By her own account, the closest Thelma Cameron had come to involvement with the oil industry in her youth was through an aunt that owned a couple of wells. Her father, by contrast, was a grocer.
While working in a law office, Cameron found herself seated in the front row for the performance of one Hugh O’Rourke, a promoter who championed the oil industry in an era where mining was considered a more profitable investment. She was fascinated by the spectacle, as O’Rourke worked to turn a profit through the act of denying common wisdom.
In a twist of fate that would pull her further into that world, Cameron eventually fell in with journalist Carl Nickle, who had started a small circular called the Daily Oil Bulletin in 1937. While Nickle had stronger ties to the industry than Cameron did, neither he nor Cameron was especially knowledgeable at first. Both learned as they went.
When Sam Nickle, Carl’s father, needed a landman, he decided to bring Cameron on as a cut-rate lease negotiator in order to save money.
During a time when women were a rarity on the oil patch, Cameron became the first female landman in Western Canada.
These people were responsible for verifying the legal ownership and boundaries of those properties that had attracted commercial interest, and for hammering out lease agreements that were acceptable both to the landowner and to the interested oil company.
If some people doubted Cameron’s abilities, their fears were soon put to rest after she made her first agreement at the Old Strathcona Estate.
She then proved proficient in dealing with the community, while getting along well with her male colleagues.