Sunday, May 24, 2009

No Tourists Allowed

Why is Alberta so hostile to historians? After all, to get to this provincial site, we’ve already driven 30 km down an unpaved road unheeding the warnings of the “Winter Road Closed” sign. Do you really think this sign is going to keep us from exploring?

Bitumount is the site of the first commercial oil sands plant in Alberta. In 1927 Robert Fitzsimmons formed the International Bitumen Company and began drilling through the oil sands with the mistaken belief that he would eventually find pools of liquid oil. The following year, Dr. Karl Clark develops a method for separating bitumen from the oil sands, but it took decades of investment to develop effective oil sands mining.

Charles, an interpreter at the Oil Sands Discovery Center, told me that there are plans to restore the abandoned Bitumount site and open it to the public, but the completion is at least a decade away.

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