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BITUMOUNT SITE

near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1974/12/04

Bitumount Site Provincial Historic Resource, near Fort McMurray (date unknown); Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA.410/1
View of Bitumount, looking southwest
Bitumount Site Provincial Historic Resource, near Fort McMurray 
(July 2005)
; Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch, 2005
View of Bitumount, looking southwest
No Image

Other Name(s)

Bitumont
Athabaska Spokane Oil Co. Well
Bitumount Oil Separation Plant Complex
Bitumount Oil Extraction Plant
BITUMOUNT SITE

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1920/01/01 to 1948/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/03/20

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Bitumount contains the remains of several structures used to extract, separate, and refine bitumen from Alberta's oil sands. The structures include separation plants, oil tanks, and camp facilities that date from the 1920s through the 1950s. The site is located on the east bank of the Athabasca River approximately 89 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of Bitumount lies in its association with the attempts of the provincial government, private individuals, and oil companies to develop methods of profitably extracting oil from northern Alberta's oil sands. The hot water separation process pioneered at Bitumount established the economic viability of the oil sands and laid the foundations for future exploitation of this valuable resource.

In the late-nineteenth century, federal government geologists offered tantalizing visions of the riches of the Athabasca oil sands, suggesting that large pools of hydrocarbons existed under the surface of areas like Bitumount. Early twentieth century efforts to tap into these riches with conventional drilling technology produced unsatisfying returns - the oil seemed "trapped" in the bituminous sand of the area. In the 1920s and 30s, in an effort to address this problem, Dr. Karl Clark of the Research Council of Alberta conducted experiments at the University of Alberta and developed a method of hot water separation to extract oil from the sand. Building upon this work, in the late 1920s, private entrepreneur R.C. Fitzsimmons established a hot-water separation plant (as well as a host of other facilities) at Bitumount in an effort to make the extraction, separation, and refining of the oil sands an advantageous undertaking.

Unable to profitably develop the oil sands, Fitzsimmons sold his International Bitumen Company in 1943 to L.R. Champion, who renamed the business Oil Sands Limited and entered into a partnership with the provincial government to develop a new oil sands extraction operation at Bitumount. Financial difficulties bedevilled Champion's company and in 1948, the provincial government took over Bitumount, establishing it as a pilot plant to determine whether the oil sands could be commercially viable. The new extraction plant built on the site in the late 1940s was designed on the basis of Dr. Clark's experimental extraction process. Determining that extraction and separation could be practiced to economic advantage at the site, the government allowed private companies to use the site to conduct their own tests of the oil sands' commercial viability. Companies subsequently involved in research and construction at the site included Can-Amera Oil Sands Development, Royalite Oil Company, and Great Canadian Oil Sands.

Although Bitumount was abandoned in the late 1950s, the research and technology associated with the site has had an enduring impact upon Alberta's oil industry. Through the efforts of government agencies and private companies at the site, the Athabasca oil sands were established as a viable commercial endeavour, paving the way for the creation of the massive Suncor and Syncrude oil sands plants.

Source: Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 613)

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of Bitumount include:

Northeast corner cluster, including sand pit, dump site, and mine site:
- structural and archaeological remains;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Fitzsimmons accommodation and storage cluster, including hopper, house, cabins, sheds, log house, root cellar, field office, latrine, white sand pit, saw mill, golden slipper boat, and garbage dump:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Fitzsimmons plant cluster, including oil sands tailings site, storage tank, separation plant, boiler house, tall stack, storage tanks, heater, and fractionating towers:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Government mining and shipping/receiving cluster, including oil sand tailing pond, loading ramps, storage tank, steel pipe water supply, mine pit/stockpiles, fire wall, portable hopper, bunker fuel tank, pit:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Government extraction cluster, including separation plant, high steel cylinder, surge tank/building, stairway/pipe alley, screw feed/screen, ramp, hopper, accumulator tank, valve control shed, settler tank, and pump house:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Government refinery and storage, including crude storage tank, storage tanks, steel shed, bunker fuel tanks, portable field lab/plant, heaters, pressure settling tank, flash towers, fractionator and strippers, receivers, and fire hydrant:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Government power and infrastructure cluster, including power house, storage tank, dugout, sawmill shed, upright steam engine, river boat, sheds, weigh scale, lab and office, power poles, warehouse, machine shop, and garage:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Government accommodation cluster, including wooden sidewalk, cookhouse and dining hall, sheds, latrines, ditch, staff houses, water well and tank, huts, bath house, bunk house, upright steam engine, ditch, and frame huts:
- form, mass, and style of original buildings;
- original building materials;
- all artifacts contained within the various structures and buildings;
- spatial arrangement on site.

Recognition

Jurisdiction

Alberta

Recognition Authority

Province of Alberta

Recognition Statute

Historical Resources Act

Recognition Type

Provincial Historic Resource

Recognition Date

1974/12/04

Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1920/01/01 to 1959/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Extraction and Production
Developing Economies
Technology and Engineering

Function - Category and Type

Current

Leisure
Historic or Interpretive Site

Historic

Industry
Petroleum and Coal Products Facility

Architect / Designer

n/a

Builder

n/a

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 613)

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier

4665-0091

Status

Published

Related Places

n/a

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