Syncrude VP and son learn survival skills in outdoor overnight campout fundraiser

Mar 20, 2019

Most of us take a warm bed and a roof over our head for granted, especially when winter weather arrives. To experience first-hand harsh northern Alberta conditions, the Centre of Hope recently held an outdoor winter survival fundraiser. Martin Carter, Syncrude's Vice President, Production – Upgrading, participated in the 24-hour event along with his 12-year-old son, Nathan.

The duo loaded up a toboggan at the Gregoire Lake access area in Anzac, filled with supplies for the overnight adventure such as changes of clothes, food, water, a shovel, matches, and sleeping bags. After a 45 minute hike, they reached the other participants in the middle of the lake.


“We were lucky to have our event guide, Phil Meagher, to focus our priorities and teach each group some new skills,” says Martin.


The first task of the day was building their winter shelter, known as a quinzee. Made entirely out of snow, Martin and his son were impressed with the strength of the structure.


“We made large piles of snow and let it sit for close to three hours. During this time it hardens and strengthens. We put sticks through the snow, roughly 10 centimeters, to make sure we didn’t make the walls too thin when shoveling out the inside,” he says.




Once the sun began to set and temperatures dropped to close to minus 30 Celsius, Martin and Nathan made their way into their shelter for the night.


“It was a slow process to move inside the shelter and change into the proper clothing layers for bedtime,” recalls Martin. “To help keep the warmth inside, we closed off the entrance with an emergency blanket. We lit candles and poked holes in the shelter for ventilation. It actually got quite warm inside.”


The next morning, the group had to take down their shelters and make sure they left no traces behind. All that remained was disturbed snow and ashes from the fire. Although Martin and his son made some family memories, they both noted the experience created more understanding and empathy for the patrons of the Centre of Hope.


“It was fun for us, but I can’t imagine this being our reality every day. I knew there was an end to it which involved a hot shower and a warm breakfast,” he says. “For people experiencing homelessness, there’s no end in sight. I can’t imagine having to go to work on Sunday after having spent 24 hours facing that challenge – let alone a week or month or longer that way. That is a pretty impactful thing to try and comprehend.”


Not only did the event provide people a first-hand experience of northern Alberta winter survival, but it also gave participants an opportunity to get involved in the community and raise funds for the Centre of Hope. Kelly Graham, the Centre's Fund Development Coordinator, was pleased with the support, which included close to $13,000 being raised.


“It was an awesome event and the participants truly learned what it is like to survive in the elements. We received comments from participants about understanding why some of our clients would turn to substance abuse to numb some of the painful feelings away,” says Kelly. “I think it helped to create more understanding and awareness of what life is like for some people in our community. Thank you to everyone who supported this great event.”


The Centre of Hope is located in the heart of downtown Fort McMurray and provides a daytime drop-in center for those experiencing homelessness in our region. Their goal is to assist individuals in moving forward toward self-sufficiency in their lives. To learn more visit