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First, a Spark – World-Class Conference Held in Fort St. John

From a tiny spark may burst a mighty flame.” –Dante

The fourth annual Spark Leadership Conference in Fort St. John (FSJ) had a bold new theme this year: “Inspired by Tough”—a sentiment that touches on the fortitude, grit and determination that embodies FSJ citizens. The annual conference has been popular each year, and this year filled FSJ’s largest venue to capacity.

The Many Faces of Tough

“Fort St. John is often seen as a rough and tough oil patch town, and in many ways it is,” says Urban Systems Principal and conference co-founder Edward Stanford. “But as more and more professionals come here and are looking to stay here, they’re bringing their own influence over how the community develops, while also incorporating some of the toughness and grit of the community. An event like this is a fabulous professional and cultural development opportunity for our unique community. There’s nothing like this in FSJ as far as a conference dedicated to professional women.”


When first establishing the conference (which benefits the FSJ Women’s Resource Society’s Dress for Success program) four years ago, organizers knew it was important that the presenters coming in from across North America understood where they were headed and who their audience was. The event is tailored toward the growing female workforce in the Peace Region, particularly women in business or wanting to get into business. This year’s Spark conference took place May 16-17 at the Pomeroy Hotel & Conference Centre, and Urban Systems was again a proud gold sponsor. Approximately 225 women—engineers, bankers accountants, professionals, entrepreneurs, and more—participated this year, over half joining in for the first time.

Graphic Facilitator Bob Mack and Keynote Speaker Dr. Valerie Young
During the conference there were keynote speakers, a panel, workshops, complimentary headshots, a graphic facilitator visually transcribing and capturing key themes in real time, networking opportunities and more. The lead keynote speaker at this year’s Spark was Dr. Valerie Young, author of: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and how to Thrive in Spite of It. Dr. Young is an internationally known speaker who has spoken for large companies such as Google and Facebook. Other speakers included Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk; co-founders of ‘Swim’, an innovative leadership lab and advocates of women in the workforce.

Small Community, World Class Event

Organizers take pride that the Spark conference is a success year over year. “You don’t need to be in the big urban centre to host such a high-quality conference,” says Edward. “We have proven that we can host a world class conference in a community of 20,000 people. This should be enough to encourage others to try it as well. We fill the room every time. This year we couldn’t get any more people in, and we used the largest venue in town. The hope would be others use this template of a conference to try it in their community, in smaller urban centres across Canada.”

Attendee Impressions

Healthy Communities Planner, Julianne Kucheran
Healthy Communities Planner & Consultant Julianne Kucheran had just moved to FSJ three months prior to Spark and decided to attended the conference. “It was on my radar as soon as I moved to town,” she says, “and I was impressed that my employer Urban Systems encouraged me to attend. It feels great that we are encouraged to explore our personal development and get out in the community to develop ourselves personally and professionally.”

Julianne shares that it was an empowering day and that in a traditional, very male dominated industry town, it was great to see professional women celebrated.

“Sometimes there’s a feeling here that women move to Fort St. John with their husbands, because their husband got work here. But at the Spark conference I was able to look around and say yeah, maybe some came up for that reason, but there are now a lot of double working parents and different scenarios where women are leading the family. This was a great opportunity to meet new people and make connections.”

This was a great opportunity to meet new people and make connections.

Julianne notes that after having attended many conferences in her academic area (Community Development and Planning), the Spark event was the first time she had participated in a conference more focused on personal development as it pertains to her career.

“I really enjoyed the self-awareness and personal development side—we were looking at ourselves being quite honest about our goals, strengths and weaknesses. This was a neat chance to look at marketing and branding yourself, your work and your employer effectively—so important in a small community—and also to network. I wish I had had this kind of opportunity early in my career. I think attendees will bring back great new learnings to their local office and the bigger culture. I know I will.”

Engineer in Training Desirée Le Blanc also attended Spark for the first time and says that the environment was supportive and inclusive. She says it was on a much larger scale than typical conferences in FSJ, and that value-adds were part of the conference such as having a live visual artist capturing things in real time as well as getting complimentary business headshots were the icing on the cake. “Things like the professional headshot were very well received. It’s great for entrepreneurial women getting started, a really practical item that we all need.”

Looking Ahead

After four strong years, the next event promises to be even bigger and better. A planning committee has been established for 2018’s event, and the planning is already underway—mark your calendar for May 15 and 16 of 2018. To learn more contact info@sharingthespark.com or phone at 250-262-2714.

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