As am I about to leave, it’s about time that I dedicate a post to the place that has been home for me in the last 12 months.
Fort McMurray is pretty famous in Canada, mainly because of the exploitation of the oil sands, and for the heated debate this originates.
Until 1778 only the First Nations people lived up here, and used the tar for canoe waterproofing. Then Peter Pond arrived and explored the region, and for this he has the honour of having the local mall named after him.
In 1790 an Alexander MacKenzie made the first description of the oil sands, but until WWI nobody cared. In 1930 the technology to separate oil from the sands was developed, but production was very limited: the first big plant by a big company appeared only in 1963.
After that, the destiny of Fort McMurray follows the history of conflicts and crises in the Middle East: if the price of OPEC oil is high, it is convenient to separate oil from the sands and the town expands; otherwise, oil sands separation is uneconomical, and the town shrinks.
Anyway, since 2003 the world price of oil is high enough, and last time Canada checked (in 2011) there were more than 61.000 people residing in Fort Mac.
To those, you have to add all the workers who fly in/fly out during weekdays going back home for the weekend, plus a certain number of Temporary Foreign Workers, like my husband.
It is a place for immigration from the high unemployment areas on the East Coast of Canada: I have seen bumper stickers in town saying “Fort McMurray is second biggest town in Newfoundland”, and some stats say that east coasters account for 24% of people in town.
This history is reflected in Fort McMurray appearance, which is by no means a beautiful city, especially coming from Rome, Italy.
Downtown is somewhat shabby, and it’s the place where shopping malls, hotels, motels, restaurants (and please, keep in mind that here in North America McDonald’s is called restaurant too) and pubs are. There is also an old-looking cinema with 6 screens and a casino.
Across the Athabasca river there are the “new” residencial neighborhoods of Thickwood Heights and Timberlea.
The only tourist attractions are the Heritage Park (which is still closed after the 2013 flood) and the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, and I know bus tours of Suncor site are also available. More info on Fort McMurray Tourism web site.
You can have a glimpse of machinery and some explainations in front of the Syncrude site, some 40 km north of Fort Mac.
Fort Mac can boast a gorgeous leisure centre on MacDonald Island: an amazing place that offers a huge sport centre and a beautiful pool.
Here Northern Insights organises conferences held by different speakers: during my stay I remember Martha Stewart and Colonel Chris Hadfield.
The centre also houses the public library with free internet access.
Right now construction for the new football field is under way.
MacDonald Island also hosts concerts and community events.
All in all, Fort McMurray is a decent place to live.
And finally to the aspect we’re most interested about: food and drink.
Given the peculiar origin and nature of its population, Fort Mac is not a place for gourmet restaurant or fancy clubs.
To eat, you can chose between the major Canadian chains: the Keg, Moxie’s, Montana’s, Fuel/Earls: places for burgers or steaks. My favourite is Montana’s, the only place where you get the steak cooked as you asked. And they also have yam fries, which I adore!
Margherita pizza is edible at Earls and a Famoso has recently opened at the new international airport.
Of course we also have a Tim Horton’s: I still have to set foot in a Canadian town that doesn’t have a Tim Horton’s! And it’s true: Tim has the best coffee you can find. If you insist on a Starbuck’s, you’ll find it the Safeway supermarkets, but it’s no match for Tim.
There are also all the other chains, the fast food ones: A&W (the best junk food in Canada), McDonald’s, Mucho Burrito and so on.
There are surely other options in town, but we delved into the japanese restaurants scene: I cannot honestly say that we’ve tried them all, but we liked Soleilki in Thickwood, and Spring Moon, downtown (103-8528 Manning Ave, but they also have a location in Timberlea, though slightly worse).
To drink, there are a lot of pubs, but honestly I didn’t visit many.
The one I went surely is an Irish pub Paddy McSwiggins, in Thickwood, with live music and all the rest (including a loud crowd and some drunk people on the weekends).
But my choice in Fort Mac, my absolute favourite in town, is a place where you can do both eating and drinking.
At Wood Buffalo Brewing Company, they brew their own beer, and are very passionate about it. My favourite is the Overtime IPA, but you can sample all their creations with the 6 x 6oz sampler.
The place has a great atmosphere, it’s one of the few places where to enjoy a decent Negroni cocktail, and the new menu is good.
We tried the steaks, both the Millionaire and the New York New York and found them very good (even though I would have appreciated a little less sauce). I really liked the Brew Master Meatloaf and its balance of spices, while the triple-decked The Decision burger, though good, is only for big, big guys.