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Fort McMurray

Fort McMurray
McMurray (1947–1962)
Urban service area (hamlet)
Fort McMurray Urban Service Area
Aerial view of Fort McMurray with Athabasca River
Aerial view of Fort McMurray with Athabasca River
Official logo of Fort McMurray
Welcome sign
Nickname(s): "Fort McMoney"[1]
Motto: We Have The Energy
Fort McMurray is located in Alberta
Fort McMurray
Location of Fort McMurray in Alberta
Country Canada
Province Alberta
Region Northern Alberta
Census division 16
Specialized municipality R.M. of Wood Buffalo
Settled 1870
 – Village
 – Town
 – New town
 – City

May 6, 1947
December 29, 1948
June 30, 1964
September 1, 1980
Dissolved (urban service area) April 1, 1995
 • Mayor Melissa Blake
 • Governing body
 • MP David Yurdiga
 • MLA
Area (2011)[4]
 • Total 59.89 km2 (23.12 sq mi)
Elevation[5] 260 m (850 ft)
Population (2011)[4]
 • Total 61,374
 • Density 1,024.8/km2 (2,654/sq mi)
 • Municipal census (2012) 70,964[6]
  See Demographics section for population from R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2010 municipal census.
Time zone MST (UTC−7)
 • Summer (DST) MDT (UTC−6)
Postal code span T9H to T9K
Area code(s) 780, 587
Highways Highway 63
Waterways Athabasca River
Clearwater River
Website R.M. of Wood Buffalo

Fort McMurray, once named McMurray, is an urban service area in the Regional Municipality (R.M.) of Wood Buffalo in Alberta, Canada.[7][8] Formerly a city, it became an urban service area when it amalgamated with Improvement District No. 143 on April 1, 1995, to create the Municipality of Wood Buffalo (renamed the R.M. of Wood Buffalo on August 14, 1996).[9] Despite its current official designation of urban service area, many locals, politicians and the media still refer to Fort McMurray as a city. Fort McMurray was known as McMurray between 1947 and 1962.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is Canada's most affluent city, with an average household income of $191,507.[10]


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
    • Climate 2.1
    • Neighbourhoods 2.2
  • Demographics 3
    • Federal census 3.1
    • Municipal census 3.2
    • Migration 3.3
  • Economy 4
  • Infrastructure 5
    • Transportation 5.1
    • Mail 5.2
  • Education 6
  • Events 7
  • Media 8
  • Notable people 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


View of the Clearwater River valley from Highway 63

Before the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th Century, the Cree were the dominant First Nations people in the Fort McMurray area. The Athabasca Oil Sands were known to the locals and the surface deposits were used to waterproof their canoes. In 1778, the first European explorer, Peter Pond, came to the region in search of furs, as the European demand for this commodity at the time was strong. Pond explored the region farther south along the Athabasca River and the Clearwater River, but chose to set up a trading post much farther north by the Athabasca River near Lake Athabasca. However, his post closed in 1788 in favour of Fort Chipewyan, now the oldest continuous settlement in Alberta.[11]

In 1790, the explorer Alexander MacKenzie made the first recorded description of the oil sands. By that time, trading between the explorers and the Cree was already occurring at the confluence of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers. The Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company were in fierce competition in this region. Fort McMurray was established there as a Hudson's Bay Company post by 1870, and continued to operate as a transportation stopover in the decades afterwards. The Alberta and Great Waterways Railway arrived in 1915 complementing existing steamboat service.[12]

The community has played a significant role in the history of the petroleum industry in Canada. Oil exploration is known to have occurred in the early 20th century, but Fort McMurray's population remained small, no more than a few hundred people. By 1921, there was serious interest in developing a refining plant to separate the oil from the sands. Alcan Oil Company was the first outfit to begin bulk tests at Fort McMurray. The nearby community of Waterways was established to provide a terminus for waterborne transportation, until 1925, when the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway reached there.

Abasands Oil was the first company to successfully extract oil from the oil sands through hot water extraction by the 1930s, but production was very low. Fort McMurray's processing output gradually grew to over 1,100 barrels/day by World War II, and Fort McMurray was set up by the US and Canadian forces as staging ground for the Canol project.

Fort McMurray and Waterways amalgamated as the village of McMurray (the "Fort" was dropped until 1962, when it was restored to reflect its heritage) by 1947, and became a town a year later. Fort McMurray was granted the status of new town so it could get more provincial funding. By 1966, the town's population was over 2,000.

In 1967, the Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) plant opened and Fort McMurray's growth soon took off. More oil sands plants were opened up, especially after 1973 and 1979, when serious political tensions and conflicts in the Middle East triggered oil price spikes. The population of the town reached 6,847 by 1971 and climbed to 31,000 by 1981, a year after its incorporation as a city.

The city continued to grow for a few years even after the oil bust caused by the collapse in world oil prices. The population peaked at almost 37,000 in 1985,[13] then declined to under 34,000 by 1989.[14] Low oil prices since the oil price collapse in 1986 slowed the oil sands production greatly, as oil extraction from the oil sands is a very expensive process and lower world prices made this uneconomical. However, the oil price increases since 2003 have made oil extraction profitable again.

On April 1, 1995, the City of Fort McMurray and Improvement District No. 143 were amalgamated to form the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The new municipality was subsequently renamed the Regional Municipality (R.M.) of Wood Buffalo on August 14, 1996.[9] As a result, Fort McMurray was no longer officially designated a city. Instead, it was designated an urban service area within a specialized municipality. The amalgamation resulted in the entire R.M. of Wood Buffalo being under a single government. Its municipal office is located in Fort McMurray.

The slump in oil prices which began in December 2014 and deepened in 2015 resulted in some layoffs and postponement of projects.[15]


Vista Ridge, a local ski hill

Fort McMurray is 435 kilometres (270 mi) northeast of Edmonton on Highway 63, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) west of the Saskatchewan border, nestled in the boreal forest at the confluence of the Athabasca River and the Clearwater River. It sits at 370 metres (1,210 ft) above sea level. Fort McMurray is the largest community in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

White spruce, trembling aspen, balsam poplar and white birch are the most prominent native trees in and around town. Black spruce and tamarack occur in poorly drained areas and jack pine may be seen on the driest sites. European aspen, blue spruce and sand cherry are among the exotic trees occasionally seen.


Fort McMurray has a borderline subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc) with only three months whose average temperature is higher than 10 °C (50 °F), just above a humid continental climate), with cold winters and warm summers.

The town lies at a lower elevation than most other parts of Alberta, so under the right conditions, it can be a 'hot spot' for Alberta or even all of Canada (as in April 1980 when its daily mean temperature of 10 °C (50 °F) was unsurpassed by any other Canadian station).[16]

Temperatures average −18.8 °C (−1.8 °F) in winter, with the lowest recorded −50.6 °C (−59.1 °F) on February 1, 1947.

In July, temperatures average 16.8 °C (62.2 °F), with the highest recorded being 37.0 °C (98.6 °F) on August 10, 1991.[17]

Its average annual precipitation is 419 millimetres (16.5 in) and falls mainly in the summer months. Its average annual snowfall is 134 centimetres (53 in)[17] and appears within a range of 5 to 7 months.


Neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray include Abasand Heights, Beacon Hill, Gregoire, Lower Townsite, Thickwood Heights, Timberlea and Waterways.[19]


Jubilee Centre (city hall)

Federal census

In the 2011 Census, Fort McMurray had a population of 61,374 living in 21,729 of its 26,401 total dwellings, a 28.7% change from its 2006 population of 47,705. With a land area of 59.89 km2 (23.12 sq mi), it had a population density of 1,024.8/km2 (2,654.2/sq mi) in 2011.[4]

In the Canada 2006 Census, Statistics Canada recorded a population of 47,705 in Fort McMurray living in 19,021 dwellings, a 23.4% increase from its 2001 population of 38,667. It had a land area of 59.89 km2 (23.12 sq mi) and a population density of 796.5/km2 (2,063/sq mi).[31] The same year however, the R.M. of Wood Buffalo counted a population of 64,444 in its municipal census, which included a shadow population of 2,301 living in hotel/motel and campground accommodations.[32] The discrepancy in the results was attributed to differences in census methodologies where Statistics Canada used a de jure method while the municipality used a de facto method.[33]

Municipal census

The R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2012 municipal census reported a population of 72,944 in Fort McMurray, which includes permanent and non-permanent populations of 70,964 and 1,980 residents.[19] The 2012 census also indicated that Fort McMurray had 22,386 dwelling units, of which 47.4% were single detached houses (10,604), 27.7% were apartments (6,206), 9.6% were manufactured homes (2,141), 9.2% were townhouses (2,070) and 6.1% were semi-detached houses (1,365).[19]

The population of Fort McMurray was 76,797 according to the R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2010 municipal census, which included a shadow population of 1,539 residents respectively.[34] However, the 2011 Municipal Affairs Population List published by Alberta Municipal Affairs presents Fort McMurray's population as 64,773, which includes a non-permanent (shadow) population of 2,184 and its 2007 permanent population of 62,589.[35]

This is the second time that Alberta Municipal Affairs did not recognize the latest municipal census results published by the R.M. of Wood Buffalo. In 2008, the municipality's municipal census presented Fort McMurray's population as 72,363 (70,304 permanent and 2,059 non-permanent residents).[36] However, the 2008 municipal census population was not accepted as an official population by Alberta Municipal Affairs due to the use of statistical extrapolation instead of 100% door-to-door enumeration.[37][38] Therefore, the 2008 Official Population List published Fort McMurray's 2007 population, instead of its 2008 population, as the urban service area's official population for 2008.[39][40]

According to historic municipal census data, Fort McMurray experienced an average annual growth rate of 6.1% between 2000 and 2010.[34] The R.M. of Wood Buffalo estimates the population of Fort McMurray to increase to 133,000 by 2028.[34]

If Fort McMurray were still incorporated as a city, it would be the fifth largest in Alberta (after Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge).


Fort McMurray is a multicultural community, attracting people from all corners of Canada and the world. Albertans make up almost half the number of migrants to Fort McMurray, followed by 17% of people originating from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. A report in 1986 noted that 13.8% of Fort McMurray's population was from Newfoundland.[41]


Fort McMurray is considered the heart of one of Alberta's (and Canada's) hubs of oil production, located near the Athabasca Oil Sands. Besides the oil sands, the economy also relies on natural gas and oil pipelines, forestry and tourism. Oil sand companies include Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell, and Nexen. Fort McMurray's growth is characteristic of a boomtown.[42] 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.[43] The Alberta government has promised to release more Crown land for residential construction, particularly in Timberlea on the north side.



Float plane taking off at the Snye
Looking north on Highway 63

Fort McMurray International Airport (ICAO Code CYMM, IATA Code YMM) is serviced by Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, Integra Air, McMurray Aviation, Sunjet, Northwestern Air, and WestJet, with scheduled flights to Calgary, Edmonton, Fort Chipewyan, Fort Smith, Lethbridge, Peace River, Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver and Kelowna. The airport is also serviced by various oil companies with corporate and charter flights. Flights are frequently booked to capacity because of the high transient worker population and people unwilling to drive on Highway 63.

Public transit

Wood Buffalo Transit operates in the community, with routes that extend to all subdivisions on the south side and subdivisions on the north side. Recently Wood Buffalo Transit has expanded their service to the Fort McMurray International Airport and the northern industrial park, Taiga Nova.[44]


Greyhound Canada and Red Arrow operate scheduled passenger bus services to Edmonton and other communities along Highway 63, as well as other destinations farther south.

Highways and roads

Highway 63 is the only highway between Fort McMurray and Edmonton. Due to the industrial demands of the oilsands, Highway 63 boasts some of the highest tonnage per kilometer in Canada, and the largest and heaviest loads that trucks have ever carried. Construction to twin Highway 63[45] by the Government of Alberta is currently underway. Highway 881 also provides access to the region from Lac La Biche.[46] Fort McMurray is also served by Highway 69, a short spur off of 63 that connects Fort McMurray with its airport and a few rural residential developments to the southeast.


CN discontinued the Muskeg Mixed (mixed train) to Fort McMurray in 1989, and there has been no passenger rail service since.


As of January 13, 2014, Canada Post identified Fort McMurray as "having a particularly high cost to serve", and instituted a surcharge of $5.00 CAD for all parcels shipped to the area. [47] However, Canada Post retracted this decision before the rate change went live. [48]


Timberlea Public School (elementary)

The Fort McMurray Public and Catholic School Districts both serve the Primary, Elementary, and Secondary Education needs of students in Fort McMurray. Each school district offers diverse programs like French immersion, performing arts or a dedicated technology and science lab.

On Abasand Drive, École Boréal is the only francophone school in the area and goes from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12.

Keyano College is a publicly funded college and vocational institute based in the area and plays a role in training workers for the oil sands. Known as the cultural hub of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Keyano College contains both a state-of-the-art theatre and recital hall, hosting a variety of musical and theatrical events that attract upwards of 50,000 visitors each season.


The Tar Sands Healing Walk began in June, 2010 in Fort McMurray area. It was founded by Jesse Cardinal, in collaboration with the Indigenous women of Keepers of the Athabasca. Through this women's initiative, this walk aims to unite the peoples of the Athabasca River and Lake Watershed to secure and protect water and watershed lands for ecological, social, cultural and community health and well being.


Notable people

See also


  1. ^ Keith Gerein (2012-04-04). "Highway 63 twinning vital issue in Fort Mac".  
  2. ^ "Annexation History". Virtual Museum of Canada. Retrieved November 2, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Municipal Officials Search".  
  4. ^ a b c d "Census Profile - Fort McMurray, Alberta (Population Centre)". Statistics Canada. February 8, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Alberta Private Sewage Systems 2009 Standard of Practice Handbook: Appendix A.3 Alberta Design Data (A.3.A. Alberta Climate Design Data by Town)" (PDF) (PDF). Safety Codes Council. January 2012. pp. 212–215 (PDF pages 226–229). Retrieved October 8, 2013. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "2010 Municipal Codes" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. April 1, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Specialized and Rural Municipalities and Their Communities" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. April 1, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "Location and History Profile – Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo". Alberta Municipal Affairs. February 2, 2010. Retrieved February 8, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Alberta's Oil Sands". Government of Alberta. Government of Alberta. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  11. ^ The History of Fort McMurray
  12. ^ Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Fort McMurray: Board of Trade. 1915. 
  13. ^ "1985 Official Population" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. Retrieved February 3, 2011. 
  14. ^ "1989 Official Population" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. Retrieved February 3, 2011. 
  15. ^ Ian Austen (October 12, 2015). "Oil Sands Boom Dries Up in Alberta, Taking Thousands of Jobs With it". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Daily Data Report for April 1980". Climate Data Online. Environment Canada. November 2012. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c "Fort McMurray Airport, Alberta". Canadian Climate Normals 1981−2010. Environment Canada. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Fort McMurray Airport, Alberta". Canadian Climate Normals 1981−2010. Environment Canada. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  19. ^ a b c "Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Municipal Census 2012" (PDF). Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. October 2012. Retrieved December 10, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Table 6: Population by census subdivisions, 1871–1951". Ninth Census of Canada, 1951. Volume I: Population, General Characteristics. Ottawa:  
  21. ^ "Table 6: Population by sex, for census subdivisions, 1956 and 1951". Census of Canada, 1956. Population, Counties and Subdivisions. Ottawa:  
  22. ^ "Table 6: Population by census subdivisions, 1901–1961". 1961 Census of Canada. Series 1.1: Historical, 1901–1961. Volume I: Population. Ottawa:  
  23. ^ "Population by specified age groups and sex, for census subdivisions, 1966". Census of Canada, 1966. Population, Specified Age Groups and Sex for Counties and Census Subdivisions, 1966. Ottawa:  
  24. ^ "Table 2: Population of Census Subdivisions, 1921–1971". 1971 Census of Canada. Volume I: Population, Census Subdivisions (Historical). Ottawa:  
  25. ^ "Table 3: Population for census divisions and subdivisions, 1971 and 1976". 1976 Census of Canada. Census Divisions and Subdivisions, Western Provinces and the Territories. Volume I: Population, Geographic Distributions. Ottawa:  
  26. ^ "Table 4: Population and Total Occupied Dwellings, for Census Divisions and Subdivisions, 1976 and 1981". 1981 Census of Canada. Volume II: Provincial series, Population, Geographic distributions (Alberta). Ottawa:  
  27. ^ "Table 2: Census Divisions and Subdivisions – Population and Occupied Private Dwellings, 1981 and 1986". Census Canada 1986. Population and Dwelling Counts – Provinces and Territories (Alberta). Ottawa:  
  28. ^ "Table 2: Population and Dwelling Counts, for Census Divisions and Census Subdivisions, 1986 and 1991 – 100% Data". 91 Census. Population and Dwelling Counts – Census Divisions and Census Subdivisions. Ottawa:  
  29. ^ "Table 16: Population and Dwelling Counts, for Urban Areas, 1991 and 1996 Censuses – 100% Data". 96 Census. A National Overview – Population and Dwelling Counts. Ottawa:  
  30. ^ "Population and Dwelling Counts and Population Rank, for Canada, Provinces and Territories, and Urban Areas, 2001 Census - 100% Data (Alberta)".  
  31. ^ a b "Population and dwelling counts, for Canada, provinces and territories, and urban areas, 2006 and 2001 censuses - 100% data". Statistics Canada. January 6, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  32. ^ "Municipal Census 2006" (PDF). Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2010. 
  33. ^ Fort McMurray Today (March 13, 2007). "Census comes up short". Retrieved July 19, 2010. 
  34. ^ a b c Alberta Municipal Affairs (January 17, 2011). "Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Municipal Census 2010" (PDF). Retrieved January 17, 2011. 
  35. ^ "2011 Municipal Affairs Population List" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. October 5, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  36. ^ R.M. of Wood Buffalo (July 15, 2009). "2008 Municipal Census Report" (PDF). Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
  37. ^ R.M. of Wood Buffalo (July 15, 2009). "Wood Buffalo’s population passes 100,000, reports 2008 Municipal Census". Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
  38. ^ Fort McMurray Today (July 16, 2009). "Wood Buffalo hits 100,000, but province not paying up". Retrieved February 15, 2009. 
  39. ^ "2007 Official Population List" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. May 26, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  40. ^ "2008 Official Population List" (PDF). Alberta Municipal Affairs. September 15, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  41. ^ "Fort Mcmurray Popular With Newfoundlanders".  
  42. ^ Daily Telegraph Article, Saturday Magazine-15/9/07
  43. ^ Edmonton Journal - prices in Fort McMurray
  44. ^ "Wood Buffalo Transit". Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Retrieved July 14, 2012. 
  45. ^ "Government commits to twinning Highway 63". Government of Alberta. February 23, 2006. Retrieved July 14, 2012. 
  46. ^ Fort McMurray Tourism. "Fort McMurray Tourism". Retrieved January 30, 2008. 
  47. ^ "Parcel Services Price and Service Overview of Changes" (PDF). Canada Post. Retrieved 2014-01-06. 
  48. ^ "Canada Post cancels parcel surcharge in Fort McMurray". CBC. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  49. ^ Pottie, Erin (15 April 2014). "Mabou cartoonist draws on memories of Fort McMurray". Herald News. Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  50. ^ Jurgensen, John (March 2, 2011). "Rural Alberta Advantage Mines Memories of Home". The Wall Street Journal. 

External links

  • Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

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