The Canadian Wild...North?
October 7, 2007 5:34 PM   Subscribe

A friend is being sent to Ft. McMurray, Alberta for work (oil, engineering, etc.) and I might be going with her. What's the scoop? What's the place like, the housing market, the city? Any info would be greatly appreciated, be it personal experiences or links to to interesting things about the area. The only clue we have is to the weather...
posted by hototogisu to Travel & Transportation around Fort McMurray, AB (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'll probably end up hearing a fair bit of Newfie accent, don't be shocked by it.
posted by CKmtl at 5:46 PM on October 7, 2007

This is all hearsay, but... Housing and the cost of living is supposedly incredibly expensive, and there is apparently nothing to do there at all. It is very isolated. People go there to work, and that's about it.
posted by synecdoche at 6:14 PM on October 7, 2007

Two words: boom town.
posted by mcwetboy at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2007

I have heard fairly negative things about the environment for women working there. It is very "wild west" like at the moment, populated by mostly young, relatively low-educated men from all parts of Canada.

If she's being sent for work, make sure that lodging is provided and paid for. Housing is ludicrously expensive, when you can find it.

Fort McMurray has become an almost mythical place (at least in my part of Canada) in terms of housing costs, wages and difficulty in finding housing/workers.
posted by davey_darling at 6:33 PM on October 7, 2007

There is a MeFite who is a professor in Calgary, maybe he'll chime in here.

From what I've heard Ft McMurray is a hell hole. Until recently it was a small town with few cultural institutions. Now it's a boom town with few cultural institutions that is probably nearly double the population it was a decade ago. Most of that population are men doing manual labor. When they aren't working, they avail themselves of all a boomtown typically has to offer men with time and money.

My wife's grandparents moved to a similarly remote (but much warmer) oil town 50 years ago. Her grandfather was a geologist, her grandmother had a college degree so they were in an educated, professional class, probably much like you and your friend. They and other people like them worked to build cultural institutions. Her grandfather ran for county commissioner and helped get a new library built. Her grandmother helped start an art gallery and program that brought ceramic artists to town to give classes and demonstrations. Their peers helped fund a respectable symphony orchestra, held gardening and history clubs.

They travelled often, both to escape and to find things to bring home with them to make their life and their communities better. When my father in law needed surgery as a boy they sent him by train to Chicago by train to have the procedure done.

No telling whether Ft McMurray will thrive long enough for the people who move their to really put down roots. There is a lot of oil sand there, but extracting it takes a lot of fresh water. It also takes a lot of energy to make the steel that is used to build the plants and machinery to extract the oil, which means that as energy prices go up, the capital costs of ramping up production grow, which means that ROI doesn't come as quickly as people hope. And then there is the little matter of global warming and the threat of carbon taxes or polution allowances which will push up the price of oil sand production even higher.
posted by Good Brain at 6:49 PM on October 7, 2007

> Housing and the cost of living is supposedly incredibly expensive, and there is apparently nothing to do there at all. It is very isolated. People go there to work, and that's about it.

That's what I hear, too, and I have often heard from people who go up there to do resource work. It's also referred to as Fort Mac. As you can see from a google search, it supposedly has the highest rents in the country, yes, more than Vancouver and Toronto. Then again, the wages are very high.
posted by Listener at 11:06 PM on October 7, 2007

Ex-Albertan here, with friends working in and around the area. Housing in the area is incredibly expensive and hard to find. A friend who went there on a contract ended up with seven people sharing a one bedroom apartment for the duration of their contract. Fort MacMurray also has a huge problem with crack cocaine and all the misery that goes with it. There is a lot of binge drinking and male aggression on display. Good restaurants? Forget it. If you enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty of recreation in the area but when they say it's cold in the winter, they aren't kidding. The money will be good, though and Edmonton can be a fun town if you get time off. Personally, I wouldn't go. I would also reccommend that your friend inquire with her employer as to accomodation and insist that they find her adequate lodging while she is working there.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 3:26 AM on October 8, 2007

I work in the industry, but North Sea. From what I hear, "boom town" is appropriate.
My friends & colleagues tell me there are expensive rents, apparently there is a shortage of electricians, contractors, carpenters in Alberta now as they are all in Fort Mac.
Oil isn't going down in price significantly anytime soon and there is lots of investment in the area.
As Good Brain puts it, there is likely little in the way of culture, since the main part of investment will be in infrastructure - roads, utilities etc.
If she's an engineer for a reputable company, she should enquire about housing/relocation assistance. The company isn't going to want to hire her, move her out there and then have her quit in a month, so it's in their interest to help her.
Good luck, as others have said, there's good pay & opportunities there if you have the right skill set.
posted by arcticseal at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2007

I have friends in the Fort Mac area, all live in small apartments split with many other people (as some people listed above).
The pay in the area is extremely high, and with a lack of outlets for entertainment, most everyone just spends their money on drinking and drugs.

He spends 8 months of the year out there, saves up a ton of money, then comes back for 4 months in the summer time. He says that as soon as he has enough money to get out and buy a house, he never plans on setting foot there again.
posted by smitt at 12:11 PM on October 9, 2007

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