American Collections blog

01 September 2010

Drilling deeper: resources on oil in the Canadian collections

Filling at Dingman's Well 

“Filling Oil Drums at Dingman’s Well,” Alberta. By Lane and Mitchell, 1914.

The history and expansion of Canada is one that frequently intertwines with oil resources and their exploitation. This is perhaps best illustrated by the significance placed on the search for coal and oil by Sir William Logan’s Geological Survey of Canada. The Survey was significant in orientating Confederate Canada and locating many of the minerals on which the economy came to depend.

The Geological Survey also analysed the geology of the Athabasca Oil Sands that are the subject of significant global attention today and developed the initial water-based method for separating the oil from sand. It is worth stating therefore that the oil sands have long been part of Canada’s history and heritage; they are well documented, much researched and have been in use since the nineteenth century (and for centuries prior by surrounding First Nations groups). As a result this history can be excavated in the collections of the British Library, throwing light on both sides of the current debate about the continuing use of the oil sands.

The reports of the Geological Survey of Canada from the nineteenth century provide a good starting point - for example, Joseph B. Tyrrell’s Report on a part of Northern Alberta and portions of adjacent districts of Assiniboia and Saskatchewan..[Shelfmark: C. S. E. 16, 1987; also various Geological Survey records, as well as other government Canadiana, are held at Mic.F.232]. Moving into the twentieth century there are various official publications regarding the sands, for instance the National Energy Board’s Canada’s Oil Sands: Opportunities and Challenges to 2015, Shelfmark: YD.2006.b.1987, 2004] and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research The Future of Heavy Crude Oils and Tar Sands: 1st International Conference [Shelfmark: 4060.580000 1981 DSC].

The content of the collections also bears out the significance of twenty first century debates regarding the contemporary use of the oil fields. There are various materials and perspectives, such as Chatsko’s Developing Alberta’s Oil Sands: from Karl Clark to Kyoto [Shelfmark: YC.2006.a.15533, 2004] or Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent [Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1687, 2008]. There are also various illustrative perspectives collected, such as Dubois et al’s comix reportage work Extraction! [Shelfmark: YD.2008.a.3230, 2007]. In short, whatever your starting hypothesis regarding the oil sands the Library’s collections should provide plenty of scope to furnish discussion.

[P.J.H.]

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