From the First Nation people who have called this land home for thousands of years, to newcomers who arrive from around the world, Wood Buffalo’s people have always met opportunity head-on with the big spirit this region is known for.
An Historic Trading Post
Nestled on the northwest shore of Lake Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan is the oldest community in Alberta. Established in 1788, Fort Chipewyan became the second most important fur trading post for the Northwest and Hudson Bay companies. At its administrative peak, it served as a distribution centre for trading posts up and down the Mackenzie, Peace and Athabasca rivers. Once called the "Emporium of the North", Fort Chipewyan is notable for the key role it played in Canada's early exploration and establishment of the country’s historic fur trade.
Bitumen, the black oily sand substance which First Nations people used to waterproof their canoes, drew visitors to the region from the earliest days. During the early 1900s, businessmen tried to harvest the oil but were unable to produce enough product to keep business going. But with backing from the Alberta Research Council and test plants in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, by 1930, researchers like Dr. Karl A. Clark began to perfect technologies needed to extract the oil from the surrounding sand using hot water.
The Biggest Gamble in Canadian History
It wasn't until 1967 that commercial production of oilsand became viable when Sun Oil made history by investing $250 million in the Great Canadian Oilsands plant. Sun Oil, later to become Suncor Energy, committed to what some called "the biggest gamble in history".
But the gamble paid off. Despite fluctuating oil prices and challenges with investment, the oilsands industry grew in size and profitability. The nearby community of Fort McMurray was - and remains - the region’s biggest beneficiary. The local population grew swiftly after the oilsands production commenced. By 1980, Fort McMurray had achieved city status. In 1995, Fort McMurray and 10 rural communities amalgamated to form the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, one of the largest geographical municipalities in Canada.
Wood Buffalo Now
Today, Wood Buffalo’s population tops 100,000 with growth projected to 250,000 residents by 2030. The region boasts many of the amenities you would expect in a rapidly growing community, including new schools, recreational facilities, arts and culture. Likewise, the region has something few other communities have in abundance – unprecedented economic growth and investment.
To learn more about Wood Buffalo's history, industry and future planning, visit the following websites:
- Heritage Park
- Fort Chipewyen Bicentennial Museum
- Oilsands Discovery Centre
- 2011 Municipal Development Plan