Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

Following the call of the North

Following the call of the North

Melissa Martin, Rohan Murti, Katrina Lowe and Leah MacNamara. Photo by Steven Bonisteel

It can be overwhelming to graduate from university and suddenly be faced with the “real” world of job applications, and often, the start of debt repayment. Fort McMurray, Alberta, despite its harsh climate and high housing costs, boosts average household incomes nearly twice the national average, which makes it especially attractive to young people starting out. The Queen’s grads who bravely follow the call of the north have been surprised by what they find behind the headlines, and more than a few now call it home.

Leah MacNamara, PHE’13, headed north to join her boyfriend, and soon became the Sport Services Specialist at Canada’s largest social, recreational and leisure centre – MacDonald Island Park. “What you read about Fort McMurray is often written by those who haven’t even been here. The city has people passionate about building the community and, since most of us up here are young (the average age is 32), it is easy to connect with others. Employers offer a northern living allowance to offset the sky high rents. I also save money by living in a house with six other people – three of whom are Queen’s grads!”

Katrina Lowe, a 2010 Chemical Engineering grad who works with GE Water and Process Technologies, says, “There is so much hands-on experience up here. You get unique experiences that would take years to achieve in other places.”

Katrina also owns a house; two of her tenants are Queen’s grads. “You just need a positive outlook and a good group of friends to hang out with. All the necessities are here. I would have never believed that I would be debt-free and a home owner in just three years!” Having found work, a home and even romance in the north, she plans to stay for some time to come.

Mechanical engineer Rohan Murti, originally from India and Abu Dhabi, graduated in 2005. “Being here shattered all my misconceptions. The hardest adjustment for me was the temperature! Still, I like the nitty gritty and being right where the action is. It’s a rare opportunity to learn about socially dynamic, global operations at their very core. The pace is dynamic and you are empowered early on. This kind of field experience is priceless. It would take me four years or more in Calgary to reach the level of responsibility I have now after just one year.”

Melissa Martin, a Construction Engineer-in-Training with Shell, is a 2011 Mining Engineer and Economics) graduate. She too owns a house and has been in Fort McMurray for three years. She warns that this is not the place for those wanting a free ride. “People work really hard here and rarely miss a day of work. But I tell grads to just go for it and I’ll talk to anyone who wants to know about working here. You are well taken care of. It doesn’t matter which of the oil companies that you work for, there are great benefits and compensation, and I have more time off than I know what to do with. If you have any debt, you can get rid of it within a couple of years and be set for the rest of your life.”