It has been 100 years since the discovery of oil and gas in Turner Valley, and hundreds of people attended the celebration being held to mark the important moment in Alberta's history.

The centennial celebration of the oilfield was held Wednesday at the site of the Dingman No. 1 Discovery Well located at the Turner Valley Gas Plant.

Entertainment and guided tours were available to help celebrate the birthplace of the province’s energy industry.

The discovery of petroleum 100 years ago led to the creation of Alberta's first natural gas plant, which helped start the modern era of oil and gas exploration and processing.

Calgary historian and tour guide David Finch was training interpreters this week in Turner Valley so that they could tell visitors about the area's interesting history.

He is the author of a book called Pumped: Everyone's Guide to the Oil Patch, a story which he says has four distinct chapters: find it, get it, clean it and move it.

Gas bubbling near river led to discovery

It all started when an Okotoks farmer, named Stewart Herron, saw gas bubbling up alongside river.

Turner Valley Dingman No. 1

The view looking west at Turner Valley of Calgary Petroleum Product's Dingman No. 1 and Dingman No. 2 in 1914. (Glenbow Museum Photo Archives)

Finch said Herron bought up property and brought investors on board, like Senator James Lougheed, R.B. Bennett, and A.E. Cross — or "upstanding citizens of the City of Calgary," to finance Calgary Petroleum Products Company. 

"They drilled and well and wouldn't you know their first well struck oil, so it was a pretty lucky break," he said.

Finch says the discovery in Turner Valley was not crude oil, or "the black stuff we think of." He says it was more of a gasoline product called "unrefined condensate," but there was also natural gas and oil production at well sites in the years to follow. 

Turner Valley celebration

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MT: Guided tours of Turner Valley Gas Plant historic site are available for the public and students from area schools.

2-6 p.m. MT: Family entertainment and refreshments.

3-4 p.m. MT: Formal program involving representatives of government and industry stakeholders.

Noon - 10 p.m. MT: Beer Garden at the Turner Valley Royal Canadian Legion.

Noon - 2:30 p.m. MT: Turner Valley Oilfield Society complimentary tea at Valley Neighbour’s Club.

5:30 p.m. MT: Turner Valley Oilfield Society"Centennial" theatrical production at the Flare’n’Derrick Community Hall.​

Unearthing the product so close to Calgary helped established the city as the energy capital of Alberta.

"It was pretty wild. There were only about 300 cars in Calgary and about half of them took off the next day to go out and see the site. And it was a pretty amazing discovery."

Lasting legacy

Some people lived in the rural area, which was named after the local Turner family, but Black Diamond was the closest community, which was named after the coal discovered there.

Finch said while there was no gas station for people to take advantage of yet, they filled up at the well and drove home.

There was an energy boom in the area in 1914, then 1924 and once again in 1936.

"By 1942 that oilfield was producing more than 90 per cent of all the oil in Canada," said Finch.

It also made Alberta one of the economic powerhouses it is today.

Finch said oil and gas revenues started coming into the province in 1920, but it took until 1950 for that revenue to surpass the amount the provincial government was making off alcohol taxes.

"In more recent years, of course, the oil industry — through taxation and royalties — has been a firm underpinner of our economy, both for the province as the government and for individuals."

Below is a timeline of the oilfield discovery in Turner Valley. On mobile? Click here.