Tag Archive: alberta oil sands


Surviving Alberta Winter

Twenty seven years I spent in Alberta, north west of Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains as well as south west in the Kananaskis country [ http://www.kananaskis.com/ ]. Despite the cold winters, Alberta for me is still the most beautiful of Canada’s provinces. The landscape east of Calgary coming from Saskatchewan is rather flat and undulating, towards the mighty Rockies wide open skies and those wonderful mountains are a sight to behold. It is easy to imagine that the temperature during already cold winters is always at least ten degrees colder outside the cities. North west of Cochrane (which is the next town west from Calgary) I had snow up to five feet at times. The same when we lived almost ten years in Bragg Creek, a small hamlet south west of Calgary [ http://www.braggcreek.ca/ ], the snow was so high that I had to pull my old Dodge truck with my car over the acreage across the snow using my lariat, in order to be able to go to work in Calgary. Every morning up at 6 AM, driving down town to Calgary. When a blizzard hit the city, it had been impossible to drive home after work. I tried once, took me 3 hours slowly for twenty km. No heating in my car either.
When working up north on contracts, I needed to drive every weekend between Millarville [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millarville ] from my large acreage to downtown Edmonton. Friday after work down and Sunday night back. Many times during that winter I was the only driver coming out of Edmonton and driving south. We called this – highway No. 2 – the ‘killer highway’ because of the many accidents occurring during iced up winter roads. I counted at times at least fifty vehicles upside down and inside out in the ditches. Driving slowly, I made it. My ranch near Millarville was steep uphill, a quarter of a mile to the house, walking and leaving the car in front of my gate. Once my front door was frozen, I had to break in else to face freezing to death.
How did we survive ? As the saying goes: “There is no such thing as a cold winter, only bad clothing.” We wore arctic clothing and heavily padded overalls – like worn in the oil fields. Long underwear of course and heavy gloves and high padded boots. I had been in Fort McMurray as well working temporary for Suncor oil company in 1987. In winter. [ http://www.suncor.com/default.aspx ]. Lucky for all of us contractors, it did not last long, as one of their buildings blew up and all contractors had to leave. Today, living by the Pacific Coast, and warmer climes, I could not take that cold anymore.

Fort MCMURRAY ALBERTA 1987

In 1987 I worked on a computer contract for SUNCOR at Fort Mac. Not very long into my contract we had an explosion in one of the buildings on site, right next to the administration building which housed the computer systems department. Environment Alberta arrived and decided that all contracts were to be cancelled and the contractors sent home.  Because of PCB contamination danger. [PCB = polychlorinated biphenyls, a cancer-causing substance]. These were leaking out of old transformers. My images show Ft. MacMurray in 1987. It was a small community then. Images also show oil pollution in the rivers around it.1987_FtMcMurray1

In 1790, the explorer Alexander MacKenzie made the first recorded description of the oil sands. By that time, trading between the explorers and the Cree was already occurring at the confluence of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers. The Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company were in fierce competition in this region. Fort McMurray was established there as a Hudson’s Bay Company post by 1870, and continued to operate as a transportation stopover in the decades afterwards. [WIKIPEDIA]  [post created with Firefox v.19]