Committed citizens drive change in Fort Macleod

To create long-term change, it takes a village. Or in, Fort Macleod’s case, a town.

The Town of Fort Macleod is located in southern Alberta at the crossroads of Highway 2 and Highway 3, and its citizens have banded together to build a community where healthy eating and active living are a priority. That’s something Angie O’Connor has seen first hand.

“Macleod has an outstanding amount of volunteers involved with a wide variety of activities and projects they’re super passionate about,” says Angie, the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) coordinator for the town. “With each sub-group doing their thing so well, we’re able to raise the whole social fabric of the community.”

In recent years, citizen-led projects have resulted in five updated playgrounds, a brand new gymnasium at the local elementary school and a free water service for town events.

The playground committee, formed in 2008, fundraised enough money to redo five spaces in the last decade, including Centennial Park. The park, which covers a town block, was completing refurbished. It received not only new play equipment, but a spray park, public bathrooms, a shade structure and walking paths.

“We fund free activities that benefit everyone,” explains Angie, who sat on the playground committee. “Seniors walk in the park, you see children at play, families are there—there’s always somebody at that playground. Having affordable and safe amenities encourage people to stay in the community.”

The success of this project is due to collaborative efforts by town residents, adds Angie. To update the playgrounds, local businesses sent workers, community organizations acted as partners and retired shop teachers from the local high school jumped in to help.

This communal approach also led to the creation of a brand new, full-sized gymnasium at the local elementary school, W.A. Day. The Fort Macleod Community Initiative Group, a collection of committed citizens, worked with the town to fundraise the money to bring this amenity to students and families.

Yet another group of passionate residents banded together to create a unique new project, Water on Tap. The group, titled the Fort Macleod Community Health Champions, came up with the idea after assessing the town’s environment and looking for new ways to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

In their research, they noticed water was not easily accessible at major town events, meaning people were opting for the unhealthy option of pop, or choosing bottled water, which is expensive and harmful to the environment.

So, in partnership with the town, the Fort Macleod Fish and Game Association and other local businesses, the health champions set out to create a better option. They purchased a trailer, outfitted it with two large water tanks, and added taps on the outside.

The portable water trailer launched in spring 2019, and was brought to town events where anyone could fill up their reusable water bottle for free. Magan Braun, a health promotion facilitator for Alberta Health Services, worked alongside the champions on the project.

“I want to highlight the collaborative community effort to build, maintain and sustain the trailer. It took a lot of people working together and using their skills and strengths to make this go forward,” says Magan.

This included not only the planning and fundraising, but volunteer time from local tradesman who helped outfit the trailer. The Fort Macleod Community Health Champions relied on the “Healthy Community Approach” to inform this project, an Alberta Health Services initiative.

“With the Healthy Community Approach, we really like to take a look at what the strengths are in a community and build on them,” explains Magan.

And while the town is learning to build on its own strengths, the work of Fort Mcleod is also being recognized by others, earning them a Communities ChooseWell award for Creating Supportive Environments in 2019.

“The award will help community members feel recognized for their efforts and the projects they participated in,” says Angie. “Small communities like ours can still do great things.”