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Celebrating Oil's Promise of Prosperity:
50 years after Leduc #1what legacy has it left us?

By Barbara Dacks

"Prosperity," says the Honourable Anne McLellan, Minister of Natural Resources and MP for Edmonton North West. Prosperity is the most significant legacy of oil for Alberta. She elaborates. "Oil has provided us with the means to develop our standard of living, infrastructure, universities, intellectual and scientific vibrancy." Oil has been the foundation for well-being in Alberta, she continues, for jobs, exports, and economic diversification. "Wealth created by oil and gas has fostered our educational and health care infrastructure, attracting research scientists."

Alberta accounted for 82 per cent of total Canadian oil and natural gas production in 1995, valued at $24 billion, McLellan notes. "Everyone understands that Alberta is integral to the economic prosperity of the rest of the country."

Before 1947, no one would have dreamt that to be possible. Crude oil in Turner Valley had whispered clues since 1914. Tar sands (sands, clay and bitumen) in northern Alberta had intrigued scientists and inventors since the '20s, but Alberta still meant agriculture in the '40s—the throne speech in '46 didn't even mention oil.

As a biting wind blows snow across a field off Highway 19, a lone oil derrick towers over a low white building next to it. Down the road a plaque stands ready for the ceremony in August when the Leduc-Woodbend Oilfield will be declared a national historic site. Hard to imagine the excitement 50 years ago, on the bright, cold 13th of February 1947, as hundreds of people gathered here to witness the flame that lit Alberta's modern economy.

Aubrey Kerr stood in the crowd that fateful day. He was the well-site geologist for Leduc #2. "I was there to find out as much as I could about the #1 well because #2 was about to be started and got spudded in the day before." Until that summer, almost everyone, including Kerr, had believed #1 would end up just another 'dry hole'. Vern Hunter, the tool push in charge of the drilling crew had even earned the nickname "Dry Hole" Hunter for his share of the 133 he'd helped Imperial Oil dig previously. But this site proved different.
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Reprinted with the permission of Barbara Dacks and Legacy (Winter 1997): 14-19.
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