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Mike's Story - Fort Smith

I was raised in Nova Scotia and after university I went to work for the federal government, in Human Resources. My wife and I had a young family back then and were looking to get out of Ottawa to a less hectic lifestyle. I applied for jobs all over the Maritimes and BC (where I went to university). In university I had studied geography and did 11 papers on the NWT, so decided to apply there as well. The NWT was the first to offer me a position – a 1-year assignment as Human Resources Manager for Parks Canada. I was tasked with building the HR unit for the entire region, which back then included Nunavut and the NWT before the territories split. I was supposed to be in Fort Smith for 1 year, where Wood Buffalo National Park is headquartered. That was 17 years ago and counting.
 
I came to Smith as an HR Manager and I don’t know many places where I’d ever get the chance to jump from a specialist position like that to a Visitor Relations position for a National Park. It was a demotion in pay, but I wanted it because it was my chance to reinvent myself. If I were still in Ottawa I’d probably be a senior manager in HR now. But here, I’m the Manager of External Relations for 2 Parks in the NWT and I get to deal with local people, issues and the media. It’s an ideal position for me because I love people and I love showing them how great the life is here in the North. 
 
My kids are grown and at university, but they had awesome opportunities growing up. My son is academically focused and he went to a model parliament in Yellowknife and French immersion trips in the NWT. My daughter was athletically focused and was a figure skater. We have a great carnival in town for the kids and it was so great to see her progress from playing sugarplums to lead roles as she worked her way up. I don’t know if that would have happened in the big cities of southern Canada. As parents in a small town, we all know each other’s kids – so if I see a kid misbehaving, I can say to him, “Hey, I’ll be talking to your parents later about this.” We live the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child” every day. We know the teachers at school, we socialize together; in the city all that gets lost in the noise and the distance. I would definitely raise kids here without a second of hesitation. And I’m proud to tell that to anyone who visits.
 
I was also fortunate enough to reconnect with a friend from childhood when I moved here. I didn’t know he was here until I came. We serve on the same boards together, we go fishing, hiking in the Park and we are enthusiastic, if not skillful, golfers together. My family also shares a cabin on the other side of the river, so we can snowmobile to it in winter and fly in during the summer for boating and fishing. 
 

When someone asks me “how can you live up there, what do you do?” I laugh, because hanging around a downtown cityscape is not for me. I get out to Pelican Rapids 4 or 5 times a summer or go mountain biking on our trail system instead. Except for a shopping mall and a movie theatre, we’ve got it all here – especially if you love the outdoors. We’re avid movie collectors, so if we want to stay indoors that’s no problem because between my buddies and me, we probably have every recent movie known to man!