Edmonton's iconic oil derrick heads back to historic home

A towering oil derrick, which has served as a landmark for visitors to Edmonton for decades, is heading back to the place where it stuck oil and made Alberta history.

With a geyser and some luck, Leduc No. 1 oil derrick changed Alberta history

On Feb. 13, 1947, the Leduc oilfield struck a gusher for the first time, sending a fireball of flames 15 metres into the air. (Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre)

The towering oil derrick, which has served as a landmark for visitors to Edmonton for decades, is returning to the very spot it stuck oil and changed Alberta's history forever.

Leduc No. 1 has been a fixture of the Gateway Park visitor centre since 1987.

This week it was dismantled so it can be re-erected about 30 kilometres away at the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre south of Devon.

The visitors centre is being torn down and the city was keen to find the derrick a new home.

Bargain price, big job

As Jan Becker, executive director at the discovery centre explained, negotiations went smoothly.

"I paid a whole dollar for it," Becker said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "Although I probably should have negotiated for a negative amount.

"We're probably looking upwards of $400,000 dollars [in moving costs] when it's all said and done."

 
The Leduc No. 1 oil derrick has been a fixture of the Gateway Park visitor centre since 1987. (Google Images)

While moving the rig isn't cheap, having it returned to its former home is priceless, Becker said.

"The price is irrelevant because it's a piece of history and we're going to try put it back to a state where it's going to survive another 50 to 100 years."

More than 70 years ago, on a sleepy farm near Devon, Leduc No. 1 struck a rich deposit of oil and forever changed the course of Alberta history.

On that chilly February morning in 1947, no one was expecting success.

Imperial Oil had drilled 133 dry holes in a row and, after pouring millions of dollars into the search, was about to abandon oil exploration altogether.

Leduc No 1, more than 80 km from any previous drilling sites, was one of six "last chance" wells for the company — and everyone was expected it come up dry.

Instead, it sent a flaming geyser of crude oil and gas spewing 15 metres into the air. 

"I think it should have never really left. - Jan Becker

The original rig eventually ended up on Highway 2 greeting visitors arriving to the city from the south. Until now, the energy discovery centre has been displaying a replica.

"It should have come back sooner to our site, but we're very pleased that the City of Edmonton was willing to accommodate us with that," Becker said.

The Leduc No. 1 crew hard at work on the wellhead located on a farm near Devon. (Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre)

Dismantling and assembling the artifact has been no easy task, Becker said. Very few of the men who worked on the old structures are still around.

"Most of the people that had experience putting these things up and taking them down sadly passed on," Becker said.

"Back in the day, like in the '40s, '50s, it would take four or five days to deconstruct one of those rigs, move it and then re-erect it."

This time it took weeks for his crews to take the rig down, he said. 

"Right now, we have to start from scratch with a safety plan.

"Despite our advances in technology, I guess we've slowed things down a little."

Becker hopes to have the rig fully restored and ready for the public by the summer. 
Sometimes, a single event can change the course of history. In Alberta, that happened in 1947. The energy heart of Alberta gushed to life just south of our city. In 2012, correspondent, Peter Mansbridge visited Leduc No. 1 to meet a man who was there. 1:58