We’ve all seen the before and after pictures of people who have gone through impressive transformations—the after picture almost always that of a glowing, radiant person. 

Well, it happened to Suncor’s sites in the Reginal Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). The signs at the gates, that is, including Base Plant.

On a sunny and crisp October day, a brand new, shiny sign was installed at the entrance of Suncor’s first oil sands site in the RMWB, replacing the sun-faded, vintage sign that has welcomed people through the gates for the last 20 or more years. 

The tall, illuminated sign still bears the Suncor logo and the site name, but there’s something else emblazoned on the sign: greetings in English (Welcome), French (Bienvenue), Cree (Tân’si) and Dene (Edlânet’é).

Base Plant wasn’t the only RMWB site to get new or updated signs at the gates. Over the summer, Fort Hills and McKay River signs were updated to include the new greetings, and the sign for Firebag will be replaced when the weather permits.  

Base plant sign with Suncor energy Logo

“We saw a perfect opportunity to add the greetings to the signs when they were undergoing scheduled maintenance,” explains Calvin Hurley, of the Indigenous & Community Relations Wood Buffalo team. “Those few words mean a lot to people—it makes them feel welcome at our sites.”

Teepee raised at Fort Hills

But that’s not all that’s new at site for Fort Hills. Last week, an 18-foot-tall teepee was raised by the Mount Logan residential lodge at the site.

teepee with workers outside
A traditional teepee was raised at Fort Hills on Oct. 12, giving Indigenous and non-Indigenous people a place to pray and learn about Indigenous culture while at site.

Members from the McMurray Métis (Métis Local #1935) community, including an Elder who brought prayers and blessings for the teepee, helped cut, prepare, raise and drape the 15 poles with a custom-made canvas from MacPherson Tent and Canvas—an Indigenous-owned and operated company form the Northwest Territories.  

“Raising a teepee at Fort Hills will offer those wanting a space to pray, reflect and practice ceremony a safe place to do that,” says Amanda Robért, Journeys chapter lead for Fort Hills and a maintenance planner at the site. “People can smudge in the teepee without worrying about setting off the smoke alarms inside.”

Fear of unintentionally setting of smoke alarms during a smudge has been an issue in the past, preventing Indigenous employees and contractors from taking part in the traditional practice at site. 

The Fort Hills teepee is the 12th teepee to be gifted by Suncor to communities, schools and sites in the province, including the Wapisiw Lookout at Base Plant.

Joy Flett, an advisor with Indigenous and Community Relations Wood Buffalo, started the teepee donation program in 2019. Through Joy’s work, Suncor has gifted 10 teepees to schools, and two to Suncor sites with more scheduled to be donated.

“In addition to providing a safe place for ceremony and prayer, teepees are a great space to hold meetings,” adds Joy. “Being inside a teepee is an easy way to start a discussion about Indigenous culture and heritage.”

Now that she’s back from site, having helped orchestrate a teepee raising that has been in the works for about two years, Joy can relax knowing the Fort Hills teepee is in good hands.

“I was truly humbled and honoured to see so many people at the teepee raising,” Joy says proudly. “The medicines that were left for the teepee by Indigenous contractor employees was a definite gift.” 

With the teepee ready to be used by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples alike, the canvas of the Fort Hills teepee will stay on for a little while, but will be taken down for safe storage during the winter.