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Alberta Research Council: Profile

The War Years

Alberta Research CouncilOil for the allied war effort was the necessity that revived the research council. By 1943, with American servicemen in the Northwest Territories running an oil pipeline to the Alaska theatre of war, the province found $250,000 for Karl Clark to resume his work on the Athabasca sands.

If Hitler could have seen the facilities he would have snickered. The council was given space on campus, in a grimy brick pile behind the Arts Building and Convocation Hall known as the North Lab.

In a curious building to the north—beyond it were the victory gardens in which research council and university staff were encouraged to grow vegetables for the war effort—ARC was doing work for the Department of National Defence, testing the quality of oil and gas used in western operations. At that time, in Alberta alone, 15 air bases were turning out crews for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The lab was equipped with a blow-away roof in case of explosions—which never happened.

But when the war ended, there was an explosion in Alberta oil exploration which made the service permanent. And currently, the Fuels and Lubricants Group is an important entity, setting international standards for industry.

There had long been a daunting gap between Alberta's natural resources and financial resources to exploit them. But oil royalties began to change that.

Soil testing resumed in the Peace River Country, along with studies of underlying groundwater. The endless poplar forests were investigated to see if this natural resource could get in on the plywood boom brought about by post-war construction. Unfortunately, the trees were then too small for plywood. For Albertans who ran traplines in these woods, fur-bearing animals were a prime natural resource—so there was a study of the seven-year cycle in the rabbit population.

In 1946 highways research looked into causes of winter road damage. There was a cheerful bonus—findings on "frost boils" were useful to icemakers in curling rinks. Even more significant, the inquiry was underwritten by $500 from the Prairie Roadbuilders Association. It was a small amount, but it was the first of the contracts with industry which have become a major support of the Alberta Research Council.

In 1948 a pilot plant at Bitumount, in the Athabasca tar sands, proved Karl Clark's hot-water extraction process was feasible.

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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