A February Day That Changed Leduc Forever

Pipestone Flyer

That day was Thursday, February 13th 1947. It was a crisp, sunny winter afternoon when about 500 people  began to gather on Mike Turta’s farm. Joining Mike that day where a number of government people, oil workers from Imperial Oil, a small flock of newspaper reporters, and some of Mike’s neighbors. The word had gone out that Imperial’s Leduc #1 was about to show results. 

    The indications were that shortly after noon the well should come in, but as the afternoon wore on and nothing seemed to be happening many got tired of stamping their feet on the snowy ground and shivering to keep warm and would leave. For those who stayed at around 4 in the afternoon they saw a ring of black smoke go floating into the air. Those who had remained soon saw driller George Tosh and his fellow crewmembers began dancing a jig and shouting “It’s Oil! It’s Oil!

    Every since the first oil well had been discovered in Turner Valley in 1914, Imperial Oil had been looking for additional sites that could produce. By the end of World War II, the known Canadian oil reserves were about 72,000,000 barrels and Turner Valley had been almost depleted by conventional means. Over the years Imperial had drilled 133 dry wells known as dusters and had spent over $23 million in search of black gold. After thirty years of dusters Imperial Oil agreed to drill one more deep well. The 134th well was to be the last attempt and was scheduled for a spot near Pigeon Lake. At the last minute in order to save money the Leduc site was picked as it was closer to major transportation facilities. It would be the well that would change Leduc and Alberta forever.

        The discovery skyrocketed Canada’s reserves to over 250,000,000 barrels. Alberta saw another “gold” rush and soon discoveries would be made in the Pembina and Redwater areas. By the mid 1950’s, these additional discoveries pushed the reserves to the 2 billion barrel mark. 

        By the mid 1950’s in an eighty square mile area over 1260 wells had been drilled and were producing. The rapid growth that resulted in meeting the needs of the oil field was more than Leduc could handle and soon a new community was born and was named after the geological formation where the first well had discovered oil.  What was once a poor barley field soon became a camp town for Imperial Oil and in 1950 it quickly went from a hamlet to the town of Devon.

        In 1947, the road system into the oil field left a lot to be desired. Most roads were no more than trails and during the warmer months were often more mud than road. The most common mode of transportation was Cats dragging stone boats loaded with casings. With the cooperation of the Leduc municipality and the various oil companies improved roads began to spread out from the Nisku area. Nisku was chosen as the best place to unload supplies from the railroad and became a natural jumping off spot for the rigs pouring into the oil field. 

        By 1972 the county had developed Nisku into an industrial park. It was a good decision and as the Leduc field began to diminish Nisku has remained an excellent location to service the entire province with its oil field needs.

        In 1947, Leduc’s population sat at approximately 900 people and four years later it had doubled to over 1842 people. That growth saw an influx of businesses to met the demands of newcomers. That growth has continued nearly unabated to this day.

        February 13th, 1947 marks the day when Leduc changed from a sleepy rural community depended on agriculture to the bustling multi facet urban center of today. 

Photos from the City of Leduc archives