Photography by Denise Jones
Technology expert Amber MacArthur credits her low-key upbringing in P.E.I. for her high-flying career.
Decades before the acronym STEM (the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics) started showing up on school curriculums or in magazine articles about the dearth of women in those careers, the little girl who would grow up to be one of Canada's most notable technology experts, Amber MacArthur, was attending a two-room schoolhouse equipped with no tech at all.
MacArthur lived with her parents and her older brother in a three-storey Victorian house (that the locals said was haunted) in the quaint town of Dunstaffnage, a 20-minute drive north of Charlottetown. Her childhood stomping grounds were nestled between endless coastlines and acres of wide-open fields; she spent her days playing in forests and fields and on beaches instead of online.
"I grew up at a time when imagination was encouraged and fostered by the great outdoors," says MacArthur. "I think it was the lack of technology that got me excited about the advancement of this medium and pushed me to pursue it." That and, of course, Anne of Green Gables, which was a great source of inspiration. "Anne has been a constant for me. She was a sassy and bold character with a great sense of adventure who believed she could do anything. She had a big impact on my life, and that helped me thrive in what was a predominantly male-oriented industry when I entered it," she says.
MacArthur's entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic can be traced back to her early days on the island. Regardless of what the family business was at the moment, from a property-management company to a magazine startup, everybody contributed to the family's financial well-being. At eight years old, she'd get up extra early before school to help her dad clean the parking lot at a shopping mall. "P.E.I. is the type of place where you have to be very resourceful. At the time, there was no fixed link; we weren't connected to Canada in any physical way. It was a struggle, but it was a positive one," she says.
In 1999, after graduating from university, she headed to San Francisco to work at a startup during the dot-com boom. By 2003, missing home, she returned to work at an agency in Toronto to build Microsoft Canada's first female-focused lifestyle portal. Soon after, she was hired to cohost Call for Help, a daily one-hour tech show on what's now G4 Canada. As excited as she was to be one of the first women to talk tech on television, it was also her first brush with workplace gender inequality. MacArthur was to cohost alongside two men, but it was implied that she should take a more minor role. "I demanded that I be treated as an equal," she says. "Things have progressed for women, but there's still a lot of work to do."
MacArthur, who lives in Toronto, is doing her part to effect change. After years of toggling between technology and broadcast gigs, she now owns two companies, one in each pillar—Konnekt, a digital agency, and Amber Mac Media, a content and production company.
But she still feels a deep connection to her home province. "When summer arrives, I return to P.E.I. with my husband and our son for a month. We visit family and go to the beach. But the first thing I do is head down to the wharf to buy a three-pound lobster to cook. It's a simple pleasure, but perfect."
Amber's best bets in P.E.I.
"There's nothing better than running on the sandbars at sunset with your shovel and bucket to dig clams for dinner. This has been my favourite thing to do since I was little."
2. Basin Head Beach
"Basin Head, on the eastern side of the island, with its big, beautiful sand dunes, is perfect for families. And by early August, the water is warm."
"This seaside town makes it feel like you've gone back in time. There's the island's longest-running theatre, as well as an excellent chocolate shop that makes its own Belgian chocolate."