FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Going to the hockey rink is more than just for practice for many Fort McMurray families. Watching their kids on the ice at the community’s MacDonald Island Park complex is a must needed distraction to the stress of some scary times.
Melissa Campbell husband’s is a welder in the oilsands.
“His job is secure,” Campbell says. “But for how long, we’re not sure because anything can happen.”
Steve Kean knows all about that uncertainty; He was laid off a few months ago, but has since found another job.
He says, in some ways, this slowdown isn’t all bad because it cooled an overheated economy.
“We’re now just meeting the rest of the world. We’re just keeping pace where… you go to work in the morning and come home at the end of the day,” he says.
It’s a new normal for what was once Canada’s biggest boom town.
As the price of oil drops and jobs are cut, a rising number of Fort McMurray residents are struggling to make ends meet.
The Wood Buffalo Food Bank saw demand surge 72 per cent in 2015. During August and November of last year, usage was actually up over 125 per cent.
Donations have been boosted, thanks to those who could give, but hamper sizes were cut so that everyone could get something to eat.
The worry is that rising food prices and lower oil, will only make things worse.
“Certainly, we see people who have been laid off,” says Arianna Johnson of the municipality’s food bank. “But a lot of it is people who can’t afford the leave.”
She says many people have mortgages to pay and don’t have much money left over to pay for everything else.
In 2014, the average single family sold for approximately $765,000. Today, that price is down over $50,000 and the number of sales is down by over 40 per cent.
Realtors say some houses are still selling — an opportunity for those with money to get into what was an even pricier market — but real estate isn’t as lucrative as it once was.
“We’re definitely more of a buyer’s market, than a seller’s market,” says realtor Lisa Hartigan. “So, it’s what the buyer is willing to pay for the property.”
Rental vacancy is up and monthly rent is down. In some cases, a condominium that would have once been rented for $3,000 a month is now going for half that.
For those who have set up roots in this community, their home isn’t worth what they paid for it and they can’t cash out now despite an uncertain future.
“I think the worst is yet to come, and then we’ll slowly climb back up,” says Campbell.
But make no mistake: the community is tough and they’re not giving up.
“This is home,” says Kean, who is originally from Newfoundland. I’ve been here long enough… and I’m not going anywhere.”