Fort McMurray unveils first plans for wildfire memorial

Fort McMurray's municipality intends to build a wildfire memorial lookout that will stand like a watchtower in the boreal forest, scanning the distance for the threat of a wildfire.

The monument is funded in part by a $400K donation from the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council

An artist's rendering of the lookout monument the municipality hopes to build to commemorate the sacrifice of first responders and residents. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

Fort McMurray plans to build a wildfire memorial that will stand like a watchtower in the forest, scanning the distance for the threat of fires.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in March or April and should be complete this summer, according to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. 

The 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire was one of Canada's most devastating natural disasters. The flames destroyed 2,579 residences. So far, 406 units — almost 16 per cent of those destroyed — have been rebuilt.

A map of the location of the lookout monument in the subdivision of Abasand. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

The wildfire memorial will honour the bravery of first responders and the resilience of residents, according to Robert Billard, director of public works and transit services for the municipality.

"It is intended to be a peaceful reflective place," Billard said. "It's a very good location for it."

Billard expects the tower will cost $500,000 and will be funded in part by a donation from the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee and the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council.

The organization presented a cheque for $405,762 in 2016 to Premier Rachel Notley,who accepted the donation on behalf of the municipality.

The money was intended for ongoing relief efforts but the secretary for the organization, Inderdeep Singh, said the municipality wanted to use the money for a memorial.

"The Sikh philosophy is very clear: We should help anyone, irrespective of caste, creed or religion," Singh said.

The municipality is seeking feedback from residents about the design on its website.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook and Twitter, email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca