available to all of the citizens of our region, especially the children.  Hope has not only supported this sector in a professional capacity but also devoted her volunteer time to children and families,” said Nancy King, Operations Manager of Children First: Eagle Ridge Nest.   “She shares her learning and wisdom openly with anyone who is curious about early learning and care.”

Moffatt was also a founding member in 2008 of the Children First: Community Child Care Network Society, which has a mandate  to  “provide a secure, home-like and stimulating environment for children by supporting our staff and working in partnership with families to provide professional and high-quality care for the children entrusted to us.”

She continues to be active with the board and a member of the Our Children Our Youth coalition.

“Although she retired from Keyano, her vision and wisdom continue to be relied on and contemplated regularly, “added King.

For enjoyment, Moffatt has performed with the Golden Years Society Singers for the last few years.

Music has always been an integral part of her social life, and she was also a member of the Keyano Community Choir.

She was one of the facilitators for the Full Moon Café, which held monthly gatherings for 16 years in Waterways (and elsewhere around town), where local musicians had open mike sessions. The drumming circles were also a regular feature.

Asked if she lives up to her first name, Hope, she replied: “I sometimes say to myself “Live up to your name” and try to live with optimism. I wasn’t named for the virtue, though. It was my grandmother’s maiden name.”

Brenda Singh

Imagine being a nurse or doctor working in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where on a daily basis, you care for patients with life-threatening illnesses or conditions.

A matter of life or death.

Now imagine working in that profession for 31 years!

Say hello to Brenda Singh, who, for 33 years, was a nurse at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre (NLRHC) and spent 31 years in the ICU.

At the age of 21, she left Newfoundland for Fort McMurray in 1978.

When asked about her career, she replied, “I loved my job. There were many stressful moments, but it was very rewarding. I focused on the positives rather than the negatives. Yes, there were many times I took my work home and worried about my patients.”

Through those trials and tribulations, many strong bonds were formed.

Her daughter Taralynn McIver, who is also a nurse at NLRHC, is proud, rightfully so, of her mother, who retired in 2012.

“She cared for patients at their most critical time of need, touching their lives, as well as the lives of their families. She mentored many nurses and colleagues in her decades in the ICU; these coworkers continue to hold her in high regard and with much respect as an incredible nurse and care provider.”

During the interview with Singh, she is quiet, with a sense of humility in her voice.

“When it was mentioned to me (the 60+ Impact nomination), I thought, “Why me? There are so many other people in Fort McMurray that would deserve it far more than me.”

Why you?

“She embodies the beauty of Fort McMurray,” said Susan Bottern, a fellow parishioner at All Saints Anglican Church of Fort McMurray, where Singh has attended since 1978. “Yes, our city is physically beautiful, but I have maintained for decades that the beauty of the city really comes from the generous spirits of its citizens. Brenda is such a person.”

Jay Bueckert, a Regional Director for the Christian Labour Association of Canada and Rector’s Warden at All Saints Anglican Church, echoes Bottern’s praise of Singh.

“Her unwavering commitment to making a difference in the lives of others makes her a deserving candidate for this prestigious recognition. She is a remarkable individual whose dedication and selfless service have left an incredible mark on our community.”

Church family is very important to Singh.

“I just love my church,” said Singh, 67, who has had a multitude of duties within the organization.  “I am very passionate about my church. I couldn’t imagine my life without my “Church family.”

Singh is also a volunteer with three decades of service as Front of the House staff at Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre.

“I love the arts and theatre,” said Singh, who is also a long-standing volunteer for the Oilsands Rotary Music Festival (ORMF). “I have seen so many awesome Keyano shows since the theatre opened and, over the years, watched so many talented young people perform in the ORMF.

“I just love being around people. I also love cheering on the Fort McMurray Giants and Fort McMurray Barons teams along with following my grandsons’ sports and arts activities as they pursue the many things that our community has to offer for them.”

Providing health care for others includes that of family and oneself.

Her husband, Jim Thomas, died at the age of 44 in 2001 of a rare cancer called Peritoneal Mesothelioma; her sister Sharon died of breast cancer at the age of 48 in 2010, and just recently, Singh herself faced ovarian cancer.

“I just keep positive,” remarked Singh of the health challenges. “I always felt so well, so I never let it get me down.”

“Life is so precious, and there is so much I want to do. I’m going to do as much as I can in my life.”

Part of that is spending time with her family and travelling.

Harvey Tulk

The town name of Fortune, Newfoundland and Labrador, is believed to have originated from the Portuguese word “fortuna” meaning “harbour of good fortune.”

For 13 years, Harvey Tulk sat on Fortune’s council, including four years as Mayor.

“In those days, sitting on council or being Mayor was of the volunteer nature,” recalled the affable Tulk, 70 years young. “Volunteering was in my blood system. It comes from being a Newfoundlander. My grandfather was also into local politics and the school board. It was something that Newfoundlanders did. You helped where and when you could.”

His son Dan Tulk, Principal at Frank Spragins High School, recalls fondly his father’s love for community while growing up in Fortune.

“In my childhood, he was active in numerous community endeavours such as the school board, Cub Scouts, minor hockey, and municipal politics,”  said Dan,  who is also a well-known local musician.  “He did all this while acting as the procurement manager for the local fish plant and community’s largest employer.”

“In 2007, Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo would have the good Fortune of welcoming Harvey Tulk and his wife Lynn when they relocated here. Their son Dan would join them the following year. They would welcome granddaughter Abbey in 2012.”

Tulk would volunteer in a multitude of organizations, which would only be turned up a notch when he retired from his oil sands career in 2017.

The list includes All Saints Anglican Church, Saint Aidens Society, Salvation Army Kettle Campaign, FUSE Social, NorthLife Soup Kitchen, 2023 Arctic Winter Games, Athabasca Tribal Council, United Way Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo, along with Emergency Social Services program run by the Emergency Management branch of Regional Emergency Services.

“When I volunteer, I am usually involved as a floater….helping everywhere as opposed to an organizer behind the scenes,” admits Tulk. “It gives me happiness, and when you make people feel good, you feel good yourself.

“It makes me want to get up in the morning. It does my heart good.”

Cathy Steeves, Executive Director of United Way Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo, had these comments pertaining to Tulk…the volunteer and man.

“Harvey’s service as a volunteer with United Way has made such a positive difference at our events. His positivity and passion amplify his natural ability to make everyone smile. He brings joy to everyone he meets and makes every task so much fun.

“Harvey reminds us all that serving others is the greatest gift we can give our community. He inspires us to persevere, to laugh and to be relentless ambassadors of kindness and hope.”

Always open to new ventures, Tulk was one of five volunteers to become part of the Fort McMurray Airport Authority’s first-ever YMM Volunteer Program, which was launched January 2024.

The program states: “Volunteers will be trained to support passengers with flight information, wayfinding, and answer general questions which commonly arise during the passenger journey. The program can support individuals in building resumes, to socialize or stay active during retirement years.”

Perfect for Tulk, who thrives on social interaction.

“You get to meet people coming and going at the airport,” said Tulk. “You support them and help them with directions, say, to the ATM or elevator. If they ask you…you also tell them about Fort McMurray and the region and the beauty of what we have to offer.

“You tell them about the benefits of coming here, and you also hear their own stories. It is true what they say: many of them said they were only coming here for three or four months and ended up living here 30 or 40 years.”

A gifted athlete in his youth, Tulk remains in tip-top shape by playing golf and shows that he can keep up with “the young fellas” as he officiates the annual local  Nigerian-Canadian soccer championships.

Of his volunteer nature, “It’s in my blood. If people call and I pick up the phone, I will be there.”

“You are like a super volunteer?” replied this interviewer.

“Yeah, a bit like Batman but without the wings.”

Thank You to Our Program Partners

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This year’s 60+ Impact Award winners were selected by a committee of community members who recognize the contributions of the elders and seniors in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region.

Do you know someone who would make a great addition to our list of 60+ Impact Award winners?

We would love to hear from you! While the selection committee ultimately decides the final list of recipients, public nominations will be considered evenly during future selection processes. To nominate an outstanding individual or for more information, email Your McMurray Magazine’s Publisher, Kerri Johnson at kerri@balsom.ca.

About the author

Author Profile
Curtis J. Phillips

Honoured with the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Medal in 2022, Phillips has been a Founding Father of various sports events and organizations, including the high school Challenge Cup (1984) and Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame (2000). He has been inducted into three Sports Halls of Fame to date and was the inaugural recipient of two national tributes recognizing community involvement.

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