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The Indigenous

For centuries, the land that would be Leduc was occupied by the Indigenous, specifically the Blackfoot and Stoney, who hunted the bison that would make its way up from the south.

As Europeans and Canadians began to push in from the east in the early-1800s, the Cree and Metis would move into the area.

The industry that would come to dominate Leduc, and Alberta, oil, would also be used by the Indigenous of the area as well. For centuries, the Indigenous knew about oil and they would use it as pitch for canoes, and sometimes as a medicinal ointment.

The history of the Indigenous is found in the eight locations in the area that are recognized by the Archeological Survey of Alberta. Archeological digs within the area have dated the Indigenous living around what would be Leduc for upwards of 4,000 to 10,000 years.

Currently, Leduc sits on Treaty 6 land.

Founding Of The Community

In 1899, Leduc was established by Robert Telford, a settler and future Alberta politician, who came to the area and bought land near what is now called Telford Lake. Not only is he considered to be the first settler for Leduc, but he also served as its first postmaster, first general merchant and first justice of the peace. Telford would have a large impact on the area, also assisting the dozens, and even hundreds, who came to the area with helping them find their land. In 1905, he was the first person from the area to be elected to the Legislature. On top of that, he served as the mayor of Leduc during the First World War.

The area would soon see its first boom when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway was built through the region in 1891, with the first train arriving on July 9, 1891. According to those who were there, the event was not met with much fanfare and only a few people were on the platform.  

As for the name, there are two versions of where it comes from. The first is that it was named in April of 1886 by a settler who was setting up a telegraph office and needed to name the station. He chose to name the station after the first person to come through the door. That person happened to be Father Hippolyte Leduc, a priest who had been in the area since 1867.

The other story of its naming comes from Father Lacombe, who provided a list of names to Edgar Dewdney in 1891, the Lt. Governor of the North-West Territories. On the list was the name of Father Leduc, and since the telegraph station was already named Leduc, it was decided that the name of the new community would be Leduc. So, in a way, both stories are right.

By 1899, Leduc had grown to be a village, and was a town in 1906.

For the next few decades, the community grew slowly but all of that would change on Feb. 13, 1947 when an oil strike occurred nearby that would change Leduc, Alberta and Canada forever.

Leduc No. 1

In 1936, the first major crude oil discovery would happen in Turner Valley at a depth of two kilometres, the deepest well in Alberta at that time. By 1942, the oil field reached its peak production of 10 million barrels and had the distinction of being the largest oil field in the British Empire.

That original oil discovery in 1914 would result in oil companies spending $150 million over the course of 30 years, amounting to about $2.2 billion today. No major reserves were found and the provincial government was forced to start issues tax relief for oil companies to encourage further exploration.

After a strike in Turner Valley in 1936, oil companies flooded into Alberta looking for crude. One company was Imperial Oil, who drilled 133 wells with no success.

The geologists who worked for the company believed that greater reserves could be found at deeper depths and they convinced the company to do one more drilling effort. The board of directors agreed and Wildcat No. 134 was drilled as a last ditch effort.

The company then purchased 200,000 acres of land southwest of Edmonton and began to survey the best area to drill. They came up with two candidate areas. One was one near Pigeon Lake, while the other was near Leduc.  The team chose Leduc because it was closer to major roadways. This was a good decision because the Pigeon Lake well was later dug and proved to be a dry well.

On the farmstead of Mike Turta, a drilling site was chosen. Turta did not have drilling rights so Imperial Oil paid him $250 to lease his land, or $3,515 per year today. This well would be the only one within 80 kilometres, and would be dug to a depth of 2,100 metres.

Drilling would begin on Nov. 20, 1946 but only small traces of oil and natural gas were found going down to 1,200 metres. Drilling would pass the Mesozoic depth and indications were that there was large quantities of natural gas and a bit of oil. When drilling passed the Paleozoic Era and into the Devonian Era, tests showed promising results at 1,536 metres.

On Feb. 3, 1947, a test sent a geyser of oil shooting up past half the height of the drilling derrick.

With that, Imperial Oil knew there was oil to be found at this location. Vern Hunter, the lead of the drilling team, was asked by the company when they expected him to hit pay dirt with the well. He would say,

“The crew and I were experts at abandoning wells but we didn’t know much about completing them. I named February 13 and started praying. By the morning of February 13, we hadn’t started to swab and that operation sometimes takes days. However, we crossed our fingers and at daylight started in.”

Shortly after 4 p.m., the wellhead was cleared and the 500 people who had gathered and braved the cold, saw Leduc No. 1 spray oil into the air. The youngest member of the drilling crew was given the honour of flaring the well.

This discovery was huge for Canada. At the time, the country only produced about 21,000 barrels per day and that mostly came from Turner Valley. In contrast, the country was consuming about 210,000 barrels a day. In Alberta, production was 7.7 million barrels per year from 416 wells and 90 percent of the oil needed by Canada was imported from the United States.

The discovery would lead to a huge increase in the estimates of how much oil was actually in western Canada. In 1946, it was believed that there were 72 million recoverable barrels of oil in western Canada. By 1957, that estimate had been increased to three billion and today it is believed that there are 77 billion barrels of oil in conventional reserves in western Canada.

Leduc No. 1 would continue to operate for almost three decades until 1974. By that point, it had produced 317,000 barrels of oil and 323 million cubic feet of natural gas.

Today, the Leduc No. 1 and Leduc-Woodland oil field are designated as a National Historic Site, and the Leduc #1 Energy Discovery Centre opened in 1997 to feature exhibits about the oil industry, as well as artifacts and equipment from the early days.

Dr Woods House Museum

One of the more interesting places to visit in Leduc is the home that celebrates the first doctor to work within the area. Robert Woods was born in 1870 in London, Ontario, and after graduating from Western University, practiced medicine in Kansas until 1902. It was in that year he moved to the Leduc district and homesteaded in the Telfordville area. Not only working as a doctor, he also served as the veterinarian as well. In 1905, he wanted to open up a medical practice again but needed a licence. Through the help of his friend MLA Robert Telford, he was able to get his license thanks to the settlers from as far away as Calmar, who agreed to pay him two dollars a year for his service. Early in 1908, a private Member’s Bill in the Legislature was sponsored by Telford, to allow Woods to practice medicine. Later that year, he moved into Leduc to open up his practice.

The wife of Dr. Woods, Olive MacGregor, actually rode in on one of the first trains to arrive in Leduc. According to Olive, she and Robert were married the day she arrived.

As an doctor, he was an advocate for cleanliness and he would travel many kilometres, day or night, in all conditions, to help his patients. He was a common sight during the winter when he was wearing his buffalo coat with fur gloves, visiting patients. When the Spanish Flu hit, he would work day and night to help patients deal with the deadly disease. More often than not, patients could not pay their bill to Dr. Woods and he would accept chickens, butter, eggs, potatoes and milk for his services.

In 1923, he was granted a certificate from the Medical Council of Canada, allowing him to practice medicine anywhere in Canada.

In Leduc, Dr. Woods would serve on town council, along with the medical health officer and coroner for the town. He would pass away on April 22, 1936. After his death, the home was sold by his wife and it went through four owners until 1982 when the City of Leduc bought it. One of those owners was MLA Ronald Ansley, who spearheaded a revolt against Alberta Premier William Aberhart during the 1930s. It was then renovated and turned into a museum. In 1993, the Dr. Woods House Museum was designated as an Alberta Registered Historic Site and in 2008, an Alberta Municipal Historic Site.

The museum depicts the domestic and professional life of Dr. Woods, including through the use of artifacts and exhibits that outline life in the area from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Stone Barn And Cultural Village

For another dose of history from the past of Leduc, you can visit the Stone Barn and Cultural Village, which contains an original farmhouse, a milking shed, fully-landscaped gardens and the historic stone barn. The barn serves as a representation of the original dairy barn that existed on the spot. The building itself is stone and wood beams, but along with the rest of the buildings, it gives you a glimpse into the past of Leduc and the many industries that called it home.

If you are looking to just enjoy a nice day outside, you can sit at the many picnic tables in the park, or explore the gardens. Due to the history and unique architecture of the area, the park and barn are very popular for weddings.

Leduc Heritage Elevator Grain Elevator

There was a time when grain elevators, or prairie sentinels, stood all across the western landscape of Canada. Of course, most are long gone now but some communities like Leduc preserve their heritage through the grain elevators. In the community, this is done through the Leduc Heritage Grain Elevator Site Complex.

Built in 1978, the elevator serves as one of the last single composite, wood crib elevators constructed in Alberta. At the time of its construction, it was a transitional period between the building of wooden crib grain elevators and the more widespread building of concrete and steel grain terminals. The elevator built in Leduc had a 3,050 tonne capacity and was one of the last built in Alberta that had a traditional structure with contemporary mechanisms. The site also serves as a good representation of similar elevator complexes of this period in western Canada.

On Jan. 20, 2003, it was recognized as a Provincial Historic Site.

Today, the complex is open for tours throughout the year, so you can learn more not only about the grain elevator history of Leduc, but the agricultural history of the region, which served as the dominant industry until the arrival of oil.

Flight 3801

It was on a cold winter day as a blizzard raged in the Leduc area in 1973 when a tragic event would occur. In the entire history of the Edmonton International Airport, dating back to 1960, there has only been one instance of a fatal plane crash, and this was it.

On Jan. 2, 1973 at 8:30 a.m. , Flight 3801, a Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 707 cargo jet was approaching the runway of the airport, carrying five crew members and 86 head of cattle. The plane had left Toronto enroute to South Korea with a stop in Edmonton. The first officer had just been promoted to Boeing 707 operations assigned to take the approach. The first officer was taking his first approach after a six-week holiday, and with the factor of fatigue, turbulent air and the heavily-loaded aircraft, the approach was extremely difficult. As it approached, the plane hit poplar trees, roughly 3,000 metres short of the runway. The plane then struck the ground with a glancing blow and the tail fin struck powerlines. The plane then struck a large ridge in the middle of a gravel pit, causing the cockpit section and part of the fuselage broke away, causing the cargo and 86 cattle to shoot forward through the open section of the fuselage, for a distance of 100 metres. A fire then erupted in the plane.

All five crew members, along with all the cattle, were killed in the crash.

Parts of the wreckage are on display at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton. Four decades later, pieces of the crash were still found in the area

Notable Residents

George Rogers was born in Jamaica on Sept. 14, 1958 but would come to Canada as a young man in 1975. After graduating from Leduc Senior High School in 1977, and then the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1980, he would go on to receive a certificate in local government studies from the University of Alberta in 1988. After time working in the oil industry, he would return to Leduc in 1992 to start a real estate sales career. That same year, he was elected to city council, and then again in 1995. In 1998, he was elected mayor of Leduc and would be re-elected in 2001. In 2004, he was elected to his first term in the Alberta Legislature, and would be re-elected in 2008 and 2012. In his role as MLA, he also served as the Deputy Speaker of the Legislature from 2012 to 2015.

A few times this episode I have mentioned Robert Telford, and I want to go into a bit more detail about this interesting man. He was born in Shawville, Quebec on June 19, 1860 and would come west looking for adventure. That sense of adventure would push him to join the North West Mounted Police, where he served during the North-West Rebellion of 1885. After some time in Calgary, he came to Leduc and built a house, which was then the largest house between Edmonton and Calgary. In 1890, he married Belle Howard and they would have two sons, one of which, Raymond, was killed in June of 1916 during the First World War. In 1905, Telford was elected to the Alberta Legislature in the first election in Alberta’s history, and he was re-elected by acclimation in 1909. After he lost his bid for re-election in 1913, he would serve on town council for several years, and as mayor of Leduc from 1915 to 1916. In 1919, he retired and continued to live in the Leduc area. He would die in 1933 at the age of 73. Telford Lake and Telfordville are named for him.

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