Thousands of immigrants move to Canada each year. It is a big decision and Canada is a larger place. So, one of the major decisions you will need to make is where to live. The country is diverse from coast to coast. And where you choose to call home will affect your career, finances, and standard of living. Fort McMurray is one to consider, especially if you have a background in the oil industry.
While most newcomers focus on the bigger cities, there are plenty of smaller cities with much to offer. People typically move to the Fort McMurray area to work in the oil sands industry. But the close by Wood Buffalo area offers newcomers many of the amenities of a larger city.
Researching the local job market, the housing options, the local community, and what it is like to live in a city is necessary before you make a final decision. Are you considering Fort McMurray? Discover what the city has to offer you and your family!
About Fort McMurray, Alberta
Fort McMurray, Alberta, is best known today for its association with the oil sands industry. The oil industry is the top employer in the region with many available jobs in oil sands and supporting industries. Although not officially a city anymore, “Fort Mac” is the heart of one of Canada’s major oil production hubs.
Fort McMurray became an urban service area when it was amalgamated with Improvement District No. 143 in April 1995. With this amalgamation, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo was created. It has undergone a series of changes over the years.
The area was referred to as “McMurray” from 1947 to 1962. It was named a town in 1964, designated a city in 1980 and then became a service area in 1995.
It is located in northern Alberta and is 435 km northeast of Edmonton and about 60 km west of the Saskatchewan border in the middle of the Athabasca oil sands. Nestled in the boreal forest at the confluence of the Athabasca River and the Clearwater River, it is the largest community in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
The area become well known internationally in 2016 when a wildfire forced residents to evacuate. The fire caused significant damage resulting in about 20% of all homes being destroyed and close to 90,000 people being forced to evacuate. Much of the area has since been rebuilt and the population in the area continues to grow.
How Many People Live in Fort McMurray, Alberta?
The population of Fort McMurray is 68,000 as of the 2021 Census. This is a population growth of 1.3%. The region is unique because many people move in and out of the region. It’s common for Albertans and other Canadians to move to the area and work for several years and then move back to their home city. People also live in the area seasonally.
How to Find a Job & Build a Career in Fort McMurray
Fort McMurray’s Local Economy
Fort McMurray is found near the Athabasca Oil Sands and is considered the heart of one of Alberta’s (and Canada’s) hubs of oil production. Canada has the second-largest oil reserve in the world. It is expected that the oil sands are going to be the economic engine for Canada for the next 25 to 30 years. Oil and supporting industries dominate the local economy.
The top industries in Fort McMurray are:
- Natural gas
- Oil pipeline
Major Employers in Fort McMurray
Most of the top employers in the region are in the oil and gas industry. They include:
- Suncor Energy
- Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)
- CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC (Formerly Nexen)
Other top employers include Ledcor Group, Husky Energy, Flowserve, and YMCA Wood Buffalo.
Career Pathways in Fort McMurray
Working with a local recruiting agency is also an option. The top recruiters in the area are Roevin, Fort McMurray Labour Source, Randstad, and RobertHalf.
The Fort McMurray Housing Market
Where you choose to live within a city can affect many things, such as your daily commute, and how close you are to amenities – the grocery store, bank, schools, and parks. Consider your location when choosing a neighbourhood. While your options are fewer in Fort McMurray compared to a larger city, the location you choose still matters.
Is Housing Expensive in Fort McMurray, Alberta?
Living in a smaller town generally comes with more affordable housing costs. However, Fort McMurray’s housing prices are as high or more expensive than some bigger cities. For example, it is estimated that Fort McMurray is about 15% more expensive than Calgary. This is the case because of the limited housing market and high demand for housing. The wildfires in 2016 put even more stress on the housing market and drove up prices even more.
Finding a Place to Rent in Fort McMurray
Rental rates start at around $850 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and go up from there. The average rent for an apartment in Fort McMurray is $945 for a bachelor, $1,030 for a one-Bedroom, $1,195 for a two-bedroom, and $1,642 for a three-bedroom.
Since rental availability is limited, many oil sand workers choose to live in camps. These are semi-permanent housing structures built by companies to allow workers to live close to the job site. The facilities are high quality and offer all the amenities of a motel. This is a choice for single workers moving to the region.
Use Rentals for Newcomers to search for rental units in Fort McMurray.
It’s also important to get to protect your family, belongings, and finances. Most property owners will require you to have a tenant insurance policy. Without your own insurance, if there is theft, fire, or water damage, you will have to pay out of your own pocket. Renter’s insurance covers your belongings and liability. Get more information about renting a home: Renting in Canada: What Newcomers Need to Know.
Buying a Home in Fort McMurray
Buying a home or condo in Fort McMurray is more affordable compared to major cities in Canada such as Toronto or Vancouver. But, it is still one of the more expensive locations in Alberta. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the median price for a single-family detached home was $488,950 as of December 2021. This is down 1.4% from the previous year.
To compare housing prices, the average price to buy a home in Edmonton in 2021 was $431,500 and the average price to buy a condo is $194,700. Find out more about buying your first home in Canada: First Time Home Buyer: Newcomer Tips.
Driving & Public Transit in Fort McMurray
Driving in Fort McMurray, Alberta
Most residents drive a car to get around. The area is supported by several highways. Highway 63 is the only highway between Fort McMurray and Edmonton. Because of the demands of the oil sands industry, this highway boasts some of the highest tonnage per kilometre in Canada and the largest and heaviest loads that trucks have ever carried. It is also one of the most dangerous highways in Canada.
Fort McMurray can also be accessed from Lac La Biche through Highway 881. The city is also served by Highway 69, which is a short spur off Highway 63 that connects Fort McMurray with its airport and a few rural residential developments to the southeast.
If you plan to drive, you will need a valid Alberta driver’s licence. Get more information about driving in Canada here:
Fort McMurray Public Transit
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo uses a public transit service that includes Fort McMurray. It runs seven days a week. Services consist of local scheduled bus routes, specialized transportation for people with disabilities and school buses. 16 regular bus routes operate daily with two additional weekday rush hour routes to the main industrial areas and a special Saturday service for people in Saprae Creek. The system has reduced weekend service and does not run at all on most holidays.
Community Support for Newcomers
The Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo community continues to attract newcomers to the region. As a smaller community, it relies on fewer resources. The YMCA of Wood Buffalo Immigrant Settlement Services helps people settle through employment, counselling, translation, and community services.
Learn more about Services in Canada to Help Newcomers Settle.
Language Support in Fort McMurray
There are several resources new immigrants can use to get language support. You can take language courses, receive translation services and receive other education through Keyano College, Wood Buffalo Regional Library, and the YMCA of Northern Alberta.
Personal Finance & Banking
All new immigrants will need a plan to manage their personal finances. Newcomers can get help at all local banks in Fort McMurray. They have programs to help newcomers open a bank account and get a credit card, or mortgage, and apply for other financial products. Visit a local bank branch to start the process.
Get more banking tips for newcomers:
Fort McMurray’s Education System
Fort McMurray offers education at all levels, including elementary, high school, college, and adult learning. There are opportunities to get training or upgrade your professional skills in or near the city.
Elementary and Secondary Education
There are 24 elementary and secondary schools in the school districts in Fort McMurray. There are six in the rural areas of Wood Buffalo.
Fort McMurray Public School District: This is the public school district for students in Fort McMurray. This includes French Immersion and Islamic School.
Fort McMurray Catholic School District is a faith-based learning environment. It offers French Immersion and First Nations, Metis, and Inuit language programs.
Northland School Division: This goes across Northern Alberta. It includes the rural area surrounding both the Town of Peace River and Wood Buffalo. Greater North Central Francophone Education Region is the Northern Alberta school district for French first language education.
Post Secondary Education
Keyano College is a community college that offers programs at three campuses. It offers programs from General Science to Fine Arts, as well as programs for skilled workers to prepare people to work in the oil sands industry.
Read more about education in Canada:
Where To Get Medical Care in Fort McMurray, Alberta
As in other parts of Alberta, comprehensive health care services are available. Alberta Health Services, Northern Region coordinates and delivers health care in the Wood Buffalo region. This is part of the province’s health care system.
Fort McMurray offers a variety of community health and specialist services, in addition to a hospital, Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, and two medical centres. For some specialty services, you may need to travel to Edmonton.
Many health services here are free for people who are covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP). People who do not have an AHCIP card must pay for health services. As a newcomer to Alberta, you can apply for the AHCIP three months before leaving your country of origin. If you are moving to Alberta from another province or territory in Canada, you can use Alberta health services until you are eligible for health insurance in the province.
In case of an emergency call 9-1-1. This number is the same no matter where you live in Canada.
How to Find a Family Doctor in Fort McMurray
Finding a doctor once you move to Fort McMurray is an important part of getting settled. You can access primary care quickly here, as some Fort McMurray family doctors are accepting new patients. Use this College of Physicians and Surgeons of Albert online search tool to find a doctor. For more information about health care in Canada read: Steps to Access Free Health Care in Canada.
What is Day-to-Day Life Like in Fort McMurray?
Things to Do in Fort McMurray
Though more famous for its employment opportunities, Fort McMurray is a unique and vibrant community. People work hard and they play hard. While it lacks big-city entertainment and activities, there are plenty of natural points of interest to explore. The city is one of the best places in the world to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Public Spaces & Attractions
As a community reliant on the oil sands, it’s not surprising that one of the top attractions is the Oil Sands Discovery Centre. You can learn about local history at the Heritage Village, get active at MacDonald Island Park, or check out local art at Points North Gallery. The area also hosts many festivals throughout the year.
Restaurants & Nightlife
The city has restaurants, pubs, and a variety of fun activities. There is a casino, cinema, bowling alley, and other things to do with the family or for adults only.
Nature & Natural Landscapes
The natural attractions in the area are what make it unique. You can check out Borealis Park, visit Vista Ridge All Seasons Park, head up to Beacon Hill Lookout, look for Bison at Reclamation Site, or check out the Gateway Hill and Matcheetawin Discovery Trail.
Sporting Events & Concerts
MacDonald Island Park is the main sporting facility in the region. You can check out live music and concerts at the casino and other local establishments in the area.
Culture & Diversity In Fort McMurray
Fort McMurray is a multicultural community. There are people from over 70 countries and more than 80 languages are spoken by people living in the area. Over 10,000 people speak a language other than English at home.
About 8,000 Filipinos and 7,000 Muslims live in the area representing the largest immigrant population. Overall, there are more than 28,000 immigrants working in the oil and gas industry, many of whom live in Fort McMurray.
Fort McMurray is home to a wide variety of religious beliefs and places to worship groups including the Markaz Ul Islam Mosque and the new Islamic Centre. There are over 20 churches and places of worship throughout the region.
The Weather in Fort McMurray
With a humid continental climate and no dry season, Fort McMurray has long, very cold winters and warm, short summers.
The town lies at a lower elevation than most other parts of Alberta. The warm season lasts from May 16 to September 14 with an average daily high temperature above 17°C. The cold season lasts from November 17 to March 5 with an average daily high-temperature below -4°C.
The hottest day of the year is July 20, with an average high of 24°C and the coldest day of the year is February 7, with an average low of -21°C.
Fort McMurray has an average annual precipitation of 456 millimetres – falls mainly in the summer months – and an average annual snowfall of 156 centimetres – appears within a range of 5 to 7 months.
Common Questions Immigrants Ask About Living in Fort McMurray
Is it Expensive to Live in Fort McMurray?
Even though it is a smaller town, the cost of housing is higher than the Canadian average. The cost to buy a home can be as expensive as large cities in Alberta such as Calgary and Edmonton. However, the higher cost of living is attributed to the higher than average household income.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Moving to Fort McMurray?
As a mainly industrial city, most people move here to work in the oil industry. People are well paid and there is a good opportunity to earn a good living. It is a younger city, with the average age being only 33 years old. However, there is also a high cost of living. It is a specialized job market and you have limited access to big city amenities. It is more of a rural setting.
Is Fort McMurray Culturally Diverse?
Yes. It is estimated there are more than 80 languages spoken in the city. With just over 60,000 residents, this makes it one of the most diverse areas in all of Canada.
For more information, tools, and free webinars about living in Canada visit our Settling in Canada resource page. We’ll help you to settle successfully!