CBC Open House

In 1948, CBC Edmonton went live with explosive story even before station officially opened

As origin tales go, CBC Edmonton's is a good one. A spectacular oil well blowout turns a swanky party in the heady days of broadcast into a daring dash with the station's spanking new vehicle screeching towards an inferno.

Blowout of oil well Atlantic No. 3 turned a ‘genteel soiree’ into mad scramble 70 years ago

CBC broadcasters taking to the airwaves in 1948 to tell stories like the blowout at Atlantic No. 3. (CBC)

As origin tales go, CBC Edmonton's is a good one. A spectacular oil well blowout turns a swanky party in the heady days of broadcast into a daring dash with the station's spanking new vehicle screeching toward an inferno.

The inaugural broadcast of CBC Radio in Edmonton was to take place in the grand ballroom of the Hotel Macdonald, complete with an orchestra, on Sept. 8, 1948.
The offical launch of CBC Edmonton radio on September 8, 1948 in the grand ballroom at the Hotel Macdonald. (CBC)

But the real story starts before the 50,000-watt service sparked to the airwaves, before even the test period was complete.

Atlantic No. 3, gushing oil high into the skies over Leduc, when on Sept. 6, 1948, the derrick collapsed and the well caught fire becoming one of the most spectacular blowouts in Alberta history.
The Atlantic No. 3 well blowout at Leduc. (Glenbow Archive, NA-5103-12 )

The oily black column of smoke 40 kilometres southwest of Edmonton was clearly visible from the house of then station manager Dan Cameron, where a handful of CBC staffers were hanging out.

"The genteel soiree at the Cameron residence was turned into a mad scramble," according to an account of the evening written by broadcaster Bob Graham in the internal CBC magazine Grapevine.

"Forgotten were the canapés, the hors d'oeuvres and the pleasant warm feeling of hospitality."

The crew sprung into action.

Recording gear was tossed into the station's new truck and five journalists "screamed down the highway, horned tied down, throttle opening, weaving and ducking through the heavy traffic to the scene of the fire," Graham wrote. 

The CBC staffers later learned that people assumed their shiny red truck was a fire engine, Graham said.
Behind the scenes in 1948 at the CBC studios in the attic of the Hotel Macdonald. (CBC)

A few kilometres from the well, the story chase came to a screeching halt when they were stopped at a RCMP road block.

"That's when the sergeant on point duty received a radio call from his colleagues in Edmonton advising him to let the CBC crew through," according to the account.

They were allowed in and given a half an hour to do their work.

"There, 500 feet from the screaming inferno, they set up the equipment. There they obtained an eyewitness, on-the-spot recording of the wildest oil well fire in the west's history," according to Grapevine.

The CBC ran with the scoop, going to air in the wee hours of Sept. 7, more than a day before the station was to officially open.

The story will be part of CBC Edmonton's open house Saturday, March 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the broadcast centre in City Centre Mall.
There was a launch ... and then, there was an official launch of CBC Edmonton. This story, from 70 years ago, hit the airwaves before CBC Edmonton officially launched in 1948. 5:37

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last 20 years telling stories across Canada.