Place Names of the Turner Valley Oil and Gas Boom – Part 1

May 14, 2014 was the one-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of oil and gas at Turner Valley. In recognition of this milestone, we are offering a short series highlighting some of the place names associated with the oil and gas heritage of the Turner Valley area.

Turner Valley oil and Gas Names (Map)Turner Valley

In 1886, two brothers from Scotland, Robert and James Turner, filed for homestead on neighbouring quarter sections (the S.E. and S.W. quarters of Section 10, Township 21, Range 3, West of the Fifth Meridian) at the northern end of a large valley near the north fork of “Sheep Creek.” (To add a heaping helping of confusion to this story, what was then called Sheep Creek is now the Sheep River and its north fork, or tributary, is now named Threepoint Creek. Isn’t naming fun!) The Turner brothers, soon joined by a cousin, John Turner, acquired more land for their ranch and became noted breeders of purebred Clydesdale horses.

Due to the early arrival and prominence of the Turner family, the valley containing their original homesteads soon became known as Turner Valley. At the time, responsibility for naming geographical features lay with the federal government and the name Turner Valley was adopted by the Geographic Board of Canada as the valley’s official name in December 1943, although it was being used on government maps since at least 1926.

Photo of Catherine (née Dawson) and Robert Turner, ca. 1905, taken on the Turner ranch at the northern end of Turner Valley. (Glenbow Archives, NA-701-2.)

Photo of Catherine (née Dawson) and Robert Turner, ca. 1905, taken on the Turner ranch at the northern end of Turner Valley. (Glenbow Archives, NA-701-2.)

On May 14, 1914, towards the other end of the valley, an oil well known as Dingman No. 1, owned by Calgary Petroleum Products struck gas. Although DIngman No. 1 was not the first productive well in Alberta—that distinction goes to a well in Waterton Lakes National Park (See Cameron Creek) it was our province’s the first significant discovery.

The Dingman No. 1 and Dingman No. 2 wells on the banks of the Sheep River, Turner Valley, 1914. These two wells ushered in Alberta’s first major oil boom, which saw the drilling of hundreds of wells and the establishment of numerous communities in the Turner Valley region. (Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1304.)

The Dingman No. 1 and Dingman No. 2 wells on the banks of the Sheep River, Turner Valley, 1914. These two wells ushered in Alberta’s first major oil boom, which saw the drilling of hundreds of wells and the establishment of numerous communities in the Turner Valley region. (Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1304.)

Over the ensuing decades the name Turner Valley became one of the best known locales in the province and the name became synonymous with Alberta’s oil and gas sector. A town site, also named Turner Valley was established. A post office opened here in 1926 and, in 1930, with a population of about 700 people, Turner Valley was incorporated as a village. It became a town in 1977.

Black Diamond

Just to the east of the Town of Turner Valley, is the Town of Black Diamond. The name is inspired by the coal deposits found in the area. A coal mine opened in 1899 and a small community serving the mine and the area’s ranchers and homesteaders began to develop.

According to local lore, in 1907, when it came time to choose a name for the newly established post office, two contenders arose: “Arnoldville” was championed by the Arnold brothers who owned the general store that would house the post office, and “Black Diamond” was put forward by Addison McPherson, the owner and operator of the Black Diamond Coal Mine a short distance to the southwest. Allegedly, both were written on scraps of paper and put into a hat. You can guess which name was drawn.

Addison McPherson’s “Black Diamond” coal mine, ca. 1913-1916. The local post office and the community it served were named for this coal mine. (Glenbow Archives, NA-5139-1.)

Addison McPherson’s “Black Diamond” coal mine, ca. 1913-1916. The local post office and the community it served were named for this coal mine. (Glenbow Archives, NA-5139-1.)

Following the Dingman No. 1 discovery, Black Diamond boomed, reaching a reported population of 800 by 1930. A local history tells of round-the-clock construction and single lots containing up to seven homes. Black Diamond became a village in 1929. It suffered during the Great Depression, loosing up to a quarter of its official population before rebounding in 1937 following a major oil discovery in 1936. Black Diamond was the largest population centre in the immediate area, reaching a population of 1,380 in 1947 before falling again through the late-1940s and 1950s. Regardless, in 1956, with a population of 991, Black Diamond was incorporated as a town.

Commercial district of Black Diamond, January 1932. Although it Pre-existed the Turner Valley oil and gas discovery, Black Diamond grew rapidly to serve the burgeoning industry. (Provincial Archives of Alberta , A6999.)

Commercial district of Black Diamond, January 1932. Although it Pre-existed the Turner Valley oil and gas discovery, Black Diamond grew rapidly to serve the burgeoning industry. (Provincial Archives of Alberta , A6999.)

To be continued … More Turner Valley oil and gas names to come!

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator.

Location

Turner Valley (valley)
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 J/09 – Turner Valley
Latitude/Longitude:  50°42’33”N / 114°18’11”W (approximate mid-point)
Alberta Township System: 23-20-3-W5 (approximate mid-point)
Description: Large valley with a northwest to southeast orientation, located approximately 40 kilometres southwest of downtown Calgary

Turner Valley (town)
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 J/09 – Turner Valley
Latitude/Longitude:  50°44’31”N / 114°16’49”W
Alberta Township System: 12-20-3-W5
Description: Near the southeastern edge of the valley, approximately 45 kilometres SSW of downtown Calgary

Black Diamond (town)
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 J/09 – Turner Valley
Latitude/Longitude:  50°41’17”N / 114°14’04”W
Alberta Township System: 8-20-2-W5
Description: Approximately 40 kilometres SSW of downtown Calgary and three kilometres northeast of Turner Valley (town)

Additional Resources

High River Pioneers’ and Old Timers’ Association. Leaves from the Medicine Tree. Lethbridge: The Lethbridge Herald, 1960. Accessed om July 21, 2014. http://www.ourfutureourpast.ca/loc_hist/toc.aspx?id=4123

In the Light of the Flares: History of Turner Valley Oilfields. Turner Valley: Sheep River Historical Society, 1979. Accessed on  July 21, 2014. http://www.ourfutureourpast.ca/loc_hist/toc.aspx?id=7575

Our Foothills Calgary: Millarville, Kew, Priddis and Bragg Creek Historical Society, 1975. Accessed on July 21, 2014. http://www.ourfutureourpast.ca/loc_hist/toc.aspx?id=4134

3 comments

  1. Ron,

    Some early maps use the term “Turner’s Valley” or “Turners Valley”. Once a settlement emerged close to the Gas Plant it seemed to have become “Turner Valley”. Did you find any of these references in your research. Further, I have found a reference in The Calgary Herald (October 30, 1916) to a court case concerning an attempt to defraud investors in what the paper refers to as “The Black Diamond Well” and an effort to “salt” the well bore with crude oil and distillate to fool observers into believing that the well had greater promise than was then thought (May 6, 1914, which would be 8 days before ‘discovery’ at Dingman #!). Did you come across any reference to The Black Diamond Well?

    1. Hello Ian and thank you for the questions. It is true that at around the time of the Dingman discovery the region was often referred to as Turner’s Valley, in reference to the Turner family who had settled in the valley’s northern reaches. Place naming authorities have long had a reticence to use apostrophes in officially adopted names, a reluctance that continues even to this day. It name appears as “Turner Valley” on federal government maps by 1926 and when the Geographic Board of Canada officially adopted the name in 1943 it acknowledged the form of the name without the apostrophe. The use of apostrophes in place names is discussed in our previous blog post about Lee Creek (or Lee’s Creek). For this blog post and the Energy Resources Heritage website we elected to just go with “Turner Valley” as the accepted form of the name.
      As for the Black Diamond well you have referenced, we have looked back at the research that had been done for the Energy Resources Heritage website and have found no reference to the Black Diamond well or the accusation of salting. It sounds like there may an interesting story here that we may want to do more research into.
      Thank you Ian!
      Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator

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