Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fort McMurray: A Google Earth Tour

Since I've posted about all the changes underway here over the past several months I thought I'd play around with Google Earth and put up a few images of the layout of our town. I don't have every area of town here though though I have enjoyed the few times I've been up to Abasand. I've included the areas I'm most familiar with but this includes the bulk of our fair town. Join me on a short tour of Fort McMurray then, if you will.

A wide shot of Fort McMurray or about as much of it as I could manage to fit onto a screen shot. The city is divided into several subdivisions as it spreads away from the downtown core.

West of the Athabasca we have the Timberlea and Thickwood subdivisions. That would be Timberlea to the north and Thickwood south of it. The green area in between them is the Birchwood Trail system which I've mentioned on this blog a few times in the past. Roughly 50 000 people live up here..more people than in the entire territory of Yukon or the Northwest Territories.

And here we have Thickwood, older of the two subdivisions and the area we call home. Back in the day this part of town was known as Area 5A if I'm not mistaken. I only know this because I recall reading it somewhere. Thickwood was created back in the 1970's which ushered in quite the boom here following the opening of Syncrude in 1979. Suncor, where I work, led the way, coming on-line in 1967. Around the time I was born, Fort McMurray had around 6000 residents. By 1979, that had climbed to 27 000. And as I believe I've noted before, we are now pushing 100 000.

Here is a closer shot of our little corner of Thickwood......actually its a lot of corners. There are a lot of crescents in our immediate vicinity. We can do most of our shopping and running (groceries, gas etc.) around up here rather than fighting through traffic to get downtown.

Here have the Lower Town Site, east of the river. But everybody just refers to it as Downtown. Our main drag is Franklin Avenue. Franklin was one of the first streets created, stretching south-easterly from the Athabasca. Due to geography (hills to the west and the Clearwater River to the east), everything grew up around Franklin Avenue. It is our commercial core, our busiest street and a source of headaches to anyone stuck in traffic during the busier times of the day. Both Lisa and I have a love/hate relationship with the street although I have to say it takes real guts for a community to have its main drag named after a failed northern explorer. Fort McMurray sure has succeeded in becoming an economic engine and there's just a certain gritty, stubborn determination to it all that I love.

Here is MacDonald Island at the forks of the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers. (It's not the most updated picture but it will do for now.) It is home to our amazing recreation facility I've mentioned a few times in the past on this blog and I referred to it as the largest facility of its kind in Western Canada. The most recent information I have though from a very reliable source is that the MacDonald Island Recreation Centre is the biggest IN CANADA. And their are plans to expand. Swimming, curling, indoor golf, hockey, indoor track, weight rooms, hot tubs, library, all sorts of community events, the list goes can find it here. Last year the facility played host to the first ever outdoor Alberta Junior Hockey League game...our OIl Barons beat Drayton Valley 5-2 if I recall correctly. This urban gem has hosted many great concerts including Kiss and the Barenaked Ladies. Future plans include the construction of baseball field and I've heard talk that we may be getting a minor league baseball team in the future. The place also sports a golf course and some pleasant river side and nature views (I'm pretty sure that when I make my first sighting of a Belted Kingfisher, this will be the place it will happen). So no matter what, chances are good you'll find something worth your while at this fantastic facility.

Here we have our airport, ski hill and the rural acreage of Saprae Creek. We rarely get out this way but we do know that if you miss the turn to the airport while driving in the dark you eventually reach some sort of old rail yard at the end of the highway. Yes, we know this because we've done it a couple of times!

And finally, Waterways. At one time Waterways was a completely separate community from Fort McMurray. It's where the rail link ended and was the jumping off point for all areas North. When we decided to move into town in the spring of 2009, one of the houses we looked at was down in this area. Its quiet and homey and has the most small town feel in my opinion. In the end though, Thickwood one out. We do enjoy coming down here for the water park and for drives along the river.

And so ends our little tour. We've seen pretty much every part of town at this point but we know there is still a lot here to see. I've been playing around with the idea of a future post about some of the oil sands projects north of town. I only hesitate because I'm not interested in having my blog invaded by all kinds of rude, slobbering enviro-nut Leftists but we will see.

One thing I did want to mention before I forget, and some may have picked it up if they've followed this blog for any length of time, but I keep referring to Fort McMurray as a city and as a town. Technically, we are actually a hamlet I suppose. At one point, from 1980 until 1995, Fort McMurray WAS a city. It was then amalgamated with Improvement District no.143 to form what later became known as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. So even though the city sign (see? there I go again) in my header photo says "city", we are really an urban service area. Being small town Ontarians, Lisa and I usually just refer to here as a town. But really, in the end, it is just home.

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