ARC 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 Albertaan ashcan was in every yardit 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 minerssix percent of the workforce.
Coal samples were shipped in from around the province and
tested in campus labsfor 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 begana
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.
Cashman. A Historical Review of 75 Years of Service. Edmonton:
Alberta Research Council, 1996. With permission from the Alberta Research Council.