Sheldon Aylward was walking down the right of way for a new access road being built for Syncrude’s Aurora site on July 25 when something white caught his eye in the dark reclamation material being salvaged.

Upon closer inspection, the foreman with North American Construction Group realized he had spotted something important.

“I do a lot of hunting and fishing and I figured it might be a bison based on the skull. It was sticking out of the material. We had a lot of rain at that time. I figured the rain would have washed away the material covering it,” says Sheldon.

Sheldon immediately alerted Syncrude’s mine operations, who sent out Geologist Patrick Dunbar to investigate the discovery while the North American crew taped off the area to protect what they found.

“After carefully removing material from around the skull, it was very exciting to pull it out of the bank and see a complete skull with both horns, all of its bones and even almost all of its teeth still intact.”

– Patrick Dunbar

Patrick carefully documented the finding by taking photographs before speaking with Chris Jass, the curator of Quaternary (Ice Age) palaeontology at the Royal Alberta Museum about preserving the skull.

“We take the utmost care to preserve any fossils or artifacts found on our leases,” says Patrick, who joined Syncrude in 2017. “Syncrude has put protocols in place to ensure these finds are protected.”

The skull represents a significant paleontological find for the museum due to its age, condition and location.

“One of the biggest research questions for us is how did we go from an ice-impacted landscape where nothing lived in Alberta because of the presence of giant sheets of ice from 25,000 to 15,000 years ago to what you see today,” says Chris. “This skull doesn’t tell that story by itself but represents a piece of that puzzle. We also have not received a lot of fossils from northern Alberta because it is covered with the vegetation and the soils are fairly acidic, which can break down bones quickly. We don’t have a good Ice Age fossil record from northeastern Alberta so this is very exciting for us.”

Chris estimates the skull is up to 5,000 years old based on the size of the horn cores in the photos taken by Patrick. “Bison migrated to North America about 200,000 years ago based on evidence found in Yukon and Alaska. Prior to the last major growth of glacial ice starting 25,000 years ago, horses were more prevalent than bison,” Chris says. “When the glaciers receded ~15,000 years ago, bison populations just explode and it becomes that iconic symbol we associate with the western landscape.”

Chris will have a better idea of the skull’s age once it is transported down to the museum from Syncrude’s site, something that will take place when COVID-19 restrictions are eased. However, he praised the way Syncrude handled the discovery.

“What everybody did was perfect. This is essentially what we ask for, if something is found, make sure it gets aside out of harm’s way and contact us so we can preserve these heritage resources for all Albertans.”

– Chris Jass

“We appreciate it when people and companies act responsibly. This is going to be an important part of the museum’s Ice Age paleontology collection.”

That’s something Sheldon appreciates. “I’m not going to lie. When I first saw it, I thought it would look great hanging from the wall in my garage,” he says. “The neatest thing that I’ve ever found. I’m proud to be able to help preserve an important piece of history.”

Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation.

That’s why Syncrude has a long history of collaborating with leading researchers and scientists from universities and institutions across Canada.

Ecologist Carla Wytrykush is a member of the multi-disciplinary team that is turning a former oil sands mine into the industry’s first commercial demonstration of an End-Pit Lake.  Developed to reclaim mine tailings, this technology contains the tailings in an empty mine pit with water on top to create a lake. The water supports a variety of aquatic life including algae, zooplankton and insects. 

It’s exciting to be part of such a robust R&D program involving so many top scientists and working on a project that is so important to Syncrude and the industry. We’re building on 40 years of testing and research, and still learning new things every day

– Carla Wytrykush

Carla’s team is responsible for monitoring the overall performance at Base Mine Lake—and it’s no small undertaking. 

‘To give you an idea of the scope of all that’s involved in ensuring the success of this project, on any given day we are tracking water quality, water chemistry, physics of the tailings, ecology, physical dynamics, microbial activity, gas flux from the lake, wave patterns and vegetation on the lake, and the list goes on.” 

By partnering with the best and brightest minds on the Base Mine Lake project, we continue to strive towards creating sustainable landscapes that meet our commitments to being a leader in responsible development in the oil sands.

Since reclamation began at Syncrude, more than 11 million trees and shrubs have now been planted at reclamation sites.

This year alone, more than one million trees and shrubs were planted which led to reaching that record.

Despite the challenges the season presented with a global pandemic hampering work in various areas and industries, the program had to continue, says Syncrude’s vegetation specialist Eric Girard.

To continue reclamation is the right thing to do.

– eric girard

“It was tough to do this work during the pandemic, however safety has always been a top priority at Syncrude and we had the protocols in place to ensure everyone’s health and safety. While some activities were stood down to maintain health and safety protocols, tree planting activities were able to continue because physical distancing was not a challenge.”  

Tree planting began May 20 with 22 people working on the program, 16 of whom were tree planters and the rest support crews who supervised and transported trees to various spots located north of the Syncrude’s North Mine. Towards the end of the season, the tree planting crew grew to about 30 to ensure that the program was finished by June 21.

Summer sends a message to plants that the growing season has an end. It was important for us to complete the planting by that date.

– Eric Girard

“As we enter July, the trees and shrubs should be actively growing or it may become challenging for them to come to life and survive. We need to give them a chance and the sooner we plant them, the better. The plants need time to get out of dormancy, grow roots and leaves, grow new buds, seal them, and be ready with reserves for the upcoming winter. They need time to go through the different phases of growth.”

More than 400 hectares were planted this year and the remaining area placed with soils are planned to be covered in the spring of 2021.

Balsam Poplar, trembling aspen, white birch, jackpine and white spruce were among the species of trees planted this year while the shrubs consisted of green alder, river alder, red osier dogwood, rat root, Saskatoon, buffaloberry, honeysuckle, willows, roses, Labrador tea, bog birch, snowberry, pin cherries, lingonberry, twinflowers, crowberries, sedges, Low bush cranberries, blueberry and hazelnuts.

As in previous years, Little Smokey Forestry Services provided professional tree planters and the required support to make the 2020 program a success despite the unique season.  

This year the team successfully completed around 9,000 workforce hours safely.

We are very proud we were able to complete the tree planting program this year with zero injuries.

– Ryan Pozzi

Even though it is very rough terrain and the work is highly physical, the tree planters did a great job working safe”, says Pozzi, Production Day Supervisor for the Environmental and Fluid Transfer Team which is responsible for the safe operations and completion of the tree planting program.

Neighbours helping each other are great neighbours indeed. 

And that’s how the relationship between Syncrude and Goodfish Lake can be summed up as they both faced the challenges of a global pandemic.

It all started as a measure to protect employees, Elders and members of the Goodfish Lake community and morphed into a business opportunity to supply materials needed to strengthen workplace pandemic protocols.

Tom Jackson, CEO of Goodfish Lake Business Corporation, says back in spring when the restrictions began, the company decided to take a proactive step. The company made masks for its employees to protect each other from the spread of COVID-19.

We were looking at all our protocols around the pandemic. We decided, just to get ahead of the curve a bit, that we would make masks for our employees. At the same time, we thought, we should give them to the elders here in the community. We wound up giving some to the community as well.

– Tom jackson

From making them for in-house and community use, Goodfish Lake staff got ample practice and training on making masks that when Syncrude came calling, the company was able to quickly send samples which led to an order of nearly 50,000 masks.

In late April, Syncrude transitioned to mandatory mask use and personal barrier use following a directive issued by the Alberta Health Services that wearing a non-medical mask may help prevent the spread of the virus.

However, wearing one does not relieve workers of the responsibility to stay at home if they are ill nor from practicing the required physical distancing of six-feet from each other.

It simply serves as an additional measure to help protect from direct person-to-person transmission and from possible work-surface contamination.

As more employees are returning to work, the company’s mask protocol has evolved: When you’re moving, you’re masked. That’s the rule of thumb all workers at Syncrude sites follow.

The blue masks in use at Syncrude are made of Ultrasoft – Hazard Risk Category 2 which is a fire-retardant (FR) material that’s suitable for all areas requiring FR materials.  In other areas of Syncrude, workers can choose to use these or any other personal barrier that covers their nose and mouth.

Syncrude Safety Codes Officer Ross Green is part of the RMWB Rapid Response Team and was quick to jump in when he got the call to help during the Fort McMurray flooding.

“I was asked to assess the flooded properties to see which buildings were safe to turn the power on right away and which buildings needed repair before they could have power turned on. I was in the role of an electrical safety codes officer,” he says.

Syncrude is a Mutual Aid partner, which is an alliance between Syncrude, Suncor, CNRL and the RMWB, providing emergency aid to each other as good neighbours.

Ross was loaned to the city to help with the natural disaster.

Ross helped inspect nearly 50 commercial buildings downtown and in Taiganova: “The ones that were not damaged wanted their power back on as soon as possible so that they could start cleaning up, or even those that had minor damage, if they could get an electrician in there and fix it right away. We would look at it and let them know if they were safe or not to power up,” he adds.

Nearly 13,000 people were forced from their homes after the flooding and an estimated 1,200 structures were damaged in Fort McMurray’s downtown core, but according to Ross, the people he was in contact with were in high spirits.

It was quite eye-opening. It’s sad to see the devastation and how much work they have to recover, but it is also kind of heartwarming too because you can really see the Fort McMurray spirit coming through these people

– Ross green

“Quite honestly, I was amazed with their attitude. I didn’t run into anyone that was feeling sorry for themselves, even though they are entitled to. I am sure they have moments when they are feeling overwhelmed, but you sure don’t get that sense from them.”

Ross experienced different ends of the spectrum while assessing the damage and giving either the green or red light to the business owners. From areas protected from sandbags placed by volunteers, to buildings with three to four feet of water and extensive damage, and everything in between.

He was also able to reference his Syncrude safety principles when working on these buildings: “It was a great to have all that Syncrude knowledge and wisdom to bring with me to this because it really was helpful. Sometimes your spidey senses go off and you feel something just isn’t right,” he explains. “The RMWB Safety Codes Officers and I changed some approaches based on our discussions. That is the strength of collaboration.”

Meet Mamawi

new addition to the herd named for their unity in facing challenges

Weighing up to an imposing 2,600 pounds, wood bison are North America’s heaviest animals but they still stand together in herds to face danger, whether it is a winter storm or a pack of wolves.

That rugged resilience and unity inspired Hector Tierney when the Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch decided to name a calf this spring.

“I wanted to come up with something to commemorate the planet standing together, all at one time, to face the COVID-19 pandemic head on,” says Hector, a safety administrator for the Fort McKay Group of Companies, which manages the ranch on behalf of Syncrude and the Fort McKay First Nation.

I sat down and looked at some online dictionaries. I wanted to find a name that honored the importance of the bison in Indigenous culture as well as the situation we currently face.

– hector tierney

Mamawi – Cree for “together, all at once” – summed up exactly what Hector was looking for. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘Wow what could be better than that?’ It’s perfect,” says Hector, whose wife Judy recently retired as a Syncrude employee. “We moved out here in 2008 from Ontario and we love the bison – we’ve driven out to the bison viewpoint with family and friends when they visited us.”

Calves are rarely named at the ranch – they are usually assigned a letter and number in the fall, when they undergo their first checkup by the veterinarian. “When the first calf was born April 7, I had thought about what could we do that could bring a positive outlook or inspiration to our current situation,” says ranch manager Brad Ramstead. “After raising the idea, the Fort McKay Group of Companies started a naming campaign for the first 2020 addition to the Beaver Creek herd during the pandemic.”

Given the circumstances, Jesse Hall, Syncrude’s Manager – Tailings and Lease Development, saw it as the right thing to do. “Calving season helps with perspective. We’ve had a very challenging period, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the flooding in Fort McMurray to trying to maintain our business during this period of low prices,” says Jesse, whose responsibilities include the ranch. “And we have new calves born who are unaware of these storms. It puts life in perspective – life will go on. The bison will endure and there’s something reassuring about that. And that’s an example we can learn from as we go through these storms as an organization and as a community.”

About 60 of the expected 90 calves have been born so far this season.

“Mamawi was among the earliest calves born and weighed around 40 pounds. He’s a healthy bull and probably is up to about 60 pounds now,” says Brad, a wildlife biologist who began working on reclamation at the ranch in 1991 and has managed the herd since 2005. “It’s a very appropriate name – it really captures the spirit of this herd and our operation.”

The bison herd, originally started in 1993 as an experiment to test how well reclaimed land would stand up to large animals, has come to represent Syncrude’s commitment to reclaiming the land used in its operations as well as working with Indigenous communities in the region.

“The ranch has always represented something larger than the bison,” Jesse says. “Mamawi and the rest of the herd provide people with some comfort – standing together, we will come through this.”

At the beginning of 2020, the World Health Organization declared this the Year of the Nurses and Midwives, and it has been exceptionally fitting.

Syncrude wants to thank and celebrate the important work of our Occupational Health Nurses this week during National Nursing Week in Canada.  

Our nurses at the Health Centre and Health and Wellness Teams have been working tirelessly during Syncrude’s COVID-19 response. Teams include 34 Registered Nurses (RN) and four support staff. Each week, the teams handles several hundred calls from individuals seeking clarification on or reporting COVID-like symptoms. 

“The level of care and professionalism that our Syncrude nurses provide is absolutely top-notch and I am so proud to work with these individuals. The last few months have been challenging for our organization and the work by our nurses to step up and support people at Syncrude is simply outstanding,” says Dr. Ahmed Elmezughi, Syncrude’s Chief Medical Officer. 

Syncrude has two Health Centre locations – one at each mine, Mildred Lake and Aurora.

Registered Nurses (RN) provide the highest level of medical care on site, and they work closely with Emergency Services for response in the field and emergency transfers off site when required. The team is highly trained with occupational health, emergency room, and/or critical care experience. 

The Health and Wellness team is also comprised of RNs with occupational health training, who use their strong assessment skills to support employees who are off work on disability for greater than 48 hours, or at work on temporary disability. This includes the many calls each day related to COVID-19 questions and illness reporting. Health and Wellness Advisors work with the employee, leadership, local healthcare providers, Human Resources and the Health Centre – all to help facilitate a safe recovery and return to work. The team also works closely with Employee and Family Assistance Program provider Morneau Shepell.  

“Every day, the nurses at Syncrude work hard to ensure our Syncrude family is well taken care of. They provide care if we get ill or are injured at work, from the minute we make that call and all the way through to recovery,” says Dr. Elmezughi. 

Syncrude nurses work tirelessly to ensure our health needs are met, while on Syncrude sites and while recovering at home. After providing the immediate emergency medical care needed, Syncrude nurses provide support during our recovery process, and monitor progress for a safe transition back to work.

-dr. Elmezughi

Registered Nurse and Health Services Area Leader, Gladys, Hokanson, agrees that the level of care provided by Syncrude RNs and support staff is incredible. 

“Our dedicated nurses have been putting their own personal needs aside to ensure the health of our people. The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to evolve for the last few months and both our Health Centre, and Health and Wellness teams have continued to provide accurate guidance and personal care,” says Gladys. “I have been a nurse for 28 years and working with our team of nurses at Syncrude for 18 years, and 2020 is a year that will go down in the books as one I am most proud of. Thank you to all of our health staff for all that you do.”  

Opportunities for the Skilled Trades

Make Syncrude your #1 choice.


We’ll complete our 2020 Critical Maintenance scope safely and effectively with the support of the Building Trades unions and professional skilled tradespeople like you. For more than 50 years, Syncrude has been one of Canada’s most trusted, stable and reliable companies, and North America’s most respected oil sands operator.

Accommodation will be provided and operated by Civeo Lodges, which are located close to Syncrude’s Mildred Lake site. Bus transportation will be provided between the Lodges and the Syncrude worksite. These camps will be exclusive to Syncrude workforce only.

For your protection, new COVID-19 safeguards and practices are now in place at Syncrude worksites and the Civeo Lodges that Syncrude has secured exclusively for our Critical Maintenance workforce. These measures include:

  • Temperature monitoring at the Syncrude sites
  • Physical Distancing protocols
  • Wearing of Masks and/or use of other personal barriers in all scenarios where Physical Distancing protocols cannot be maintained.
  • Additional COVID-19 guidelines and established self- isolation protocols.

Contractor Companies

Let’s Get Building! Ask your union hall about opportunities to work on Syncrude’s 2020 Critical Maintenance Event with the following Building Trades contractors.

Your #1 Choice for Safety

As we prepare to welcome teams to execute Syncrude’s 2020 Critical Maintenance Event, focus and commitment from all workers will be required in order to carry out the plan safely. Safety has always been at the forefront of the way we work. Therefore, in order to create an environment where Nobody Gets Hurt it is important for us to all work together to adhere to the workplace health and safety processes across the Syncrude sites and commit to following all procedures and guidelines. Our number one priority is always the health and safety of workers.

This year, we are dealing with many unprecedented events, including the new risk of the COVID-19 pandemic and this is having an impact on how we onboard workers to site. We remain committed to protecting our people, contractors and staff, and providing you with access to the necessary site information needed to do your job safely.

Syncrude has developed protocols to keep people safe against COVID-19. It is important for everyone to understand that these measures are for your safety and the safety of your co-workers. Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of our people, including those who work for our contractor companies. In an effort to help stop the spread and flatten the infection curve, Syncrude requires all workers to keep informed about our ongoing response to COVID-19 as we work together to protect all of our workers and their families.

Pay & Benefits

Syncrude upholds all Alberta Building Trades Collective Agreements, which offer highly competitive wages for Skilled Trades in Canada.

Travel & Accommodations

Lodging and food are hosted by Syncrude at Civeo’s Lodges for the duration of your contract. Bus transportation between the Lodges and the Syncrude worksite is also complimentary and we will be providing uninterrupted transportation services from the Civeo Lodges to four designated work locations at Syncrude Mildred Lake Site. These buses will service building 1055 (Conversion area), building 51 (Utilities and Offsites), 1294 complex (Hydroprocessing main), and MLV turnstiles. Syncrude ID card swipes will be conducted prior to boarding the bus for Site Access, and busing schedules will be posted and available at the lodges and on for your convenience; please note these schedules are subject to frequent changes.

  • All rooms have Cable TV and High Speed Internet (available for purchase)
  • All rooms are equipped with TVs, Desks, lockable storage & dresser and telephones for internal use and local calls.
  • Laundry Facilities

Travel to Fort McMurray and back to your home destination is your responsibility. 

The Syncrude Mildred Lake site is about 50 km north of Fort McMurray International Airport (YMM).

The site is also immediately adjacent to Highway 63, which is now twinned.

The Syncrude-affiliated Civeo Lodges are conveniently located close to our work site.

Working at Syncrude: What your colleagues say:

I’ve been coming to Syncrude since 1983 keep coming back because it is a leader in the industry, has a good work environment and good people working there.  Syncrude also has the best scaffolding.

– grant

Journey Boilermaker

Syncrude’s safety standards are better than other sites I’ve worked on and their operating systems for shutdowns are very effective — I like that.  Syncrude also has excellent relationships with the Building Trades unions and it values the quality craftsmanship that our members offer.

– Mark

Journey Boilermaker

The people at Syncrude are welcoming, my job in the Turnaround Logistics group allows me to interact with many different folks, and the safety intervention program is great

– holly


I like that I work with people and not for people — at Syncrude, you’re a team member.  The atmosphere, the commitment to safety and the people make Syncrude a great place to work.

– Anthony

Operating Engineer

Syncrude is recognized as a leader in the way it treats tradespeople, by offering a safe jobsite with good working conditions and accommodations.

– Warren Fraleigh

Executive Director, Building Trades of Alberta

Syncrude has been the single best customer for the Building Trades unions since I first worked on the initial construction of the Syncrude plant in the 1970s.

– Robert Blakely

Canadian Operating Officer, Canada’s Building Trades Unions

Dustin Evans, a Syncrude Pipefitter, goes above and beyond every day to keep his family safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Dustin’s wife, two children and dog are his first priority and the reason he takes extra precautions to combat the spread of COVID. “Both of my kids have asthma, making them even more vulnerable to the virus,” says Dustin. “My wife and son Ethan, who also has type one diabetes, had signs of COVID earlier this year, but thankfully tested negative. It scared us and acted as a real wake-up call. Since then, we’ve put more measures in place to keep our family safe during this pandemic.” 

The first thing I do when I land in my driveway after a day of work is sanitize my badge, keys and cell phone. Then I change my clothes in the garage, and wash them separately from my family’s laundry, just to be extra safe.

– dustin evan

Dustin then heads straight to the shower to clean up and disinfect, bypassing his dog at the door, eagerly waiting to greet him. “Only once I’ve cleaned up will I finally greet my wife, kids and dog.” 

Dustin is the only one from his household that goes out to buy groceries – reducing the amount of interactions his wife and kids have with the public. After returning home from grocery shopping, Dustin and his wife take the time to wash the produce and wipe everything down before putting the items away, so that they’re sure everything has been disinfected. 

Gilles Champagne, part of the Compliance Monitoring Team appreciates the work employees are doing to stay safe: “I think it’s fantastic to see how Syncrude employees are following the protocols put in place. It’s also great that employees understand the fight against COVID-19 does not end once you leave the gate, as most have families to protect at home.” 

“Think about it as if you already have the virus, and are trying to not spread it,” says Dustin in closing.

Ask Fire Chief Byron Stacey why members of Syncrude’s Fire Department are always ready to spring into action to help in a community emergency and he’d give you a solid answer.

“It’s always about helping people. We’ve always felt that this is our community. Whether we have an event happening on-site or in town, the need to help out in any capacity has always been there,” says Byron.

“It’s just a natural thing for us. We want to help. When you talk about the flood that’s happening now, we can’t stop it, but if we can hold it at bay to prevent one or two families from living through the next two or four months of displacement, that’s what we want to do.”

On Sunday, April 26, a dozen members of Syncrude Fire Department were deployed to pump out floodwater and to help rescue stranded community members. Two Hytran trailer-mounted, high-volume submersibles fire pumps that can pump out water at a capacity of 8,000 gallons a minute per pump, pumped water in the hopes to protect homes.

Meanwhile, two water rescue crews ran smaller boats into flooded areas and fetched people and pets from their homes or wherever they may be stranded and ferried them to dry land.

Byron says he first chatted with Fort McMurray Fire Chief Jody Butz at about 8 a.m. on Sunday about what kind of help the community might need. By noon, the water pumps were on their way to work.

As the flood relief work continued Syncrude helped, including a crew from Tailings and Lease Development pumping water out of Taiga Nova, an eco-industrial park in Fort McMurray.

The crews have faced many emergency situations in the past but the current situation poses a different challenge resulting from the distancing protocol necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important that the crews follow protocols of physical distancing and wear masks while performing their tasks.

Byron says though the crew members have had long days, they are in high spirits as they continue to serve the community.

Syncrude folks from Tailings and Lease Development helped pump water out of Taiga Nova
Eco-Industrial Park in Fort McMurray.