Nfld. & Labrador

Working in the Fort McMurray oilsands, told through poetry in journalist's debut collection

Lindsay Bird spent two years working in construction camps in Fort McMurray.

Lindsay Bird spent two years working in construction camps in Fort McMurray

Boom Time, the debut poetry collection by Corner Brook writer Lindsay Bird, was inspired by a time in her life before she became a journalist. (Tom Cochrane)

Lindsay Bird has told stories from across Newfoundland and Labrador for the past six years, but the journalist is now sharing some of her own in her debut book.

Bird's Boom Time, published by Gaspereau Press, is a poetry collection that includes work inspired by the two years she spent working in the oilsands and living in construction camps in Fort McMurray, Alta.

"I was there when things were really going full steam with companies building as much as they could, and extracting as much as they could, and thousands and thousands of people working on these sites and building new stuff," she recalled. 

"It just seemed like a really unruly kind of period and also really isolated."

It almost felt like its own miniature city that kind of existed outside civilization.- Lindsay Bird

Originally from Toronto, Bird headed to northern Alberta in July 2006 for work to help pay down the student debt she had after earning a bachelor of arts degree at New Brunswick's Mount Allison University.

At the time, Facebook was just emerging and videophone app FaceTime didn't exist, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway, Bird said, as the internet and cellphone service on the camps was less than ideal.

"It almost felt like its own miniature city that kind of existed outside civilization. You were just kind of in that reality," she said.

Hostile work environment

That reality also included rampant cocaine use in the camps — one poem explores that subject — as well as a large gender imbalance and an often hostile work environment for women.

Boom Time uses poetry to tell stories about Bird's time in Fort McMurray. (Lindsay Bird/Twitter)

"I found kind of horrifying remarks made about me, judging me on my physical appearance right in front of other people or talking about me in very sexualized terms. That was really hard to deal with," she said.

"That isn't to say everyone acted that way. I had such amazing friends that I made up there who really helped be a shield to that."

It's not all bad

Bird estimates the companies she worked for were made up of roughly 75 per cent Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, which she said was a bright spot in an otherwise bad place. Many of the people she met can be found in Boom Time.

"[There were] a lot of us all dealing with that same sort of issue, of having to leave a place that you wanted to be, and missing your family a lot, and really bonding in that way," said Bird, who writes for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador from its Corner Brook bureau.

"I do tell a lot of different, little stories about them — some of the fun, goofy things that we'd get up to because it wasn't all negative up there."

Among the positives: a dirt path nicknamed "George Street" and a proper screech-in complete with a smuggled cod. Bird said it's one of the best memories from her time in Alberta. 

As for finding her way to Newfoundland?

"If you had asked me when I was up in Fort McMurray, working with all these Newfoundlanders, that one day I would live here, and settle down, have a child in Newfoundland, I would have called you crazy," she said. 

"But there's life."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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