I arrived in Fort McMurray in October of 1977. My cousin was working as a welder, he was a contractor when the Syncrude site was being built. He convinced us to move here. My husband and I were newlyweds and my cousin thought it would be a great idea for us to start our life’s here. Which incidentally, Fort McMurray was not even on the map at that time!
It was October when I landed here from Toronto, and the temperature was about -40. I thought we had just stopped to do a fuel top-up and we were going to continue on, but then I saw my cousin and husband in the airport terminal (which was a trailer at the time!) The two of them were waving happily as I was coming down the tarmac. It was cold! I thought “oh-my-gosh” this is really happening! I’d came from Toronto, I was wearing a light-brown leather, full-length coat with styling leather boots! That was my first impression of this place, it was a cold & desolate-what had I gotten in to?
Early the next morning, when my cousin and husband left for work, it was just me in the townhouse. I didn't see a peep, nothing was crawling (well nothing should be crawling at -40)! I thought to myself, I should go and look for a job. So on my second day here I was brave enough to venture out. When I turned the key to the ignition, the car sputtered, it just wouldn't turn over. I was in tears because I was so cold and my fingers were so cold on the wheel! So I thought to myself "no this isn't working". I went back inside and warmed myself up, then I got back out and tried again, the engine finally turned over and the car started to move, but it sounded like I was driving a “Flintstone” car, the tires were just so hard! I was in reverse, so I put the car into drive and it didn't move! The wheels just started spinning because the road was solid ice! I left the car right where it was and went back home.
My neighbor probably saw what was going on because he came over and ask if I needed help. He told me to just let it run for a while and it'll be ok. So I did and drove out into the road very slowly, (thank goodness we didn't have the population we do now!). The first job that I applied for wasn’t offering a good wage so I told the recruiter that I couldn’t possibly live off what he was offering and that I had just left a great job in Toronto and to call me when he had a better offer. He called me the next week and let me know he found a job for me.
I worked in the Mind Maintenance Department at Syncrude, for the superintendent. We had people from all over the world in my group at work; one was from Manitoba, Saint Paul’s, Newfoundland, Ontario, Jamaica, Australia, Germany and myself from Guyana. Being from Guyana, my English language skills haven’t always been that great, (my children would attest to this!)
One time while at work, I was hungry for a snack, they had great food in the cafeteria, but what I really loved was those little cracker packages and little jam jars. I was working hard and didn’t want to interrupt my work but I was starving, so I yelled out "does anybody have those nut butter and biscuits to share with me?" No one answered, so I yelled it again, finally an Australian fellow I worked with, stood up and yelled " Its peanut butter and crackers you idiots!"
We had a tight group, just the 8 of us - from all over the world. The relationships that we had developed were just amazing! We all wanted to be here, we all wanted to work- so we made the best of the situation. We developed great friendships and looked out for each other- Everybody took care of each other. Even though we’ve grown much bigger, we’re still a great community and that’s why I call Fort McMurray my home.
I moved here from Sweden. I came up to visit here for about a month then I moved to Vancouver as part of my internship for 8 months - hated it. It was cold and I was freezing, lonely, and broke. I found it was really hard to make friends in Vancouver. It’s a beautiful city but clicky and I knew no one going there so I was pretty lonely. After that I went back to Sweden for a year and finished my degree then I moved to Fort McMurray permanently.
I’ve been here for about 5 years now and I got my residency after 2 years. My heart is in the arts and if you're to practice arts especially as a beginner like myself this is an amazing place to do it. The arts community is very welcoming, warm, and creative - it's vibrant.
I spend most of my time at the theater, Keyano, Suncor energy center for the performing arts (SECPA), I volunteered between 150 and 160 hours per month last year it was all for the arts especially at the theatre, which is pretty insane but it's fun.
I like to go for walks on the trails like everybody else, I tend to spend a lot of time in the woods it's beautiful there. I also like it down by the Snye and the Shipyard it's beautiful. There's a lot of little spots around town that are amazing.
“Because of my husband, he was living in Canada and I was living in Bangladesh. We were in a long distance relationship for almost 10 years. He is an engineer and got a job with Suncor and moved here. I didn't want him to move here because I am a very city kind of girl and didn't want to move from Bangladesh to a small place. I have always liked the loud noise, lights, and busyness of large cities. His position with Suncor was a great opportunity so he moved here and then I realized I had to move as well.
I was very scared at first when I moved here and I didn't like it that much. Where I come from its always summer there are 11 months of summer and 1 month of winter.
I’ve never experienced -30 before. Now that I’ve experienced the summer and had the opportunity to visit other places in Canada I’m enjoying it. BEST part, no traffic! You can go anywhere you want, anytime you want! No buffer time required or no need to plan ahead to make anything on time and everybody knows everybody here! It feels like a big family!”