Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oilsands Pioneers Recall Big Promise, Big Problems with Industry's First Mine

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oilsands Pioneers Recall Big Promise, Big Problems with Industry's First Mine

Article excerpt

Oilsands pioneers recall early highs, lows

--

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - The launch of Canada's first large-scale oilsands mine began on a cold and overcast September day in 1967, with speeches to a crowd of about 600 VIPs predicting incredible wealth would be unlocked from the massive energy resource in northern Alberta.

But veteran employees of the Great Canadian Oil Sands project say that early promise was soon met with harsh challenges, including emergency shutdowns, labour strife, cold weather and biting insects.

George Skulsky, 78, proudly remembers showing U.S. industrialist J. Howard Pew, chairman of project owner Sun Oil and a member of one of America's richest families, which buttons to push to start process lines at the mine's official opening.

Skulsky was also on duty during a night shift in the project's extraction plant a few months later, when the powerhouse boilers all failed and the lights went out, triggering a months-long shutdown.

"It was 40 below outside and ... the whole plant went down cold. Everything froze up," he said.

"It cost millions and millions of dollars. They had to replace a lot of equipment to get the plant back up and running."

Skulsky, who spent nearly 30 years working at the mine, also witnessed both its early and later labour struggles.

Early on, the company asked him to help set up a bargaining association for the 300 workers on site. He recalls helping organize a two-day strike in 1969 that forced Sun Oil to reverse a plan to charge workers 10 cents to take the bus to work.

But he had joined management by 1986 when the company had a labour dispute with about 1,100 employees that would last for six months. He was asked to help keep the mine and plant running with non-union staff and employees flown in from other operations.

"It was a tough, mean strike whereby the RCMP were arresting people at the gates and taking them away," he said. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.