Wood Bison Trail
Phantom Ecology
Bituminous Sands, Northern Alberta, Canada

In 1997 the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects presented a Regional Award to the Edmonton based landscape architectural firm EIDOS Consultants Incorporated, for their planning, design, and implementation of the Wood Bison Trail. The work completed for Syncrude Canada Ltd. is primarily focused around the four kilometer “Matcheetowan Discovery Trails” through “Gateway Hill.” While the trail itself seems uninspired in comparison to the rich Boreal Forest ecology just beyond the expanding edge of the landscapes of extraction and waste, perhaps the significance of the project is tied to the unique status of Gateway Hill as the only certified reclaimed land in the entire Athabasca bituminous sands region. In close relation to the trail are a series of designed site markers, interpretive signage and access points. EIDOS states: “the development of the Wood Bison Trail provided the opportunity for Syncrude to communicate visitor information and its corporate vision of responsible economic growth which respects local aboriginal, environmental and community values.” The design exercise culminates in the Wood Bison Gateway, the artist Brian Clark’s siltstone carving of seven bison.

But the sculptures, which appear as in a sombre dark grey rock, have the unfortunate presence of tombstones. Surrounded by so much ongoing habitat destruction, it feels too early to celebrate the growth in population of the wood bison and their official move from an endangered to threatened species.

Proposed in the following pages is an addition to the Wood Bison Trail designed to push further this perceivable tension between destruction and reclamation. The existing Wood Bison Viewpoint is drawn out over the West In-Pit (WIP) tailings pond. The platform is made of locally logged timber, and the structure is light so as to make more powerful the feeling of floating above the toxic liquid below. The picturesque reflections trace a mirrored view of the ongoing Syncrude operations  and the remarkably vibrant colors of both the reduced and reclaimed landscape.