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BITUMOUNT SITE

Fort McMurray, Near

Other Names:
Bitumont Site
Bitumount Oil Extraction Plant
Bitumount Oil Separation Plant Complex

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 and Community Spirit, 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.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Fort McMurray, Near
Boundaries: Plan 943 KS, Parcel A
Contributing Resources: Archaeological Site/Remainss: 9
Buildings: 42
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 4
Structures: 24

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
4
4
4
4
4
11
11
11
11
11
11
97
97
97
97
97
97
1
1
1
1
1
1
10 (ptn.)
11 (ptn.)
2 (ptn.)
3 (ptn.)
6 (ptn.)
7 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
943 KS

N/A
A

Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
57.386162 -111.644519 Secondary Source NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1974/12/04

Historical Information

Built: 1920 To 1948
Significant Date(s) 1920 To 1959
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Developing Economies : Technology and Engineering
Historic Function(s): Industry : Petroleum and Coal Products Facility
Current Function(s): Leisure : Historic or Interpretive Site
Architect:
Builder:
Context: N/A

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0091
Designation File: Des. 613
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 101239
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 613)
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