Warning! You need to book your spot for this tour two weeks in advance. Fort McMurray Tourism runs the tour which will take you from the Oil Sands Discovery Centre which is just south of downtown Fort McMurray to the Syncrude plant at Mildred Lake about 40km north of the town.
You will visit the Wood Buffalo viewing area where a herd of 300 Wood Buffalo have been released onto former oil sands land that has since been replanted with trees and reclaimed as usuable land. Buffalo are not trained to respond to cameras; they are as active as cattle. We saw about 8 of them and they never moved. I was told this is pretty normal.
You will visit the Giants of Mining exhibit which is just outside the Syncrude plant. You can see some of the giant machines that have been used in the past to mine the oil.
You will be taken into the main plant area which is part of Syncrude's active oil sands operation. We saw the North Mine where work does not stop. Workers are on 12 hours shifts, two a day, for every day of the year, even Christmas!
Bring outdoor clothes to match the weather -- you will be outside several times for 15-20 minutes at a time. Bring water or something to keep your throat wet, it's a very dry area and there are no snack shops available on the tour.
This is a shot of one of the areas where Syncrude has extracted all the oil. Once the oil is gone, they backfill the area with a grey, sand like material. This is the first step in turning the land into usuable area.
Fort McMurray Tourism operates two annual general consumer trade shows, one in April and one in September. Apparently revenues generated provides the income to sustain the tourism office on a year round basis.
They take place at MacDonald Island and the shows attract exhibitors from across Canada who present a wide range of products, services and information.
Spring shows generally have up to 250 exhibitors and average attendance of 15,000 - 17,000 people over the three day period. The Fall show has about 170 exhibitors and attendance of 13,000 - 15,000. Source: Fort McMurray Tourism
I personally really enjoyed the tradeshow. Motorhomes and hot tubs seemed to be the two big ticket items that local people where most interested in but there was a tonne of other things from crafts to other regions of Alberta marketing themselves for holidays, places to do businesses and so on.
These shows are jammed packed and very very well attended.
There are some nice walking trails in Fort McMurray where you can enjoy the outdoors. Some of the go along the Athabasca River where you get a little bit of a cool breeze.
The river itself don't look the cleanest, I wouldn't take any spontaneous dips in the river but as you can see from this picture you can get some nice views.
If you are going to visit Fort McMurray you have to travel just another 30 minutes outside of town and get a true glimpse of what Fort McMurray is all about and that is the Oil Sands!!!
It truly is an engineering marvel and lots to see, I would plug your nose at the Suncor plant but certainly worth the look if you are in that nic of the woods!
I went on an unofficial tour but if you look into it there are public tours as well of the sites. At the web site address I have provided with this tip you will find more information.
Stretching from north central Alberta to the borders of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo ranks, by area, among the largest municipalities in North America. It was established April 1, 1995, through amalgamation of the City of Fort McMurray and Improvement District No. 143. Within its 68,454 square kilometers, the municipality is a region of startling contrasts, encompassing both vast stretches of pristine wilderness and one of the fastest growing industrial communities in Canada.
Bolstered by the rich oil sands deposits which underlie the region, the dynamic economy of Wood Buffalo is slated for even more aggressive growth in the future. Expanding energy developments create exceptional opportunities for businesses and even broader lifestyle choices for the region’s 58,317 residents (2002 Municipal Census). Source: Municipal Web Site
Communities include Fort McMurray, Anzac, Conklin, Draper, Fort Chipewyan, Fort Fitzgerald, Fort MacKay, Gregiore Lake Estates, Janvier, Mariana Lake, Saprae Creek Estates.
As a thing to do you should try to see some of the smaller rural locations outside of the city. Happy day tripping!
I personally went to Fort MacKay one morning for a little trip. Located 55 kms north of Fort McMurray on the Athabasca River’s west bank with approximatly 200 residents.
Fort MacKay is completely surrounded by oil sands activity, an industry that serves as the community’s primary employment source, besides seasonal forestry work, hunting and trapping.
The Wood Bison Viewpoint and the Wood Bison Trails are located off Hwy 63, approximately 35 km (21 mi) north of the city at the entrance to Syncrude Self-guided trails on reclaimed land feature local plants, wildlife and a her of more than 300 wood bison, a species that was reintroduced to the area.
I beleive Syncrude committed to preserving a certain percentage of land. This is very close to the actual oil sand developments. I can't imagine any Bison in this area without this protection area.
The Wood Bison is the largest Canadian terrestrial mammal. It is dark brown, with a massive head, a high hump on its large shoulders, and long shaggy hair on its shoulders and front legs. The short legs end in rounded hooves. The short and black horns curve inward on the males, but are straight on the females. There are two moults every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The males are larger than the females; an adult male measures 3.04 to 3.8 m in length and 1.67 to 1.82 m in height (at the shoulders), and weighs between 350 and 1000 kg. Wood Bison are generally taller and less stocky than plains bison. Both wood and plains bison are considered by some to be subspecies of the American bison, but their actual systematic status is unclear and controversial. Source: http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca
Most people are going to Fort McMurray to work so I thought I would put this tip up there.
Syncrude is one of the biggest and better employers. You can check out their web site for more information on all that fun stuff.
Working is definitely the thing to do if you are going to Fort McMurray!
Lots of places to canoe around Fort McMurray. Give the folks at Points North Adventures a call and they will set you up.