A year in review: How REALTORS® across Canada came together to help those impacted by the wildfires in Fort McMurray

2016 was a big year. Some might even say, surreal. All month, we’ll be sharing some of our own highlights from the past year. Have something to add? Feel free to share in the Comments section below.

Jason Blair drove the same route home every day after work, yet he can’t remember what stood on the corner of his old street in Fort McMurray.

Was it a house with brown or black siding? Did it have a fence?

It’s just an empty field now; the barren land a reminder of just how much the May wildfires ripped apart his auspicious oil town in what is now known as the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

“It’s weird. It’s eerie,” Blair, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker, says over the phone from the restored comfort of his new downtown Fort McMurray home.

“It’s hard to remember what was there and then you realize just how many people lost their places and how many families are still trying to rebuild after the devastation.”

Seven months after the wildfires caused $3.58 billion in damage, the northern Alberta city is still rebuilding. The people are resilient and those who have chosen to return are determined to reestablish a sense of normality.


REALTORS® across the country were asked by the Canadian REALTORS Care® Foundation to donate to the Canadian Red Cross’ Alberta Fires Appeal back in May. As of December, an outstanding $739,800 was raised to help provide relief to those affected by the wildfire providing emergency food, clothing, shelter, personal services and other necessities.

Olive Wooden, Executive Officer of the Fort McMurray Real Estate Board, said the Red Cross funds were a literal lifesaver in some cases as stipends were immediately provided to evacuated families.

“They were our first funding and helped ease our minds just a bit as we all fled for our lives down Highway 63,” Wooden said.

Families were given a set amount per adult and child to help pay for everyday necessities that had quickly become luxuries in the chaos caused by the fires. Diapers, gas, clothing, non-perishable food items – thanks to the Red Cross and the Alberta government, evacuees had one less thing to worry about. It wasn’t uncommon for a family of four to receive $4,000 with few questions asked. The Red Cross also made available a one-time $1,000 business loan to REALTORS® to help them carry on with business.

Wooden said the people who didn’t lose their homes still felt a level of guilt as they watched loved ones and close friends lose theirs. Wooden’s daughter’s house was one of 2,600 lost.

“There won’t be a ‘normal’ for a long time, to tell you the truth, but we are seeing progress. It’s baby steps,” she said. “There are some choosing to settle back in and buy a different home. You’re going to have neighbourhoods that have old homes and new homes so property values will change but the people of Fort McMurray are resilient. The biggest recovery now, seven months after, is the emotional recovery.”

Wooden said she has to choke back tears when she thinks about how complete strangers in the Canadian REALTOR® community came to the northern Alberta city’s aid.

She references the Ontario REALTORS Care® Foundation donating $2,300 to help get an independent learning program up and running at Holy Trinity High School as just one of the many gestures that continue to mean the world to the people of Fort McMurray.

“It still shows me that love supersedes the hate of the world. We’re still at a grieving point, but we’re optimistic.”


While some, like Blair, have found their footing, he knows there are still many people who haven’t. Food Bank use is at an all-time high as the local economy isn’t what it used to be.

The effects of the fire, coupled with plunging crude oil prices, are evident in all corners of the city.

“The service industry took a hit. I used to go for coffees at 2 p.m. to meet with clients, but now some of those shops are closed by that time,” Blair says, referencing a drop in the workforce.

Blair, who had a two-week-old daughter and two-year-old son at the time of the fire, wants to let those who gave their time, money, clothing – anything – know that the rebuilding process isn’t over and donations are still encouraged.

“Just keep giving. There are people out there who just bought a house and didn’t have insurance and those are the types of people who need it most. As real estate professionals, all we want to do is help those people because we started that home-ownership journey with them,” he says.

Fort McMurray – and all of Alberta, for that matter – is a place that prides itself on giving back. Wooden says it’s been hard to be on the other end of things, but she is extremely grateful. She felt it when her daughter was able to purchase new bikes for her two children.

“We used that money for living, basically, to replace some of the items that made life stable for her and the kids. It made us feel like we’re going to be OK,” she says, adding with a recognizable confident tone in her voice, “And we will be.”

Matt Day brings his experience as a nationally-recognized multimedia journalist to the Canadian Real Estate Association as a Communications Advisor. Matt provides professional writing, digital media and communications support to CREA and assists in developing engaging social media content. He is regularly featured in the CREA Café where he provides interesting and entertaining content for REALTORS® to enjoy. Matt is a professional photographer but has dreams of becoming a rock star. He also enjoys mountain biking, skiing, hiking, and using the Oxford comma.

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