When the ground is frozen, equipment can move onto otherwise inaccessible leases. This is when employment is at its peak in Canada’s oilpatch.

The trickledown effect of the industry can be clearly seen across Western Canadian communities and remote locations, and most definitely in the camps where both permanent and temporary workers stay while away from home.

With much of the oilpatch’s activity taking place in remote locations both services and E&P (exploration and production) companies require employees to work away from home for extended periods. This has been the story of the oilpatch for many decades, but the experience for workers has changed vastly from the stay at bunkhouses from years past. Camps used to be what their name implies – temporary and basic living accommodations that provided a place to sleep and eat between shifts.

Today, “camps” are accommodations that are designed not only to house and feed employees but to ensure that they are happy and healthy, too. With a serious labour shortage facing the industry, creating comfortable living quarters has become a tool to retain and attract workers in an environment where competition is stiff for the best and brightest talent.

The industry has seen significant changes to camps over the last ten years, which have taken them from crowded quarters with up to 49 employees sharing one washroom to only two. At some camps, on-site amenities include exercise rooms, golf simulators, as well as, internet connections and flat panel screens in bedrooms. Other key changes have been to food services, which have been identified as key drivers of the camp experience.

Food in many camps is not always served cafeteria style but often served from kiosks which provide a variety of options to employees. Another perk to the modern day camp is a cleaning service which cleans employees’ bedrooms daily.

Some camps are also seeking to improve the impact of the accommodations on the environment and surrounding communities. For example, Albian Village, a Shell Canada accommodation north of Fort McMurray, Alberta with capacity of over 2,400, seeks to reduce the impact on the environment with a focus on waste management, water conservation and energy efficiency. Albian Village also promotes cultural inclusivity with its food offerings and buys local products and services to support surrounding communities.

Camps have come a long way over the years meeting the needs of not only its “guests” or employees and the communities where they operate. They have also become big business for companies providing services to the Fort McMurray, Alberta area where in 2009 an estimated 22,000 workers were being housed in 78 camps, lodges and motels according to a survey conducted by the Oil Sands Developers Group.               

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