A remote outpost in northeast Alberta, Fort McMurray was populated primarily by the Cree people until Europeans arrived in the late 1700s. The area’s abundant oil sands served a useful purpose even then. The Cree used the thick surface deposits for canoe waterproofing. The fur trade was the primary source of income in the area in the 1800s. Today, its location in a heavily forested area at the intersection of Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers puts Fort McMurray at the epicentre of Canada’s oil sands industry.
Visitors can learn more about the engine that drives the local economy at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, 7 kilometres south of downtown. One of Fort McMurray’s top attractions, the facility provides an overview of the industry’s history and technology. Bus tours of the oil sands are available from May to September. The four-hour excursion, which departs from the centre, includes a guided tour of Suncor Energy’s production facilities and sightseeing stops at several viewpoints.
The wealth generated by the oil industry has helped Fort McMurray create impressive recreational amenities, such as MacDonald Island Park, just north of downtown. The on-site Syncrude Aquatic Centre includes an indoor water park, an Olympic-size swimming pool and several water slides. Miskanaw Golf Club, featuring 18 holes amid beautiful scenery, is also one of the top attractions in Fort McMurray. An art gallery and a concert venue round out the recreational offerings at the park.
About 5 kilometres southeast, Heritage Park transports visitors back to a simpler time. Among the three-hectare sites historic structures are a trapper’s cabin from the early 1900s and a 1930s drugstore. Permanent exhibits tell the story of the hardy adventurers who settled the area, including bush pilots, trappers and loggers.
From September to mid-April, Fort McMurray is a prime spot for viewing the multi-coloured aurora borealis. Alta-Can Aurora Tours offers a guided excursion that helps visitors increase their odds of seeing the spectacular light show, promising a 90 percent chance of seeing the lights over the course of three nights.
With four rivers nearby, the area is also ideal for summer activities such as kayaking and jet boating. From May to September, anglers can try their luck at catching trophy trout, walleye and northern pike.
Those who prefer to let someone else catch and prepare the fish can dine at one of Fort McMurray’s surprisingly excellent seafood and sushi restaurants. Among Fort McMurray’s top restaurants, Fuji is widely regarded as having the best sushi in town. Offering a wide array of sushi rolls and noodle dishes, the downtown Japanese restaurant receives abundant praise from locals for its consistent quality and personable service.
Less than 2 kilometres to the northwest, Wood Buffalo Brewing Co. is also considered one of Fort McMurray’s top restaurants. The brewpub produces five standard beers and often adds a seasonal brew made with the freshest ingredients available. In addition to typical pub grub like sandwiches and burgers, the restaurant creates concoctions such as banana-and-panko-crusted chicken and spaghetti with cheddar meatballs.