Founding Fathers (in a Tailings Pond)


  • Melanie Dennis Unrau University of Manitoba



This speculative essay uses an imaginary (and non-existent) comic to call a tar-sands industry founder who may have thought of himself as a goose back to Fort McMurray to see how waterfowl fare in tailings ponds. It treats S.C. Ells (1878-1971), an early-20th-century Canadian Department of Mines engineer who was also an amateur writer and illustrator, as a colonial founder not only of the tar-sands industry but also of literary and visual representations of the industry and the Athabasca region. Drawing inspiration from artist and former tar-sands worker Kate Beaton’s “Founding Fathers” comics, it compares the linkages between humans and waterfowl in Ells’s works and in Beaton’s 2014 webcomic “Ducks.” By doing so, it takes Ells on a time-travelling adventure and homecoming tour in the petromodern dystopia that has become his legacy.

Author Biography

Melanie Dennis Unrau, University of Manitoba

Melanie Dennis Unrau (she/her) is a settler of mixed European ancestry living on Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg. Melanie is a Visiting Fellow at St. John’s College (University of Manitoba) and a Research Affiliate at the University of Manitoba Institute for the Humanities. She is the author of Happiness Threads: The Unborn Poems (Muses’ Company, 2013), a co-editor of Seriality and Texts for Young People: The Compulsion to Repeat (Palgrave, 2014), and a former editor of Geez magazine and The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada. Melanie is working on a book titled The Rough Poets: Petropoetics and the Tradition of Canadian Oil-Worker Poetry, which is on contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press.


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How to Cite

Dennis Unrau, M. (2022). Founding Fathers (in a Tailings Pond). Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies, 13(1), 55–79.