Fort McMurray

Destination Location

Fort McMurray

Overview

Fort McMurray could be described as one of Canada's best kept vacation secrets. Visitors here can indulge in exciting activities, year-round sports, outdoor attractions and special events – all without big city crowds.

Northeastern Alberta is jam-packed with opportunities for spectacular outdoor experiences. In the warmer months, boaters can canoe along historic trade routes and anglers can cast their lines and try to hook the big one. Hikers and cyclists can navigate the hundreds of trails throughout the Richardson River sand dune area while walkers marvel at the beautiful scenery. Long summer days also give golfers the opportunity to play one of the region's three 18-hole courses – or perhaps all three – before the sun goes down.

The little scientist or future geologist in your family is sure to enjoy an oil sands tour. Fort McMurray is famous for its Athabasca Oil Sands, often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. Or, if your little scientist prefers animals, head to Wood Buffalo National Park where you’ll see Canada's largest herd of free-roaming buffalo. But be careful, they're much bigger up close than they seem from afar.

During the winter months, visit Vista Ridge All Seasons Park. Here you'll find beginner and intermediate level ski runs, a quad chairlift, a top-notch, fully accredited ski school and a half-pipe for snowboarders. There is also a tube park designed for hours of family fun.

Fort McMurray is also one of the best places in Alberta to see the aurora borealis or Northern Lights. When the sun sets on cold winter nights, you'll see the region's hotels, motels and quaint bed & breakfasts hedged by an amazing light show in the sky.

Fort McMurray is a fantastic destination for:

  • winter sports
  • outdoor adventure
  • sport & recreation

Airport served by:

Destination basics

Downtown forms the core of the city and it is here that you will find the most concentrated clusters of restaurants, shops, and businesses. As you move outwards, you will find yourself surrounded by residential areas, several of which are populated almost entirely by those who work at the nearby oil sands plants. Interspersed in between are parks and pockets of woodlands.

Downtown
The downtown district is the cultural and commercial nucleus of the city. A stroll through downtown will bring you to several of the city’s top restaurants, alongside shopping centers like the Peter Pond Mall, entertainment venues like Boomtown Casino, and attractions like the MacDonald Island Park. The neighborhood is best explored on foot as the roads are often congested. 

Gregoire
The oil sands have transformed residential neighborhoods, like Gregoire, into hubs of diversity. The neighborhood has flourished and is home to several hotels, restaurants, and bars. Nearby, the Oil Sands Discovery Centre is one of the city’s most popular attractions, drawing tourists to the neighborhood.

Timberlea
Timberlea is one of the city’s largest residential neighborhoods, with a vibrant character that reflects the city’s diverse makeup. At Timberlea, the Suncor Centre for the Performing Arts enriches the city’s cultural scene with a varied program of performances, workshops, and events that attract a diverse audience. If you have shopping on your mind, visit Timberlea Landing where you will also find fast food restaurants like Jomaa’s Pizza.

While a few of the city’s entertainment venues are clustered around downtown, most are spaced out across the city, and further beyond.

Performing Arts
The Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts and Keyano Theatre form the core of Fort McMurray’s performing arts scene. Together, these two institutions present a diverse range of performances, with everything from musicals, theater and comedy, to dance recitals and concerts. The city’s schools also boast robust arts programs, featuring varied performances throughout the year at the school’s auditoriums.

Casino
Boomtown Casino at Fort McMurray is one of the city’s top entertainment destinations. Experience the heady exhilaration of gaming and test your luck with the pull of a lever, the spin of a reel or the roll of the dice. The casino offers both slots and table games for hours of gaming. Boomtown also features multiple restaurants and bars, as well as live entertainment on most nights.

Recreation and Leisure
Nestled at the point where the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers meet, MacDonald Island Park is Canada’s largest community center. Anchored by the Suncor Community Leisure Center, the park is a haven for residents and visitors alike. An aquatic center, ice arenas, a fitness center, a dance academy, and racquetball courts are just a few of the attractions you will find here. Together with the baseball field at Shell Place and the Miskanaw Golf Club, MacDonald Island Park is a treasure trove of experiences. Set against the backdrop of the boreal forests and gushing rivers, the park serves as a scenic venue for sports, cultural and community events. 

There are also several other parks, basketball courts, baseball fields, skate parks, soccer fields and other sporting facilities across Fort McMurray.

Outdoors
Nestled amidst the boreal forests, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers, Fort McMurray promises outdoor adventurers a rewarding stay. From fishing, kayaking, and hiking in summer, to winter sports like cross-country skiing, curling, and ice fishing, outdoor enthusiasts are sure to delight in the many options at hand. If you do not wish to venture too far, explore the city’s Birchwood Trails and enjoy an exhilarating workout at the Outdoor Green Gym, or head south to the Gregoire Lake Provincial Park for boating, swimming and fishing. Further away you’ll find miles of trails that traverse the dramatic landscape. For winter sports, Vista Ridge is a popular choice to the south of Fort McMurray's core. To the north lie the Wood Buffalo National Park and the Athabasca Sand Dunes. Excursions to these remote, yet stunning displays of nature’s majesty should feature on the bucket list of all outdoor adventurers, and attempted by only experienced explorers.

Golf
Fort McMurray features two splendid, 18-hole courses, nestled amidst the boreal forests. The sand  traps, shimmering ponds and manicured fairways of the McMurray, and the Miskanaw Golf Clubs stand in stark contrast to the untamed beauty of the forest, creating a picturesque locale in which to enjoy a round of golf.

Over the past few years, Fort McMurray has come to be home to a diverse population, drawn to the city by the region’s booming oil sands industry. This influx of residents from near and far has given rise to a vibrant culinary offer centered around downtown. From casual comfort food to refined steak dinners, Pan Asian cuisine, and local brews, you’ll find it all and more right here in Fort McMurray. 

Start your day with freshly baked muffins and wholesome sandwiches for breakfast at Mitchell’s Cafe, and enjoy a cup of 49th Parallel Coffee. For lunch, savor seafood specials at the Fish Place, or treat yourself to a healthy meal of salad and soup at Freshii instead. For dinner, the Keg Steakhouse brings delicious decadence to the table with a menu featuring succulent steaks, while Asti Trattoria serves up classic Italian favorites. If you’re in the mood for Asian, try Fuji for Japanese staples like sushi, sashimi, and teriyaki, or head to Taste of the Orient for Pan Asian cuisine. End your day with a pint of local brew at the Wood Buffalo Brewing Company, or stop by Live Bar & Grill to unwind over drinks and live music. Whatever your culinary cravings, you’re sure to find something to your liking in downtown Fort McMurray.

Fort McMurray

Province: Alberta

Country: Canada

Fort McMurray by the Numbers
Population: 78,382
Elevation: 260 meters / 850 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 41.86 centimeters / 16.48 inches
Average Annual Snowfall: 133.8 centimeters / 52.8 inches
Average January Temperature: -17.4°C / 0.7°F 
Average July Temperature: 17.1°C / 62.8°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz, AC

Time Zone: GMT-7 (GMT-6 Daylight Saving Time); Mountain Standard Time (MST)

Country Dialing Code: +1

Area Code: 780;587;825

Did You Know?
Fort McMurray is not a city but is, in fact, an Urban Service Area. Nonetheless, the community is generally referred to as a “city” in common parlance.

Fort McMurray lies at the heart of the world’s single largest crude bitumen deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands. The deposit lies close to the surface and is estimated to contain a total of 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen, which is approximately equivalent to world’s total conventional petroleum reserves.

Orientation
Surrounded by the boreal forests of northeast Alberta, Fort McMurray lies at the heart of the Athabasca oil sands. The community lies 435 kilometers (270 miles) to the northeast of Edmonton.

The explorer Peter Pond was the first European to arrive on the scene in 1778 in search of furs, and set up his trading post north of modern-day Fort McMurray near Lake Athabasca. Although this post was soon abandoned in favor of Fort Chipewyan, Fort McMurray remained an important transportation hub along the trade route, opening up the doors to the Mackenzie Basin Fur Region. In the years that followed, explorers and the Cree began to trade at the site, and in 1870, the Hudson Bay Company formally established Fort McMurray, naming the humble community after the William McMurray, the Hudson Bay Company’s chief factor in the region. Even as fur trade dwindled in the decades that followed, Fort McMurray remained a valued transportation hub, served by the Hudson Bay Company’s steamboats, and later by the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway, beginning 1915. 

While the native tribes that populated the region had always been aware of the bitumen deposits in the soil and used it to waterproof their canoes, it was not until the early 1900s that any serious attempts were made to extract oil from the sands. The first plant was set up in 1925 by Karl J. Clark, however, it was not until 1967 that the Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) established a plant here and proved conclusively that the extensive process of extraction could be profitable. In the intermittent years, Fort McMurray was amalgamated with the neighboring community of Waterways to form the village of McMurray in 1947. Just one year later in 198, McMurray became a town. The community began to prosper as more and more plants were opened, and the town was incorporated into a city in 1980. Over the next few years, the rise and fall of global oil prices reflected in periods of prosperity and decline for the community of Fort McMurray. 

In 1995 Fort McMurray was amalgamated with Improvement District No. 143, losing its status as a city, transforming it into an Urban Service Area instead. With the advance of technology and a global need for a reliable source of oil, the city’s plants continue to thrive, serving as an impetus for the growth of Fort McMurray.

In 2016, the city was set ablaze by a massive wildfire that forced over 80,000 of the area’s residents to evacuate their homes. The event has gone down in history as one of the country’s most devastating wildfires, and the largest recorded wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history. Although Fort McMurray is still recovering, the people have high hopes for this area's future.

Points of interest in Fort McMurray

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