Fort McMurray's favourite local pub Paddy McSwiggins is getting ready to serve up pints, wings and good times with Gareth Norris.
Paddy McSwiggins has been the quintessential local pub here in Fort McMurray for the past twenty years.
Paddy's is currently undergoing some major renovations organized by Billy Martin and some fifteen local businesses that have donated time and materials to help Paddy McSwiggins' owner Gareth Norris get the doors to this beloved pub open.
Gareth has assured me that they haven't changed the recipe to their famous wings and will have plenty available on opening day.
MM: Are you originally from Fort McMurray or like so many of us, moved here from else ware?
Gareth: Originally born in the UK Cardiff in Wales; my parents immigrated in 1982 and I've been here since. Fort McMurray has been home since I was 14.
MM: Did you always know you wanted to own a Pub?
Gareth: No idea, I grew up in the pub trade my parents had pubs in the UK; so I guess maybe it is in my blood. I just felt Fort McMurray was missing that authentic pub atmosphere; the opportunity arose and I took it.
MM: How long was Paddy McSwiggins in business prior to the 2016 Forest fire?
Gareth: Eighteen years; so this past October was our twenty year anniversary, two years we were, of course, closed because of the fire.
MM: Now you're in the process of reopening do you have a set date we can look forward to?
Gareth: It's very fluid, there's no pressure. I have surgery April 30th in Calgary so I'd like to know we were open before then. The running joke with the guys is if I die on the operating table I'll come back and haunt them.
MM: Is there anything new we can look forward to?
Gareth: It's a different layout, we have snugs now which gives a very traditional pub feel. There a bit hard to explain but they're like a booth that's enclosed with an open front. We have seven snugs in the pub now we have them set up for sponsorship so you can have one named after your company.
MM: You've had a bit of a hard time opening up the pub after the fire can you tell me a little bit about your experience?
Gareth: We got financing for about 60 percent of the build and we're struggling to come up with the other 40 percent. We've been paying commercial rent on an empty building for two years. That's when Billy Martin approached me and said I have guys that are willing to help and provide materials.
MM: The fire obviously put you back and was not expected by anybody; but are there any other struggles you've found having a business in Fort McMurray?
Gareth: There is always the cost of doing business in Fort McMurray, the argument is everyone makes more money here but that's not necessarily true. Most businesses that are independent are a bit of a luxury item you don't have to come to Paddys and have a pint, you can buy a bottle of beer and go home. So a lot of the small businesses here offer services that are one of the first things to come out of your budget when things get tight; that's where we see the struggles.
MM: What are some things your really proud of with your business?
Gareth: I have to say I really do love Fort McMurray, it has given me more opportunity than anywhere else in the world could. This is definitely the land of opportunity if you're not afraid of hard work and risk, this town will make you.
Pastrami and Salami and Pepperoni, oh my! Making sandwiches with Billy Martin owner of Sweet Meats Sandwich bar.
Sweet Meats Sandwich Bar is serving up mouth-watering sandwiches like, Italian Melts with Genoa and Gypsy Salami, Prosciutto, Capocollo, Asiago Cheese, Garlic Aoli, Lettuce, Tomato & Onion, on a garlic toasted Kaiser Bun. If that doesn't make your mouth water I don't know what will.
MM: Are you originally from Fort McMurray?
Billy: No, I moved here from San Francisco but I'm from the Okanagan; I moved here in 2001 just after 9/11.
MM: What makes you stay in Fort McMurray?
Billy: At first the money. My first week here I said to myself ' I'll just get one check then I'm going back to Kelowna'. Everyone is in the same boat here; most of us have moved from somewhere else. It makes it really easy to reach out and make friends, so after a couple of years, Fort McMurray just becomes home.
MM: What are some of your favourite things about living in Fort McMurray?
Billy: The people! The giving nature of the community.
MM: You're involved with a lot of charity events around town can you tell me how you got involved?
Billy: I lost my dad in January 2014; his birthday was May 7th and I just wanted to do better for him.
I heard about a little girl; Chloe Kroeger from my home town in Penticton. We had never met but she was a four-year-old girl with terminal cancer.
I had come across the story and I just felt I needed to raise this family money.
I put together a concert at Paddy McSwiggins and we raised the family close to thirty grand. We decided to call it ' Chloes miracle trip to Newfoundland ' and we sent her to meet her family in Newfoundland. She ended up taking a turn for the worse; she couldn't fly home and she ended up passing away in Newfoundland. It was the saddest thing I've ever had to deal with.
In 2017, I was tagged in a post about a sick little girl; Lilly Morgan here in Fort McMurray. We put on a little event at the Newfoundland Club it was pretty short notice I only had a couple of weeks to plan it. We ended up raising five thousand dollars; it helped but it didn't make a huge impact. I felt like I wanted to do more; I knew what I was able to do for Chloe and knew I could do more for them.
I had this great idea to renovate their house while they were away on the make a wish trip.
We were able to pull off Extreme Makeover - Fort McMurray edition. I planned it, but it was Fort McMurray that made it happen. We had 118 companies and many individuals donate. Since we finished the renovations Lilly hasn't had to have any emergency trips to the hospital.
Through that, I met Gareth Norris who owns Paddy McSwiggins, almost the same scenario a couple of beer in I called him and said I bet you I can help.
MM: How did you decide to open Sweet Meats?
Billy: There's a deli called Il Vecchio's in Penticton; there's always been a running joke that I should open a Bill Vecchio's. There's always that one food place when you go home where you go first. That's what Il Vecchio's was to me.
I call it a mid-midlife crisis I just woke up one morning and sold everything I owned and decided to take the plunge.
Sweet Meats announced this morning that they are opening a second location in Gregoire at Summit GM, making it even easier for those folks south of the bridge to get their hands on some delicious sandwiches!
Moving boulders, lifting cars and throwing kegs with Rosa Trueman and Leif Palsen from Crude Strength and Performance.
We've all heard the term strongman, whether it invokes images of historical men at the circus wearing a leopard print leotard and sporting a handlebar mustache or a more modern strongman hauling a fridge on their back. The biggest piece of information I took away from this interview was that it's very inclusive; members range from every gender, size, weight, and age.
Leif and Rosa graciously invited me into their gym and were incredibly welcoming as they talked to me about the history behind their business.
MM: How did you come up with the concept of your business and decide that you wanted to start a business here in Fort McMurray?
Leif: It was almost by no choice, I've been involved with Strongman since 2005. In 2009 I moved to Fort McMurray and started collecting equipment for my own gym. We really needed a larger place to train; at one point I had 15 people at one-time training in my home gym. 2017 is when I officially opened Crude Strength Performance. We moved into the bay next to Cross Fit Crude and we tried to expand what they were doing already.
Rosa: It was still very niche, mostly the guys that trained in Leif's basement. We started getting more people interested not just strongman but powerlifting and Olympic lifters; who just wanted to get out of the commercial gyms and have a spot dedicated to what they were training to do.
MM: What is a struggle you've run into having a business in Fort McMurray?
Rosa: Getting the word out, being next to the CrossFit gym people thought we were CrossFit. A lot of people think 'oh I can't do that'. So we started doing a couple of women's nights and different events to encourage people to try it.
MM: What is something you are really proud about with your business?
Rosa: The community! Everyone is so accepting, its completely inclusive, there’s no judgment.
If you are interested in strongman training but are unsure whether its right for you, Crude Strength and Performance holds event training every Saturday, they invite you to come out and try it.
Crude Strength and Performance is looking for personal trainers interested in running their own business out of their facility. Trainers pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to our 24/7 facility for training clients.
If you haven't heard about "floating" or floatation therapy you're behind on the times. It's not a new therapy; it was developed over 60 years ago to research sensory deprivation and has been found to aid meditation and relaxation.
Over the last decade; floatation therapy has grown increasingly more popular popping up in major cities across North America and I'm excited to see we are getting our very own float space here in Fort McMurray.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Jessica and Steve Dubeck the owners of Mindful Elevation Float Space.
MM: How were you introduced to the concept for of floating?
Steve: It started when I floated here, there was a man who started a float pod business in his house here in Fort McMurray. He approached me at an MMA event and asked me to go check it out. It was an amazing experience, I spoke with Jessica after my experience and that's when we started thinking; "how cool would it be to have that here in a commercial setting".
MM: When did you decide this is it 'we're starting this business' and how did you come up with the name Mindful Elevation Float Space?
Jessica: I had my son in 2017 and went on maternity leave from Higher Health, I realized I didn't want to run somebody else's business and spend an entire paycheque on childcare for someone else to watch my child.
Steve: The concept of Mindful Elevation; was really just a drive we took for fast food and we were just spit balling name ideas at each other.
MM: After you decided you were starting this business and you had a name; what was the next step for you?
Steve: Jessica and I both did a lot of research going to different centers looking at what we liked and what we didn't like. We made sure to get feedback from all of those locations and see what the public really liked.
We could have gone with pods or smaller tanks but the biggest feedback we got for the public was people didn't want to get into a small spaces because they felt Claustrophobic. So we got large cabins; they're eight feet long by seven feet wide and a seven-foot ceiling!
Another big thing we heard was people not wanting to be in complete darkness; let me assure once you have floated a few time's you'll want nothing but to be in complete darkness.
However we sought out a company that makes a state of the art filtration system which comes with a starlit ceiling that can be turned on or off. They also have a sound system in them that can be turned on or off.
MM: Is there anything that has been a challenge for you starting a business here in Fort McMurray?
Jessica: Being a first-time business owner; has been a bit of a challenge as we go along were noticing some things we would do differently in the future. Our biggest challenge right now is we have to educate people on what exactly a float space is, because it's a new service here in town.
MM: Can you walk me through the process that people will encounter?
Jessica: You can purchase individual floats or a package. We also have a monthly membership which includes one float a month and with additional floats at a discounted rate.
It's an experience the minute you walk through the door; you'll go through the reception area to the pre/post float lounge where you can have a drink and decompress.
During your first visit a staff member will give you an orientation and walk you through the process, each room has its own shower area which you'll go through then enter your float tank. When you're finished there is a vanity area where you can get ready after your float.
Steve: There are a couple surprises we won't announce until we open.
MM: What are some of the benefits of floating?
Steve: We wanted to bring something to people, to help them stop and be mindful. Floating helps with PTSD, stress, anxiety & creativity. Just to have the time for an hour to yourself and not be connected to anything or anyone else. This is an hour for you.
Don't forget to take advantage of the amazing pre-sale they're offering; Mothers day is coming up... hint, hint! You can check out all the amazing deals they're offering online now www.mindfulelevation.ca
Why I came to Fort McMurray? It’s pretty simple… opportunity. I got tired of what I was doing in Ontario and felt that I had gone as far as I could in my career. I was itching to do something new, something I could get excited about, something to reset my career.
I had consistently heard praises about Fort McMurray from my father-in-law and it sounded like the change that I may be looking for. So in 2008, I finally bit the bullet and took a position with Northern Lights Health Centre as a security supervisor for the hospital here in Fort McMurray.
At first, I didn’t know if I was ready for what I signed up for! Downtown Fort McMurray use to be “just crazy” on Friday and Saturday nights. There was a place called “The Oil Can on Franklin Ave” that was the hot spot for action. Specifically, after every UFC fight that was broadcast, there was always someone coming into the hospital because they were “Bottled” or “beaten up”!
About a week into my first shift I remember calling my wife and saying “What did we do”!
At that time, the infrastructure on the highway was non-existent, so if you were coming from either Timberlea or Thickwood, you had to be on either one of those hills by 6:00 am. or you’d be stuck in traffic. Traffic didn’t flow nearly well as it does now, there was always tons of people on the roads and the traffic was absolutely ridiculous! Back then I use to smoke; I could smoke three and a half cigarettes before I got home, that's how I use to gauge how long I sat in traffic!
But now I feel like it was “destiny” that we moved here and that we were meant to be McMurrian’s, everything in our lives has just blossomed since living here.
I believe in this city and our leadership, they’re proactive and responding to the demands of the populist because of how it was in the past. I think they’re on the right track, their trajectory is heading towards something really good. Especially now that the leaders are talking about a waterfront development! Their emphasis is now on families; family settings and things for families to do and less and less on the transient population. We have a great community that's engaged and we have leadership that's even more engaged than previous leadership and I think good things are to come in the future.
As McMurrian’s, we need to show the uniqueness of Fort McMurray, it's a diverse place and we have many different cultures that help this city prosper and grow.
I would like to see a greater emphasis on keeping everything local and supporting the local businesses. I don’t know what’s down the road or around the corner for me, but I can confidently say that going back to Ontario hasn’t entered my mind! Fort McMurray is where I want to be, this is where I want to stay, my daughter was born here and this is now home to me.