When driving along the scenic Akamina Parkway through Waterton Lakes National Park, it’s hard to believe early entrepreneurs struck oil in the rustic valley over a century ago.
In the late 1800s, rumours of natural oil seeps in the Rocky Mountains drew in local fortune hunters looking to strike it rich. One of those hopefuls was John Lineham.
Lineham heard of the Waterton area's hidden riches and quickly set up camp alongside Oil Creek (now Cameron Creek). He partnered with fellow oil chaisers G.K. Leeson and Allan Patrick to form the Rocky Mountain Development Company.
In 1901, their company began drilling near Cameron Creek using a simple "Canadian Pole" rig crafted from wood.
Setbacks challenged the team on more than one occasion, including accidents and equipment malfunctioning. But even as months passed, Lineham and his partners never gave up.
Finally, in 1902, the Rocky Mountain Development Company successfully struck oil at 312 metres below ground. At 300 barrels a day of production, the Lineham Discovery Well No. 1 was the first well in Alberta to produce oil.
Unfortunately, the team's celebrations were brief. Lineham Discovery Well No. 1 continued to put up a fight as the well hole became blocked with debris from cave-ins and a well casing jam.
In an act of perseverance, the Discovery Well was cleared of all debris in 1904. The well went on to produce roughly 8000 barrels of oil, though production petered out as the well experienced further problems and was later abandoned.
Oil in the West
Although short lived, the success of the Discovery Well and the Rocky Mountain Development Company epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit of Western Canada at that time. News of oil in southern Alberta spread across Canada and fueled the ambitions of countless entrepreneurs.
Before long, a plan for a booming oil town called "Oil City" was conceived.
Further exploration led to 25 new wells drilled in the region. Some of these wells were more profitable than others, including the 1914 Dingman No. 1, which can be viewed in replica form at Heritage Park, discovery in Turner Valley.
Marking a Legacy
In 1965, the Lineham Discovery Well No. 1 was officially named the “First Oil Well in Western Canada.” That same year, the location of the Discovery Well was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Today, a historical monument in the shape of an oil derrick stands along the roadside of the Akamina Parkway, a token of Alberta's beginnings in energy development and a good reminder of how far the province's oil and gas sector has come.