The oldest settled community in Alberta is Fort Chipewyan, also colloquially known as Fort Chip.1 Established as a trading post in 1788, this hamlet is now the second most populous in the regional municipality.2 Some of its inhabitants continue to rely upon traditional seasonal trapping and fishing.3 Others find employment in nearby oil sands plants or Wood Buffalo National Park.4 

Where is Fort Chipewyan?

Fort Chipewyan is located on the western shore of Lake Athabasca, one of Western Canada’s largest lakes.5 It is one of the most northern communities in Alberta, 168 miles north of Fort McMurray.6 The hamlet is also downstream of Alberta’s massive oil sands industry, along the Athabasca River.7

Oil sands in Fort Chipewyan

Studies have found elevated cancer rates amongst Fort Chipewyan’s residents.8 This has been linked to heavy metal pollutants, such as mercury in the river.9 These waste products from the oil sands industry have subsequently contaminated the wildlife.10

Close to Fort Chip is Wood Buffalo National Park. It is the second-largest national park in the world at over 44,900 square kilometres.11 This UNESCO Heritage Site is home to at least 5,000 rare wood buffaloes.12 In addition to this, it is a breeding ground for the whooping crane, a species driven to the brink of extinction last century.13  But, the spectacular natural beauty and rare biodiversity along the Athabasca River is under threat. Toxic tailings ponds have been leaking upstream of Wood Buffalo.14 They are just one of Alberta’s oil sands industry’s waste products.15 There are serious concerns that the tailings fluid is polluting the river and therefore contaminating the wildlife.16 

What happened to Fort Chipewyan’s missing hunters?

On April 23, 2017, four men left Fort Chipewyan and set out by boat for an area known as Devil’s Gate.17 They were expected to come back the same day, but they never returned18. They were reported missing, and more than 70 people in 30 boats and several helicopters searched the Athabasca River. Three of the four men were Canadian Rangers and highly experienced outdoorsmen.19 They were also familiar with the area.20 However, the spring river is treacherous, deep and full of large chunks of ice.21 Searchers found their boat early in the first week.22 The first body was discovered on April 30.23 By June 24 2017, the final body had been recovered from the river.24 It is thought that their boat struck ice in the river, throwing the four men into the near-freezing water.25

Fort Chipewyan Fort Chipewyan threats

Fort Chipewyan cancer rate

Fort Chipewyan

Sources

  1. Explore Wood Buffalo. (2014). Experience Fort Chipewyan. [online] Available at: https://explorewoodbuffalo.ca/explore-wood-buffalo/experience-fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  2. Explore Wood Buffalo. (2014). Experience Fort Chipewyan. [online] Available at: https://explorewoodbuffalo.ca/explore-wood-buffalo/experience-fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  3. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. (n.d.). Fort Chipewyan | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  4. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. (n.d.). Fort Chipewyan | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  5. www.frommers.com. (n.d.). Things to Do in Fort Chipewyan | Frommer’s. [online] Available at: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  6. www.frommers.com. (n.d.). Things to Do in Fort Chipewyan | Frommer’s. [online] Available at: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  7. Why Indigenous groups are tired of fighting oilsands development. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/drawing-a-line-in-the-oilsands-fight [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  8. Why Indigenous groups are tired of fighting oilsands development. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/drawing-a-line-in-the-oilsands-fight [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  9. October 14 and Axelrod, 2015 J. (n.d.). Low Water Levels in the Athabasca River are a Preview of Future Problems for Alberta’s Tar Sands Industry. [online] NRDC. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/low-water-levels-athabasca-river-are-preview-future-problems-albertas-tar-sands.
  10. October 14 and Axelrod, 2015 J. (n.d.). Low Water Levels in the Athabasca River are a Preview of Future Problems for Alberta’s Tar Sands Industry. [online] NRDC. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/low-water-levels-athabasca-river-are-preview-future-problems-albertas-tar-sands.
  11. www.downtoearth.org.in. (n.d.). Wood Buffalo National Park: A shining symbol of wild North America. [online] Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/wildlife-biodiversity/wood-buffalo-national-park-a-shining-symbol-of-wild-north-america-68228 [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  12. www.downtoearth.org.in. (n.d.). Wood Buffalo National Park: A shining symbol of wild North America. [online] Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/wildlife-biodiversity/wood-buffalo-national-park-a-shining-symbol-of-wild-north-america-68228 [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  13. Nationalgeographic.com. (2010). Whooping Crane | National Geographic. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/w/whooping-crane/.
  14. Narwhal, T. (n.d.). It’s official: Alberta’s oilsands tailings ponds are leaking. Now what? [online] The Narwhal. Available at: https://thenarwhal.ca/tailings-ponds-leaking-alberta-oilsands/.
  15. Narwhal, T. (n.d.). It’s official: Alberta’s oilsands tailings ponds are leaking. Now what? [online] The Narwhal. Available at: https://thenarwhal.ca/tailings-ponds-leaking-alberta-oilsands/.
  16. Narwhal, T. (n.d.). It’s official: Alberta’s oilsands tailings ponds are leaking. Now what? [online] The Narwhal. Available at: https://thenarwhal.ca/tailings-ponds-leaking-alberta-oilsands/.
  17. edmontonsun. (n.d.). Bodies of last Fort Chipewyan hunters missing since April found. [online] Available at: https://edmontonsun.com/2017/06/25/body-of-third-missing-hunter-found-near-fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  18. edmontonsun. (n.d.). Bodies of last Fort Chipewyan hunters missing since April found. [online] Available at: https://edmontonsun.com/2017/06/25/body-of-third-missing-hunter-found-near-fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  19. Global News. (n.d.). Body of third missing hunter recovered near Fort Chipewyan. [online] Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/3554740/body-of-third-missing-boater-recovered-near-fort-chipewyan/ [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  20. Global News. (n.d.). Body of third missing hunter recovered near Fort Chipewyan. [online] Available at: https://globalnews.ca/news/3554740/body-of-third-missing-boater-recovered-near-fort-chipewyan/ [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  21. 1 week after they went missing, Northern Alberta community continues search for 4 hunters | CBC News. (n.d.). CBC. [online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/fort-chipewyan-missing-hunters-1.4092606.
  22. 1 week after they went missing, Northern Alberta community continues search for 4 hunters | CBC News. (n.d.). CBC. [online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/fort-chipewyan-missing-hunters-1.4092606.
  23. “Every day was hell”: Community came together to find bodies of Fort Chip hunters, says mother | CBC News. (n.d.). CBC. [online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/fort-chipewyan-alberta-hunters-1.4190985.
  24. edmontonsun. (n.d.). Bodies of last Fort Chipewyan hunters missing since April found. [online] Available at: https://edmontonsun.com/2017/06/25/body-of-third-missing-hunter-found-near-fort-chipewyan [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021].
  25. “Every day was hell”: Community came together to find bodies of Fort Chip hunters, says mother | CBC News. (n.d.). CBC. [online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/fort-chipewyan-alberta-hunters-1.4190985.