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What is it like living in Fort McMurray? Where is Fort McMurray? How does the cost of living in Fort McMurray compare with other cities?

We help you address some of the questions about Fort McMurray before you research your adopted city further.

Where is Fort McMurray?

Fort McMurray is located in the province of Alberta, about 435 kilometres (270 mi) northeast of Edmonton on Highway 63. It is situated 60 kilometres (37 miles) west of the Saskatchewan border.

About Fort McMurray

Fort McMurray is part of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, located in Northern Alberta. With a population of approximately 60,000, Fort McMurray is considered a city.

Fort McMurray services the nearby oil sands industry, and as such has expanded rapidly in recent years due to increased development of the oil sands.

Wages in Fort McMurray are generally high, but the cost of living has grown substantially with the recent boom. Workers are well paid here, and having Fort McMurray work experience is rated very highly by many companies.

Most of the major oil sands projects are north of the town. Suncor and Syncrude are close to Fort McMurray, whereas CNRL, Shell, and Esso are approximately one hour north of Fort McMurray in a hamlet called Fort Mackay. Fort Mackay is a First Nations community.

Facilities in the city can be limited and, with Edmonton being the closest urban area, some people find the city has an isolated feel to it. The city has experienced some troubles with drug addiction and prostitution that are typical of mining towns, though the levels are on par with most major urban areas in Canada and abroad, and these problems can be avoided by keeping away from problem areas at night.

Living in Fort McMurray is rather different to living in one of Canada’s main cities. Fort McMurray is very much a male-dominated town and the population is generally transient, as most people come to work, make money and leave. Generally speaking, most major urban centres in Canada offer a more favourable work-life balance.

People have a lot of money to spend and some choose to spend it in bars while others make the most of their adventure. All sorts of recreation and entertainment is available, including golf, hiking, camping, biking and watching junior hockey. The areas to the north are very scenic and beautiful.

The Oil Sands Discovery Centre is a compelling place to learn how oil is made. There are some interesting facts about the soil in the Fort McMurray area.

The wider Wood Buffalo municipality, of which Fort McMurray is a part, does have a lot to offer. Click here for a full 2014 events calendar for the area.

One thing to note: Highway 63, which runs between Edmonton and Fort McMurray, is one of the most dangerous highways in Canada. When workers finish their shift they often speed to get home quicker, which has led to a significant amount of casualties on the road in recent years.


Living in Fort McMurray: Economy

Fort McMurray is located in the heart of the Athabasca oilsands. With an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of oil in the area, Canada has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world. Fort McMurray’s economy is dominated by the industries that support the extraction and export of oil.

The major operators of the mines in the area include (but are not limited to) Syncrude, Suncor, Shell, Imperial Oil and Total and Canadian Natural. Generally speaking, the oil is extracted in one of two ways: open pit mining of oil sands ore or SAG-D extraction.

Besides the oil sands, the economy relies on natural gas and oil pipelines, forestry and tourism. Fort McMurray’s growth is characteristic of a boomtown. Housing prices and rents are far higher in Fort McMurray than one would expect in such a remote area. In 2006, Fort McMurray had the highest prices in Alberta.

Workers often live in camps on one of the many mine sites in the area. The camps are semi-permanent structures that are provided by the mine operators, and are capable of housing upwards of a thousand workers at a time. Standards can vary, but many companies provide top class facilities for their workers. Rooms typically come equipped with TV and internet, while workers are provided meals and facilities such as gyms.

Most camps are of a high standard. The catering companies are of the idea that if you keep the workers happy, then the workers will have more of an incentive to perform quality work.

Living in Fort McMurray: Camp life

Thanks to Colin Smyth for providing this insight into camp life in Fort McMurray.

“My camp is the Canadian Natural (CNRL) camp. There are approximately 2,000 people in this camp. In my wing there are 50 people. We each have a room which has a single bed, a TV, and a desk. Each day cleaning staff clean the room and make your bed.

“Breakfast is between 5 and 8 a.m. and is served in a canteen that includes cereal, and all ‘fry’ food. Each worker takes up to two bags of lunch for the day, typically sandwiches, soup, fruit, veg, noodles, cookies and croissants.

“Dinner is between 4 and 8 p.m. Dinners vary from day to day but there is always a very large variety. Typical recreation includes indoor soccer, indoor field hockey and poker nights.

“This camp also has a bar which is open from 6 to 10 p.m. The nature of the mining industry is such that it takes a certain hardiness of personality to survive in camps. For those who can handle such an intensive work-focused environment, there is the benefit of saving large amounts of money within short spans of time.

“Typically, workers in Fort McMurray receive up 50 per cent higher salaries for working out of town. Shift work is common. Shifts vary between four days on and three days off, ten days on and four days off, 14 days on and seven days off, or even 20 days on and eight days off.

“Most employers will pay for workers’ transportation to and from the site. The bigger sites have their own aerodromes for transporting workers in and out of the site. On-site safety is ever present. Productivity is often slower than usual, but safety is considered paramount. ‘Everyone gets home safe’ is a motto used here.”

Living in Fort McMurray: Weather

Fort McMurray has a borderline humid continental climate with long, very cold winters and short, warm summers.

Daylight hours in the summer can be up to 16 hours. Winter is from October through March, with temperatures sometimes reaching -35° Celsius.

Living in Fort McMurray: Cost of Living

Due to the scarcity of accommodation in Fort McMurray, house prices and rents are comparable to expensive cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Wages are high in Fort McMurray, but so is the cost of living.

Special thanks to Colin Smyth and Ian Munro for making the Fort McMurray section of Moving2Canada possible. Your patience and assistance is truly appreciated.