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.
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