Fort McMurray is the largest community in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). The community is located near the confluence of the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers in northeastern Alberta, near the centre of the vast Athabasca oil sands deposit. At 63,783 km2, the municipality is the largest in North America in terms of size, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the province’s total area.
The population of Fort McMurray includes both a permanent population and a “shadow population” — a group of non-permanent workers employed primarily by the oil sands and living both in residential housing as well as hotels, motels and campgrounds. In 2015, the population of Fort McMurray was 82,724, of which the shadow population accounted for 5 per cent (or 4,342 people), according to a 2015 census conducted by the RMWB.
Fort McMurray is also home to a large number of residents originally from other provinces, many of them drawn to the city to work in the oil sands. Fort McMurray is known for its multiculturlism. Members of the community claim over 80 non-official languages as their mother tongue, according to the 2011 federal census. Of these languages Tagalog, Spanish, Gujarati, Urdu and Arabic were among those with the most native speakers.
The climate is cold and dry in winter; average snow depth is around 20 cm from December to March, and the temperature is around -20 degrees Celsius on average. Temperatures went as low as -50 in 1947 and are below -30 for about 10 days per month in winter. In summer, average temperatures are around 15 degrees (June, July and August). High temperatures are often over 20 but rarely as high as 30 degrees.