A History of Turner Valley

By Istvanffy, Daniel I. | Alberta History, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

A History of Turner Valley


Istvanffy, Daniel I., Alberta History


I do not wish to pose as an expert on Turner Valley. I definitely know that there are many who know a great deal more about the subject than I do. My only claim is to have studied the records of production in Turner Valley with an eye to its history. In its hey-day, Turner Valley produced over one hundred million barrels of oil which, in itself, is no mean accomplishment. Its greatest value to the province, however, lies in the fact that it was a proving ground for legislation, for drilling techniques, and for conservation methods before the later boom in 1947.

[The North American oil industry began in Oil Springs, Ontario, in 1858. James Miller Williams, a coachmaker from Hamilton, dug into the tar-like gum beds of Enniskillen Township to find their source. At a depth of fourteen feet he struck oil. Williams immediately built a small refinery and began to produce illuminating oil for lamps kerosene. In the next year, 1859, Colonel E.L. Drake obtained oil from a well at Titusville, Pennsylvania.]

While drilling for water at Alderson, forty miles northwest of Medicine Hat, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company struck a prolific flow of gas in 1883. Five years later the City of Medicine Hat was also drilling to boost its water supply and it struck a "good gasser." It was this gas well that prompted Rudyard Kipling, who passed through shortly afterwards, to write of Medicine Hat as the "city with all hell for a basement."

The first oil in Alberta was obtained without drilling. Seepages of oil were noticed just after 1886 on Cameron Brook near Waterton. Two enterprising residents of the area, John "Kootenai" Brown and Bill Aldridge, laid gunny sacks near the seepages. When the gunny sacks became impregnated with oil, they were wrung out and the liquid sold to ranchers of the vicinity for use in lamps and as lubricants. That pioneer oil firm charged a dollar a gallon.

In 1901 John Lineham of Okotoks organized the Rocky Mountain Development Company and drilling operations were begun near Waterton. The company claimed that oil was discovered in 1902.

Meanwhile the City of Calgary was developing into a large prairie city and a possible profitable market for natural gas. A. W. Dingman organized the Calgary Natural Gas Company, which was incorporated in 1905. The first well was drilled on the Sarcee Indian Reserve, but insufficient gas was obtained to make it profitable. The casing was pulled, and used in another well drilled on the Walker Estate, within the Calgary city limits. Gas pipe was laid to the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company's premises and the gas was first used there in 1910. A little later mains were extended to serve other districts in East Calgary.

The market for natural gas was rapidly expanding. Gas had been discovered at various points in southeastern Alberta by this time in promising volumes. Eugene Coste in 1910 organized the Prairie Fuel Gas Company. Later in the year it was amalgamated with the Calgary Gas Company and the Calgary Natural Gas Company. The following year the Company was reorganized again and took the unwieldy but impressive title, "The Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light, Heat and Power Co. Ltd."

In 1912 a sixteen-inch pipe was laid from the Bow Island field to Calgary. For a time, a gas supply seemed assured for the major cities of southern Alberta, but by 1920 the gas pressure had fallen dangerously low, and the Bow Island field was showing signs of edge water intrusion.

However, an alternative source of supply had already appeared. The Turner Valley field, destined to be the major gas and petroleum field in Canada for over a quarter of a century, had entered the picture.

The first step was taken when A. W. Dingman and William S. Herron in 1912 organized and incorporated Calgary Petroleum Products. Three wells, known for ten years as the Dingman wells, were drilled on Sheep Creek, near Black Diamond. Gas accompanied by a considerable showing of volatile oil, was discovered, Calgary experienced its first oil boom in 1914, and this is how one of the local papers described it:

   It was on a Thursday night that the news
   of the big Dingman strike was reported. … 

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