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Urban Service Area of Fort McMurray
—  Urban Service Area  —
Aerial view of Fort McMurray with Athabasca River

Welcome sign
Motto: We Have The Energy
Urban Service Area of Fort McMurray is located in Alberta
Urban Service Area of Fort McMurray
Location of Fort McMurray in Alberta
Coordinates: 56°43′35.8″N 111°22′46.9″W / 56.726611°N 111.379694°W / 56.726611; -111.379694
Country  Canada
Province  Alberta
Region Northern Alberta
Census division 16
Municipality Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
Settled 1870
Government [1]
 - Mayor Melissa Blake
 - Governing body Wood-Buffalo Municipal Government - Ward 1
 - MP Brian Jean
 - MLA Guy Boutilier
 - Total 35 km2 (13.5 sq mi)
Elevation 370 m (1,214 ft)
Population (2007 official)[2]
 - Total 63,676
 - 2008 unofficial[3] 72,363
Time zone MST (UTC−7)
 - Summer (DST) MDT (UTC−6)
Postal code span T9H to T9K
Area code(s) +1-780
Highways Highway 63
Waterways Athabasca River
Clearwater River
Website Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Fort McMurray is an urban service area within the Regional Municipality (R.M.) of Wood Buffalo, Alberta. It was officially incorporated as a city on September 1, 1980, but its official city designation was removed however when it amalgamated with Improvement District No. 18 on April 1, 1995 to create the Municipality of Wood Buffalo (which was later renamed to the R.M. of Wood Buffalo on August 14, 1996).[4] Despite its current official designation as an urban service area, many locals, politicians and the media still refer to Fort McMurray as a city.



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 oil sands were known to the locals and the surface deposits were actually used to waterproof their canoes. In 1778, the first of the European explorers, Peter Pond, came to the region in search of furs as the European demand for this commodity at the time was strong. Peter Pond explored the region further 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.[5]

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 community has played a significant role in the history of the petroleum industry in Canada. Oil exploration is known to have occurred as early as the early 20th Century, but Fort McMurray's population remained very 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 gradually grew to over 1,100 bpd 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 took off afterwards. 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 6,743 by 1971 and climbed swiftly to 30,772 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 and the National Energy Program, which was scrapped after the Progressive Conservative Party formed the Government of Canada in 1984. The population peaked at almost 37,000, just before it declined to under 34,000 by 1987. Low oil prices since the oil price collapse in 1986 slowed the oil sands production greatly, as oil extraction from the oilsands 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 to the Regional Municipality (R.M.) of Wood Buffalo on August 14, 1996.[4] 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 in which Fort McMurray is the municipal seat. By 2006, the population of Fort McMurray reached 64,441.


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 is located 370 metres (1,214 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 humid continental climate (Koppen climate classification Dfb, just above a subarctic climate), with long, very cold winters and fairly warm but short 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 10.0°C was unsurpassed by any other Canadian station). Temperatures average -19°C in winter with the lowest recorded -50.6°C, (-58°F).[6] In July temperatures average 17°C, with the highest recorded being 37°C in August.[6] Its annual precipitation amounts to 455.5 millimetres (17.9 in) and falls mainly in the summer months, its snowfall is 155.8 centimetres (61.3 in)[6] and appears within a range of 5 to 7 months.

Climate data for Fort McMurray
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 13.1
Average high °C (°F) -13.6
Average low °C (°F) -24
Record low °C (°F) -50
Precipitation mm (inches) 19.3
Sunshine hours 81.7 119.4 171.8 222.9 276.5 267.5 285.5 259.5 156.9 120.7 70.2 63.8 2,096.4
Source: Environment Canada[7] 2009-07-06


Fort McMurray is considered the heart of one of Alberta's (and Canada's) major 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. The two largest oil sand mining companies are Syncrude and Suncor Energy.

Fort McMurray's growth is characteristic of a boomtown.[8]" 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.[9] The Albertan government has promised to release more Crown land for residential construction, particularly in Timberlea on the north side.


The official population of Fort McMurray is currently 63,676,[2] which includes 62,589 permanent residents counted by the R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2007 municipal census[2][10] and the 1,087 non-permanent residents counted by Wood Buffalo's 2009 shadow population update.[2]

Although the R.M. of Wood Buffalo's 2008 municipal census presented Fort McMurray's population as 72,363 (70,304 permanent and 2,059 non-permanent residents),[3] the overall 2008 municipal census result for the R.M. of Wood Buffalo 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.[11][12] Therefore, Fort McMurray's 2008 population is considered unofficial.

Fort McMurray experienced an average annual growth rate of 9.9% between 1999 and 2007.[10] Forecasts from the R.M. of Wood Buffalo's Strategic Planning and Policy Division project that it will reach a population of 100,000 by 2012.

Jubilee Centre (city hall)

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.

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

Notable Fort McMurrayites




Float plane taking off at the Snye.

Fort McMurray Airport (ICAO Code CYMM, IATA Code YMM) is serviced by Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, Air Mikisew, Integra Air, McMurray Aviation, Northwestern Air and WestJet with scheduled flights to Calgary, Edmonton, Fort Chipewyan, Fort Smith, Lethbridge, Peace River, Saskatoon, Toronto and St. John's. 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

Fort McMurray Transit (FMT) operates in the community, with routes that extend to all subdivisions on the south side and most of the subdivisions on the north side.[13]


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

Highways and roads
Looking north on Highway 63

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[14] Government of Alberta - Announced about twinning Highway 63 began in the summer of 2007. Highway 881 also provides access to the region from Lac La Biche.[15] 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.


Canadian National Railway operates a rail line between Fort McMurray and Edmonton, and Canadian Pacific Railway has proposed building a new high-capacity line to the area. CN discontinued the Muskeg Mixed (mixed train) to Fort McMurray in 1989, and there has been no passenger rail service since.


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.

Based in the Abasand subdivision, Centre Boreal Francophone School serves the needs of Francophone students in the area.

Keyano College is a publicly funded college and vocational institute based in the area known for both its Musical Instrument Repair diploma as well as for its role in training workers for the Oil Sands. Known as the cultural hub of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Keyano College has two state-of-the-art theatres and hosts a variety of musical and theatrical events that attract upwards of 50,000 visitors each season.


See also


  1. ^ Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. "Municipal Government". Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d Alberta Municipal Affairs (2009). "2009 Official Population List". Retrieved February 15, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b R.M. of Wood Buffalo (July 15, 2009). "2008 Municipal Census Report". Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Alberta Municipal Affairs (2010-02-05). "Location and History Profile – Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo". Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  5. ^ The History of Fort McMurray
  6. ^ a b c "Canadian Climate Normals 1971-2000". Environment Canada. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  7. ^ Environment CanadaCanadian Climate Normals 1971–2000, accessed 06 July 2009
  8. ^ Daily Telegraph Article, Saturday Magazine-15/9/07
  9. ^ Edmonton Journal - prices in Fort McMurray
  10. ^ a b R.M. of Wood Buffalo (2007). "2007 Municipal Census Report". Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
  11. ^ R.M. of Wood Buffalo (July 15, 2009). "Wood Buffalo’s population passes 100,000, reports 2008 Municipal Census". Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
  12. ^ Fort McMurray Today (July 16, 2009). "Wood Buffalo hits 100,000, but province not paying up". Retrieved February 15, 2009. 
  13. ^ Transit website
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Fort McMurray Tourism. "Fort McMurray Tourism". Retrieved 2008-01-30. 

External links

Coordinates: 56°43′36″N 111°22′47″W / 56.72667°N 111.37972°W / 56.72667; -111.37972 (Fort McMurray, Alberta)

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Downtown Fort McMurray
Downtown Fort McMurray

Fort McMurray is a city in Alberta, Canada. It is the largest settlement in Athabasca Oil Sands. Although it looks and feels like a city, it lost its city status in 1995 when it merged with a large rural area to form the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo [1].


Neighbourhoods which may be useful to the traveller include:

  • Downtown, or Lower Townsite, is the centre of action that takes place in the town. Fairly easy to navigate, the main throughfare is the ever so congested Franklin Avenue. Most of the city's services are here. You can expect to find the box-stores here, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls, and more.
  • Gregoire - A combination of trailer parks, condos, and retail. There are a few restaurants and stores in this neighbourhood, as well as a selection of both hotels and motels. This and Downtown are the only parts of Fort McMurray with hotels.
  • Beacon Hill - A primarily residential community, has some stores and an arena.
  • Waterways - The oldest part of FortMac. A primarily residential community, has some stores.
  • Abasand Heights - Primarily residential with several services.
  • Thickwood, or Thickwood Heights is a large subdivision with approximately 20,000 people making it the second largest subdivision in FortMac. One can expect to find it very similar to Downtown. The main road is Thickwood Blvd.
  • Dickinsfield - Primarily residential with several services.
  • Wood Buffalo - Primarily residential with several services, a newer area of town.
  • Timberlea - The largest subdivision in FortMac with approximately 35,000 people. Most of the new construction in town takes place in this area. Most of this area is residential, however several supermarkets, restaurants, and stores have already opened up, and there is talk of a large shopping mall to be built here. A new police station is being built here. There are many smaller "sub"-subdivisions here, such as Lakewood, Parsons Creek, and Confederation Heights.

Get in

By plane

Fort McMurray Airport (YMM) [2] has several flights daily between Edmonton and Calgary and one daily flight between St. John's Newfoundland which stops in Toronto en route.

By car

Highway 63 is the main road to Fort McMurray, about 450 kilometres NE of Edmonton. It it parallelled by Highway 881 for about 200 kilometres. The road is one lane in each direction for the vast majority of the trip. Twinning has been promised, but progress is slow. Some passing lanes have been installed. While large, wide loads and truck traffic both use the highway, traffic counts are low except Thursday nights (southbound) and Sunday afternoons/evenings (northbound).

By train

Passenger rail service ended in 1986. While there's been some talk about upgrading the existing rail freight corridor, there's no real prospect of bringing it back at this time.

By bus

Fort McMurray is served by Greyhound [3] and Red Arrow Motorcoach [4] from Edmonton.

Get around

Fort McMurray is in fact, a loose cluster of several dozen subdivisions, many having only one entry/exit. Most subdivisions are pedestrian friendly, however to travel from one part of town to the other end, a vehicle is definitely recommended.

Fort McMurray has an extensive public transit system that reaches all areas of the city. It is common however for the buses to be late or have long waiting periods between each service.

Taxi cabs are easily available. Taxi cab companies include:

  • Access Taxi & Limo Service, +1 780 743-3333 / +1 780 742-8026
  • United Class Cabs, +1 780 743-1234
  • Comfort Shuttle and Charter Service - ask for Sonny (Special rates to Oilsand Plants,sites & camps and for oil sands workers), +1 780 742-8026
  • Sun Taxi, +1 780 743-5050


The Oil Sands Discovery Centre, 515 MacKenzie Boulevard, +1 780 743-7167, [5]. September 4 - May 13, 10AM-4PM, closed Mondays. The Centre offers an insight on the rapid pace of development happening north of the city. In addition it explains the history of the oil sands, how the oil sand is mined and converted into product, and future ways of extracting the oil sand. The Discovery Centre also shows exhibits of machines that are used to process the oil sand.

Fort McMurray Tourism, 1-800-565-3947, [6], schedules tours of Suncor, one of the main oil sand plants, from May to September. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance (one week to 10 days advance booking recommended). Children under 12 are not allowed on the tour.


Points North Adventures, +1 780 743-9350, [7], offers canoe trips and rentals, river tours, and jet boat rides.


Souvenirs of Fort McMurray and the oil sands can be found at the Discovery Centre and specialty retail outlets. Some places, you can purchase small vials of actual oil sand, and different products that are associated with the process all the way to the final product - synthetic crude.

Fort McMurray has several shopping areas and malls, the largest being Peter Pond Shopping Centre, 9713 Hardin Street, +1 780 791-4044, [8]. It is, however quite small for a city of 80,000 people. A larger 250,000 sq ft mall is planned to be developed in Timberlea, however no start on construction has occurred.


The Keg Steakhouse



Boston Pizza two locations in the downtown and Timberlea area

Moxie's Classic Grill

Tio Mario offers Italian food.

Yoshi Japanese Restaurant

Fuji Japanese Restaurant has the finest Japanese food in town.

Kozy Korner Family Restaurant The best place for home-cooked style food.

The Fish Place offers fine seafood.

Hearthstone located in the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre, the Hearthstone restaurant and lounge feature incredible breakfast and lunch buffets, as well as exclusive dishes highlighted by local specialties. Jiggs Dinner featured every Sunday.


The legal drinking age in Alberta is 18.

Black Horse Pub - located in Thickwood.

Club NV - Steps away from the Peter Pond Shopping Center, Club NV opened up in September of 2009 at the former site of the Cowboys Country Saloon. Like it's predecessor, it is more popular with the 18 to 25 crowd.

Diesel Lounge

  • Heartstone Lounge, 530 MacKenzie Boulevard, Fort McMurray, AB, T9H 4C8 (at the corner of highway 63 and MacKnight Blvd), 780-791-7900, [9]. 11am to midnight. Located in the Sawridge Inn Fort McMurray, set in our renovated open concept lobby area, the Hearthstone Lounge & Grille menus offer a wide selection of tantalizing Canadian specialties, prepared by our competent Chefs and served by friendly, attentive, professional staff. Wide selection of spirits, wine and beer available. Meals: $12 to $30.  edit

Diggers, Oil Can Tavern, Teasers - All three clubs are located in the Oilsands Hotel. Diggers being your typical nightclub music bar, Oil Can having live country music, and Teasers having nude dancers.

The Fort McMurray Newfoundlanders Club - A very popular spot with the locals. All kinds of music are played here. Club mix, country, rock, and yes, Newfie music. Be sure that if you're going to show up on a Friday or Saturday night, come early, as this place fills up quickly.

Paddy McSwiggins - an Irish pub located in Thickwood.

Tavern On Main a smaller tavern located next to Club NV and Smitty's Family Restaurant in the Peter Pond Shopping Center.

  • McMurray Inn, 9906 Saunderson Avenue, +1 780 743-1700
  • Twin Pine Motor Inn, 10024 Biggs Ave, +1 780 743-3391
  • Oil Sands Hotel, 10007 Franklin Ave, +1 780 743-2211
  • Merit Hotel, 8200 Franklin Ave, +1 780 714-9444
  • Radisson Hotel, 435 Gregoire Dr, +1 780 743-2400
  • Podollan Inns, 10131 Franklin Avenue, 1 888 448-2080
  • Vantage Hotel, 200 Parent Way, 1866-650-3678 or 780-713-4042
  • Bridgeport Inn, 10021 Biggs Ave, +1 780 790-2600
  • Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre, 530 McKenzie Blvd, Fort McMurray, T9H 4C8+1 780 791-7900 The Sawridge Inn Fort McMurray provides all of the amenities you would expect from a full service hotel. Facilities include indoor pool and jacuzzi, fitness centre, business centre, free parking, high speed internet, and much more. Website:
  • Chez Dube B&B, 10102 Fraser Ave, +1 780 790-2367


Fort McMurray has a very strong economy and very low unemployment, with an economy driven primarily by the oil sands industry. Most of the jobs are located in the oil sands, north and southeast of town. Most people work at Suncor, Syncrude, Albian Sands, CNRL, OptiNexen and Deer Creek.

Stay safe

Fort McMurray can be known for it's brutally cold winters. Temperatures can drop to minus 35 to minus 45 Celsius at times. It is very important that your vehicle is winterized as well as the engine block heater is plugged in. Don't forget to bundle up! As for crime, Fort Mac is generally a very safe place. Franklin Avenue, between Hardin and Morrison as well as Main Street between MacDonald, and Fraser in the downtown area after dark after the bars close on a Friday and Saturday night can be a little rowdy at times but not dangerous.

Travel Warning

WARNING: Highway 63 has recently become notorious for vehicle accidents. This highway is a two lane highway, and many people commute to the oil sands from communities south adding to the strain. In addition most structures for the oil sands are built in Edmonton and trucked up north, which can take up the entire highway. The Alberta gov't plans to twin the highway in the near future but in the meantime, please obey all speed limits and have respect for these huge modules being trucked up.

North of Fort McMurray

Fort McKay

A small native community located 55 km north.

Fort Chipewyan

Fort Chipewyan, or Fort Chip, is located 250 km north. Travel by road is only permitted in winter as there are ice crossings.

Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Fort Smith, Northwest Territories is located 508 km north. Travel by road is only possible in winter.

South of Fort McMurray


A small hamlet (population 1000) that is experiencing a mini-boom of i's own. Services include a general store. Anzac offers country-style living, and its proximity to the Long Lake oilsands project makes it a favorite among many people.


A small hamlet of around 250 people


A small hamlet of around 300 people.

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Simple English

Fort McMurray is a small city in Northern Alberta. The city is also known as the Wood Buffalo Region. Fort McMurray has been popular because to the oil sands production which attracts thousands of people to move to Fort McMurray and work. Over the years, the construction around the city has been moving fast with new buildings, bridges, and wellness centres.


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