Alberta Energy History Prior to 1970

The following events were part of Alberta's history, the list may not include all major events as it is based on announcements.

Pre 1715 / 1715-1899 / 1900's / 1910's / 1920's / 1930's / 1940's / 1950's / 1960's / 1970 to present 

Although hydrocarbons have been present in Alberta for millions of years, the earliest recorded use of bitumen dates back less than 300 years ago, and the first use of hydrocarbons to generate energy in Alberta date back just over a century ago. See energy measurements for conversion information.

Pre 1715

560 million years B.C. - Plants absorb solar energy and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and carbohydrates such as sugar, starch and cellulose; these carbohydrates and other organic materials eventually settle on the ground and in stream, lake and sea beds and, as they become more deeply buried, are transformed by heat and pressure into solid, liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons known as fossil fuels.


Year  Event
1715 The first known reference to the Athabasca oil sands was made by Captain Swan, a Cree chief acting as a middleman between the native hunters of the west and the fur factories of Hudson Bay. Swan told Governor James Knight in council at York Fort in 1715 about a river feeding the Churchill River where he found “Gum or pitch”. In 1719 Swan returned to York Fort, where Henry Kelsey had replaced Knight as governor. He gave Kelsey a sample of “that Gum or pitch that flows out of the Banks of that River.” 
1788 Alexander Mackenzie writes of bituminous seeps among Alberta's Athabasca tar sands, into which a six-metre pole could be inserted "without the least resistance".
1793 The first published record of coal in Alberta is attributed to Peter Fidler, a surveyor, explorer, mapmaker and fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company. According to the journal he kept as he travelled across the plains in 1793, Fidler first observed coal near the Red Deer River at Kneehills Creek, a short distance from present-day Drumheller.
1807 Coal gas first used to light streetlamps in London, England. 
1821  Natural gas piped through hollow logs to Fredonia, New York. 
1836  Coal gas first used in streetlamps in Montreal. 
1841  Coal gas first used in streetlamps in Toronto.
1842 Geological Survey of Canada established to explore for coal and other minerals. 
1854 Abraham Gesner of Halifax, Nova Scotia, opens a plant in New York to convert coal into kerosene, a new synthetic lamp oil (which replaced whale oil), using his patented process of fractional distillation.
1855 American chemist Benjamin Silliman applies fractional distillation to Pennsylvania rock oil (crude oil) and discovers it produces high-quality lamp oil (kerosene).
1859 Natural gas discovered in New Brunswick.
1860s Entrepreneurs establish small, primitive oil refineries in Ontario, eastern Europe and the U.S.
1866 James Miller Williams of Hamilton, Ontario creates the world's first vertically integrated oil company, combining in one company all aspects of the business from exploration to retail sales.
1866 Natural gas discovered in south-western Ontario.
1870s Chemical engineer Herman Frasch invents process to extract sulphur compounds from oil using copper oxide powder; until then, the foul smell of sulphur had prevented oil from being widely used as a fuel.
1874 Development of the first coal powered electricity generators near present-day Lethbridge. 
1875 Geological Survey of Canada investigates Athabasca oil sands.
1880 Sixteen Ontario producing and refining companies merge to form the Imperial Oilexternal link icon Company.
1882- 83 The first coal mine in Alberta was in Lethbridge (originally called Coalbanks), it opened in 1882, while the first mine in Edmonton opened in 1883. The Lethbridge area had over a dozen underground coal mines that each mined in excess of 100,000 tonnes, but the last of these closed in the mid-1960s.
1883 Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) crew drilling for water near Medicine Hat, Alberta, accidentally discovers natural gas 55 kilometres northwest of Medicine Hat. The name of the site at the time was Langevin Siding. By 1910 it was called Carlstadt, and after World War I, the name was changed again to Alderson.
1883 In 1883, the first Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) locomotive arrived in Medicine Hat, signaling great changes in the coal industry of the future province. The first branch line built from CPR’s mainline in Alberta was the North Western Coal and Navigation Company’s 174-km (108 mi.) narrow gauge line from Dunmore to Lethbridge in the southwest. Constructed to carry coal from Lethbridge to sell to the CPR as fuel for its locomotives, the line contributed to greater employment in the area through coal mining, railway development, increased flow of goods, and crop exports.
1883 Canada's first single phase AC generators are commissioned in Calgary by the Bow River Lumber Company and Ottawa at Chaudiere Electric.
1884 A second well was drilled just a few meters from the Langevin Siding site. This one produced enough gas to light and heat several buildings.
1886 The Geological Survey of Canada collected natural gas information and presented the paper to the Royal Society of Canada. The paper was called On Certain Borings in Manitoba and the Northwest Territory. Of course, there was no reference to Alberta, since Alberta did not become a province until 1905.
1887 The Canadian government established Banff National Park, it was the first national park in Canada and the second in North America. The Banff Hot Springs represent the most famous example of direct-use geothermal energy in Alberta's history.  
1887 The No. 1 Mine begins coal production in Canmore, Alberta. Mining at Canmore continued until 1979.
1889 Drilling for natural gas begins in south-western Ontario.
1890 Natural gas well drilled at Niagara Falls, Ontario, begins exporting gas to Buffalo, New York.
1890s Several more natural gas wells are drilled in the Medicine Hat area, producing gas for homes and factories.
1891 The Canadian Electrical Association is formed to represent the industry.
1891 Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company is founded and receives approval to build a coal-fired generating plant on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Source: Edmonton Power Historical Foundation 
1893 Parliament passes bill authorizing funds for Geological Survey of Canada to investigate Athabasca oil sands as a source of petroleum.
1893 The first hydro-generator in Alberta is built on the Bow River.  Source:  Centre for Energyexternal link icon
1894 Drilling begins at Athabasca oil sands; crews strike a reservoir of natural gas which blows wild for 21 years.
1895 Natural gas from Ontario piped to Windsor, Ontario and across the river to Detroit, Michigan.
1898 Imperial Oil's refinery operations consolidated at Sarnia, Ontario.


Year   Event 

Prior to 1900, most of Alberta’s population resided along the main CPR railway line or along branch lines under CPR control. However, in the early 1900s, this trend shifted somewhat when various railways and branch lines laid tracks further north into the province away from CPR’s main southern rail line. Northern rail routes then became directly responsible for establishing early coal communities, such as Drumheller, Forestburg and Nordegg, north of CPR’s main line. 

1901  As known natural gas supplies dwindle, Ontario government bans exports to U.S. 
1901  Medicine Hat (300 kilometres southeast of Calgary) develops its own gas utility. 
1902 Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company is purchased by Edmonton becoming the first municipally-owned electric utility in Canada. Source: Edmonton Power Historical Foundation 
1905 Alberta was proclaimed a province on September 1, 1905. The province was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.  The inauguration ceremony featured an address by Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier. Approximately 12,000 Albertans were in attendance to witness the ceremony.
1908-09  “Old Glory” was the name of the first major discovery. Development of the Bow Island gas field led to the first pipelines delivering natural gas to Alberta communities. 
1909  Calgary Power is formed. Later renamed TransAlta, the company develops into Canada's largest investor owned utility. 


Year   Event
1911  Following British decision to convert Royal Navy ships from coal to bunker oil, the Canadian government urges industry to find and develop domestic oil supplies. 
1911 Martin Nordegg opened the largest mine in Alberta and created a model town that bears his name to this day. In 1923, Nordegg produced the largest amount of coal of all the mines in Alberta.
1911 Calgary Power builds the first large-scale hydro plant in Alberta, the run-of-river Horseshoe falls hydro plant. Source: TransAltaexternal link icon
1912  270-kilometre pipeline begins carrying natural gas from Bow Island, Alberta, to Calgary to replace coal gas as a heating, lighting and cooking fuel. The 16-inch (40 centimetre) pipeline was complete in just 86 days.  
1914-18  First World War establishes oil as a key strategic commodity. 
1914  May 14 was a victorious day for Arthur W. Dingman as he and his associates savoured the fruits of their risk-taking with a natural gas discovery at Turner Valley on the edge of Kananaskis Country. 
1915  Sydney Ells demonstrates the first commercial use of oil sands. In 1915, he shipped several tonnes of Athabasca oil sands by water, sleigh and rail to Edmonton for a road paving experiment.
1915 The Public Utilities Board (PUB) became Alberta’s first regulatory agency with the primary responsibility of regulating utility rates and service. At this time in Alberta’s history, since utility service was limited, the PUB had extended jurisdiction over a broad range of other matters, including the cancellation of subdivision plans, the approval of utility franchise agreements, the regulation of the sale of shares and securities within the province, the approval of tariffs for provincial railways and the approval of highway crossings by railway branch lines. Alberta Government Telephones (AGT), which was Alberta’s only telecommunications company at the time, also applied to the PUB for its rates.
1917 The Soldier Settlement Board (SSB) came into being with the mandate to provide land for returning war veterans. The veteran would acquire title to the surface, but the minerals were reserved in the SSB name and administered by the Government of Canada.


Year  Event 
1920  Oil discovered at Norman Wells, Northwest Territories. 
1923  Edmonton switches to natural gas for heating, lighting and cooking following completion of 130-kilometre pipeline from Viking, Alberta. 
1924 The discovery of a decade earlier led the way to a deeper zone find just a few kilometres away. Royalite No. 4 put Turner Valley on the oil and gas map.
1926 Dr. Karl Clark, chemist and oil sands researcher, perfects a hot water separation process while working for the Research Council of Alberta and the University of Alberta.  It becomes the basis of today's thermal extraction process.
1927 R. C. Fitzsimmons forms the International Bitumen Company and builds a small scale pilot plant near Bitumount, 80 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.


Year   Event
1930  Under the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement, the Dominion of Canada transferred mineral rights to the province of Alberta, granting the province rights to all minerals, oil and natural gas.  Approximately 81 per cent of the subsurface mineral rights are owned by the province.
1930  Alberta Department of Lands and Mines established. 
1931 First Alberta Royalty Regulation.
1932  The Turner Valley Conservation Board was established. 
1933 In 1933, the falling price of milk was affecting the profitability and viability of milk producers in Alberta. In an effort to provide price stability, the Government of Alberta declared milk a public utility. The Public Utilities Commission (renamed the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC)external link icon in 2008) began setting the minimum price that milk producers would receive (the wholesale price). The Commission was also put in charge of licensing and regulating milk producers and distributors. In 1969, the Government of Alberta created the Alberta Milk Control Board, and while the AUC's jurisdiction over the regulation of milk production was surrendered to the Board, it continued to set minimum wholesale prices. In 1991 the Government of Alberta deregulated the minimum retail price of milk.
1934 The first natural gas export license was issued by the federal department of Trade and Commerce.
1934-35 After more than 50 years of production, the second oil well to be discovered in Alberta was closed off (abandoned) with a few wheelbarrows of cement. The closing off process was still in its infancy and abandonment operations continued until 1954.
1936  Invention of nylon, the first plastic made from petroleum products. 
1936  Under the Fuel Oil Licencing Act, Alberta's 1000 fuel dealers were required to obtain a licence from the Public Utilities Board. 
1936 Oil leg discovered in the Mississippian zone at Turner Valley.
1936 Rotary drilling rigs indicated oil existed at greater depths than oil found in earlier discoveries. 
1938 The Petroleum and Natural Gas conservation Board, became the Energy Utilities Board (EUB then the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), on June 17, 2013 the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) took over to provide full-lifecycle regulatory oversight of energy resource development in Alberta.


Year   Event 
1941 Alberta shifted the royalty rates on oil from a flat rate of 10 per cent to a choice of a 12.5 per cent flat rate or a five to 15-per-cent royalty based on production levels.
1943  Pipeline built from Portland, Maine, to refineries in Montreal to overcome wartime danger to East Coast tanker traffic. 
1943-45  Canada's first offshore oil well drilled from artificial island off Prince Edward Island, to a depth of 4,500 metres and at a cost of $1.25 million; no commercial qualities of oil or gas were found. 
1944  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes the Canol Pipeline, an expensive but short-lived pipeline system carrying crude oil from Norman Wells to a new refinery at Whitehorse, Yukon, and refined oil products to Fairbanks and Skagway, Alaska. 
1947  After drilling 133 dry holes across Western Canada, Imperial Oil strikes oil at Leduc, Alberta, on February 13, transforming Canada into an oil-rich nation. Learn more at the Leduc# Discovery Centreexternal link icon
1948 Imperial Leduc No. 2 found oil in the Devonian reef which formed during the Devonian period, the “Age of Fishes” (395 to 345 million years ago) until this discovery, oilmen thought that you could not find oil from that time period. The town of Devon, Alberta, is named after this. 
1948 The Alberta royalty rate is capped at 16 and two thirds per cent. 
1949  Alberta Department of Lands and Mines succeeded by two new departments: Lands and Forests, and Mines and Minerals. 


Year Event
1950 Oil replaces coal as Canada's largest single source of energy; pipelines established to transport natural gas to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
1950 Detonation of underground atomic explosive device proposed to melt Athabasca oil sands bitumen to aid commercial development; federal government denies approval.
1951 A sliding scale was established in Alberta Royalty Regulations.
1950-53 First section of the Interprovincial Pipe Line Inc. (now Enbridge Pipelines Inc.) oil pipeline laid from Edmonton to Superior, Wisconsin, in 1953 it was extended to Sarnia, Ontario.
1952 First sulphur recovery plant built in Alberta for sour gas (natural gas).
1953 Trans Mountain Pipeline Company line completed from Edmonton to Vancouver.
1954 The Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Limited (AGTL), (now called NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd.) was created to build and operate a province-wide natural gas transportation system. In 1957, Alberta gas began to flow through the AGTL (NOVA) system.
1955 Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company's Rossdale plant switches from coal to natural gas.
1955 Western Canada's Oil and Gas industry invests more than half a million in development. Source: Oil patch History
1957 First gas exported by the Westcoast Energy Inc. pipeline system through Vancouver to U.S. markets.
1958 Construction of the TransCanada Pipelines system was completed from Alberta to eastern Canada.
1958 Entwistle resident Einar Opdahl found a diamond on the banks of the Pembina River. The diamond weighed 0.83 carats and was sold for $500.
1959 National Energy Boardexternal link icon created by federal government to oversee interprovincial and international energy trade.


Year Event
1960 The Gas Utilities Act is introduced, it is still a major part of legislation currently governing the jurisdiction of the ERCB. In the 1960s, urbanization and industrialization increased the number of utility customers by 62%.
1961 Alberta establishes air quality standards that include limits on industrial emissions of hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide.
1961 National Oil Policy directs that all refineries west of the Ottawa valley must use higher priced crude from western Canada.
1961 The Pacific Gas Transmission pipeline (now called Gas Transmission Northwest) is built to deliver Alberta gas to customers in the US Pacific Northwest and California.
1964 In 1964 Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) started mining oil sands to produce crude bitumen, when Fort McMurray was a small trading post.
1965 Around the middle of the 1960's Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) was piloted in the Clearwater Formation it proved to be the key to unlocking bitumen.
1967 Great Canadian Oil Sands, now part of Suncor energy Ltd., initiates the world's first large-scale oil sands operation, the Athabasca oil sands at Fort McMurray. Total production in 1967 reached about 2,500 barrels per day.