Karl Clark (1888-1966)
Very few individuals are as committed to their chosen
profession as Karl Clark was. It was his focus and drive, as opposed to
luck, that led him to discover the hot water method of separating oil from oilsands, a process of provincial and international significance.
Born to Malcolm and Adelaide Clark, October 28th, 1888,
in Georgetown, Ontario, as a young boy Karl in no way appeared to be a
scholar. His high school grades were unremarkable, save for his math and
chemistry scores, which were marginally above average. At one point, he
even asked his father to be given permission to quit school in order to
find a job. Much chagrined at that idea, Clarks father informed him that
he would in fact be finishing high school, but after that, he was free to
pursue whatever he wanted.
Clark attended Harbord Collegiate Institute in Toronto
from 1900-1904. By 1910, he had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from
McMaster University. He remained in Hamilton until 1912, when he was
awarded a Masters degree in chemistry. By 1915, Clark had graduated with
a PhD, also in chemistry, from the University of Illinois.
Clark went on to work for the Canadian Geological
Survey, Mining Department in Ottawa. His induction into the Athabaska
oilsands came when he was asked to generate a precise and critical review
of the Sidney C. Ells paper titled "Notes on Certain Aspects of the
Proposed Commercial Development of the Deposits of Bituminous Sands in the
Province of Alberta."
While he was developing his career, he also started a
family. In 1919, he was married to Dora Anne Wolverton. The two had four
childrenFrances, Mary, Malcolm and Nancy.
In 1920, Clark left the Canadian Geological Survey for
a position with the newly established Research Council of Alberta. He and
his family moved to Alberta where he quickly and enthusiastically took up
researching the Athabaska oilsands.
From 1920 and through the 1940s, Clarks work with the
Research Council of Alberta and the University of Alberta was seriously
limited by a lack of funding. However, he managed to forge ahead in
discovering numerous ways to improve oilsands extraction facilities. It
was 1929 when he received the patent for the hot water extraction process
for separating oil from oilsands. In 1949, a small-scale oil extraction
plant was opened at Bitumount, near Fort McMurray. Only operational for a
year or so, the plant has since been designated a provincial historic
"Tar Sands Legacy" by Mary Clark
During the 1930s, the Research Council of Alberta was
suspended and Clark became a professor at the University of Alberta Mining
and Metallurgy Department. In 1945, he was appointed head of the
department, a post he maintained until he returned to the Research Council
of Alberta as a consultant in 1954. The following year, Clark was the
recipient of the Gold Medal Award of the Professional Institute of the
Public Services of Canada for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of
While Clark officially retired in 1964, he continued to
consult with Great Canadian Oil Sands, which later became Suncor, whose
plant, completed between 1964 and 1968, was the first large scale facility
to succeed in the commercial extraction of oil from the oilsands.
Once Clark finally retired it was 1964, he was 76 years
old and he and his wife Dora moved to Saanichton, British Columbia. He
died two years later in Victoria.
Clarks process for separating oil from oilsands was a
revolutionary moment in Alberta innovation. It was this process that laid
the groundwork for the methods used today.
Heritage Trail: Athabasca Oilsands, Early Exploration
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