Most people understand the importance of the oil discovered at Leduc in 1947 and the oil and gas discovered in Turner Valley in 1914. However, Alberta’s oil and gas industry began in 1901 with an isolated oil well alongside a creek near the Canada-United States border.
That creek was known as Oil Creek. Now known as Cameron Creek, this 15 kilometre long creek runs north-easterly for about 9 kilometres before turning and flowing south-easterly into Upper Waterton Lake. The source of the creek is Cameron Lake, a small lake on the Canada-U.S. border deep within Waterton Lakes National Park. The lake was once known as Oil Lake. (Do you see a pattern?)
The lake and the creek were noted, but not named, on George Dawson’s 1884 map of the Bow and Belly River region of the North-West Territories. During his surveys of the area in the 1880s (with the Geological Survey of Canada) and earlier (with the International Boundary Commission) in the 1870s, Dawson was made aware of oil and gas in the Waterton region. In 1901, the Rocky Mountain Development Company drilled Western Canada’s first oil well alongside a creek, which soon became known, for obvious reasons, as Oil Creek.
In 1915, during the survey of the Alberta-British Columbia border, the lake and creek were again noted. The 1917 report on the Alberta- B.C. boundary described them as: “Cameron Lake, a picturesque sheet of water, one mile and a half long by half a mile wide” and “Cameron Brook, a stream of considerable size, which flows to Upper Waterton Lake”.
The lake and creek were named for Maj.-Gen. Donald Roderick Cameron, a Scottish-born Royal Artillery officer and son-in-law to Sir Charles Tupper. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald recommended Cameron’s appointment as the British Boundary Commissioner and head of the British-Canadian delegation to the International Boundary Commission. From 1872-76, Cameron oversaw the surveying of the Canada-U.S. border between the Lake of the Woods (in western Ontario) to the Rocky Mountains. He later represented Canada on numerous international commissions and conferences through the 1880s and he served as commandant of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario from 1888 to 1896. For his services to the boundary commission he was appointed to the Order of St. Michael and St. George by Queen Victoria. General Cameron died in 1921. In 1943, Cameron Falls, just north of the Waterton Park town site, was also named in his honour.
In 1915, the Geographic Board of Canada adopted Cameron Brook as the official name for the creek. Although, the name of the lake was not officially changed at the time, it nevertheless began appearing on federal government maps as Cameron Lake. The name Cameron Lake was officially adopted in 1928. The following year, the United States Board on Geographic Names adopted the same name for the portion of the lake located in Montana. In 1960, the Canadian Board on Geographical Names renamed Cameron Brook as Cameron Creek.
Although the names Oil Lake and Oil Creek are no longer official, the significance of the area in the development of Canada’s oil sector is commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. In 1965, a monument was erected at the site the original oil well and the site was named the First Oil Well in Western Canada National Historic Site of Canada.
Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator.
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 H/04 – Waterton Lakes
Latitude/Longitude: 49°01’11N / 114°02’38”W to 49°02’41”N / 113°54’45”W
Alberta Township System: SW11-01-01-W5 to NW14-01-30-W4
Description: Flows into Upper Waterton Lake within the Waterton Park town site.
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 G/01 – Sage Creek
Alberta Township System: 2, 3, 10, 11-01-01-W5
Description: On the Canada/US border approximately 11 km south west of the Waterton Park town site and 1 km east of the Alberta/British Columbia boundary.
More information about Cameron Creek, Cameron Lake, Maj-Gen. Donald R. Cameron and the First Oil Well in Western Canada can be found in:
Edwards, Victoria. “Major General Donald Roderick Cameron C.M.G.” eVeritas [electronic newsletter of the Royal Military College Club], available from http://everitas.rmcclub.ca/?p=4485. (Accessed 16 Oct 2013).
Parks Canada. “First Oil Well in Western Canada National Historic Site of Canada,” [webpage], available from http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/v-g/pm-mp/lhn-nhs/puits-well_e.asp. (Accessed 16 Oct 2013).
Rees, Tony. Arc of the Medicine Line: mapping the World’s Longest Undefended Border across the Western Plains. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.