The top 35 people, projects and events that have changed Alberta's construction industry: Part 3

Today's construction industry has been shaped by years of booms and busts, technological advances and changing regulations. To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Alberta Construction Magazine, we're taking a look at 35 of the people, projects and events that have made today's industry what it is. Here's a look at the events:

Cancellation of the Voyageur upgrader

Suncor's $116-billion Voyageur upgrader began construction in 2007, at the height of the boom. Soon came labour shortages, rising costs and lower oil prices. And then, in 2008, the recession hit and all work on Voyageur stopped.
For five years, the Voyaguer site sat untouched—its foundations poured and modules sitting in storage—while a wave of light oil rolled in and stole the market. Having already spent millions of dollars on construction, Suncor made the tough decision to cancel the project, unintentionally killing work for many local construction companies and thousands of jobs for construction workers.

Infrastructure funding drying up

Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta from 1992 until his retirement in 2006, was known for many things, including his never-ending stream of controversial remarks and sharp-tongued quips. But nothing he said ever cut quite as deeply as the legislation introduced by his Conservative government to balance the provincial budget by 1996-97. Multiple areas felt the knife, including infrastructure funding, and even today places like Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Calgary still bear the scars of those lean years.

Split of ECA from ACA and then rejoining

At the start of 2006, the Edmonton Construction Association (ECA) resigned its membership in the Alberta Construction Association (ACA). The schism sent the local industry into disarray: Edmonton-area firms were suddenly denied access to ACA services and the ACA lost revenue from dues that would have been paid by ECA members.
Finally, in September 2013, the ECA at long last rejoined the province-wide organization, adding over 1,100 companies to the ACA's already 2,000-strong membership. The ACA can now claim to represent the entire provincial industry, and both organizations have already embarked on several joint initiatives. There really is strength in numbers.

Calgary Olympics

Calgary's bid to host the 1988 Olympic Games beat out rival city Vancouver's by offering to spend three times more than the west coast city. With $270 million in federal and provincial funding, Calgary—in the middle of an oil-and-gas related recession—got to work preparing for the games.
Construction included building the Olympic Saddledome ($100 million), Olympic Oval $39.9 million), Canada Olympic Park ($200 million), Canmore Nordic Centre ($17.3 million), Nakiska alpine skiing facility ($25 million).
Costing over $829 million total, the Calgary games were the most expensive games in the history of the Olympics—in part due to having to construct almost all hosting facilities.

Slave Lake fire

One-third of Slave Lake was destroyed when a wildfire tore through the town of 7,000 in 2011. All told, 732 residents were left homeless after 433 properties were destroyed and another 84 damaged in the town and surrounding municipality.
With damages valued at $700 million, the wildfire would become one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history. Once the smoke cleared and the rubble was swept away, the daunting task of rebuilding the town—a job that continues to this day—required an unprecedented coordination of efforts between the private and public sectors to restore infrastructure and repopulate the charred streets with new homes.

Southern Alberta flooding

In spring 2013, Alberta saw rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Rivers rose, and the rain continued, eventually culminating in southern Alberta in late June.
Several rivers flooded, completely submersing the town of High River in water first, and then, the next day, parts of Calgary, Medicine Hat, Bragg Creek and surrounding communities.
The water receded a few days later, leaving $5 billion worth of damage in its wake. Entire communities needed to be recovered, and, a year later, are still being rebuilt.
The provincial government has since introduced a flood-prevention plan and $830 million in funding, and several projects are already completed or under construction.

Increased awareness of sustainability

Sustainability has gone from buzzword to necessary design principle. Since 2002, Canadian builders have turned to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to guide the greening of their industry. Everything from the way we build to the materials we use now incorporate measures intended to lessen industry's environmental impact. And while green building once meant abandoning aesthetics, today's sustainable designs are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the environment.

Commercialization and development of oilsands

If you've lived in Alberta any time in the last 20 years, you are aware of the impact the oilsands have had on the province. The construction industry has been in high demand, building everything from the billion dollar megaprojects and the roads criss-crossing our province, to the hundreds of new Tim's locations. Labour shortages, increased material prices and the introduction of modular construction are only a few of the effects the oilsands industry has had on construction. And we are just getting started...

100th anniversaries of PCL and Burnco

There are very few Albertan companies that can say they have survived multiple recessions, the National Energy Program, the introduction of digital technology and at least 14 different premiers; however, two companies with boasting rights are PCL Constructors Inc. and Burnco. Both companies have celebrated 100-year anniversaries in Alberta, which is no small feat. And these spry centenarians remain integral parts of the construction industry to this today.

National Energy Program

Coming out of the 1970s, Alberta was riding high, as the decade's soaring oil prices helped fuel a boom that saw the province's population increase by a third. Unfortunately, the entrance of the National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980 helped kill the party.
The federal government introduced the NEP with the hopes of promoting Canada's energy self-sufficiency, protecting consumers from escalating energy costs, promoting the exploration of oil and gas and renewables, and increasing government revenues from oil sales, among other things.
Instead, it had the opposite effect, and sent the Alberta industry into a state of catatonic shock that stifled development for years. Spending plummeted and oil and gas activity dropped dramatically, sparking an exodus that cost Alberta between $50 billion and $100 billion.

Growth of modular construction

Modularization used to be a novelty. Now it's a necessity for anyone building a major project in Alberta. Driven by the growing oilsands, modular construction has evolved from the simple pipe racks of yore to the complex process modules now required by the industry. First-generation modules in the 1980s took 10 per cent of project work off-site, while the second generation of the 2000s pushed that figure to 25–40 per cent. Who knows how much higher that number will go as innovators devise even more sophisticated designs and technologies?

Global recession

Enough said.


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