Sitting Ducks

Michael Hayward

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Drawn & Quarterly) is an unsparing new graphic memoir from Kate Beaton, who some Geist readers may know from Hark! A Vagrant, the award-winning webcomic which showcased Beaton’s delightfully skewed sense of humour. Beaton’s keen eye for detail is still evident in Ducks, but there is also a definite step up in seriousness. For two years, between 25 and 28, Beaton was one of the thousands of workers who migrated from all corners of Canada (and further afield) to the oil sands of northern Alberta, in search of well-paid work. Beaton, twenty-one years old at the time, had travelled from her home in Mabou, on Cape Breton, hoping to earn sufficient money to pay off her student loans. The conditions in the oil camps around Fort McMurray were extreme: bitter cold, isolation and loneliness. And for Beaton there were also the persistent—and unwanted—attentions of an overwhelmingly male work force, a constant flow of sexist comments and innuendo that female workers were expected to laugh off, or risk being labelled (and ostracized) as “bitches” or worse. The result of this was a gradual grinding down of the spirit, which Beaton captures perfectly in her memoir. Like Kate Braid’s Journeywoman (212) before it, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an important addition to the growing body of work documenting the uphill battles faced by women who are trying to establish themselves in fields that have long been dominated by men.

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