The sleepy little hamlet of Redwater, in central Alberta, would be forever changed when oil was discovered on the Hilton Cook farm. Oil companies were on a quest to find black gold, in Alberta, after the 1947 discovery of oil at Leduc, south of Edmonton. The Imperial Oil Company looked north towards Redwater and speculated on finding oil in this area.
In the spring of 1948 an Esso wildcat crew set up a drilling rig on Hilton Cook’s farm 2 miles northeast of Redwater. On August 30, 1948 oil blasted out of the ground, and this would usher in a stampede or oil workers that have had a lasting impact on the community of Redwater.
Mable Cook, wife of the first local boy to work for Imperial Esso and daughter in law of Hilton and Christina Cook, summed up the impact of his oil boom.
“There were oil wells everywhere, when you went out at night the sky was lit up with flares from all the oil derricks; there was even an oil derrick in the schoolyard! I could count 6 derricks just standing outside my door in every direction. It was exciting but scary. It was great for the people selling land and making profit and progress.”
This tiny farming community of about 90 people would mushroom to upwards of 3000 within three months of the Imperial Oil Company’s “Discovery Well, Redwater # 1” finding oil. The tiny hamlet watched in awe as their community was transformed overnight. The pressures on the community had a profound and lasting impact.
Drilling crews rushed to the area finding accommodations wherever they could. The newcomers were sleeping in cars, tents and even granaries. Impromptu eateries were popping up on every corner. Old streetcars were hauled into town to serve as restaurants and offices for the oil companies. The face of Redwater would change overnight as the quest for black gold reached a fever pitch.