Banff Book Discussion Weekend 2024

Ducks is a memoir of Beaton’s experiences working in the oil fields in Alberta starting in 2005. Raised in Mabou, Nova Scotia, and fresh out of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, she needs to work in order to pay off her student debt. Like many in Atlantic Canada, she is forced to seek work elsewhere; whereas previous generations would travel to work in fisheries, coal mines, or auto manufacturing plants, the mid-2000s oil boom led many Easterners to work in the oil industry. She initially works in a tool crib at Mildred Lake for Syncrude but also works at Long Lake and in various other camps taking on different roles. She meets other migrant workers, many interprovincial migrants from Eastern Canada.

Though Beaton empathizes with many of the workers and their economic plight, the labour force is overwhelmingly male, and she is subjected to sexual harassment and finds little sympathy. Fed up with her experience, she leaves to work in Victoria, British Columbia, where she begins cartooning and creates Hark! A Vagrant. Faced with low job security and unable to pay off her loans, she returns to the oil fields. She grapples with the morality of the oil industry, reflecting on harassment and sexual violence, environmental degradation, homesickness, loneliness, the health risks to workers and locals, and the destruction of the lands of the First Nations. After earning enough to pay off her loans, she leaves Alberta.