It’s a long drive north to reach Fort McMurray, 450 kilometers (280 miles) north of Edmonton, but it’s far from a dead-end town. This city is a modern-day boomtown that revolves around the Athabasca Oil Sands, the world’s greatest known deposit of oil. The city is awash with money—and workers spending it—but on a larger scale, the financial impact on the province and country is mind-blowing.
So if you’re not a construction worker or oilman, why should you make the long trek north? Actual “sights” are oil sands–related (tours through the mining operations are very popular), but nowhere in the world has so much economic development ever been concentrated in one place, which makes simply being there an interesting study in socioeconomics.
Fort McMurray Tourism (780/791-4336 or 800/565-3947, www.fortmcmurraytourism.com) does an excellent job of promoting the city to the world. They operate an information center south of downtown (Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. June–Aug., Mon.–Fri. 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Sept.–May), just north of the Oil Sands Discovery Centre. In addition to having a wealth of information on the city, the organization represents many northern fly-in fishing lodges and offers overnight accommodation packages.
Getting to Fort McMurray
It’s a long 450-kilometer (280-mile) drive up to Fort McMurray on a highway that is regarded as one of the most dangerous in the province (mostly due to the high volume of traffic), and so many people prefer to fly. The airport is nine kilometers (5.6 miles) south, then six kilometers (3.7 miles) east of downtown.
Air Canada (888/247-2262, www.aircanada.com), Westjet (800/538-5696, www.westjet.com), and Air Mikisew (780/743-8218 or 888/268-7112, www.airmikisew.com) fly daily between Edmonton and Fort McMurray, with Air Mikisew departing from the centrally located Edmonton City Centre Airport. A cab to downtown is $35.
Greyhound (8220 Manning Avenue, 780/791-3664) has services three times daily to Edmonton. Red Arrow (8217 Franklin Ave., 800/232-1958) offers a more luxurious service than Greyhound, with fewer stops, more legroom, and free coffee and snacks. Either way, it’s a five-hour trip to Edmonton.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition