Academic Events

Panel presentation

Alberta strong: Rebuilding from the ashes of the Fort McMurray wildfires

In early May 2016, wildfires swept through Fort McMurray and Northern Alberta destroying approximately 2,400 homes and buildings, and forced the largest evacuation in Alberta history. 

Natural disasters not only cause physical devastation to the homes and lives of residents of these areas, but there is also concern about their long-term health impacts. 

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research created an opportunity for researchers to study the impacts of the Alberta wildfires. In this panel, we will hear from Nicola Cherry, Terry Lin Fedorus and David Olson as they discuss their research, and from Brian Jean who experienced the impacts of the forest fires first hand. 

This panel presentation took place on November 6, 2018 as part of This is Public Health Week. 



Nicola Cherry, PhD, MD, MSc

Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Preventative Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta

Nicola Cherry graduated in medicine and epidemiology from McGill University after obtaining a doctor in philosophy in occupational psychology at the University of London (U.K.).

Cherry joined the University of Alberta in 2000, and until 2006 served as chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. She has followed her wide research interests including the impact of occupational and environmental exposures on the nervous, reproductive and respiratory systems.

Through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant, Cherry’s research team examined the long-term health effects of the Fort McMurray wildfire on first responders.

Brian Jean, QC, LLB, MBA

Chief Executive Officer, City Centre Group Inc.

Brian Jean was Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta, representing the constituency of Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018.

As the MLA, Jean was debating wildfire response in the legislature when he received a text that his neighbourhood was on fire. He and fellow MLA and former firefighter Tany Yao, immediately headed north to offer support and assistance.

Jean liaised with the premier, the premier’s office and relevant department heads daily, reporting to constituents via social media, sharing videos and pictures of the city. Like many others, Jean lost his home and vowed to be part of the rebuilding. 

Terry Lin Fedorus, BSc, TKK

Community Research Lead, Indigenous Health and Resilience through Disaster study, School of Public Health, University of Alberta

As a resident of Fort McMurray Terry Lin experienced countless remarkable stories of human resilience through disaster. She joined Stephanie Montesanti, principle investigator, Indigenous Health and Resilience through Disaster study, and assistant professor, School of Public Health; and Tara McGee, c-investigator, Indigenous Health and Resilience through Disaster study, and professor, Faculty of Science, to assist with Indigenous centred community-based research designed to understand more clearly the health and mental impacts from the 2016 wildfire.

Terry Lin previously resided in Edmonton where she received a bachelor of science in environmental studies and biology from the Kings University. As a First Nations citizen of Dane-zaa heritage, she is a Traditional Knowledge Keeper with interests in the natural environment and human health.

Terry Lin’s current path is directed toward applying her professional and volunteer efforts to advance Indigenous sovereignty and community well being.

David M. Olson, PhD, FRCOG, FCAHS

Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Reproductive Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta

A major area of David Olson’s research is the role of prenatal maternal stress as a risk factor for preterm birth. This led to forming a national team to study the effects of the 2016 wildfire on pregnancy and child health outcomes and the testing of an easily administered intervention to reduce risk for adverse outcomes.

Through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant, Olson’s team studied a group of pregnant women and new mothers who were forced to evacuate because of the wildfires. These women were asked to engage in expressive writing about their feelings about the fires to determine if this form of therapy reduces stress and improves their pregnancy outcomes and newborn development.   

This is a brown bag event. Please bring your own lunch for this noon-hour presentation.