History of the Athabasca oil sands region, 1890 to 1960's Vol I: Socio-Economic developments

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  • There is no doubt that the Athabasca Oil Sands region has been an eldorado for resource development. The major forces shaping its development, i.e., private enterprise, church missions and government enterprise, have come from outside the region. The economy of the fur trade predominated from 1778 until the 1950's. The role of religious organizations was one of civilizing the original inhabitants by introducing Christian religious practices and attendant material comforts of education and health care. Perhaps most significant was the provision of paternal protection from intrusions of government and industry in their expansion into the region. Oral history interviews indicate that this paternal activity lessened as churches began to focus upon the needs of newcomers. Prior to 1890, society in the region was conditioned by fur trade economy and religious proselytism. The fur trade, dominated by the Hudson's Bay Company, sought economic benefits which depended on stable social conditions. To a certain extent social stability was reinforced by the presence of missionaries. These two external influences, Company and Church, complemented one another. [2] Separated by muskeg from the south and accessible only through the Churchill-Clearwater rivers, the society of the region remained relatively isolated until the establishment of Fort McMurray in 1870. This post portended the changes in transportation and routes which led to the entry of agencies of the Crown, the third major external influence to enter the region.

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