On a bitterly cold afternoon, at 3:55pm, Nathan E. Tanner, Minister of Lands and Mines turned a valve at the Leduc No. 1 oil well as a rig hand held out a burning rag, setting alight a massive column of smoke and flame that roared hundreds of feet skyward. That event took place on February 13, 1947, seventy years ago today and it heralded in a new era for Alberta. An era of rapid development and prosperity fed by the now discovered reserves of oil deep under the province.
Years after the event, Vern Hunter, the tool push who drilled the Leduc No. 1 discovery well said that when the flare was lit it “threw a mushroom cloud just like an atomic bomb.” That cloud of smoke and flame ended a long period of unsuccessful oil exploration in Alberta, revived interest in Alberta as an oil-producing region and changed the future direction of the province.
The site of the Leduc No. 1 oil well is now part of the Leduc No.1 Discovery Centre museum. The location of the oil well, long since out of service, was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1986 and the Leduc-Woodbend oil field that it had brought into production was established as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990. The rig that drilled the fortuitous well remained the property of Imperial Oil and was used to drill other oil wells. Eventually, Vern Hunter, who had become a manager with Imperial Oil manager in 1955, donated the drilling rig to the City of Edmonton. In 1987, as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Leduc oil discovery, the drilling rig was erected in a new park established at the entrance to the city, a reminder of that momentous occasion in 1947 that made Alberta and Canada one of the most significant oil producing jurisdictions in the world.
For more information about the 1947 Leduc No. 1 oil discovery, including a first-hand account of the day by Vern Hunter please see the “Leduc Era” section of the Alberta’s Energy Resources Heritage website.
References and Additional Reading:
Alberta Culture and Tourism. “Conventional Oil: The Leduc Era: 1947 to 1970s,” Alberta’s Energy Resources Heritage, available at http://www.history.alberta.ca/energyheritage/oil/the-leduc-era-1947-to-1970s/default.aspx.
Breen, David. “The Making of Modern Alberta,” Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed, Michael Payne, et al., eds. (Edmonton and Calgary: University of Alberta Press and University of Calgary Press, 2005), pages 539-564;
Chartier, Jacqueline, “Vern ‘Dry Hole’ Hunter: How a Preacher’s Son Became an Oil Patch Legend,” Alberta History. vol. 57 no. 3 (Summer 2008), pages 2-7;
Owram, Doug, “Oil’s Magic Wand,” Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed, Michael Payne, et al., eds. (Edmonton and Calgary: University of Alberta Press and University of Calgary Press, 2005), pages 567-586.