Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Light Up Our Lives

Oh this crazy weather! We've seen more thunder storms in the past couple weeks than I've seen in the past 6 years. Of course that's mainly because of where I lived in Nunavut where big thunderstorms are pretty rare events. If I find myself cursing the daytime heat I try to remind myself that, unlike southern Ontario, there is very little in terms of added humidity here. Anyhow, all this unsettled weather has had us under a thunderstorm advisory for a large part of the day. Hopefully, the lightening doesn't add to any more forest fires up here. We haven't lived here long enough to see just how this summer stacks up in terms of the severity of forest fires although it has been a pretty dry summer and there have been a number of fire bans around Fort Mac. The largest fire in the province at the moment happens to lie not very far from here, though last time I heard it was at least partially under control. I've heard a few people mention about concerns from smoke being blown into town from this fire but I can't say that I've really noticed it myself. The only reason the fire caught my attention was because we happened to travel up that way toward the Firebag River back in February.

In other news, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was back into the classroom Tuesday evening to pick up a couple of safety courses in order to start sending resumes off into the oil patch. I passed both of them with flying colours though it took me a little longer to complete the tests than I thought it would. It's been 10 years since university, the course was all on computer, and I'm just not a visual learner. But pass it I did so I have the basic knowledge and awareness in order not to be a safety hazard on a construction site. And we can all breath a little easier now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Words are powerful things. They hold the power to hurt or to heal, the power to illuminate or confuse. I say this not only because I enjoy written communication but also as a way to introduce a rather bizarre spectacle I saw earlier this morning. I was downtown with Lisa this morning and as we were turning onto the main drag, we noticed a pick up truck. Now seeing a pick-up truck in Fort McMurray is like going to a beach and seeing sand. What made this one stand out was that on the front hood some genius had taken a can of orange spray paint and written the "N" word across the hood. We both did a double take. While I've seen plenty of racist nonsense over the years, most of it was verbal. Now we were looking at something very blatant.

A few minutes later, as we were listening to our favorite local radio station, the host (who also happens to be our neighbor) mentioned seeing this truck on air. He mentioned just how "in your face" it seemed and also wanted listeners to call in to confirm that he wasn't seeing things. Being the media diva I am, I called in to say that I had seen it too. The conversation wasn't on-air (I'm never that lucky)but the host said that if it was his truck he would have at least spray-painted over the offensive word. In full agreement I added that it was a pretty sad thing to see given how multi-cultural this city has become in recent years. I can't imagine anyone would be so stupid as to vandalize their own truck and then drive down the main street of town with it. I did finish up the conversation by saying the driver risked creating potential problems for himself and that it was a darn good thing this isn't the southern United States with all the silliness I hear going on between the NAACP and the Tea Party. I haven't the slightest idea of the perpetrator, but to that person, I simply say, "Please, grow a brain."

I really hope the driver gets his truck fixed up. It's just not something you like to see. I'm glad the kids weren't with us since they like to sound out every new word that they see.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blah Blah Blah

While I know its getting to be an old story, I recall hearing last week about an environmental group in the US taking out billboard ads and releasing a video advising travellers to avoid Alberta as a summer travel destination. Frankly, I'm glad they did it. I'd rather not have such enviro-MENTAlS tromping around here, dropping their granola crumbs all over the place and wrecking my serenity.

I take issue with the claim that the size of the development is the size of Great Britain though. The entire municipality of Wood Buffalo is comparable in size with Switzerland(41 284 is much smaller than Great Britain (219 Other than their difficulties in getting their geography right, I think its just plain sad they cast stones given the even bigger oil mess in the Gulf of Mexico (currently the size of Kentucky).

Fort McMurray isn't all tar sands and development. There are many wonderful areas to explore and enjoy. Perhaps these people should actually visit here and find out for themselves rather than casting stones from afar.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We Love Waterfalls...

but just not in the living room. OK, it wasn't quite a waterfall but when Lisa called me on the cell late last week and told me there was water coming through the living room ceiling, a waterfall image went through my head. It was really more of an intermittent dripping than a deluge but still not something you want to hear.

Nothing in the upstairs bathroom has been changed since when the house was built around 1980 and its starting to show. The pipes to the bathtub developed a slow leak which gradually found its way down to the first floor. It will all be fixed up eventually (hopefully without too much disruption to the daycare). It just seems a bit odd to have a big whole cut in the livingroom.

We had pipe problems with our last house down in Janvier (aren't we consistent?)but at least this time it thankfully has nothing to do with sewage.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


This rather quiet, unassuming place (pictured below), known as Waterways, may not look like much, but it has played an important role throughout Canada's history. At one point, Fort McMurray was actually made up of three communities - McMurray, at the confluence of the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers; Abasand, along the nearby Horse River, which I'm sure I'll mention more about later; and Waterways, lying in the Clearwater valley, 5 or 6 miles south of present-day downtown Fort McMurray.

Looking west along the Clearwater toward Waterways.

Two centuries ago, the area around Waterways served as a resting point along the old fur trading route leading into the Rockies. More recently, it served as a major link in the chain supporting the construction of the Alaska highway and the CANOL pipeline. Supplies were shipped (and later sent by train) to Waterways before being loaded on to barges to be sent to points north. Having read up quite a bit on both these important Northern projects, I've long been familiar with the name Waterways but since I knew at the time that it lay so close to Fort McMurray I always assumed that "Waterways" was simply an older name for the present Fort McMurray. But no, the two places were separate, and at times, fiercely rival communities.

Due to limits imposed by geography, the rail line ended in Waterways and never quite made it into Fort McMurray. As a result, the place had a lot going for it and quite possibly would have outgrown its northern rival were it not for the closing of a salt plant there in the early 1950's followed shortly thereafter by a disastrous fire which razed its popular hotel (and social hub) to the ground. The opening of the Suncor and Syncrude in the 1960's and 70's sealed the deal.

Today, Waterways is a quiet residential area on the edge of town. Most of the historical building are long gone, though some of them have found a second home at the local heritage park. Its a place we like to visit when we can to take in the views of the valley or take the kids to a nearby water park. In a quiet moment, I like to take a moment and imagine in my mind's eye a bustling place back at the beginning of the last century.

Further up the valley along the Clearwater.

Toward the end of the valley shortly before you run out of road. If I'm not mistaken, the dirt track on the left is what remains of the old rail bed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Working Man

If you've been following this blog for any length of time you might think that I don't do much with my time given all the talk and photos of trails, rivers and scenic views. Tomorrow though its back to business bright and early as I head off to work. I've been working quietly behind the scenes looking for work since having resigned my position down in Janvier. I have to admit I was a little antsy at times given that the past three months has been the longest I've been without work in the past ten years. So, it took a little longer than than planned given that its summer and the big oil companies tend to do more hiring during toward the fall but work is work all the same. This is Fort McMurray after all and while it might take a little time to find something, people seem to find work without too much trouble. I've always believed that if you are hard-working and determined enough, you'll never be out of work for too long of a stretch. And so it's now come to pass.

Lisa spoke with a client who happens to be an assistant manager in charge of hiring and helped put an end to all the resume-handing-out I've been doing the last little while. The position isn't glamorous but for now I'll take it. At least its a short walk from the house which in this auto-crazy town is a welcome thing. I have resumes in with a lot of the big oil companies and many smaller ones that are tied into the oil patch as well as a position down at Keyano College that (at the risk of mentioning it here and jinxing myself) I'd love to land. For the moment though I know I can expect to get a lot of hours which suits me well as I like to keep busy...and I'm sure I'll still have time left over to explore the area more too.

Love Those Commanding Views

A few months back I wrote on my other blog about how pretty much every place I've lived in around the north has had at least one special place that has attracted me back time and again. These quiet places allow me to unwind and better appreciate the miracle of nature. They also allow for some nice pictures too if conditions are just right.

While I've put up pictures of the Athabasca River before, I came across a spot with a commanding view of the valley. Lately, I have to admit Lisa has really been "one-uping" me when it comes to discovering the scenic spots. But, while we both had a rough idea of this new location, I will selflessly take the credit for having first discovered it. Parts of the trail leading down into the valley were pretty steep and at a few points I found myself skirting the edge of a rocky cliff within mere inches of a 150 foot drop to the rocks below. It was a little hairy going at times and the heat was pretty intense but some of the vantage points were just spectacular. I suspect parts of that trail may have been originally blazed by a drunken mountain goat.

Three shots of Moberly Rapids.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Valley Views

Some views of the river valley.

The first two pictures were taken as we headed down toward a local golf course.

This is the view from behind one of the new subdivisions a little further down river. Unfortunately, one of the first things you notice is some rather ugly buildings and a 4-lane highway but from this view its just more difficult to tell.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Insane Housing Construction of Fort McMurray

We've been told that the city's population is projected to surpass 100,000 within the next couple years. Given the rate of urban sprawl we've seen, we don't doubt it. Las weekend we took a gander over to a couple of new subdivisions underway. I found it surreal to look out over an area half the size of the town I grew up in to see housing, new roads and still more areas being cleared for growth. This past weekend, we were experiencing a lazy Saturday afternoon and, grabbing the camera this time,we decided to pass some time by going back to gawk. Yes, we did take a lot of pictures but find ourselves in the rare position of having a lot of time on our hands.

Stonecreek, where detached houses start at a mere $554k (or at least the ones we saw).

Cleared for future development.

It looks like it will be a nice area though I did find many of the houses rather generic. We also figured out how they are getting put up so quickly. You take a top.....

....and then lift it up and glue it to the bottom!

The other new subdivision, which already has some developed sections, is called Eagle Ridge.

The majority of the streets here are named after different species of birds.

Some of the view really aren't that bad, I found, though I did remark to Lisa that sadly, some of the best views will be gone after the lots are filled up with condos and houses.

Fort the slogan goes, "We Have The Energy." We also have a lot of housing springing up left, right and centre.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beaver Dam

You can find this beaver dam (and a few lodges) on the outskirts of our neck of town. We've caught sight of a few busy beavers swimming around too but they were all hidden away during this particular visit. (It may look like I waded into a swamp for these pictures but I'll admit here that I cheated and took them from the side of the road in the comfort of our van.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Under Construction

With the warmer weather it seems that there is construction going on all over the place now. It's a little difficult to see in this picture here but in the background is the new 5-lane bridge being built across the river....price tag $127 million. I forget off hand when its supposed to be completed but it won't be too much longer now. Hopefully this will prevent Highway 63 from turning into a parking lot during rush hour.

(In care you're wondering, the above picture was taken at the 8th hole of a golf course on the far side of the river from where we live.)

Along with the bridge project are a couple of new overpasses to the Thickwood and Timberlea subdivisions. Price tag....$64 million...but you get a widening of Highway 63 along with that. If you're not familiar with the layout of Fort Mac, Highway 63 crosses the Athabasca and continues along its west bank up to all the big oil sands projects. Within about 5km of crossing the bridge though are a couple turn offs up into Thickwood and Timberlea. Thickwood has pretty much grown as much as it can I would think but Timberlea is still expanding. (I'll have pictures up soon of all the insane housing that's going up up there.) I have no idea how many people actually live up in this area but its probably safe to say that at least half the city does. So with all the commuters added to all the big trucks and construction equipment heading further up the highway to the oil sands, this little highway is just not a fun place to be at certain times of the day. The improved traffic flow from these two projects can't come soon enough.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grayling Terrace

Just a random shot from around town. This is in one of the last parts of Fort Mac we hadn't been to yet. Grayling Terrace was one of the city's first subdivisions built back in the '70's I believe. Oddly enough, this little piece of Grayling Terrace actually sits in a valley but I'm sure the back yard views are nice. Good luck to any parents trying to keep their kids off THAT.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

WWII Relic

It appears we may have time travelled. Lisa pointed this little cubby hole in the side of a bluff one afternoon while we were out on an area trail.

From the trail at the bottom it reminded me of some sort of Japanese bunker left over from World War II. Most likely, it's either a clever bird blind of some sort or perhaps a shelter for a homeless person which makes me thankful for the loving family we have and the nice roof over our heads.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Athabasca's Shores

Lisa discovered a nice secluded spot along the river bank which I have a feeling will become a nice spot to have many a summer campfire with the family in the future. If it wasn't for the fact that its right behind the water intake plant for the city, I'm sure this area would be full of million-dollar homes by now (or at least what passes for million-dollar homes here.)

I was able to get down there with a camera late last week. A few pictures didn't turn out as I forgot to wipe off Elijah's fingerprints off the camera lens after playing peek-a-boo with the camera but after I got the lens cleaned up I managed a few decent shots. Here are the best of the bunch.

You can see these bluffs as you head back over the river on the bridge and Lisa was able to get a nice unobstructed view.

The Horse River feeds into the Athabasca just south of the bridge. A little hard to see from this vantage point. We know there are some nice trails that cut through the valley over there just waiting for us to explore them....and we plan to do that just as soon as we figure out how to get to them since we didn't have our map with us on this particular day.

The rapids aren't nearly as ferocious as ones I've seen on other northern rivers but we still like them all the same.

A nice little cut line across the river, keeping us safe from forest fires. While there are a lot of tinder dry areas and fire bans aplenty, its fortunately been a quiet forest fire season so far in the area.

A view upstream. There's a golf course a little further up the bank and then miles and miles of wilderness after that.

Looking back down river to the north with the Horse River valley and our dusty mini-van in the background.