No Jacket Required – The City I Couldn’t Leave

It’s a familiar story. I came to Fort McMurray with a two-year plan. I had been working in Japan and was looking for a new career path when I found the Musical Instrument Repair Program at Keyano. It was the only place in Canada to study instrument repair, so showed up in YMM not knowing a single solitary soul.

That was almost 16 years ago.

I’m originally from Ontario and tried to move back there a couple of times to be closer to my family, but here I am writing this story from downtown Fort McMurray – within a snowball’s throw from my first apartment at Keyano’s Purple Palace.

Three years ago, I was fed up with the way my life was going, so I quit my job with the intention of leaving town. I even planned a going-away party and invited a bunch of friends. Shortly after I started advertising the party on social media, a friend contacted me and asked me to stay in town and work for them. I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t supposed to leave, so I took the job. I’m not very good at being unemployed.


I still held the party, but I updated the Facebook event to a “Not Going Away Party.” My friends still make fun of me for that.

As a musician, playing and performing is fundamental for any community where I choose to live. Since I’ve been here, I’ve performed on almost every stage in the city and on a few rural stages, too. I was once even flown up to Fort Chipewyan for a show – talk about a Rockstar moment!

I’ve had plenty of Rockstar moments. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I played in a band with Shania Twain’s cousin, or made music with a bassist who had toured with Bryan Adams. I even played a show opening for the Sheepdogs.

I am a massive fan of Brazilian music, and what surprises me the most is that I got to spend a few years studying with a Brazilian pianist/composer right here in YMM.

Not bad for a small(ish) northern community.

If it weren’t for the great jobs I’ve had in YMM, I wouldn’t have been able to go to places like Brazil – or visit the family of Brazilian friends I know from here in YMM. Or visit my own family in places like Barbados.

This place has brought me countless amazing experiences and opportunities – never mind friends and long-lost relatives. I couldn’t possibly fit them all into this tiny story.

It’ll be 16 years in August, and I’ve lived in YMM longer than anywhere else in my entire life.

So, why haven’t I been able to leave?

It’s simple. YMM is the best.

About the author

Author Profile
Will Collins

Will is a Fort McMurray-based writer, humourist and musician. He works as a professional communicator, and is very serious about not taking life very seriously. He likes world travel, playing guitar, BBQs, and caipirinha.

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