When Sarah Miller left Goose Bay 10 years ago, she didn’t have a plan other than to work for a while — and get paid $5 an hour more as a travel agent out west than she was getting back home — and see what life brought her.
The travel agent found herself in Fort McMurray in January 2003, free of expectations and free of a recent relationship.
“I didn’t know anything about it. I just knew that I had friends from home there who I had graduated from high school with who had come here,” Miller, 37, told The Telegram from Fort McMurray.
“I decided that because I knew people in Fort McMurray I would come here. I was actually coming with a guy. He was out in Edmonton working, but we split up, so I decided that I was still going, and I came to Fort McMurray.”
Miller said as her plane was landing in Fort McMurray, she felt that good things were in store for her.
Her future husband, Wayne Miller, 38, of St. John’s had been in Fort McMurray since 2000. He’d finished school in automotive technology and found it tough to find work in Newfoundland. Relatives in Fort McMurray told him that Diversified Transportation — whose fleets of buses carry workers from Fort McMurray out to the job sites around the clock — was hiring, so he headed west with the idea of paying off some of his debt. He’s currently working for Suncor.
It was a mutual friend who brought the two of them together.
“She kept telling me about her friend Sarah. ‘You guys would be a perfect match,’ she said. ‘You should meet her.’ So I said, ‘Give me her phone number, we’ll see what happens,’” said Wayne.
Wayne and Sarah played phone tag for a little while, and then Sarah stopped calling him back. Unbeknownst to him at the time, she had recently met someone on online dating site eHarmony and didn’t feel it was fair to date two guys at once.
A few months later, their mutual friend suggested he try again. He called right away, and they went on their first date.
“As soon as he called me, and I know it’s not even five minutes later that he called me, after I talked to Naomi, I knew he was somebody who was pretty super. He didn’t ask one question, didn’t care where I was. He just was that kind of guy who even just wanted to make a new friend. So I knew he was pretty special.”
That was six years ago this summer. The two were married in Jamaica in November 2008. Their story is now being told by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in what they’re calling the Turning Point campaign, which focuses on couples who met in Fort McMurray and settled in the region instead of working for a while and returning home. The Millers are one of six couples featured in the campaign, featured at bigspirit.ca.
“The first year I was here, I was ready to go home a couple of times,” admitted Wayne, with Sarah yelling, “He’s a mama’s boy!” in the background as her husband laughs. But the support network of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in place — “You get your sweet mustard pickles!” he said — helped warm him to the place. Sarah loved it instantly, and the couple has no plans to leave.
Asked what she loves most about Wayne, Sarah thinks about it.
“I want to say ‘everything,’ but sometimes when he doesn’t do the garbage. I don’t love that too much,” she said.
“I absolutely love that Wayne really lets me be who I am. He’s extremely gentle. He’s easygoing. He just is peaceful. I’m not peaceful at all. He creates the balance that we need to have our harmonious life. Plus he’s cute, and he’s super.”
When Wayne gets the same question about Sarah, he answers a little more quickly.
“I’d better keep it PG, eh?” he says, laughing, with Sarah joining in.
“Really — her smile. When I come home from work, even if I have a bad day, when I see her smile it helps brighten my day.”