Island residents share stories of Fort McMurray wildfires

At a Gore Bay Masonic Lodge dinner last Saturday evening, Bill and Linda Taylor of Spring Bay, along with the Masons, presented a cheque that totaled $,1340 to Wally Fownes who has a home in Kagawong but also lives and works in Fort McMurray, Alberta, an area which was devastated by wild fires earlier this month. In photo, left to right, is Wally Fownes, Greg Bond (a member of the Gore Bay Masonic Lodge), Linda and Bill Taylor.

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin residents have told the Recorder some of their positive stories concerning how their family members have fared through the massive wildfires that first hit Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 3 and continue to spread, and the support they have received from Island residents.

Wally Fownes, general manager of Lafarge Canada in Fort McMurray, has a house in Kagawong with his wife Bonnie (who is originally from Manitoulin) and their daughter Lacey. “I commute back and forth, I work in Fort McMurray for two weeks in an apartment, then come back to Kagawong for a week at time. We have lived in Kagawong the last couple of years; we raised three girls in Fort McMurray and two still live there, although everyone is here in Kagawong now, temporarily. Living in Kagawong allows Bonnie to look after her mother who is 83 years old and Lacey attends school at Manitoulin Secondary School.”

Our daughter Randi-Lynn and our grandson Lucas have a home there but they had to evacuate Fort McMurray to Edmonton when the fires started. They drove the highway in town to Edmonton with flames on both sides of the road. She said the heat was so intense it almost baked the paint off cars. They are now staying with us here (Kagawong).”

“Jamie Lee and her husband Kevin arrived here yesterday from Fort Mac with their two-year-old baby Ellie, and Jamie is seven months pregnant,” Mr. Fownes told the Recorder Monday.

“No, I wasn’t in Fort McMurray at the time of the fires, I was at meetings in Montreal for Lafarge,” said Mr. Fownes.

“Jamie-Lee her husband Kevin also had to drive out of Fort McMurray and had to relocate temporarily,” said Mr. Fownes. “They had to go north, having to stay overnight at a camp at the Oil Sands plants along with the other 25,000 people that had been displaced from their homes. It looks like it will be three or four weeks or longer before they can go home.”

“Yes, incredibly everyone’s homes are in good shape,” stated Mr. Fownes. “Bonnie has a brother Tom who lives in Fort McMurray as well and is house is okay. Their homes are in the newer section of the town that wasn’t burned in the fire. On the south side area almost 2,400 of 2,500 homes are down.”

As for the Lafarge facility in Fort McMurray, “we’re lucky that it is located by the river, so the building escaped damage from the fires,” continued Mr. Fownes.

Mr. Fownes said he is amazed at the generosity and support provided by local people to those devastated in Fort McMurray. “I’ve known Bill and Linda Taylor of Spring Bay for many years. They are two of the hardest working people around, not only do they have jobs but Linda caters and they are volunteers in a lot of things like fish derbies and many other events.”

“Linda caters about 3-4 dinners every year for the Gore Bay Masonic Lodge including one last Saturday. My wife Bonnie helped with the catering Saturday, and we helped with the dishes as well. And then after the dinner she made a presentation to us, donating all her proceeds from the dinner to be given to people from the Island in Fort McMurray. The Masons also made a donation and there were private donations made as well, so all in all $1,340 was presented to me to help Island people in Fort McMurray.”

“Linda wants the money she donated to go to anyone from Manitoulin who is in Fort McMurray,” said Mr. Fownes. “There has been a number of people who lost their homes and are displaced. The generosity and compassion people on the Island have shown for people 3,000 miles away is incredible.”

“I dropped my daughter Lacey off at MSS this morning, and I heard the school is making a donation to Fort McMurray as well,” said Mr. Fownes.

With Ms. Taylor wanting the money she donated to go to Island families-individuals in Fort McMurray, it will be handled by Mr. Fownes. He told the Recorder, “any Islander who lives in Fort McMurray that needs assistance can contact you at the Recorder and then you can contact me.”

Dylan Hunter, the son of Gary and Gail Hunter of Gore Bay, was also living and working in Fort McMurray when the wildfires hit. “Dylan has been working at RBee Crushing since the spring of 2014,” his father said. “Oh yeah, everything is okay for him, he left Fort Mac last Friday and was in one of the many vehicles that went at the same time that left.”

“He lives in one of the trailers north of Fort McMurray,” said Mr. Hunter, and they went further north. Gail is on line every night talking to Dylan, and right now he is in Gibbons, Alberta. He’s looking to get back to Fort McMurray in about two or three weeks.” He added, “it is amazing to me that no one  fortunately, perished in the fires.”

Grant Lanktree, son of Sally and Jim Lanktree of Gore Bay and his wife Colleen Wilson (both from Manitoulin) live and work in Fort McMurray. Sally Lanktree explained, “they evacuated their home to the work camps, and Colleen then flew to Edmonton while Grant drove to Edmonton-escorted by the RCMP. He was saying that with the very heavy smoke, he had to have a cloth around his face so he wouldn’t breathe in the smoke.”

Mr. Lanktree’s son Tyler, and Ms. Wilson’s three children and their significant others are all staying in Edmonton. “They are all safe and have separate places to stay,” said Ms. Lanktree.

“Grant knows for sure their house is still standing, but Tara (one of Ms. Wilson’s daughters) has lost her house,” said Ms. Lanktree. At this point the state of the other family member’s homes is uncertain.

“Grant and Colleen both work for Suncor,” she said, noting they are both originally from Manitoulin. She added, “Tyler’s girlfriend went on a website the other night for people who have been displaced from Fort McMurray. The site asks what the person responding needs and Tyler’s girlfriend explained they just bought a condo in March and she is expecting a baby in September. With an hour a lady was at their door with a cheque for $1,000. That is the type of good things people are doing out there.”