Thursday, November 14, 2013
The main thing you need to know about Fort Mac, as it is affectionately called, is that it is not a city. It's actually one of several communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The population of Fort Mac seems to be a bone of contention since no one can easily say how many people are here at any one point in time. Best guesses are 64,000-120,000. That's a big variation, I realize, but Fort Mac is not like other cities, or towns for that matter. The economy is driven by the oil sands and the industry surrounding them. Men and women come in droves to work for a time, then commute back home for their time off. And the commuters are travelling from one end of the country to another (and this is a big country). There's also a large contingent of foreign workers, too. There's big money to be made here, if you're in the oil and gas industry. If you're not, it can be difficult to keep yourself afloat. Living accommodations aren't tough to come by, but decent affordable housing is. Most residences have more than two people living in them and that goes for one bedroom apartments. I'm currently living in a house owned by one guy and he and I and one other boarder share the space. Of course we each have our own rooms and kitchen and laundry privileges, but if you're not used to sharing space with others, it can be a big adjustment. The oil and gas workers have really tough schedules. Company buses come early to get those on day shift (usually between 4 and 5 in the morning) and the guys get home between 7:30 and 9 PM. Night shift is usually picked up around 5 PM and dropped off between 7 and 8 the next morning. 3 days on, then the net 3 nights on and 6 days off or some such similar schedule is the norm. Some guys work for 3 weeks straight then get a lump sum amount of time off. And I haven't even told you about the camps where a good number of workers are housed. The town of Fort Mac is dirty. That's the only way to describe it. Even though it is in a beautiful part of the province and is an hour away from the nearest mining operations, the town seems to always be coated in a fine layer of dust. The mining operations move tons (literally) of earth every day and of course particles get carried away by the wind. And land in Fort Mac. That being said, the town is laid out fairly well, with a very decent public transit system. Green spaces abound with miles and miles of hiking/walking/cycling trails within the town. And there are several recreation facilities here with another one in the planning stages right now. I think that after almost 3 weeks of being here, I would describe Fort McMurray as a machine. A borg, like in Star Trek: The Next Generation, only functioning when the individual people work together. That sounds slightly negative and I don't mean it to sound that way. Perhaps comparing it to an ant colony or beehive would be more appropriate, with all the workers heading off to the oil sands sites and the rest of us heading to the city centre to support them in our jobs. Borg, beehive, or anthill. We're all just trying to make a living and keep well. And then there's me. I'm having another adventure... S.