8. Frontier Resources — Alberta Oil Rig
The completion of the railway brought Canada's vast natural resources within reach of the pioneers, setting in motion the forces that have made mineral resources a mainstay of the Western Canadian economy. From the 1920s to the 1960s, discoveries of petroleum and natural gas created a new resource frontier that spread across the West and into the North.
At the centre of this exhibit is a reconstruction of a cable-tool oil rig of the 1920s, created with a complete set of original parts on long-term loan from museums in Alberta and British Columbia. The rig consists of a wooden derrick tower and a shed housing the cable-tool drilling rig. The related displays include small-scale models of three types of drilling rigs used in the past century - spring-pole, cable-tool and rotary rigs.

The cable-tool rig was in widespread use to drill for oil and gas in Western and Northern Canada from the 1880s to the 1950s. The rigs pounded through soil and rock by repeatedly dropping a heavy iron bit (tool), weighing up to 900 kilograms and attached to a cable. It could take up to two years to complete a well hole, reaching depths of up to 825 metres. A complete rig stood 25 metres high, weighed 34 tons and was made of wood, rope, leather, canvas and iron, making it easy to disassemble and move. This drilling technology was progressively replaced by the more efficient rotary drilling system starting in the 1930s.

oil rig model    A scale model of the permanent fixture in the Canada Hall – a 15 m oil rig that represents the kind of rigs that were common in the West between 1880 and 1950.
photo: Richard Garner, © Canadian Museum of Civilization

Charles Stalnaker: Legendary Well Shooter

A display of artifacts, photographs and recorded interviews illustrate the life and times of Charles Stalnaker (1891-1979), who incarnated the rough-and-tumble existence on the early frontiers of natural resource development.

Stalnaker was born in West Virginia and worked in the oil fields of Texas, Wyoming and Montana, as well as in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Northern Canada. Starting in 1922, he worked as a well shooter, a famously dangerous trade which used nitroglycerin to break up rock and start the flow of oil wells. Stalnaker became legendary in Western Canada's petroleum industry for his longevity in such a hazardous line of work; he was still "shooting" wells in his early 70s. His reminiscences and anecdotes are captured on a 10-minute video, based on interviews with him recorded in the last decade of his life. On display are a variety of explosive devices and personal effects donated by the Stalnaker family.

New Frontiers

Petroleum and natural gas exploration in the West and North are examples of Canada's twentieth-century "frontiers," characterized by rapid economic development, an early "boom and bust" environment, followed by gradual economic diversification.

One of the first areas where oil and gas deposits were seriously explored was Turner Valley, Alberta. Turner Valley exemplifies the "boom and bust" cycle experienced by numerous towns built on a single resource industry.

The exhibit incorporates one example of economic diversification: the Medalta Potteries Ltd. in Medicine Hat, Alberta, which used natural gas to fire its kilns. From 1916 to 1954, Medalta produced over 900 different products, including a wide range of stoneware, art ware and hotel ware. This enterprise represented Alberta gas, Saskatchewan clays and Ontario capital combining to diversify the Western economy. The current display shows stoneware from the period of 1924-1930 in a factory showroom setting. Drawing on the Canadian Museum of Civilization's extensive collection of Medalta pottery, the display will be periodically changed.

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Opened: October 12, 2000
Curator: Dr. Dan Gallacher