Consider the challenges associated with planning any Rotary District conference: finding the right date, deciding on a theme, securing a venue, selecting speakers, getting people to register, etc. Then locate it in a community 300 km away from the next nearest Rotary club and at least a five-hour drive away from where most Rotarians in the District live.
If that wasn’t enough, insert into the mix a devastating wildfire which led to a month-long evacuation of the entire city.
Now you are beginning to understand what faced conference chair Matt Pate (Fort McMurray Oilsands) and members of the committee responsible for planning the 2017 Rotary District 5370 Conference, scheduled for September 28 to 30 at Shell Place in Fort McMurray.
Despite these obstacles, Matt is pleased with what they’ve accomplished. “We are really excited. We have a wonderful conference planned.”
The conference committee was formed about two years ago, soon after Frank Reitz (Fort McMurray) was identified as the District Governor Nominee. A delegation from Fort McMurray attended the 2015 conference in Dawson Creek to learn everything they could from the committee that organized that event.
The committee’s first task was to select a conference theme. This theme, “Make It Personal,” which Matt describes as the brainchild of Frank Reitz, guided the committee’s decisions about how the conference would be organized and who would be invited to speak.
One of these speakers is Darby Allen, the now-retired Fort McMurray fire chief, who became the face of the battle to prevent the fire he dubbed “The Beast,” from devouring the community.
“It is a very personal thing to have him come back to Fort McMurray to speak,” Matt says.
Other speakers include:
Jon Montgomery – a gold-medal winning Olympian and the host of The Amazing Race Canada.
Sean Hogan – a member of the Rotary Club of North Delta, who has filled several Rotary roles at the club, both at District and International levels, including as a District governor in 2012 to 2013.
Ann Lee Hussey – a Rotarian (Portland Sunrise in Maine), who has made the eradication of polio and alleviation of suffering by polio survivors her life work.
David Dotson – the president of the Dollywood Foundation, whose assignment includes overseeing the international extension of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
When citizens were able to return to the community, Rotarians in Fort McMurray resumed conference planning, but the events of May 2016 meant there were changes.
“The committee had a different look after the fire,” Matt says. “There were different demands on people’s time. They had different priorities.”
Some committee members stepped back from their involvement, including Matt’s co-chair, whose home was lost to the fire. Subsequently, she and her husband decided to leave Fort McMurray. Matt was also out of his own home for seven months.
Despite these setbacks, the committee pressed forward. “We have a strong core group of eight to 10 people, who are very engaged. Others have provided insights and value, but have not been able to commit to attend all the meetings,” Matt says.
In its work, the committee has had to respond to high expectations set by the District governor. “Frank had an ambitious plan for the conference, including Rise Against Hunger and a youth conference.”
Matt says that plans for the youth conference had to be scaled back. “We planned to host all the students from Grades 7 to 12 from Fort McMurray schools. Due to budget constraints, we scaled it down to 500 students, identified as those involved in leadership programs in their schools.”
The youth conference is scheduled for Friday, September 29. In addition to including students from Fort McMurray’s junior and senior high schools, the conference will host exchange students and members of Interact and Rotaract clubs from across the District. “We are excited to have Craig Kielberger (cofounder of Free The Children, an international development and youth empowerment organization) coming as a keynote speaker,” Matt says.
To meet the geographic challenge associated with a conference in Fort McMurray, the committee has worked with Diversified Transportation to allow Rotarians to leave their vehicles at home and the driving to someone else.
“Diversified is offering a package for people from almost anywhere in the District who don’t want to drive,” Matt says. “During the conference, we will provide busing to and from hotels and the conference site throughout the day. You won’t need a vehicle.”
To arrange your transportation, contact Diversified directly by calling 780-743-2244, ext. 203. (Please note the special Rotary pricing).
Two Optional Tours Added to the Conference
Recent additions to the conference program are two optional tours scheduled between the end of each day’s program and the evening’s social activity:
Friday: Helicopter Tour – This tour will provide an overview of the sites of the 2016 wildfire, from where it began to the neighbourhoods it consumed. ($120, space is limited)
Saturday: Oilsands Tour – This bus tour will include stops at the Giants of Mining display and the Wood Buffalo Viewpoint and Bison Sanctuary. ($20)
Both tours will depart from the conference site. Spouses and other family members who are not registered for the conference will be able to join these tours.