Hockey largely dominated lunchtime conversations in the cafeteria as well as shaped after-school social agendas when Emma Carter grew up in Fort McMurray, Alta.

But Emma and some of her friends with artistic inclinations always had a stage where they could display their creativity as dancers, singers, musicians or visual artists.

“Fort McMurray is a hockey town but there’s always been a vibrant arts community here,” says Emma. “And a big part of that was the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts. It provides an environment for people to create art. And being able to create is good for your soul. It makes you a better person.”

The centre first opened its doors 11 years ago this month. And having studied and performed there in high school, Emma has returned as the assistant manager at the centre’s Uptown Dance Studio. 

“It’s very empowering for a young performer to have a stage such as this,” says Emma, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. “And having this space to train and perform also attracted professional artists and educators who have helped contribute to the community.”

The centre was the brainchild of former Fort McMurray Catholic School Division superintendent Kim Jenkins, who wanted an artistic venue to be included as part of the Holy Trinity Catholic High School and approached the Suncor Energy Foundation.

“Suncor has always supported projects that build capacity in the community,” says Sheri Donovan, the centre’s general manager. “And the vision wasn’t for a place for just students to train in. The district saw this place as a creative hub for the whole Wood Buffalo region with programming for all aspiring artists from ages six to 96 could come and take advantage of all the mediums that the arts have to offer.”

A line of young dancers perform on a stage.
A group of young dancers perform on the main stage of the Suncor Centre for the Performing Arts. The centre, opened in 2011, has state-of-the-art acoustics and lighting with professional stage and seating for up to 350 people.

Suncor’s investment helped provide state-of-the-art acoustics and lighting with professional stage and seating for up to 350 people. 

“There are similar centres in Calgary and Edmonton but it’s amazing to have this kind of facility for performing and visual artists here,” says Sheri, who moved to Fort McMurray seven years ago when her husband, an RCMP officer, was transferred to the community. “When my husband told me we were moving, I had a completely different picture in my head about what was here. One of the first thing that struck me was the amount of infrastructure for young families, such as the MacDonald Island Park recreational complex. All of this is possible because the industry invests in the region to improve the quality of life for people who live and work here.”
That’s something Emma appreciates.

“You have plenty of opportunities growing up in Fort McMurray. I danced, I sang. I took advanced placement classes in biology in high school because I thought I might want to try evolutionary biology as a career,” she says. “I wound up going into fine arts because I realized I could be happy doing what I do every day. And I’m grateful for that opportunity and glad others in this community have that option as well.”