Few cities epitomize the word resilience as much as Fort McMurray. Its fortunes have been largely dependent on being able to find innovative ways to get a precious commodity from the ground.
Since the 1960’s people with a can-do attitude have been attracted to this borderline subarctic climate because of the great opportunities. When the price of oil soared few could see dark clouds on the horizon.
But in recent years residents in Fort McMurray have felt the effects of falling oil prices with job cuts and a declining standard of living. Then earlier this year a massive wildfire swept through the city causing unthinkable devastation.
Going but not gone
More than 100,000 people from the area were forced to flee. Some because of the employment uncertainties will never return.
But the majority of the people are now involved in efforts to rebuild their homes and city. And this operation will take place while oil prices are around $40 dollars a barrel – less than half the price they were two years ago.
The roller coaster price levels in recent years have made it hard for companies to invest in long-term projects and as a result there’s been a lot more apprehension for those working in the industry.
A colleague of mine who visited Fort McMurray shortly after the fire was put out, says what he saw were “astonishing views” of destruction.
The rebuilding of family homes can only take place when financial arrangements are agreed with insurance companies. This can be a very stressful ordeal and we have to hope all issues can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
If all the hassles in dealing with insurance companies were not enough we get news of a huge jump in the price of drywall from the U.S. after Ottawa imposed an anti-dumping tariff. This could be another financial setback for those rebuilding their homes.
Lessons from Slave Lake
On the positive side, the Alberta Government does have many lessons from rebuilding Slave Lake after a wildfire destroyed one third of the town in 2011. Five years later around 95 percent has been rebuilt.
The cost of the damage for Slave Lake was pegged at $1 billion, the latest estimates from the Insurance Bureau of Canada has Fort McMurray at $3.58 billion, the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history.
This will be a very testing time for many businesses until everything gets back to normal. A few years ago the retail market was very vibrant in Fort McMurray but during this present period prices will sag and most owners will need to take a long-term approach.
Everyone living in this area knows the key to success is inextricably linked to the price of oil and the factors affecting oil prices are outside their control.
I understand the frustration and the sense of helplessness many in Fort McMurray must be feeling as they look at the monumental task facing them to rebuild their city.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus once said “Human beings have enormous resilience”. We don’t need to look any further than those who have returned to Fort McMurray to support that view. Many were not born in the city, but for all of them it is their home.