Fort McMurray, AB
Demographic Factsheet: 
Population (2011): 61,374
Population (2006): 47,705
Pop change (%): 28.7
Total private dwellings: 26,401
Population density per square km: 1,024.8
Land area: (square km): 59.89
Median age of the population: 31.6 (36.5 province)
Average household: $191,507 (the highest of any Canadian city)
An estimated 23,000 aboriginal people live in the oil sands region.
Fort McMurray is the largest community in the regional municipality of Wood buffalo. Located near the confluence of the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers in northeastern Alberta and near the centre of the Athabasca oil sands deposit. Incorporated as a city in 1980, it merged with Improvement District No 143 in 1995 to create Wood Buffalo. Since the amalgamation, Fort McMurray is no longer officially designated a city but an urban service area within a specialized municipality being under a single government.
First settled as a North West Co trade post, Fort McMurray was named after Hudson’s Bay Co Factor William McMurray in 1870. In its first years McMurray functioned as a fur-trading post and transportation centre connecting Edmonton to the Athabasca country. McMurray gained town status in 1948 and it had its name changed to Fort McMurray in 1962.
For several years fishing (from Lake Athabasca), salt industry (in operation until 1950) and logging and lumbering were important to Fort McMurray economy, however the beginning of oil extraction in mids 1960s profoundly changed the city demographics. In 1964 the Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor Energy Inc) was given permission to start the construction on a plant to separate oil from the oil sands. From this point the town grew from 1,200 people (1964) to 10,000 by the mid-1970s, starting to become the modern Fort McMurray.
Almost a decade later a second project (Syncrude Canada) increased the population growth to nearly 31,000 by 1981. By the year of 1980, Fort McMurray was facing “limited taxation income, the city was not able to keep pace with the growth and merged with the tax rich improvement district”.
The city continued to grow reaching a peak of population of 37,000 in 1985 then declining to 34,000 by 1989, fluctuations related to the ups and downs of the global prices of the oil market. The extraction from the oil sands is a very expensive process and lower prices of the oil in the global market made it economically impracticable. Only in 2003, with the increase of oil price that the oil extraction become profitable again.
Not only the oil sands but also the natural gas and oil pipelines are part of the booming economy that includes companies such as Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell and Nexen. Today, the municipality is one of the fastest growing industrial communities in Canada due to the oil sands deposits in the region. Although Fort McMurray is not a classic company town, the industry presence and the oil prices fluctuations have a big impact bringing uncertainty “to imagining and planning for community in the region” p.126.
The Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plan for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area – CRISP, was created as guideline for long-term infrastructure development in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area. It is focused in identifying infrastructure needs related to transportation, water, education and health care. According to the CRISP an estimative based on the forecast of oil sand productions levels and oil sands projects starts and completion dates points to a population of approximately 240,500 in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area by the year 2045.

Dr. Leith Deacon PhD