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Key Number: HS 101239
Site Name: Bitumount Oil Extraction Plant
Other Names: Bitumont Site
Site Type: 0723 - Industrial/Manufacturing - Miscellaneous Products: Factory


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
97 11 4

Near Town:


Type Number Date View


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Roof Structure:
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Environment: Approximately 50 miles north of Fort McMurray on Athabasca River
Condition: The structure occupying the site maintain various levels of structural soundness and condition. The entire mechanical system is non-operational. Since the site has been abandoned for almost 20 years, the complex is hidden in a dense vegetation growth. (July 1974).


Construction: Construction Date:
Usage: Usage Date:
Oil Sand Refinery

Owner: Owner Date:
Royalite Oil Company, Limited
History: HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE: The Bitumount Oil extraction plant complex was a pioneer project in the development and improvement of the hot water separation process. Dr. K.A. Clark, inventor of the separation process and R.C. Fitzsimmons, a major exponent of a similar separation system were involved in operating plants in Bitumount prior to 1950. The site experienced four different phases in the tar sands development (conventional drilling, private development, government sponsorship, and major oil company involvement) and retains original structures and equipment associated with these phases.
TENANT: Ernie Aitken (1974)
* * *
News Release - Bitumount
Directing the technological details of the new plant on behalf of the government was Dr. Karl A. Clark of the Research Council of Alberta, a leading figure in oil extraction technology and long-time opponent of Robert Fitzsimmons.

By the time that the new plant was completed in 1949, Champion had defaulted in his agreement with the government, and hence the new plant, now known as the Oil Sands Separation Plant at Bitumount, came completely under the control of the Province of Alberta. Operations continued for a short time, again proving the feasibility of oil extraction by hot water separation, a process espoused by both Dr. Clark and Robert Fitzsimmons since the 1920's.

The new government plant, which included some 40 different buildings and structures, remained relatively dormant throughout the early 1950's, and was sold to CanAmera Oil Sands Development Limited in 1955. Attempts to re-activate the Bitumount project terminated shortly after further sale of the facilities to Royalite Oil Company Limited in 1957.

Since that time the Bitumount oil extraction complex has suffered from sporadic equipment removal and vandalism, yet still remains substantially in tact - a monument to the pioneer activities which are now resulting in the full-scale development of the Athabasca Oil Sands.

Under the regulations of the Alberta Heritage Act, 1973, buildings and sites which are deemed to be of outstanding provincial importance, worthy of preservation in the general public interest, can be designated as Classified Heritage Sites. This protection involves the registration of an official order with the Land Titles Office against the land in question, and also requires the permission of the Minister to alter, remove, or otherwise dispose of a Classified Heritage Site, or its heritage objects.

Designation of Classified Heritage Sites is an ongoing programme within the Heritage Sites Service of Alberta. Considering is being given towards the legal protection and public recognition of other important sites throughout Alberta. Citizens who wish to suggest buildings or sites for designation should contact the Director of the Heritage Sites Service, 10158-103 Street, Edmonton, T5J0X6.

Prepared by:
E. Frank Korvemaker, Supervisor
Surveys and Registration
Feb. 11, 1975.
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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 kilometers 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 tar sands. The hot water separation process pioneered at Bitumount established the economic viability of the tar 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.


Status: Status Date:
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Provincial Historic Resource
Record Information: Record Information Date:
Tatiana Gilev 2011/04/13


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-0091
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