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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Historical Development

Oil Delivery in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 1895The beginning of Canada's petroleum story occurs in Ontario where the Geological Survey of Canada, the nation's first scientific agency, made discoveries of oil seepages on the "gum beds" of Eniskillen Township in 1850. One year later Charles N. Tripp, looking to make his riches, seized the information and registered the first oil company in the world. Although the world's first failure quickly followed, James Miller Williams intervened by buying the company and proceeded to dig deeper then ever before. Known as a man of great ambition, Williams found his "black gold," and is often credited with revolutionizing the industry. Since the 1850s when commercial exploitation of petroleum first occurred, the lure of "black gold" and the untold riches of discovery have pushed Canadian pioneers to gamble big. Gambles, won or lost, mark much of Canada's early ventures when technology was limited and resources undiscovered.

New Caption for picture of old train: In 1881, the Government of Canada commissioned the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to build a railroad connecting the country from east to west. CPR received 25 million acres of land as payment, some came with mineral and surface rights.

Over in Alberta, three major discoveries changed the province from a predominantly agrarian society to one of the world's most important petroleum producers. In 1908, the discovery well Old Glory ushered in the first of many important natural gas and oil ventures. Turner Valley entered the national conscious with the success of Dingman Well in 1914 and thirty-three years later, the world paid notice with Imperial Oil's landmark discovery at Leduc #1.

In the rest of the country, oil reserves have been known since the first half of the 20th century. At the time of discoveries, few people dared to venture in Canada's Arctic, Atlantic, or Interior British Columbia. Two adventurous souls, Charles Link and his trusty ox Old Nig, endured a torturous trek through Canada's Far North to drill along the Mackenzie River. For Nig the journey was a test of endurance, as he traveled by train, river, and foot across vast stretches of "giant" mosquitoes and wilderness. Once there, Nig proved his worth by hauling a derrick, boilers, engines and a sizable amount of wood uphill, often in below freezing temperatures. He also proved to be some of the best steaks produced.

Throughout this site each of these stories are explored not only for their importance in this country, but also the world. The history of the oil and gas industry in Canada is classified by the region in which it was discovered, and in so doing, the reader is made aware of how the history and geography are intrinsically linked in this country.

The Birth of the Oil Industry

Before Canada entered Confederation, it had an oil industry. In this excerpt from the JuneWarren publication, The Great Canadian Oil Patch: The Petroleum Era from Birth to Peak, author Earle Gray traces the origins of the oil industry in Canada from its humble beginnings in the Province of Canada West in the 1850s. Read more…


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