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Ells River

The Ells River flows into the Athabasca River just north or Fort McMurray. The river is named after a colourful character from the early days of the oil sands development: Sidney Clark Ells.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, Ells was born in 1879, and after graduating with a science degree from McGill, he started his controversial career with the Federal Mines Department.

In 1913, Ells began surveying the Athabasca country and convinced the Mines Branch to fund him to conduct a paving experiment with the oil sands.

Well, Ells ran afoul of his Canadian supervisors on financial issues - I think he liked to spend money - so in 1915 he began work on the scientific properties of the oil sands at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. He produced a report on his findings. And its perceived flaws actually proved to be the basis of later discussions.

Ells' work provoked the interest of politicians and scientists, and actually provided the impetus for the founding of the Research Council of Alberta. And like the rest of Ells' history, even the naming of the Ells River was marked by controversy.

In 1922, the Fort McMurray Board of Trade petitioned the Geographic Board of Canada to name this particular river after Mr. Ells.

But, the name "Moose River" had been recorded as early as 1890 by the Geological Survey of Canada for that feature. A 1916 township plan compiled for the Dominion Land Surveyor does show it as "Moose River", but two years later, it showed up as "Namur River".

There were those people who strongly supported to retain the name already found on the map, that is "Namur River". Local old-timers were equally adamant to keep "Moose River".

After much deliberation, the name "Ells" was chosen. And the name "Namur" was applied to the river somewhat to the north and east, and the river that bears the name "Namur" today.

Along with his scientific work, Sidney Ells wrote about early Alberta life; he published a poem called "Wood Smoke". And he named a few geographical features himself, all around Fort McMurray, including McClelland Lake, Clarke Creek, and Rocke Island.

Sidney Ells died in 1971 at the age of 92.