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Athabasca Tar Sands



Athabasca Tar Sands



Date of Issue

May 19, 1978




Postal Administration




Series Time Span


Perforation or Dimension



Ashton-Potter Limited.


Designed by Will Davies.

About Stamp

The United States may be a land where the streets are "paved with gold", but Canada is a land where riches are available simply for the effort of digging them out of the ground. This is not too gross an exaggeration, as the exploitation of the tar sands of Alberta readily demonstrates. The first Caucasian to see the tar sands was Peter Pond, the controversial fur trader. In the spring of 1778, "some of the traders on the Saskatchiwine river finding they had a quantity of goods to spare agreed to put them into a joint stock, and gave the charge and management of them to Peter Pond, who, in four canoes, was directed to... proceed... to Athabaska, a country hit her to unknown but from an Indian report." Paddling down the Athabasca River, Pond spotted "springs of bitumen which flows along the ground." The Indians caulked their canoes with the material. Pond gathered a rich harvest of furs, but never realized he had found something that would eventually become far more valuable. The tar sands contain up to a trillion barrels of bitumen, more than the reserves of Saudi Arabia. However, mining difficulties are immense, and less than one third of the bitumen is recoverable with present technology. One must process two tons of sand to extract one barrel of crude oil. In hot weather, excavating machines sometimes sink axle-deep into the sticky tar. When winter comes, the already abrasive sand freezes so solidly that within four hours it can wear out an excavator's hundred-pound steel teeth. Perhaps these difficulties will help save the resource from being squandered. The Resource Development stamps were designed by Will Davies, R.C.A. of Toronto. Mr. Davies' loose gouache illustration depicts one of the gigantic bucket-wheel excavators used in strip-mining the Athabasca Tar Sands. The drawings have a sense of atmosphere and reality, capturing the interesting contrast between the dark, confined mine workings underground and the man-dwarfing machinery of modern surface-mining technology. The colours of the typography represent silver and oil, the resources being extracted.

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Similar Stamps


Canada. Post Office Department. [Postage Stamp Press Release], 1978.

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