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Preserving history of the petroleum industry in Canada

Telling Our Story

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Photo: Barrel being filled with oil from pipe. Dingman well (Calgary Petroleum Products #1), Turner Valley, Alberta. May 22, 1914 (Glenbow Archives NA-1179-1)
Barrel being filled with oil from pipe. Dingman well (Calgary Petroleum Products #1), Turner Valley, Alberta.
May 22, 1914
(Glenbow Archives NA-1179-1)

The history of the Canadian petroleum industry is the story of Alberta's foremost industry. And the Petroleum History Society is a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving that story and telling it. We invite you to join us.

Preserving a Proud Legacy

The Petroleum History Society (PHS) focuses on a single industry. We believe that Canadian oil and gas history stands as much more than a respectable record. It is a legacy built by people whose accomplishments make us proud today.

Technology developed in Canada gave the worldwide petroleum industry improved methods for drilling, sour gas production, and sulphur recovery. Canadians redefined the industry's boundaries by opening new frontiers like polar exploration and oil sands extraction. Importantly, Canadians also exported a sense of responsibility for the resources that their technology mastered. Oil-producing nations around the globe are adopting conservation initiatives and environmental technologies that began in Alberta as early as the 1930s.

Recording First-hand Recollections

The Society originated as a group dedicated to preserving the oral history of the industry’s pioneers, and this work continues. The first two oral history projects recorded 307 interviews. In 2010, the Society began its Oil Sands Oral History Project, in which researchers are using digital audio and visual media to collect interviews with pioneers in this sector. Supported by both the oil sands industry and the Alberta Government, subjects for this project have included such diverse pioneers as Tom Morimoto, who worked for the Bitumount project in Fort McMurray in 1937, and Bob McClements – Sun Oil’s representative during the construction of the Great Canadian Oil Sands plant in 1965-1967, who later became the CEO and chair of Sun, then one of the world’s largest integrated oil companies.

Joining Forces

PHS collaborates with other groups working toward shared goals. For example:

  • We worked with CKUA ACCESS Network radio on a series of radio programs plus a television show called Roughnecks, Wildcats and Doodlebugs - programs about the industry's early history. Rebroadcast by popular demand, the radio series were the network's most successful every. These are available on the internet at:

    The Heritage Community Foundation's
    Canada's Petroleum Heritage website

  • We also sponsored a series of radio docudramas along with audio teaching materials for use in schools.
  • The Society also has a scholarship at the University of Calgary to support graduate research into petroleum history in Canada.
  • We had a chair on the advisory board for Turner Valley's Hell's Half-Acre Interpretive Centre.
Photo: Okalta well at night, Turner Valley, Alberta. Date unknown (Glenbow Archives NB-16-601)
Okalta well at night, Turner Valley, Alberta.
Date unknown
(Glenbow Archives NB-16-601)

A Quarter Century of Progress

Since 1985, the Society has collected, archived and communicated the story of this industry’s past. Members receive regular updates on through our newsletter, Archives, and at luncheons and an annual meeting. These have featured such engaging speakers as Grant McEwan, Arne Nielsen, Don Axford, John Ballem, Jim Gray, James H. Gray and Dick Haskayne.

Our Responsibility to Remember

Oilmen no longer construct drill sites with pick and shovel, grind through dolomite from rickety wooden derricks, or drill wildcats with little more than faith in geology and God, at gamblers’ odds. But let’s not forget the people who did. Because if they hadn’t, Sarnia would not have developed as one of North America’s large refining and petrochemical centres. Calgary would not be headquarters for nearly half of the world’s publicly-traded oil companies. Edmonton would not be western Canada’s refining centre. There would be no petrochemical plants in Red Deer. Fort St. John and Estevan would not be important oil and gas production centres. Fort McMurray would not be the global centre for ultra-heavy oil production and technology. There would not be a giant network of pipelines stretching from Western Canada to North America’s great petroleum markets. Nor, perhaps, would Canada stand today as one of the world’s leading industrial nations.

Join Us

Your participation in the Petroleum History Society will help preserve the past, including the stories of the many companies that have come and gone. Your support can also help the generation succeeding us preserve the next chapter.

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Petroleum History Society
Calgary, Alberta