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"In the summer of 1922 I went to McMurray from Spokane, Washington, to investigate the possibilities of obtaining Oil from the Bituminous sand about which I had heard fabulous reports."


        -R.C. Fitzsimmons, The Truth about the Alberta Tar Sands

On the banks of the Athabasca river, deep in the boreal forest of northern Alberta lies the forgotten settlement of Bitumount, the birthplace of the Canadian Oil Sands. Surrounded only by the sounds of the wind and the hum of insects, its crumbling walls and rusting artefacts tell of a 35 year struggle to establish Canada as one of the world’s greatest oil producers.

Ghosts of Industry invites the user to step off the pages of history and into the site of Bitumount. Float through its haunting spaces. Explore the secrets locked within its walls. Peer into an unknown past. A journey through the isolated forests of northern Alberta, the audience walks through seven poems to discover the Ghosts of Industry.

Ghosts of Industry experiments with experiential narrative. Through a combination of emotive photography, soundscapes, and graphic design, the website situates its audience at Bitumount creating an intimate sense of space and place. The audience is carried though the experience by five central poems that introduce spatial themes and encourage Socratic imagination and curiosity. The poems also serve as the navigation interfaces taking the audience from section to section and opening exploratory experiences.


Ghosts of Industry moves beyond traditional documentary narrative by focusing on exploration rather than a writerly experience. The story of Bitumount is told through its artefacts and archival materials. The audience discovers these artefacts in their raw form as they move through Ghosts of Industry. These are left uninterpreted and form narrative puzzle pieces. The result is a truly immersive and subjective experience defined by each audience member’s independent interaction with the site. The story of Bitumount is not told, rather it is built through each visit.

Interactive and graphic design: Jeff Dawson

Photography: Wayne Dunkley

Sound Design and audio composition: Leonard Paul

Ghosts of Industry | Location (2006)


Problematising the fixity and permanence of space, place and time, Ghosts of Industry (Location) superimposes the lost industrial ghost town of Bitumount, located in northern Alberta, over the landscape of the Banff Centre in the mountains of southwestern Alberta. One of eleven projects developed to test Hewlett Packard’s new locative media software, Mediascape, Ghosts of Industry dislocates the user from the chair and monitor and places them in a real sensory environment that has been virtually embedded with information.

Equipped with GPS enabled PDAs or I-Pacs and headphones, the user explores the Banff Centre campus tripping off audio and video clips that ghost in and out and layer according to their movements. Immersed within a soothingly ambient and constantly evolving soundscape a powerful tension is created pulling them back and forth between the physical and visceral landscape of the Banff Centre and the more conceptual, but equally pervasive landscape of Bitumount.

The project, deeply phenomenological in nature, privileges the user as a vector for the past. It is through their existence, within a particular space and place, their movements and conscious positioning, that the reality of the past of Bitumount is able to exist. In this sense the user is no longer a passive audience, but is implicated directly in the art and interpretive process as a medium or performer.

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