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Key Number: HS 25114
Site Name: Turner Valley Gas Works
Other Names:
Site Type: 0726 - Industrial/Manufacturing - Gas Works

Location

ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
20 3 5


Address:
Number:
Street:
Avenue:
Other:
Town: Turner Valley
Near Town:

Media

Type Number Date View
Source

Architectural

Style:
Plan Shape:
Storeys:
Foundation:
Superstructure:
Superstructure Cover:
Roof Structure:
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes:
Exterior: N/A
Interior: N/A
Environment:
Condition:
Alterations: N/A

Historical

Construction: Construction Date:
Usage: Usage Date:
Inactive
1989/01/01
Owner: Owner Date:
Madison Natural Gas Company Limited
Gulf Canada Limited
Western Decalta Petroleum (1977) Limited
Province of Alberta
1949/03/07
1965/10/21
1978/03/21
1988/12/23
Architect: N/A
Builder: N/A
Craftsman: N/A
History: Building / Site Description

The Turner Valley Gas Works is a set of approximately fifty-five buildings and related storage tanks located on 150 acres of industrial land in the town of Turner Valley. Together, they constitute a complete industrial complex, used to process sulphur laden natural gas. The metal clad steel structures utilize windows and doors typical of an industrial setting.

Although not in use currently, this facility has served exclusively as a gas processing plant, the first in western Canada. The buildings do not fall into a single category as they vary in function from actual processing facilities to storage, maintenance and office structures.

For more details of the layout of this plant see Plan TV-45-1602 in Volume 3 of the Historical Resources Impact Assessment dated 1986 which Western Decalta Petroleum (1977) Ltd. commissioned for presentation to Alberta Culture.

The gas plant is a complete industrial facility. Most equipment on the site dates from the early 1930s to the late 1950s although it continued to operate until May, 1985. The gas plant sits immediately adjacent the Sheep River in the town of Turner Valley, south and east from the town's main intersection and south of Highway 22 which connects Turner Valley and Black Diamond. For 70 years it various rigs, towers and other gas development and processing hardware dominated the skyline of the town. The company recently dismantled the aging tower for safety reasons. The plant's location near the Sheep River is picturesque. It first belonged to a rancher, but after discovery of oil on the site in 1914, only industrial activity has occurred there. The company suppressed surface foliage on the site and the entire industrial complex sits on a floor plain.

The gas plant remains in the same condition as during the seven decades of industrial activity. A fire consumed the original wooden structures in 1920. To prevent similar catastrophes, the new company rebuilt the plant structures at well spaced intervals with the hope that fires would not spread from one building to the next. Although the terrain seems to be a largely undisturbed flood plain, some minor grade alterations probably occurred during the construction of the structures and the installation of subsurface utilities. The remaining buildings clearly belong in this location and the overall integrity of the site and its structures is excellent.

The earliest gas plant structures predated the development of the settlement. As industry attracted workers, the town of Turner Valley grew and by 1930 local government took responsibility for the development of the area. Although housing sprang up in the town and nearby subdivisions as well as squatters' areas, most of the area south and east of the central intersection of the town to the Sheep River developed as an industrial complex. A footbridge joined the plant to the flood plain southeast across the river where many workers lived in an area called Poverty Flats. Plant management lived in relative comfort surrounded by a golf course on top of the hill.

Although entirely surrounded by urban settlements and the downtown core, the industrial area which includes the plant relates the other uses and has lived in a largely symbiotic relationship with the community for seventy-five years.

Historical Significance

The discovery of the Turner Valley oilfield as a viable field took place on the plant site when Calgary Petroleum Products well No. 1 hit a supply of oil-laden gas on May 14, 1914. In the same year, the first Canadian plant to extract by-products from the natural gas stream was constructed at the site. Its compressor was the first in Canada, though this technology was in widespread use in the United States. The Hope Natural Gas absorption plant, also part of the original plant, was one of the first in the world. The plant boasted the first Canadian sour gas scrubbing plant in 1935, the first propane plant in Canada in 1949 and one of the first two Canadian sulphur plants in 1952. Most of the remaining structures at the gas plant site date from the 1935 to 1952 period and together constitute a good example of an early gas processing plant in the Canadian west.

This gas plant also contributed to the formation of the Turner Valley Conservation Authority, later to become the Energy Resources Conservation Board of the Province of Alberta. As the owner of the plant refused to accept gas from independent operators at a price which would allow them to make a profit, they chose to strip whatever supplies of distillate they could from the wet gas and flare the remaining gas into the atmosphere at large flare pits or into the sky.
The needless flaring eventually limited the production capacity of the oilfield but not before raising the ire of local and provincial officials who formed the regulatory body to control the waste.

The architecture of the plant was accomplished not by one individual but by a series of contracted companies. As outlined in the Historical Resources Impact Assessment, a variety of experts installed the necessary equipment to serve the many needs of the plant.
Although owned by one company for much of its history, the plant received various additions by an assortment of builders as the need arose. Michael Stoos first owned the land and ran cattle on the property and adjacent vacant terrain from 1910 until 1913. In 1913, Calgary Petroleum Products received the title. After a fire in 1920 forced the small company to sell to Imperial Oil, a subsidiary company called Royalite Oil Company received access to surface rights to the land in 1921. In 1955, a public utility called Madison Natural Gas Company Limited took possession of the title and sold it in 1988 to the Minister of Forestry, Lands and Wildlife for the Province of Alberta.

The Turner Valley Gas works most directly illustrate the theme of modern industrial and domestic use of precessed natural gas. Although earlier exploration efforts found both gas and oil elsewhere in the Canadian west, this plant was the first major gas processing plant in Canada and one of the first of its kind in North America. It established the Canadian west as an area for serious exploration and trained personnel for the worldwide exploration and development process which followed. Therefore, the Turner Valley Gas Works merits above average consideration for designation as an important historic site in Alberta.

Architectural Significance

The original plant on this site was little more than a collection of wooden buildings protecting primitive gas processing equipment from the elements. Once fire consumed the original structures, the planners wisely spaced the new structures far apart so future fires could be contained to the source area and not become such an all encompassing disaster as the fire which caused the financial collapse of the Calgary Petroleum Products Company. This new concern caused the architects, planners and engineers to build steel structures on concrete foundations and slabs and cover them with corrugated iron skins and industrial windows. The result allowed for relatively low maintenance, a lower risk of fire and good lighting through the large industrial windows. The architectural style is typical of early twentieth century industrial development with specific adaptations to the immediate gas processing application. As the first such plant in Alberta, it no doubt set standards for the design of gas plants, pointed to the need for adequate fire protection and planning in case of accidents architectural method which could meet the needs of the new and ever-changing oil and gas industry.
* * *
Executive Summary

Located twenty miles southwest of Calgary in the town of Turner Valley, has recently been decommissioned by Western Decalta Petroleum (1977) Ltd., who have replaced it with a new facility twelve miles southeast called the Diamond Valley Gas Plant. Alberta Environment has requested that Western Decalta reclaim the plant site and Alberta Culture has requested that Western Decalta first undertake an Historical Resources Impact Assessment (HRIA) to determine the significance of the plant and facilities, the impacts may occur, and measures to mitigate such impacts.

The HRIA involved the detailed examination of archival records and documents and making an inventory of the plant buildings and equipment. These studies indicate the turner Valley Gas Plant is of Provincial, National and International Significance. The plant represents the foundations of Alberta's and Canada's modern oil and gas industry on which later developments were based. The history of the Turner Valley oil field and many oil companies are intimately bound with that of the plant and its corporate owners.

The existing facility dates to 1933. Predating it on this site were a plant which was built in 1914 and consumed by fire in 1920 and a second plant which was built in 1921 and remained in operation until absorption, LPG extraction facilities in Canada. This historic plant, with minor modifications, remained operational until 1985. It is the only one of its vintage in Canada. Other significant technological advances in the plant include the sour gas scrubbing plans - the first and only ones of their kind constructed in Canada (1935 and 1941), the first propane recovery plant in Canada (1949-1952), and one of the first two sulphur plants in Canada (1952).

The plant and its equipment and processes are of Provincial, National and International Significance to the history of industrial technology. The plant is the earliest and sole surviving example of its kind in Canada. Plant site reclamation will totally destroy its significance.


Plaque status: Plaqued in 1999
Early gas plant, central to the history of petroleum extraction technology.

Internal

Status: Status Date:
signed)

Designation Status: Designation Date:
Provincial Historic Resource
Federally Designated
1989/05/29
1995/01/01
Register:
Record Information: Record Information Date:
K. Williams 1989/09/13

Links

Internet:
Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-0436
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