It is always very difficult when I have to write about disasters in Canada. The tragedy in Fort McMurray Alberta is tugging at everybody across Canada. Wildfires are part of life in Western Canada, but nobody really expected this. A few days ago we heard about threatening wildfires, but nobody expected 86,000 people to evacuate themselves from Fort McMurray Alberta. The footage was gripping; almost hellish as ordinary Canadians left everything they had to get to safety. As I write this the disaster is still unfolding, we really don’t know what will be left of Fort McMurray when the rains come.
For those of you on the American side of the border I know this story might seem distant. Just this morning I had an American reporter contact me to ask if the fires were affecting any Alberta farms. I answered by saying that there are not too many farms near Fort McMurray because it is in the northeast corner of Alberta. However, it is the epicenter for the Canadian oil industry in Alberta and with the town in full evacuation mode, oil production would be plummeting until a time when things got back to normal. That showed up in the oil market in the last few days.
I have never been to Fort McMurray Alberta. However, as a Canadian we have all come to know what that city means to the rest of this country. Fort McMurray is the biggest community near the oil sands in Alberta. It is a beacon for all Canadians in search of employment across this great land. You can get a direct flight from Toronto to Fort McMurray, just like you can get a direct flight from St. John’s Newfoundland to Fort McMurray. The oil wealth was so palpable in Fort McMurray over the last couple of decades that people from all over Canada got jobs there. It was especially true for people from the Maritime Provinces who needed work. Seeing Fort McMurray go up in flames was like seeing a lot of pan-Canadian opportunity go up in smoke too. I think we all knew of people that went there for employment. If they didn’t go there, they did go to other parts of Alberta, which directly benefited from the oil sands of Fort McMurray.
I saw this many times when I spoke about agricultural markets in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. On the way back to Ontario, I talked with more than one maritime who was traveling to Toronto to catch the flight to Fort McMurray. On one flight to Halifax Nova Scotia, I struck up many conversations with Newfoundlanders who were either coming back from Fort McMurray or going to there. Essentially, Fort McMurray was like a constant thread through the Canadian economy. It represented hope to so many people across this land.
The television pictures from Fort McMurray have been frightening. Hot weather combined with strong winds and surely some bad luck to turn parts of Fort McMurray into an inferno. As of tonight, it is still not over. There are still many Canadians at risk in the federal government has sent in the military. What is needed is a soaking rain and a change in temperature. We can only hope.
The federal government has responded partly by saying they will match donations to the Canadian Red Cross from individual Canadians. I know that I will be making a contribution. There is something about being Canadian, which makes you want to contribute. We are all in this together. That was brought home to me a little bit more tonight when I read an article about the people of Lac Magantic Quebec. They are mobilizing to send help to Fort McMurray.
If you have forgotten on July 6, 2013 47 people and the town center of Lac McMegantic Québec were vaporized in a horrific industrial accident when oil tankers crashed into the downtown of that small Québec community. I know of many DTN subscribers in the southern Québec area and I wanted them to know that they will be remembered. Seeing these Québec people mobilizing their resources to help Fort McMurray brings its full circle to me. As Canadians, we have a lot to be proud of and it doesn’t matter where you live in this country.
In Alberta this past month, many farmers have lamented how hot and dry it has been. Drought can be very tough. However, little did we know it would all come together in the horrific events that caused an evacuation of a major economic hub of the Canadian economy. Of course, it’s still not over. As Canadians its time to pull together again. Ft McMurray Alberta, you will be remembered.