Fort McMurray is intertwined with all of nature’s risks and glory – by Mark Milke (Globe and Mail – May 5, 2016)

he tragic wildfires that have engulfed parts of Fort McMurray, Alta., home of Canada’s largest oil extraction mines and accompanying facilities, is a reminder that nature ultimately and always has her way.

Think of the 1998 ice storms in Quebec, the 2003 forest fires in Kelowna, the 2013 floods in Calgary, or what’s now raging at Fort McMurray. All such tragedies send a signal that the raw nature we like to enjoy – the grand expanses, the hikes, the canoeing, the fishing and all the rest – is ultimately an uncontrollable Leviathan that we can only partly restrain.

Nature’s current effect on Fort McMurray should also remind us how intimately Canadians are connected to this unpredictability. This includes many ways that have long benefited us, but that many of us urban dwellers forget.

Fort McMurray is a marvellous example of that. I note this in the midst of tragedy only as a reminder. It’s miraculous that a population of 35 million people survive and thrive on the northern half of the North American continent, but it’s not without struggle.

Most Canadians are probably unaware of Fort McMurray’s history, at least beyond a vague familiarity with the boom-town extraction years. As a busy, modern city of 80,000 (more like 125,000 if the “shadow population” in neighbouring work camps is included), it is an exception to the rest of the sparsely populated Athabasca region of northeastern Alberta.

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