• Bittersweet Sands: 24 Days in Fort McMurray

Bittersweet Sands: 24 Days in Fort McMurray


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978-1-927063-62-0 | 2014 October | 152 Pages


Rick Ranson has collected stories from all over North America, from the DEW Line and the drill ships of Working North to the raging waters of the Mississippi in Paddling South. Now, join this engaging raconteur as he ventures to one of Canada’s most talked-about locations: Fort McMurray, home of the oilsands.

In Bittersweet Sands, Rick Ranson recounts a twenty-four day shift at an oilsands operation undergoing a shutdown, giving us a glimpse at a world most of us only know from the evening news. Along the way, he encounters a group of engaging roughnecks, including a husband-and-wife welding crew, a petty fascist safety inspector, and the tough-as-nails secretary that keeps them all in line.

“Ranson catches the spirit of the McMurray. It's the honest, funny, painful truth.”
~ David Finch, author of Hell's Half Acre: Early Days in the Great Alberta Oil Patch

“Beyond simply finding a throughline through a collection of anecdotes, Bittersweet Sands succeeds in offering a compelling portrait of that unusual community, one that rarely factors into discussions of the oilsands: hard men drawn together by work, getting rich, but isolated from family and friends and left without much else aside from each other to help pass the time.“
~ Paul Blinov, Vue Weekly

Bittersweet Sands is a quick and easy read. I felt that I had a better understanding of the flavour and feel of life in Fort McMurray after I read it. If you have relatives that work in the patch, you might want to pick this one up.”
~ Alexis Kienlen, Daily Herald-Tribune

“The book is certainly not a full picture of life in and around Fort McMurray, but that cannot be expected from a 24-day snapshot taken by an out-of-town worker. Instead, it is an entertaining collection of stories told from a familiar setting.”
~ Jessica McIntosh, Fort McMurray Today

The shutdown begins.

The black gold dribbles to a stop, the lights in a thousand sensors dim, the needles in hundreds of gauges freeze. The refinery lies still. All that piping and all those vessels seem to sag, then slip into a lassitude of waiting. The thunderous, vibrating rumble of a working refinery becomes just a memory of an echo. The only sound within the now-sinister labyrinth of pipes and chrome is the faint but constant hiss of heating pipes like a steam locomotive idling in a railway station. Small wisps of escaping steam smell of wet cement, oil, and the rotten-egg whiff of hydrogen sulfide. Men speak in whispers at such times. They look over their shoulders as their steel-toed boots clang in the quiet, echoing on the steel grating. The pipes that once vibrated with the precious liquid now hang limp, glinting dull in the sun like a burnt-out forest of tar-streaked chrome, all right angles and silence.

Before he had clicked off, the voice on the phone had a final excited message:

“After the first shutter, they’re going to transfer everybody to the second one, then a third, and on and on. Jeez, man! A thousand guys, seven twelves, maybe fourteens. We’ll be buying our own Brink’s truck to carry the money. I’m getting on that shutdown. This’ll be the biggest shutdown this year.”

My truck roared to life. I was hustling out west.

Going to McMurray.

Going to a shutdown.