Permission was granted in 1964 for Great Canadian Oil Sands to build a plant that would allow them to separate the bitumen from the oil sands. The modern city of Fort McMurray grew up around this plant reaching a population of 10,000 by the 1970s. Syncrude Canada started a similar project in the 1980s, and the population rose again to 37,000. As demand for oil grew through the 1990s, the population rose again to over 47,000. By the end of 2015, the population of the city was over 82,000.
The rapid rise in population that has occurred over the last few years has meant that a lot of amenities available in the city are in high demand. There was also a lack of land to build the new houses that were needed for the increased population. Crown land was transferred by the Alberta government to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) in 2012 which provided some much-needed land. When you total the neighborhoods of Fort McMurray and the RMWb together, there are seventeen in all.
Forest Fire of 2016
One of the most notable events to ever occur in Fort McMurray were the forest fires of 2016. The blaze began when temperatures rose as high as 30 degrees which were combined with a humidity level of less than 15%. Although the fire initially started in the northwest of the city, it managed to cross the river into the South. It was one of the worst natural disasters that Canada has known. The total damage that was caused by the fire has been estimated at well over $3 billion. Over 80,000 residents were forced to leave their homes during the fires, and 2400 buildings and other structures were destroyed. 500,000 hectares of land were burnt by the fire, and the oil sands also had to stop all of their operations which hurt the economy in the area.
Fort McMurray is classed as an urban area, but all the neighborhoods still see themselves as entirely separate from each other which has made finding a focal point for the city quite difficult. The current train of thought is that the existing city center should be redeveloped and more made of the opportunities for walking and cycling in the city, as well as improving public transport.
The largest recreational space in the area is MacDonald Island Park, and this is also located in the center. As well as all the sporting activities that take place here, there is also a library, and it can be used as a concert venue.