North

Fort Fitzgerald, population 8, completes own census for 1st time thanks to 'tenacious' resident

For the first time in the Wood Buffalo region's census history, the small community of Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., completed its very own census data collection — thanks to a determined, longtime resident who loves her community.

The remote hamlet sits at the border of Alberta and Northwest Territories

Beverly Tupper, right, has lived in Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., for more than 25 years. She recently took on the task of helping her community of eight people fill out its first municipal census. (Submitted by Beverly Tupper)

For the first time in the Wood Buffalo region's census history, the small community of Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., completed its very own census data collection — thanks to a determined, longtime resident who loves her community.

And small is an understatement; the remote hamlet, located at the border of Alberta and the N.W.T., has a total population of eight people.

I've been the go-to girl up here for things of that nature.- Beverly Tupper, resident of Fort Fitzgerald, Alta.

Beverly Tupper, a retiree who's lived in Fort Fitzgerald for more than 25 years, took on the task of going door to door this year after the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reached out to her, deciding it was time to gather more detailed information of its northernmost community.

"I've been the go-to girl up here for things of that nature," she said, adding that she's gotten requests to help out with elections in the past.

This year's municipal census for the Wood Buffalo region is the first since the catastrophic Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016. The census finds out how many residential and non-residential dwellings are in the community, and asks questions about age, gender, ethnicity and disabilities.

Tupper, right, with Jennifer Wardle, census 2018's rural area project manager for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Wardle visited the community after it completed its first on-the-ground municipal census for the first time this year. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

The region has been collecting data every few years since 1999, to help the government plan and deliver services when needed.

But Fort Fitzgerald had always been accounted for through a third party like the band in Fort Smith, N.W.T., about 25 kilometres away, according to the municipality.

"This is the first time we actually got someone on ground, to go door to door and to actually count people in homes [in Fort Fitzgerald]," said Kodjo Efu, a supervisor with the municipality's planning and development department.

Fort Fitzgerald was the first of ten communities in the region to complete its municipal census data this year, according to the department.

She was quite tenacious and she was into it.- Kodjo Efu, census 2018 project lead

It's the smallest community, in terms of population, in the region's jurisdiction.

"But I don't think it's because of that that's why we managed to collect it first," said Efu, the region's census 2018 project lead.

"I think it has more to do with Beverly Tupper's determination. She was quite tenacious and she was into it."

Because of the community's remoteness, Efu said Tupper was trained via phone.

Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., is located by the Slave River in northern Alberta by the N.W.T. border. (Submitted by Beverly Tupper)

'Unusual circumstances' in Fitz

But the task wasn't as simple as running across the street and knocking on the neighbours' doors — like what it would be for more urban locations.

Tupper said she drove around, visiting several locations on a map that was provided by the department, more than once. She said she ended up in "unusual circumstances," standing in front of a gated golf course and also a communications tower at one point, which obviously had no residents.

Tupper said the town is on generally flat land, but it's beautiful by the Slave River rapids where there are cliffs. (Submitted by Beverly Tupper)

Tupper also ran into an obstacle with technology.

"It was a little tricky because I had, there's no cell service here," Tupper said. She used an iPad to connect to a website that let her input data.

"I had to pull a few fancy tricks, like driving back and forth to the wifi and connecting to the wifi, then going back."

I fell in love with the place.- Beverly Tupper, resident of Fort Fitzgerald, Alta.

Tupper said while some of her seven other neighbours were keen to respond to her questions, others didn't want to participate.

"Well, you have to admit, anybody who lives out here at the end of the road in a remote location, may just have a few little quirks," said Tupper.

Small town 'chin-wags' a must

A lover of gardening, the waterfront and the great outdoors, Tupper said the generally flat community close to the head of the rapids of Slave River is a natural fit for her.

"I fell in love with the place," said Tupper, adding that the population hasn't fluctuated past 10 since she's lived there.

Tupper said she loves living in Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., because of its easy access to water. (Submitted by Beverly Tupper)

She has a lovely garden, poultry and easy access to the river. And having known some of her neighbours for almost 30 years, Tupper said the tiny hamlet gives off a family-feel.

"In terms of getting together with neighbours, it's pretty much a daily event," said Tupper.

"If we don't get together for coffee and a chin-wag, then we phone."

The hamlet's census data hasn't been fully analyzed yet, but Efu said so far, he's noticed that some of the addresses the department thought were residential, turned out to be abandoned or under construction.

"Again [that's] information that we never had before," said Efu. The data won't be analyzed until all the census data is collected by June 30.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang

Reporter/Editor

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang is a reporter with CBC News based in Ottawa. She's worked with the investigative unit, CBC Toronto, and CBC North in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. She has a Master of Journalism from Carleton University. Want to contact her? Email priscilla.hwang@cbc.ca.

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