Dear Santa, I hope all is well with Mrs. Claus and the reindeer. I know that you must be real busy this time of year, but I was hoping you might take a quick call from your old pals in Fort McMurray.
You remember us, right? We’re one of the most populous cities in the North.
I’m sure the great folks at Fort McMurray International Airport would be glad to rally the troops in case one of the reindeer blows a “wheel” and needs a quick break! Anyways, we’ve been real good this year (most of us). We know you don’t control the price of oil up there so we thought we’d ask you for a few things you might be able to help us with:
A Swiss Chalet – (Annual Entry)
Seriously, we’re shocked nobody has tried this yet! It’s been teased a few times but I guess we’ll have to wait a little longer to enjoy that rotisserie-style chicken with that amazing Chalet sauce! First of all, east coasters love it (and we’ve got a lot of them!). It would be a great spot for seniors to spend some time in and it’s quite an affordable spot to take your family. Finally, it gets cold here (but you knew that) and nothing warms the system quite like their festive special!
An Outdoor Pool
Summers are long and rewarding here and we don’t mind getting a little mucky with a swim in Gregoire Lake or a float down the Snye once in a while, but what a spot an outdoor pool would be! This would be the perfect spot for families with young children to kill a few hours on those no-school days. And being a lifeguard is an excellent job for a youngster going through college to earn some cash on the side. You could have teen nights, and maybe even a belly-flop contest (assuming it’s deep enough). Plus, it would allow MacDonald Island to do their month-long annual maintenance without disrupting swimming lessons, etc.
A Ring Road
This one just makes too much sense! Highway 63 is an extremely busy highway that backs up easily for red lights, never mind accidents and stalls. With the amount of money coming through town, oftentimes in oversized vehicles that take up two lanes it’s still surprising this has never been a priority. Many people live downtown, and a dangerous goods accident could be very hazardous to nearby homes and businesses. I think I can speak for all of us, we’re getting sick and tired of fixing Hospital Street bridge! A secondary route connecting with the Oil Sands could divert almost all oversized vehicles away from the town. And most importantly, although we obviously would prefer no more major disasters requiring evacuation, a second way to get out of town would be perfect. We’re not the experts, but a second highway connecting in Anzac, Highway 69 (by the airport) and then the existing Parsons Creek overpass would solve a lot of these problems. It would also open up additional sites to not require workcamps or aerodromes to bring in commuters and allow more local employees.
Some NEW Chains at Upcoming Developments
We know, we know. Liquor stores, vape shops and pizza places keep popping up everywhere because they have a proven track record and are always busy! And we love our A&W’s, Subways and McDonalds as much as the next guy but it would be neat to have some variety with Parsons Creek, The Markets on Prospect, Quarry Ridge and (eventually) the Airport’s Aurora Landing development. While a Costco would of course be the ultimate cherry on top, a Winners could be amazing too. How about a HomeSense? Or an Arbys? Even better – affordable entry-level leases for small business development!
Don’t Abandon Downtown
It’s true. 70% of the population lives west of the Athabasca River, but we can’t give up on downtown just yet with many families calling it home. It’s the home of some of the most important pieces of our community: MacDonald Island Park, Keyano College and (of course) the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.
A thriving downtown core is essential, and we’ve got to give credit where credit is due to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for moving plenty of employees from Timberlea to downtown and Syncrude for occupying the Hardin Centre. More workers downtown means more business for local cafes like Mitchell’s and hopefully an after-work boost for Earls, Tavern On Main and the newly opened Drum Brewing.
A focus on affordable housing in the downtown core will help spread the population out evenly and more eyes on the streets can help reduce crime.
Of course, a bigger police presence has been necessary with the rise in crime and the Wood Buffalo RCMP have done a good job of that so far by adding in a new Community Policing Station in Jubilee Plaza and a focus on officers driving to their neighbourhood at the start of their shift.
The Downtown Revitalization Incentives Program has done a great job at giving our older buildings a much-needed facelift in recent years. 2024 looks to be off to a good start with Arts Council Wood Buffalo set to open the Arts INC later in the year turning the abandoned former Landmark Cinemas into a thriving centre for musicians, actors and visual artists to practice their art.
2023’s Wishlist – How did we do?
A Deep Oil Barons Playoff Run
While the boys put in their best efforts, the team fell to the Sherwood Park Crusaders in a tight seven-game series in the first round of the AJHL playoffs.
The return of concerts to MacDonald Island Park
Score this one as a win! Gord Bamford came to town on Canada Day for a free outdoor show at Shell Place and Dallas Smith sold out his 4th fieldhouse show in a row in October. The shows will continue with the After Hours series bringing Theory of A Deadman and Finger Eleven on Saturday, February 10th.
Another W for Mr. Claus on this one! Not only did the Fort McMurray Food Festival continue with another massive outing but Wood Buffalo Ribfest stepped up its game with awesome sets from the Trans Canada Highwaymen, Trooper, Jade Eagleson and Dan Davidson. And Rock the Rails had its biggest year to date, expanding to two days and bringing up Wyoming punks Teenage Bottlerocket. All three festivals are expected to return in 2024.
About the author
Mike has called Fort McMurray home for the past eight years. A true man about town, Mike loves supporting local artists and small businesses by using his platform to promote them however he can. In his spare time, you can find Mike checking out new music, drinking craft beer or managing his fantasy football team!
Mike strives to live life to its fullest and adopts a glass half full perspective. He is a constant promoter of all things positive in Fort McMurray and can’t wait to help share the Good News with you!