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THE HISTORY OF LLOYDMINSTER GAS COMPANY LIMITED

 

[This story was written by Hardy Salt in 1982.   He had assistance in compiling this history from information and the writings of the late Colin Wright and his son, Keith Wright.]


Always being interested in the achievements of the Lloydminster Gas Company,  I asked Colin Wright, who was a great friend of mine, to write a short history about it.   In his modest way, Colin assisted in composing the following story. 

The first meeting of the newly formed Gas Company was held on March 1933, at the home of O. C. Yates, in the C. P. R. Station.  The first item of business was the election of a Board of Directors. The following were elected:  President O.C. Yates (Station Agent), Vice President Colin Wright (Farmer), Mr. Brockhurst (Farmer), Whitey Wilson (Oilman), Fred Dunstan (Farmer), Mr. Rumble (Hotel Proprietor), Bill Mitchell (Local A.C.T. Manager) and Stuart Wright (Farmer).

After the election the time came for the real purpose of the meeting, which was the drilling for gas in the vicinity of Lloydminster.  They proposed if they were successful in bringing in a good well they could supply the Town of Lloydminster with natural gas.  After some discussion it was moved and carried that the drilling of a gas well was to come about as soon as possible.  Mr. Charlie Mills was employed as driller.  He was an experienced driller who had brought in the first gas well in the Viking Kinsella area.  At this time, a Mr. Hyde was hired as secretary treasurer of the new company.

The site selected for the well was at the north end of town.  It was a historic occasion when drilling commenced on what was to be the first gas well in Saskatchewan.  Drilling commenced in January 1934.

While the directors could not visualize it as yet it was to be the first well to be put down in what was to be one of the largest heavy crude oilfields - in Canada.

Drilling an oil or gas well was a much longer process than it is at the present time.  With a modern portable rotary drilling rig, a well can be completed in one or two days. Back then they had to erect a high wooden derrick.  The well was drilled with a cable tool in much the same way as the old water wells were drilled.  The wooden derricks were built on the proposed well site, timber by timber and board by board.  These derricks took up to two months to complete.  The rigs were powered by steam, using the cable tool method of drilling.

To most people it must have looked like a very doubtful undertaking as the chance of success looked small as no previous drilling had been done in this area.  The field was totally unproven and the drilling that had been done in the Oxville area had ended up in a sheriff's sale.  To make matters worse, we were in the Great Depression and to say that many were very apprehensive was an understatement.  It would be more truthful to say that it was almost an impossible venture.  Even if they were successful in bringing in a good well there would still be countless pitfalls and problems.  Capital would have to be gathered, together with the expertise required to pipe the gas into the Town of Lloydminster.

At the time, the population of Lloydminster was 1500.  At the time of this writing, February 24, 1982 the population stands at 15,000 - a tenfold increase.  All this had to be given consideration and no one wanted to visualize the possibility of going into receivership and losing control of the company. There were some advantages over our present age.  The men that were hired to drill this well were willing to gamble on the possibility of no wages available if the well was not a success.

The Directors had many problems but they had faith in the project and their chosen driller.  They refused to look on the dark side and were somewhat like Columbus when he set sail on a mission looking for a shortcut to India by sailing west and ending up by discovering "The New World".

The first Gas Company well came in on March 3, 1934 and in February of the same year the first stock was offered for sale to the public. The greatest concern for the directors and management was that they had only one producing well, which left them in a very precarious position.  On March 30, 1934 drilling commenced on the farm of Mr. Brockhurst, situated north of Lloydminster.  This well proved to be nonproductive.  Another well was put down in a new location resulting in another dry hole.  It was apparent by this time that what was believed to be a natural gasfield, looked more promising as an oilfield.  At this time directors and management were very concerned as they had drilled two wells with no success.  Their money was low and worse still the original well was failing and something had to be done.  It was decided to form another company, known as Lloydminster Development and headed by Charlie Mills.  This new company agreed to sell their gas to the Lloydminster Gas Company if they were successful in bringing in a good well.

The site for the new well was on the farm of Eric Salt, located two miles south of the town and in a fairly proven area.  The Colony Oil and Gas Company had a good producing well across the road.  The new well was put down and came in July 1938 and lived up to the expectations and proved to be a good producing well.  This well gave the additional supply of gas so badly needed and another hurdle was overcome.  This same well after 44 years is still supplying a small amount of gas to the City!

It must be remembered that the Lloydminster Gas Company was started from scratch and there was no other way to go except up, but the going was sometimes difficult.  However, over the years the company acquired the wells of Colony Oil and Gas Company which gave them an ample gas supply for the town.  A gathering system would have to be designed, one that was capable of expansion so it could serve the needs of the growing population of Lloydminster over the years to come.  This in itself was a real challenge.

Between the years of 1934 and 1937 Stuart Wright was hired as field foreman for the company.  They were fortunate to get Stuart as he was a most efficient, practical man and had a mastermind when it came to trouble shooting and solving the complex problems they faced.  His contribution was a large factor in the overall success of the company   Stuart had much to do with the designing of the distributing gaslines to and throughout the Town of Lloydminster.  Stuart left the Gas Company to build and manage the Dina Refinery which the gas company had purchased.

Stuart's older brother Colin, who was the vice president of the company from its inception had a great interest in the welfare of the company.  During the first few years Colin always had his farm tractor stored in a heated garage during the winter months.  This insured there would be transportation available to deal with emergencies as they arose, such as gasoline breaks and well problems.  In those days there were no such things as block-heaters or built up roads. Snow blocked and muddy roads were a constant problem.  How many times Colin took the tractor out by night or day is anyone's guess. Colin always took any job seriously and was not motivated for personal profit or gain.  When Colin's son, Keith, was old enough, he drove Charlie Mills around on the tractor to service the gas wells.

During 1940, the Royal Bank decided to close their Lloydminster office and put the building up for sale. In 1941 the Gas Company who were on the outlook for a new office made them an offer which the bank accepted. This proved to be a good business deal as real estate values were low at that time and it gave the Gas Company a very suitable office.  In later years it was added onto and called the 0. C. Yates Building, in honour of their president.

The Directors could see more and more that the Lloydminster area was an oilfield and not a gasfield and the expanding population of the town made it imperative to obtain gas from another source.  In the early 1950's after careful consideration, it was decided to make a deal with Northwestern Utilities Ltd. to purchase gas from their Viking gasfield.  It was agreed upon by both parties that the Lloydminster Gas Company would purchase a predetermined yearly volume of gas from Northwestern Utilities Ltd.  In order to have an adequate supply of gas year round the gas purchased in the summer was stored in one of the dry wells.  This was used during winter months when gas was at its highest demand.

The original Directors of the Lloydminster Gas Company lived to see their dream come true.  For 44 years the company supplied Lloydminster natural gas without an interruption of services.  This remains a most worthy achievement for anyone in the natural gas supply industry.


[article courtesy of the Barr Colony Heritage Cultural Centre]

O. C. Yates, long time President of the Lloydminster Gas Company, shown here with his wife Helen.

- photo courtesy of their daughter Kay Shepherd