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Alberta Research Council: Profile

Starting Small

Alberta Research CouncilARC began with a staff of five: a technician, two men researching the sands and two doing fuels. Fuel meant coal. Coal not only powered the furnaces of Alberta—an ashcan was in every yard—it also powered visions of economic greatness. Alberta held 18 percent of the world's coal reserves, the boosters liked to remind all comers, and 12,500 Albertans were coal miners—six percent of the workforce.

Coal samples were shipped in from around the province and tested in campus labs—for quality, properties and characteristics that industry might exploit.

Coal was also on the minds of university geologists sent out in the wake of explorers who had charted the rivers and surveyors who had staked the land in square miles. In 1926 they published the first geological map of Alberta. And they answered letters. In 1923 alone there were 522, "many of these dealing with grossly exaggerated reports appearing in the press."

By 1928 the staff numbered 10 and new programs began—a soils survey to classify land in the Peace River Country, and an attempt to find uses for a natural resource being wasted. With the National Research Council paying half the cost, the university's department of chemistry was commissioned to seek a use for natural gas in chemical industries.

Looking ahead to the 1930s, all signs were positive. Alberta was at last gaining control of her natural resources. One prosperous decade seemed to be leading to another. But the prospect was a mirage masking the great depression.

By 1932 the province was no longer funding the Research Council. A few programs went on life support within the university. For 10 weary years, Edgar Stansfield soldiered on studying coal, Edward Boomer with natural gas, John Allan with geology, and Karl Clark, as professor of mining and metallurgy, giving occasional thought to the Athabasca sands.

A.W. (Tony) Cashman. A Historical Review of 75 Years of Service. Edmonton: Alberta Research Council, 1996. With permission from the Alberta Research Council.


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