Canada 150: ​Calgary can trace its roots as Canada’s oil and gas headquarters to Dingman #1

Image: Heritage Park Historical Village

If you’ve ever wondered how Calgary became the capital city of Canada’s oil and gas industry—and not Edmonton, where proximity to the huge Leduc find of the late 1940s and the oilsands seems to make it a logical choice—look back to 1914, says Canadian historian David Finch.

More specifically, he says to look back to May 14, 1914 near Turner Valley, just southwest of Calgary, when the Dingman #1 discovery well gushed and led to the development of Canada’s first commercial oilfield.

There were earlier oil discoveries in Canada, including at Oil Springs, near Sarnia, Ontario in 1858 (a year before oil was first discovered in Pennsylvania). There was also an oil discovery near Waterton, Alta. in 1903-1904, but Finch said was never commercial.

Dingman #1, as well as subsequent discoveries in the Turner Valley area, were definitely commercial.

“From day one Dingman was a commercial success,” said Finch, who took part in centennial celebrations of Dingman in 2014 and has written extensively about the discovery.

It all started when an area farmer and amateur geologist named Stewart Herron saw gas bubbling up near the Sheep Creek. Herron bought up property in the area and attracted several investors, including R.B. Bennett, who was to become Canada’s prime minister, as well as Senator James Lougheed, Peter Lougheed’s grandfather. He also brought on driller Archibald Wayne Dingman, and the resultant company became known as Calgary Petroleum Products.

Fortunately, the first well that was drilled struck oil. Two more wells were drilled between the first strike and May 21.

In fact, the strikes were more liquid gas prone, but the finds were so rich with condensate “you could put it right into your gasoline tank,” said Finch.

Despite that success, Calgary Petroleum Products went bankrupt in 1920 and was taken over by Royalite Oil Company, which subsequently became a part of Imperial Oil.

The Dingman 1 and subsequent strikes led to the development of the Turner Valley Gas Plant, the first petroleum processing facility west of Ontario. Through three additional stages of development, through to the late 1940s, the plant was expanded. Royalite built a new compressor station and a gasoline absorption plant in 1921, and a pipeline was built to link Turner Valley with a Royalite-owned refinery in Calgary.

The southern Alberta oil boom found new life in 1936, when the Turner Valley Royalties No. 1 well hit deep zone crude just north of the small community of Longview. That triggered Alberta’s first major oil boom before the Leduc find in 1947. At its peak in 1942, the Turner Valley oilfield produced about 10 million barrels of oil a year.

The importance of the Dingman strike and subsequent finds in the area can’t be understated, said Finch, as it is why Calgary become Canada’s oil industry capital.

“It led to most of the major oil and gas companies coming to Calgary,” he said.

Even after Imperial Oil’s larger Leduc find, offices largely remained in Calgary.

The city is also home to the headquarters of the National Energy Board, the Alberta Energy Regulator and key associations including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors and Petroleum Services Association of Canada, notes Calgary Economic Development (CED).

“No other industry in the country is as highly concentrated as Canada’s energy sector as no other city in the country has the human and financial strengths that Calgary offers,” CED said.

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