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Turner Valley central to Alberta’s oil history

High Country is where it all started.

A rancher, investors and drillers gambled on an oil well 100 years ago and what followed the discovery was a century of progress. Stewart Herron started it all in the early 1900s when he noticed natural gas bubbling near Sheep Creek. He captured some in a glass bottle and sent it away for testing. The scientists confirmed his suspicion – the gaseous hydrocarbon oil!

Drilling began in January 1913. Hardly a week went by without some kind of headline in the Calgary newspapers about the progress at the Calgary Petroleum Products Co. well in Turner Valley. On May 14, 1914, the well blew in. Oil from the well started the first of many stock market flurries in Alberta petroleum history.

That first boom was short-lived when it was cut off by World War I.

By 1920, natural gas was flowing through a pipeline to consumers in Calgary and liquid gasoline was moving by tanker truck to filling stations around southern Alberta. More booms followed and each discovery exposed another part of the Turner Valley oilfield. They extended the field north from the Turner Valley town site to Millarville and south to Longview.

During World War II, the Turner Valley oilfield produced more than 95 per cent of all the oil in Canada. During its heyday from 1936 to 1945, Turner Valley was an exciting place to live and work. For a time, twice-daily airplane flights shuttled wealthy oilmen and investors back and forth between Calgary and a small landing strip in front of Main Street in Turner Valley.

A drive along Cowboy Trail through the Turner Valley oilfield still reveals hints of the oil booms of the past. The Royalite Gas Plant in Turner Valley is the most visible petroleum facility in this historic oilfield. It was on this site that the discovery well hit oil in 1914 and workers processed natural gas at this nationally and provincially designated historic site from 1914 until the plant closed in 1985.

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