In the fall of 2005, Eric Girard and his wife Sophie left Quebec City to start new lives in Yellowknife. They had been advised the capital of the Northwest Territories was rich in jobs, but when they reached northern Alberta, they got word that Yellowknife’s economy was slowing; they were advised to try again in the spring.
With a trailer containing all their possessions hitched behind their car, they headed north to Fort McMurray, the booming oil sands city they had heard about but never seen. They’ve been there ever since.
“We had a wonderful introduction to Fort Mac,” says Mr. Girard. “The leaves of the trees in the river valley were fall yellow; the weather was perfect. It seemed that we were meant to be there.”
An agrologist specializing in vegetation, Mr. Girard soon found work with Syncrude, helping the oil sands operator return land to its natural state after the extraction of bitumen.
Lynne Barlow and her husband Glen arrived in Fort McMurray from Vermilion, a farming town east of Edmonton, in the spring of 2007. She was finalizing a degree in environmental management and had been offered a position with Syncrude to complete her practicum.
With their two children off at university, the Barlows decided to relocate to Fort McMurray, but were nervous. They were a farm couple and had never lived in a town, let alone a rapidly growing boomtown.
“It was a bit of a challenge at first,” admits Ms. Barlow. “We were used to acreage, so a small lot felt a bit strange.”
But they soon learned that in spite of its size and rapid growth, Fort McMurray retained the essential elements of a small town: friendly, welcoming neighbours, a good quality of life and a strong community spirit.
Mr. Girard and Ms. Barlow (who was offered a full-time position with Syncrude after graduation) acknowledge that they faced challenges when first arriving in Fort McMurray, including the town’s notoriously expensive accommodation. But Mr. Girard points out that salaries and wages are generally higher as well, which helps compensate for higher housing costs.
Their spouses have found employment of their own in Fort McMurray and have settled in equally well.
Ms. Barlow says that for her, one of the biggest attractions of Fort McMurray was the opportunity to work for Syncrude in her field of expertise. “Syncrude has the resources and commitment to restore the land it works to its natural state, and that’s what I want to be part of,” she says. “I work with the best of the best in a position that provides challenges every day.”
For Mr. Girard, helping Syncrude reclaim land – an additional 300 hectares scheduled for 2012 – dovetails with his own passion for the outdoors. He and Sophie started a club three years ago to help promote outdoor activities in the region like canoeing, winter camping and hiking.
As lifelong outdoor enthusiasts, the couple helps other Fort McMurray residents appreciate and enjoy all of the natural attractions in a region that offers plentiful professional opportunities – and much more.