Roadside Attraction: Alberta's First Oil Well

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Alberta's first oil well - Waterton

Just outside of Waterton, Alberta, along the Akamina Parkway, stands the first commercial oil well in Alberta and the second in Canada (Ontario is home to the first oil well in the country). Located in Waterton Lakes National Park, the original drill pipe is still in place at the bottom of the monument. A cairn in the shape of an oil derrick commemorates the discovery.

The Stoney and Kootenai First Nations knew for thousands of years about the 'black gold' that seeped from the ground and into Cameron Creek. It was used for medicinal purposes, to smear on open wounds and for use as insect repellent.

Once the Europeans discovered the source of the seepage, a mini oil boom started in the Waterton area in the mid to late 1800s. The early 'oil industry' soaked up the surface oil, wrung it into barrels and sold it locally in southern Alberta as machine lubricant and a cure for mange in livestock. It was estimated that 10-15 barrels a day were reclaimed this way. A few oil wells were drilled but came up dry or had unreliable flows.

In 1902, the Discover Well was drilled and oil was hit at only 311 meters! The shallow deposit explained why the oil would rapidly bubble to the surface, through the fractured rocks along Cameron Creek. It was estimated that the first oil well in Alberta produced 300 barrels a day!

Shortly after this success, prospectors and other opportunists drilled wells throughout the park, wherever seepages occurred, even within the town near Cameron Falls. Waterton Lakes National Park was commissioned in 1895, the fourth national park in Canada. However, due to the lack environmental laws and the fact that Alberta was not designated a province yet, drilling was permitted within the park borders.

View First Oil Well in Alberta (Waterton, Alberta, Canada) in a larger map

By 1904, a year before Alberta officially became a province, the oil flow from the Discovery Well slowed to a trickle and the fledgling oil industry faded. Most relics of the early wells have disappeared but a few rusty pieces can be seen in the creek. The Discovery Well site was designated a national historic site in 1968.

Oil prospects continued on and off in the park for the next few years but an unreliable flow couldn't make any a commercial success. Equipment and dreams were lured further north near Turner Valley in 1914.

This quiet, beautiful location in Waterton Lakes National Park will always hold the title as being the location of the first oil well in Alberta. If you're visiting Waterton, consider stopping by this historic roadside attraction.

There are lots of things to discover in Alberta! Visit more roadside attractions (they range from historic to just plain weird) ... try some interesting hikes ... or take a leisurely drive and visit some beautiful scenic spots. There's lots to see!