20 entries categorized "Interviews"

Taking Care of Truckers – an Interview with Crystal Blair from Angel's Diner

September 5-11 is National Trucking Week in Canada. During this week, we take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the 400,000 men and women in the trucking industry who keep Canada's freight and economy moving. Over the last 18 months, the importance of those who live their lives on the road – whether delivering food, medical supplies or toilet paper – certainly came into sharp relief.

But in the early days of COVID-19, a lot of truckers were without support, even while supporting us. Many truck stops were closed, as were other businesses that truckers relied on for essentials.

But in Glenholme, Nova Scotia, the Glenholme Loop Petro-Pass and restaurant stayed open. Not only was it open, but Crystal Blair (the owner who is affectionately called "Angel" by the truckers who pass through her stop) provided meals, free of charge, to any trucker who needed it.

Crystal at Angel's Diner

I sat down with Crystal to hear about how things were at her truck stop during the first wave of COVID-19 and how she and her truckers are doing now.

PumpTalk: What were things like in the first few weeks of the pandemic?

Crystal: It was a very confusing time. People said I should close my restaurant, but when I was on social media, I saw that so many places were closed and truckers, who live on the road, couldn’t get a meal or find facilities – I knew I had to do something.

I didn’t want to put my staff at risk, so I didn’t ask them to come in. I figured out what I could do by myself, which was open up the showers and provide breakfast sandwiches, just for truckers, on a strictly take-out basis. I was often the only place open for hundreds of miles.

PT: And you provided the meals free of charge?

Crystal: Yes. Though several truckers did put in a contribution – I had a bucket on the counter. As soon as the community heard about what I was doing, they really rallied around the truckers. Donations came in – people starting sending them so that I could keep providing free meals and staying open. And food donations were sent from places like local produce companies and other businesses.

PT: How did truckers respond?

Crystal: Every trucker who came in was so kind and appreciative. Soon I had truckers coming in that I didn’t even know – they’d just heard of me from one of their buddies on the road. Even these days, I’ll occasionally have a driver come in and ask, “Are you Angel?”

A wonderful surprise from the truckers came later in the year when they started the Angel Diner's Chicken Light Cruise. It’s a fundraiser for the local community that they started in my honour. Last year, we donated money to families of the victims of the tragic Nova Scotia shootings. This year, the Cruise was held actually just a couple of weekends ago; we raised funds for Cystic Fibrosis – one of my customers has CF. Each year we plan to raise funds for a different cause.

PT: Now that it’s been about 18 months since the first wave of the pandemic, how are things different?

Crystal: Well, we’re open again to the general public – both take-out and eat in – with proper distancing. Still seeing lots of truckers, of course. The diner’s Facebook page isn’t quite as busy – I used to get 100s of messages a day. But I still post there. A lot of people found it to be place where they could get hopeful and positive messages during a time of isolation.

PT: And how are your truckers?

Crystal: So many of them are still isolating from their families, wanting to keep them safe. Places may be opening up, but truckers are cautious and concerned. They’re such a kind and loyal bunch. And most of them are family men and I know their wives quite well. One of them had a birthday recently and her favourite dessert is coconut crème pie – so I sent one to her for her birthday.

PT: Speaking of pie, I’ve seen on your Facebook page that your desserts often sell out, especially your blueberry cheesecake parfait! Any other trucker favourites?

Crystal: Fish and chips is popular. Big burgers. Any of my homemade specials, really.

PT: It’s been 18 months and we’re certainly not out of the woods entirely vis a vis the pandemic. But you’ve remained so positive. What are some of the best moments from the past year or so?

Crystal: It’s been so inspiring to see how the community has come together. The community helped feed all our truck drivers for free for over 3 months - so amazing! And now the truckers are giving back to the community with events like the Chicken Light Cruise. It’s been really wonderful to see.

~ | ~

Crystal, thank you so much for sharing your story and for taking care of truckers during a very difficult time! Make sure you stop by Crystal’s Facebook page and leave a friendly hello.

~Kate T.

Celebrating International Dog Day with Joe and his Petro Pals

It seems like I’ve always had a dog in my life. Honeybear, the fluffy and gregarious Old English sheepdog, dominated my childhood. An incorrigible black lab puppy named Lucy ruined several of my university textbooks. And four Sharpeis (not all at once!) have blessed my adult years. The most current is Pumbaa – she’s a sweet one-eyed girl adopted from Korea. Look at that face!

Smiling dog, Pumbaa

August 26th is International Dog Day – a holiday first celebrated by American Colleen Paige in 2004 to draw attention to the number of dogs in shelters. It has grown in popularity and is now celebrated across the world. I thought today would be a fitting day to introduce Joe Rustad and his @Petro_Pals account on Instagram.

Joe is the site manager at the full-serve Petro-Canada station located on Lakeshore Road in Kelowna, BC. When you’re working full-serve, you interact with customers a fair bit, including the furry-faced customer peering out at you from the window of the vehicle.

Joe Rustad and his @Petro_Pals Instagram account

Joe noted that the station has always been a treat-friendly place for dogs and he just ramped that up a bit when he started taking selfies with the dogs. The customers asked Joe to post them online and, voila, @Petro_Pals was born.

Joe doesn’t currently have any canine companions: his Mastiff/Ridgeback/Pittbull cross, Buddy, passed away from cancer and his black lab/Rottweiler cross, Keena, passed away a few years ago – she was 14. Taking the selfies is a way to have interaction with dogs. Joe believes that “Dogs are the gateway to a happy life.”

The account is popular with customers and employees alike – there’s even been a little family rivalry to see whose pup takes the best selfie. Some customers stop by just to get their dog’s picture taken. It’s easy to understand why - who wouldn’t love seeing a pic of their happy pet with a friendly fellow like Joe?!

We’re featuring more of Joe’s Petro Pals over on Petro-Canada’s Instagram account today. Check them out and be sure to give the @Petro_Pals account a follow for more cute pics of pups.

~Kate T.

Cross-Canada Road Trippin’ in an EV

I love a good road trip. I’ve done a few memorable ones so far in my life, including a Waterloo, ON to North Battleford, SK trip that taught me the absolute truth of the lyrics in Wendell Ferguson’s song “Rocks and Trees” about the landscape of Northern Ontario:

Rocks & trees, trees & rocks
Reams and reams of endless trees and tons of rocks
The whole north is just proliferous
With metamorphic and coniferous
Rocks & trees, trees & rocks

The most exciting vehicle I drove in one of my road trip excursions was a 1976 Dodge Dart sedan. It was the mid-1990s at the time – as you might imagine, there were several stops for repairs along the way.

Ever since Petro-Canada completed their EV fast charge network along the TransCanada, I’ve been thinking I’d like to try another big trip – but this time in an EV. While I still haven’t been able to get out, I recently spoke to someone who had. Earlier this year, Marianne Kunic, with her brother, Agan, and her dog, Gigi, in tow - drove from Sechelt, BC to St. Stephen, NB in her Kia Soul EV, affectionately named “Cricket” because of its bright green colour.

Marianne and Agan

PumpTalk: Thanks for chatting about your recent cross-country trip with me! How did it go?

Marianne: We had a great time. It was lovely getting to spend quality one-on-one time with my brother, Agan. Plus he helped me manage any anxiety I had about the trip, such as planning a good route or finding a charger.

PT: Is Cricket your first EV?

Marianne: It’s my second. I’ve owned an EV for seven years now – both of them have been Kia Souls. Travelling in an EV really sparked a lot of good conversations. Everywhere we stopped, people were interested in electric vehicles – wanting to know more about them. Even in places where they don’t have a lot of charging stations, people were curious. There is definitely some anxiety about getting an EV – specifically about running out of charge. But the cars are so smart – they warn you ahead of time. It was like being an ambassador for EVs.

Marianne and Agan

PT: How was your experience at Petro-Canada’s EV fast chargers?

Marianne: We really like the Petro-Canada machines. They are well-lit, state of the art, easy to use. We used a lot of different chargers on the trip; we charged the battery two or three times a day, depending on the distance we travelled. The Petro-Canada ones were definitely our favourite, but there were some kinks that still need to be worked out.

We ran into some Wi-Fi problems at one station in Saskatchewan. The Wi-Fi by the charger was quite poor. So I was in the restaurant, talking to customer support and would then have to relay those instructions out the door to my brother who was at the charger – it made it a bit difficult.

And there was another location where the charger was out of service and the site staff was unable to fix it. So we ended up using an external outlet at a local motel. Took us three hours just to get enough of a charge to limp to the next fast charger.

Editor’s note: we thank Marianne for sharing this information with us! We’ve gotten in touch with the locations she mentioned and are working on solving these issues.

Agan and Gigi

PT: A lot of people, like myself, are considering going cross-country in an EV. What tips or advice can you share?

Marianne: Having an app that helps you locate the chargers is essential. We used the Petro-Canada EV app as well as ChargeHub and FLO (mainly in NB).

Make sure you update your car’s GPS maps before you leave. If you’re in an area without a connection, you’ll still want to have the latest maps.

Plot your route ahead of time and make sure you factor in enough time for charging. In general, charging time took longer than we anticipated. Build in an hour for each time you need to charge.

Drive at or below the speed limit. You use more charge if you go above the speed limit. Staying under made us a bit slower, but it stretched out the distance we were able to go. Using cruise control really helped with this.

PT: Would you do it again?

Marianne: Yes, in a heartbeat!


Marianne, thank you so much for sharing your experience driving across Canada in an EV with us! It always helps to hear from trailblazers and get the best tips and advice. What do you think, readers? Are you ready to drive across Canada in an EV?

~Kate T.

Dakota Nation Unity Rides and the Importance of Being “Heart In”

“The šúŋka wakáŋ, the horses - they make people happy. They are good for healing.”

Helena Mazawasicuna tells me about the sacred role of the horse in Dakota culture.

“Horses give people hope and strength. They carry our prayers and emotions. They know when they are needed.”

Helena is a resident of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation (SVDN) and an operator at the Sioux Valley Petro-Canada located on the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation near Griswold, Manitoba. Last year, Helena spoke with me about the meaning of Orange Shirt Day and how non-Indigenous Canadians can take steps towards Indigenous awareness and reconciliation. I am grateful that Helena is back to share information about two recent Unity Rides, organized by members of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.

“We will do Dakota Nation Unity Rides for various causes: MS, Kidney Donor Awareness, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), the 60s Scoop. Because horses are sacred, a lot of (Indigenous) people want their funerals to be pulled by horses.”

The Sioux Valley Petro-Canada and Dakota Nation Unity Riders organized two Unity Rides in memory of the Indigenous children found at residential school sites in Kamloops, BC and Brandon, MB and to honour the survivors of Residential Schools. Helena is one of the riders.

Helena riding her horse, Cruz
Helena riding Cruz - Photo Credit: Kimberly Mckay

“To be on the horse carrying the prayer is so powerful. You go with the vision and flow. You are one with the horse.”

Once the Unity Riders arrive at their destination, they share a meal with the spirits of the children.

“Whatever we’re eating, we share it. For kids, we put candy on top of their bowls – all kids like candy. They eat first. Then after we pray, our group will eat. When you feed their spirits, you can feel it. Our children want to be heard from the other side. They want to be reunited with their families.”

On the Petro-Canada Instagram account, we feature several photos and videos, including Helena’s, from the two Unity Rides.

The recent and ongoing discoveries of the bodies of children in unmarked graves at Residential Schools across the country bring up old wounds. But Melissa Tacan – also a member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation – is hopeful that people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are more open to talking and to telling the truth.

“(Growing up) I always felt like this was something I shouldn’t ask about. But now, it’s all coming out. My grandmother has started talking about it for the first time… Maybe all the kids will finally be found. Be recognized. Get closure. People will actually care.”

Melissa, a manager at the SVDN Petro-Canada, also spoke with me last year about Orange Shirt Day. I’m grateful that she is sharing her thoughts and hopes about what the outcomes will be from the discoveries at Residential Schools.

“Our families want to know what happened to their children, their brothers, their sisters. There is a lot of history (about the treatment of Indigenous people) that hasn’t been told. We need to speak and to be heard about what happened… People seem to be more receptive now. In the past, this hasn’t been important enough. But now is the time for all of us to be ‘heart in’.”

Melissa’s phrase calling for all of us to be “heart in” really struck a cord with me. And it aligned with something Helena said as well, “If you’re going to care, you need to recognize that there is a lot (to uncover).”

Like many Canadians, I was ignorant of the abhorrent treatment of Indigenous peoples by our government and our religious institutions, particularly what the Indian Act authorized. If you’re looking for one book that clearly and succinctly explains how the Indian Act has impacted (and continues to impact) Indigenous peoples in Canada, check out 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph - founder of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., and member of the Gwawaenuk Tribe, located in the Queen Charlotte Strait region of the Central Coast region of British Columbia, Canada. The book is based on an article he wrote for CBC with the same name.

As always, I am thankful that Helena and Melissa shared their stories with me and allow me to share those stories with our readers. I encourage you to check out the photos and videos featured on our Instagram – the healing power of the horses, the šúŋka wakáŋ, really does come through.

~Kate T. (she/her)

Honouring Our Partnerships with Indigenous Communities

June is National Indigenous History Month – a time to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada. This year, following the tragic news about the children found buried at former residential schools - and that there are likely more discoveries to come - we hold our First Nations colleagues in our hearts. We stand with survivors, Indigenous communities and Indigenous team members to honour the lives of the children who never came home.

Here at PumpTalk, we want to take the opportunity to recognize the significant contribution that Indigenous communities make to our Petro-Canada network. We have 58 Petro-Canada retail and wholesale marketing relationships (42 retail and 16 wholesale) with Indigenous communities across the country.

This year I was happy that operators from two of the sites operated by First Nations communities were able to take the time to talk with me about their sites and how they celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. Introducing Carol Pechawis, the manager of Misty Petroleum located on the Mistawasis First Nation in northern Saskatchewan and Loretta Jacko from the Petro-Canada located on the Cold Lake First Nations in northern Alberta.

Carol and Loretta
Carol Pechawis, Misty Petroleum and Loretta Jacko, Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada

PumpTalk: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Carol and Loretta. Can you tell me a bit about your sites?

Carol: Misty Petroleum open five years ago last April, but joined the Petro-Canada Dealer Licensee network in August 2019. Our clientele is 50% local community and 50% pass-through travellers along the highway; the local community is from two First Nations communities: Muskeg Lake First Nation and Mistawasis First Nation (Mistawasis Nêhiyawak). We offer full service fuel, gasoline and diesel, a small café (including “Misty’s Chicken and Chips”), and craft store. Our craft store sells a variety of arts and crafts from local artisans from the community, traditionally made items such as moccasins, hand-beaded jewelry, artwork and handmade knives.

Misty Petroleum Petro-Canada
Misty Petroleum Petro-Canada

Loretta: The Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada, part of the Primco Dene Commercial Centre, opened in 2019. We have about 30 employees, the majority from the Cold Lake First Nations. We also have a number of students where this is their first job. We're right off the highway so we see both local traffic as well as a lot of folks travelling from Edmonton or Saskatchewan. Our CFC restaurant sees a lot of local traffic particularly on Wednesdays when we have homemade bannock and Indian tacos. In addition to the restaurant, we have an area to service transportation vehicles, places for RVs to park plus a nice grassy area to walk your dog.

Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada
Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada

PumpTalk: What role does your site play within your community?

Carol: We're the only business in the area that operates after 6pm - so between 6pm and 10pm, we're the only place people can go. That's important for both the local community as well as local businesses that many need something later in the evening. We also serve as a gathering place. Pre-COVID, a lot of folks would wait out winter storms in our cafe - sometimes spending hours here. Because we see so many regular local customers, we're also able to look after community members. Recently, an older guest purchased a 5-gallon bottle of water for his cooler; when one of my staff carried it out to his car, they noticed the previous bottle was still there. Knowing that he was older and his wife was ill, they arranged to deliver the water and install it for him.

Loretta: Our site is a centre of community information sharing. We have a bulletin board where people post announcements. And we also have a lot of people just coming in and talking to our team. There’s always a lot of chatter and everyone just learns what’s going on in the community.

PumpTalk: June is Indigenous History Month and Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. How does your community celebrate?

Carol: We don’t necessarily celebrate Indigenous awareness month – we are indigenous every day and so we find ways to appreciate each other every day. The arts and crafts in our store are a way in which we appreciate the craftsmanship of people in our community - it's a great way for local artists to reach a larger number of people. The artists make many traditionally made things, like moccasins. Not everyone can make a moccasin, so lots of people purchase these, not just the people passing through.

Traditional handicrafts for sale at Misty Petroleum
Traditional handicrafts for sale at Misty Petroleum

Loretta: Indigenous History Month is a good time for us to raise awareness about our culture and history. At the site, we have theme days or our team will wear t-shirts that bring attention to days like the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) on May 5th. We are very open to guests who come and want to learn about our culture – people who appreciate not appropriate.

Interior of Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada and homemade Indian tacos
Interior of Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada and homemade Indian tacos

Carol and Loretta, thank you so much for taking the time to share information about your site and your community with our readers!


On a personal note, I’m making it a point during June to learn more about Canada’s Indigenous cultures. I asked both Loretta and Carol for recommendations on sources they value and respect as well as checked in with Suncor’s internal Employee Resource Group for Indigenous employees. The following list has many excellent resources for appreciating Indigenous culture as well as learning about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the important process of reconciliation.

  • NotoriousCree, aka James Jones - a creator on social media who showcases First Nations language and culture
  • #IndigenousReads – a reading program and book list that encourages reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples through sharing literature written by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
  • Indigenous Canada – an online course (free) from the University of Alberta that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada. From an Indigenous perspective, this course explores key issues facing Indigenous peoples today from a historical and critical perspective highlighting national and local Indigenous-settler relations. 
  • Native-Land.ca – an Indigenous-led team that is creating a map of Indigenous lands, along with other resources, in a way that changes, challenges, and improves the way people see the history of their countries and peoples. They hope to strengthen the spiritual bonds that people have with the land, its people, and its meaning.
  • Reconciliation Canada – an organization actively providing programs and initiatives to inspire positive change in communities throughout Canada. 
  • GroundworkForChange.org - a website that shares information and resources to help non-Indigenous/settler peoples grow relationships with Indigenous peoples that are rooted in solidarity and justice.
  • Research Guide to Indigenous New Media at the University of British Columbia – a curated collection of Indigenous-created new media, including video games, apps, podcasts, comics, video art, and web art. 

How do you plan to honour and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

~Kate T.