Nfld. & Labrador

Not everyone has 'big Fort Mac money': Some Newfoundlanders can't afford to go home

There's a perception that people living in Fort McMurray have made big, fast money, but the reality is that some are living paycheque to paycheque.

As of Friday afternoon, David Layden has a flight home — thanks to anonymous donor

David Layden worked at Walmart in Fort McMurray. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

There's a perception that most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living in Fort McMurray have made big, fast money, but the reality is that some are living paycheque to paycheque, and those people are most vulnerable now. 

In a smoking section just outside an emergency shelter at Northlands Expo Centre in Edmonton, David Layden was anxious to meet others from Newfoundland and Labrador who fled the wildfires that forced a mandatory evacuation on Tuesday. 

He was hoping to find a ride back to Corner Brook, his hometown.

"I'm trying to get home and I have no way to get home," said Layden, who had been working at Walmart in Fort McMurray. 

"All my family is back in Newfoundland. I have a place to stay. I can stay with my family. I got a job lined up," he said. 

"My main concern is trying to get back home."   

When Layden was forced to evacuate the room he was renting, he grabbed some clothes and his laptop.

"I don't have a phone and I don't have access to internet so I don't really know what to do," said Layden.

'Our guardian angel'

By Friday afternoon, his wish was fulfilled. An anonymous donor from Newfoundland who had seen Layden's story contacted his sister, Lil Alexander, to help buy a ticket.

"God love her, she wishes to remain anonymous," said Alexander. "But she's really our guardian angel."

Layden will be home by Saturday.

'I'd rather go back to Newfoundland'

Charmaine Bragg, who is originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, has been living in Fort McMurray for nearly 30 years. 

Charmaine Bragg worked as a taxi dispatcher in Fort McMurray. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

"I still have a lot of family back home in Newfoundland. It would be nice to go back there but right now we don't have the means to go back there," said Bragg.

Just days before she was evacuated from the apartment she was renting in Fort McMurray, she paid her rent for the month of May, which left her bank account dry. 

Life in a shelter

Bragg said she would prefer to stay in better accommodations than a shelter, but finding an affordable hotel has been tough. 

"It's nice to have food around and they provided us with clothing, because we left with nothing but the clothes on our back," said Bragg. 

The Northlands Expo Centre in Edmonton is being used as an emergency shelter. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

Bragg is thankful for the assistance from the Red Cross and volunteers at the shelter, but she's hoping she won't have to stay there long. 

"It's an open shower with just a curtain that you move around," said Bragg. 

"It's nice to have the facilities but to have to shower with other people around is never something you want to do."

Fire rips through houses in Fort McMurray

6 years ago
Duration 0:50
Newfoundlander Jenelle Ropson took this cell phone video seconds before the wildfire reached their home.


Caroline Hillier is the producer of the St. John's Morning Show.