After Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, the United States faced fears its new enemy would start biting off chunks of the mainland. Meanwhile, German submarines were prowling the high Northern coastline, hoping to sink those American tankers that transported petroleum to the Soviets via Alaska.
In response, the US Government undertook the CANOL Project, which included the construction of a pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The idea was to have an American contractor build a refinery in the Yukon, to process the petroleum for shipment abroad.
While most related contracts were farmed out to American firms, Imperial Oil was charged with exploring for new drill sites in and around Norman Wells.
Alex Hemstock, a newly graduated mining engineer from Alberta, found himself lured by the exciting prospect of surveying the MacKenzie Valley. He drifted into Imperial’s orbit, and was hired on with the CANOL Project in 1943.
Hemstock began under Chief Geologist Ted Link, but asked for a transfer to the engineering department where he could put his training to better use. He was given the task of planning a new infrastructure for Norman Wells, but this assignment did not last long.
CANOL was quickly turning into a multi-million dollar boondoggle, under the heavy-handed leadership of southern contractors ignorant of Arctic weather and permafrost.
Managers were having difficulty pumping oil through their pipeline, which could not handle the stress of the temperature changes it endured as the northern seasons turned. They requested that Hemstock study the problem, recording data about oil temperature and pipeline pressure.
The project eventually failed, and Hemstock went on to earn a M.Sc. In Geotechnical Engineering in 1947.