September 2014

Fort McMurray, Alberta

By Kiran Malik-Khan

Nestled in the boreal forest of Alberta, the oil sands city of Fort McMurray is about 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. First settled as a fur trading post in 1790, it was renamed in 1870 by the Hudson’s Bay Company after William McMurray, who oversaw the area. The surrounding Wood Buffalo region is home to a multicultural population of nearly 120,000. For the business traveller there is plenty to do outside of work hours, and the brand new $258-million Fort McMurray International Airport is your gateway to it all. Summer in Fort McMurray means a season of festivals, community events, fishing, and outdoor sports. Winter brings the chance to take in the breathtaking northern lights. But make sure you pack for -40 C temperatures.

 Fort McMurray Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre
Courtesy of Sawridge Group
Where to stay

Located minutes from the airport, Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre is a full-service hotel that offers a complimentary shuttle service for guests. A full buffet breakfast is served daily, and the hotel has a fitness centre, pool and lounge. Rooms are from $165 to $250. Corporate rates are available.

If you prefer something quainter, Chez Dube, a bed and breakfast, is located downtown and is accustomed to hosting business travellers. The chef ensures a hearty breakfast greets guests daily, along with homemade baked goods. The 14-room establishment offers guests complimentary YMCA passes and bicycles for trips around town. There’s a refrigerator in every room and meeting room spaces on site. Rates are $225 Sunday to Thursday and $205 on weekends.

The Clearwater Residence Hotel in Timberlea – known as uptown – is 20 minutes from the city centre and has everything the business traveller needs. The condostyle hotel features one- and two-room suites with fully equipped kitchens, a washer/dryer, complimentary breakfast and wireless network. You can walk to restaurants, and grocery and convenience stores. Rates vary from $309 to $349 according to room size. Corporate rates are available.

Tip: Leave early for meetings

Where to dine
Fort McMurray The Keg dinner plate
Courtesy of The Keg

Complementing the region’s ethnic diversity, Fort McMurray’s downtown core is home to multicultural cuisine. There’s a Lebanese restaurant called Mazaj, and Nim’s Tandoor House, a Halal Indian restaurant. Japanese, Mexican and Chinese options are also available.

If you’re more of a meat and potatoes person, The Keg Steakhouse and Bar is a perennial favourite. Steaks range from $30 to $41 depending on the cut. Seafood options are also available and are priced from $29 to $49. 

Located in the Radisson Hotel, Prime Social Kitchen is another top choice. The luxurious establishment offers a gluten-free menu and enough options to satisfy every palette, whether you want a steak, ranging from $31 to $39, or beef curry, which is priced at $19. Popular dishes like the signature appetizer – jalapeno cheddar bombs – start at $14.

Where to explore

Fort McMurray Suncor Community Leisure Centre 
Courtesy of Layla Underwood

Start your exploration of the city with the Suncor Community Leisure Centre on MacDonald Island, just outside of downtown. At 450,000 square feet, the facility boasts a wide range of activities including rock climbing, squash, racquetball and swimming, and there is an indoor track. Also on MacDonald Island, you can practise your swing at the impressive Miskanaw Golf Club, and an art gallery features local and international exhibits year-round.

If you fancy a game of pick-up, there are plenty of opportunities – from badminton to basketball. Day passes are suitable for extended stays. Business travellers can also book meeting spaces and hospitality services.

Fort McMurray Exhibit Hall
Courtesy of Government of Alberta
Fort McMurray Heritage Park
Courtesy of Fort McMurray Tourism

Next year, visitors to MacDonald Island will have the opportunity to enjoy the new Shell Place, a $127-million project that will include a dedicated badminton centre, a stadium, meeting/conference rooms and several other services. In June 2015, SMS Equipment Stadium, which is part of Shell Place, will host the Northern Kick-Off: a four-day community celebration centred on an official Canadian Football League preseason game between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The exhibits at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, near the airport, delve into the history, science and technology of the oil sands, with selfguided sections as well as demonstrations of the process patented in 1928 by Karl Clark for separating bitumen from sand. The popular gift shop has several regional souvenirs.

Heritage Park is affectionately dubbed Fort McMurray’s “little village locked in time.” It is operated by the Fort McMurray Historical Society. Centrally located next to Keyano College, the park captures the fur trading beginnings of the region, along with the city’s rich aboriginal heritage. The historic buildings date from about 1911 to the late-1940s.

The 594-seat Keyano Theatre & Arts Centre at Keyano College is a go-to place for plays, concerts, a selection of art house movies from the Toronto International Film Festival, and community events. The smaller Recital Theatre is adjacent and can be used for more intimate presentations.

How to get there

Tip: Western Canada Summer Games

The new Fort McMurray International Airport opened in June 2014. Direct flights are available from Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Kelowna, to name a few.


There are quite a few cab companies in town but if you need something more formal, McMurray Airport Limo will take you wherever you need in style.

Further travel:

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