This Week in History


"Last Chance" Leduc

For the week of Monday February 10, 2003

On February 13, 1947, Alberta’s petroleum industry and Canadian history dramatically changed when mud, water and oil spurted skywards from Imperial Leduc No. 1. Imperial Oil officials and more than 500 businessmen, politicians and journalists had gathered near Leduc, Alberta, anticipating that oil lay hidden under their feet. They were not disappointed!

Imperial Leduc No. 1

Imperial Leduc No. 1
© LAC / C-75821

James Miller Williams established the first oil wells in North America at Oil Springs, Ontario, in 1858. Many wells were developed throughout southwestern Ontario, but in Western Canada, aside from the occasional deposits that Canadian Pacific Railway crews accidentally struck, vast oilfields remained hidden until late in the 19th century. The discovery of the Turner Valley oilfield in 1913 confirmed Alberta’s potential as a region rich with oil. By 1925, Alberta had become the largest oil-producing province in Canada. Still, there was not enough to meet the demand for this resource, which increased steadily, particularly during the economic boom following the Second World War.

Imperial Oil Ltd. sent out surveyors, geologists and drilling crews to examine the Western prairies for 27 years at a cost of $23 million. After 133 dry holes, seismographs indicated the possibility of oil near Leduc, 30 kilometres south of Edmonton. A crew led by Vernon Hunter began digging Imperial Wildcat No. 134 on November 20, 1946. They drilled for several months, through all conditions, until oil was finally found 1515 metres down! Renamed Imperial Leduc No. 1, the "last-chance" well turned out to be a 200 million-barrel oilfield. It was expanded until the late 1960s, when the field was exhausted.

Alberta Strikes Oil - 2002 14-karat Gold Commemorative Coin

Alberta Strikes Oil - 2002
14-karat Gold Commemorative Coin

© Coin design courtesy of the
Royal Canadian Mint

Leduc No. 1 was not the largest field discovered, but it revived the search for oil throughout the Edmonton area. Imperial discovered 10 major oil fields with 131 producing wells, including Leduc No. 2, developed on one of the largest oil reefs in Canada. Leduc No. 1 and the ensuing oil boom changed the face of Alberta by creating employment for thousands and attracting investment and settlement to the province. Its discovery also served to establish Canada as a major oil producer.

The Leduc-Woodbend Oilfield, considered the most important oilfield in the history of Alberta, has been commemorated with a Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque placed at Leduc.

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