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Turner Valley and the $50-Billion Hangover

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The trouble with this oil situation at this formulative stage is that you are never sure whether the man you meet on the street is a multi-millionaire, or just an ordinary, common millionaire.

-Bob Edwards, Calgary Eye Opener

Anyone visiting Calgary in mid-May of 1914 would have concluded, according to the Calgary News Telegram, that the city "had a population of 80,000 people, mostly lunatics." This Stampede town "never saw such a Saturday night," observed the Calgary Albertan. "It was the wildest, most delirious, most uproarious, most exciting time that had ever entered into human imagination to conceive."

The cause of all the excitement was oil. For more than a year, an oil fever had gripped Calgarians as they followed the plodding progress of a drilling rig nestled in the foothills of nearby Turner Valley, its timbers shaking and its boiler hissing steam while the steel bit banged and clunked its way through hundreds of feet of rock. In late September and early October the well had encountered at a shallow depth a flow of nat­ural gas that bore with it a spray of light gravity oil, variously described as condensate, naphtha, natural gasoline, or pentanes plus, and hereafter referred to as naphtha.

For months the newspapers had been full of conflicting reports as to whether or not a commercial discovery had been made. Stockbrokers' offices displayed samples of the oil to convince Calgarians that it really did exist. So volatile was the naphtha, that it was pumped into the tanks of cars that brought visitors to the well site, and the cars actually ran on this fuel. "Experts" had been freely predicting that "Calgary will soon be in the throes of one of the greatest oil excitements ever known." Hundreds of thousands of acres of oil leases had been filed with the federal government, and the value of these leases was skyrocketing. There were riots in the Dominion Land Office as eager speculators lined up to file on anything available — even the municipal Bowness Park. Dozens of new oil companies had been formed, hopeful to drill on those leases, and shares were sold in the hundreds of thousands to Calgarians thirsting to get in on the ground floor and eager to part with their savings.

"Many Calgarians are suffering from a mild form of insanity," said the News Telegram in October, while the Albertan concluded simply that "the city is oil mad."

But the excitement was nothing compared with what happened after word reached Calgary on the night of Thursday, May 14, 1914, that this time the Dingman well had hit it for certain: oil.

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