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Oilsands banquet 2016
heroes, heart and home 

The sound of bagpipes marked the official beginning of the 10th Annual Oilsands Banquet, honouring the heroes of the great Fort McMurray wildfires.  First responders from across Alberta paraded into the Shell Place Ballroom, filled to capacity in anticipation of the event that featured messages from political leaders from all levels of government including a personal letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a video message from Premier Rachel Notley and personal thanks from Mayor Melissa Blake. Allan Adam, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, brought greetings on behalf of the Athabasca Tribal Council and delivered a very profound message of unity. “Our home is your home,” he said.
 Presenting sponsor of the event was BMO Financial Group, represented by Susan Brown, Senior VP, Alberta & NWT Division, who announced significant new contributions to the community totalling $1.9 million including half million dollar donations to the Fire Recovery Fund of United Way and Habitat for Humanity’s program to help the uninsured and under-insured, respectively. In their 200 year history, this represents the largest donation after a major disaster.
 Rob McCloy, Superintendent, Wood Buffalo RCMP, shared his personal story of being half a world away in Paris on May 3rd, and how his team, led by Inspector Lorna Dicks, went above and beyond to execute one of the largest evacuations in Canadian history.
 Fire Chief Darby Allen became the face and voice of the unparalleled battle with the fire that he dubbed “The Beast”.  He expressed his gratitude to his incredible team of firefighters, mutual aid partners and so many other professionals who selflessly joined the effort to save the city. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.
 Rex Murphy was pithy and personal in his observations of what happened in Fort McMurray on May 3rd and in the days, weeks and months that followed.  He highlighted the role that this community and the oilsands industry have played within the Canadian context and that the fire might have helped elevate the truth about Wood Buffalo.
 “What I observed was a genuine kind of heroism,” he said.”There is more to you than what we hear.  That you’re here now, within a few short months, not with your heads down, is truly emblematic of your spirit, your heart.”
 A commemorative book was released as part of the Oilsands Banquet called “Saving Wood Buffalo”.  Published by JWN in partnership with Westbrier Communications, it contains the extraordinary stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things in the face of unparalleled adversity and danger.
 “These men and women tell a larger story of the fabric of the community itself,” wrote Rex Murphy in his foreword.  “To produce such people whose actions were so exemplary of the higher human virtues is a tribute to the community.  They have earned themselves a worthy place in the great role call of Canadians who have, in war and peace, performed deeds that successive generations will wish to recall and take inspiration from when they do.  Out of the Beast came the Very Best.”
Saving Wood Buffalo” is available through JWN by clicking here. $10 from the sale of each book will be donated to the Fort McMurray Firefighters’ Relief Fund.

Oilsands banquet 2014
85 years of flight in Wood Buffalo

It may have been around for 26 years prior, but it was 85 years ago when flight first came to Wood Buffalo. Flight has become a part of daily life, but when it arrived in the region in 1929, it brought technological and cultural changes not seen since Peter Pond canoed down the Athabasca River in the 18th century.
On October 16th, the Oilsands Banquet honoured the 85-year milestone with a formal gala at Fort McMurray’s Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre.
The first pilots in Wood Buffalo hastened exploration of Canada’s north and opened the fur trade. Wilfrid “Wop” May set up the first regular Arctic mail route in 1929, flying floatplanes out of the Snye.
May flew in the First World War battle where the infamous Red Baron was killed. The RAF credited Canadian pilot Capt. Roy Brown with the kill, but the person who actually shot him down is still debated by military historians. Clennell “Punch” Dickins, another First World War flying ace, flew more than 1 million miles across the north. Dickins Drive in Fort McMurray is named after him.
“Where would Wood Buffalo be without aviation? Would it have still done as well without bush pilots?” Mayor Melissa Blake asked during her keynote address. “The influence these people had lives on and on.”
Bill Loutitt, vice-president of the McMurray Métis, said the two would regularly deliver supplies to Hudson’s Bay Company outposts throughout the region, including the one at Poplar Point where he was born. “It’s clear bigger and better things are to come as we continue to build our community together,” said Loutitt.
In the decades that followed, pilots served mining camps and northern hamlets.
Chief Vern Janvier of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation said some fur trappers could load planes with $30,000 worth of pelts after three months in the bush.
While the gala celebrated aviation in Fort McMurray, it was clear the organizers made May and Dickins the unofficial guests of honour posthumously. Speeches from politicians and business leaders praised them. Several pieces of art by local artist David Ball featured the two pilots. Both Dickins and May were recipients of the Trans-Canada Trophy, also known as the McKee Trophy, which celebrates excellence in aviation. The trophy was on display throughout the night.
At the end of the night, Fort McMurray Airport Authority CEO Scott Clements spoke about the future of flight in Wood Buffalo as the airport continues to expand. “There are plans for more destinations plus a new hotel and an extended runway to serve larger aircraft. By the end of the year approximately 1.33 million passengers will have passed through the airport.”
A statement released after festivities concluded quoted Phil Enarson, president of Westbrier Communications and producer of the annual banquet, as saying Thursday’s gala was “the best one yet.”
“Our goal was to honour an organization doing important work in the region,” he said. “Aviation has played an integral role in building Wood Buffalo and the oil sands industry; it continues to play a key role now with the new International Airport and many more plans to respond to unparalleled growth.”

Oilsands banquet 2013
honouring Athabasca Tribal Council’s 25th Anniversary

Westbrier Communications, event organizer, Oilsands Banquet along with Venture Publishing, official media sponsor joined with senior leaders of Wood Buffalo and the Oil Sands community at large in honouring the Athabasca Tribal Council on their 25th anniversary. The event was held on October 17th, 2013 at the Sawridge Inn & Conference Centre, Fort McMurray and saw all five chiefs of the Council, Minister Robin Campbell, Aboriginal Affairs, Government of Alberta, Mayor Melissa Blake, James Dragon, President Metis Local 1935 and Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations in attendance.
The Athabasca Tribal Council was founded in 1988. It is made up of five members: Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation, Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation, and Mikisew Cree First Nation - comprised of the Cree and Dene people.
A veritable who's who of oilsands and community leadership, the banquet hosted 500 industry, and community leaders. Elders Rita Marten and David Janvier opened the banquet with Cree and English prayers.
“On behalf of Shell we’d like to congratulate the Council and its five-nation members on their silver anniversary,” said David Brignac, Vice President, Business Transformation, Shell Albian Sands, presenting sponsor for the banquet.
Chief Vern Janvier of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation applauded the growth of the banquet. “Every year I get up here to speak, and it’s getting bigger and bigger,” he enthused.
The event began with a Chief’s Reception Circle, which saw the unveiling of renowned Canadian painter/sculptor Jason Carter’s painting “The Ubiquitous Athabasca Moose.”
Elder’s Teaching - Stories of Creation by Elders Rita Marten and David Janvier provided interesting insights into Cree and Dene traditions as well as solidified the evening’s theme of respecting one’s culture and elders.
Chief Atleo’s impressive keynote touched on the need of education, respect for ancestors, and collaboration. “The important work of building relationships, and working together is happening in this (Wood Buffalo) region. You see one another. Congratulations to the Athabasca Tribal Council.  Grow your leadership; I’m pleased to see all that’s happening here,” Chief Atleo noted.
Phil Enarson, President, Westbrier Communi-cations and founder of the Oilsands Banquet, dubbed this year's gathering as the best so far.   “Every Oilsands Banquet is meaningful and successful, but without a doubt the ATC 25th anniversary celebration is the best one to date,” explained Enarson. “Special thanks go to Ruth Kelly, President, Venture Publishing and official media sponsor of Oilsands Banquet VII.  The Venture team deserves high marks in producing a first class comemmorative publication, Northern Stars: the ATC @ 25 Years, the companion publication to Oilsands Banquet VII,” Enarson added.
The Oilsands Banquet received support from 68 sponsors representing the oilsands and the Wood Buffalo community.

Oilsands banquet 2012
The Can’t Miss Oil Sands event of the Year

By Russell Thomas, Municipal Councilor in Wood Buffalo and Director of Marketing and Communications at Keyano College.

Westbrier Communications, headed by Phil Enarson and his team of custom event specialists, has been producing the Oilsands Banquet for a number of years. Working with a publications partner - this year Venture Publishing - Phil and his team put on what one high level official described as "the can't miss oil sands event of the year".
Honorees have included the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, Keyano College, Athabasca Tribal Council, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Keyano College Foundation, and most recently, CAREERS: The Next Generation.
It has proven to be a winning formula: inviting senior leaders in the oil sands industry, government and community to a first-class banquet, throwing in a couple of greetings followed by a keynote, presenting an original artwork to the honoree, and unveiling a commemorative publication.
The Oilsands Banquet is important on a number of different levels. First of all, it provides a vehicle to capture important stories of historical significance in the oil sands region through the commemorative publication, stories of collaboration, innovation and success. Secondly, the event gives opportunity to highlight and celebrate the important accomplishments of a worthy Wood Buffalo honoree, truly an end in itself and sufficient reason to gather. Last but certainly not least, the Oilsands Banquet provides an optimal networking environment.  It is not everyday one gets to partake in a conversation circle with oil sands luminaries Eric Newell, Jim Carter and Steve Williams, the new boss of Suncor Energy.
The 6th edition of the Oilsands Banquet celebrated the 15th anniversary of CAREERS: The Next Generation. What began in the Fort McMurray region in the 1990s now has a presence in over 500 schools throughout Alberta working with more than 1,000 employers each year to place 1,500 young people as interns in the workplace.
Certainly, the highlight of this year's CAREERS celebration was the presentations of five different students who have been through the program. They were articulate, passionate and uniquely authentic in their praise of CAREERS: The Next Generation, and the role it has played in their lives.
The keynote by Steve Williams, President and CEO, Suncor Energy Inc., punctuated the need to engage young people in what has been described as the single largest industrial project in the history of mankind.
CAREERS Founder and Board Chair Eric Newell shared the amazing story of this organization and its incredible growth. In 1997, 2,500 students participated in workshops. In 2011, that number was almost 33,000.
The import of CAREERS: The Next Generation cannot be overstated. The projected cumulative labour shortage expected in the year 2021, as noted in Northern Stars, the annual publication of the Oilsands Banquet, is 114,278. Tapping into our youth today is essential to our success tomorrow.
Special thanks to Publisher Ruth Kelly and her amazing team at Venture Publishing who captured the CAREERS story so eloquently in the publication. It really should be mandatory reading for parents of youth who are demonstrating an aptitude or interest in the trades, or in the various career streams supported by this invaluable organization.
For additional information on the Oilsands Banquet go to

Oilsands banquet 2011
Oilsands Banquet celebrates Keyano Foundation

It was a memorable, turned historic, evening as the Keyano College Foundation was honoured at the 2011 Oilsands Banquet. Produced by Westbrier Communications, the event wrapped up with an estimated $6.5 million in donations announced for current and future projects.
The 2011 Oilsands Banquet, an annual event dedicated to honouring a major community stakeholder from the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta, took place at the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre in Fort McMurray. Over 400 invited guests featuring College, Community, Industry and Govern-ment leaders were in attendance.  Phil Enarson, President of Westbrier Communications, hosted the event along with Ruth Kelly, President of Venture Publishing, the official media sponsor.
Long-time Keyano supporter Jim Carter, former President of Syncrude Canada, former Chair of the Keyano College Board of Governors and community champion, delivered the keynote address. He offered his deep appreciation for the Keyano Foundation’s contribution to the region.
“Finding alternative sources of funding for expansion and development is an ongoing concern for all post-secondary institutions,” noted Carter. “I’ve had the privilege of working with the Foundation first-hand over the years and have watched them cultivate and steward donations, large and small, that have had an incredible impact on Keyano’s ability to adapt programs and facilities to the changing needs of this region.”
Finning Canada, presenting sponsor of the evening, made a surprise announcement with Caterpillar. Together, they will invest cash, tooling and equipment valued at over $3.5 million to the Keyano Foundation in support of FINNTech, a new heavy equipment technician diploma program. This is the largest single donation to a post-secondary institution in Finning’s history.
Dr. Kevin Nagel, President and CEO, Keyano College, acknowledged the Finning and Caterpillar launch of the new FINNTech program saying, “The FINNTech program is an example of how the College and industry can work together. It is partnerships of this nature that will enable the growth and sustainability of all organizations.”
The Oilsands Banquet also saw the official launch of the Keyano Foundation’s Oilsands Power and Process Engineering Lab Capital Campaign. Announcing a campaign goal of $5 million in cash and equipment, Cindy Amerongen, Vice President, External Relations was delighted to confirm that senior leadership support totaling $3 million has already been received from Syncrude Canada Ltd., Nexen Inc., Shell Canada Ltd. and its Athanasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP) partners, Marathon and Chevron as well as Total E&P Canada Ltd., and Spartan Controls.
© WBC Westbrier Communications Inc. Site design by Polder
Eric Newell, Founder and Board Chair, CAREERS: The Next Generat
Steve Williams, President & CEO,  Suncor Energy Inc.
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oilsands banquet Fort McMurray
oilsands banquet Fort McMurray