by Franklin L. Foster, Ph.D.
Way back in 1996, I was invited to join a small group who had a vision to create an interpretive centre in Lloydminster to provide information about the challenges and achievements of the Heavy Oil industry. I think I was invited because I had a reputation as someone who could word-smith well and that I had knowledge of local history. I am a professional historian and I have done a lot of writing over the years, including two books about Lloydminster history. However, I don't think the other members knew that growing up on a farm near Lloydminster, I was familiar with heavy oil as part of my childhood environment. As a child, it did not seem unusual to have a few oil wells sprinkled around the countryside. If your bicycle needed a little lubricating, you just pedaled down to the nearest oil well and there, as the engine laboured to raise the horsehead pump jack through the upstroke, you could scoop up a gob of oily residue and apply it to your bike chain. Didn't all kids do this?
Anyway, I was happy to join the group and I agreed strongly with the notion that people, even locals, should know much more about the industry which played such a vital role in the life of our community. And, if we could make it into something of a tourist attraction, so much the better. We soon learned that there was a new style of interpretive display. It wasn't enough to just have some things for people to look at - they had to be attractive and interactive. So we set about trying to imagine how we could present information about the wide range of aspects that make up the heavy oil industry, from finding, through drilling and work-overs to upgrading and refining. We soon hired a firm in Calgary that had experience creating modern exhibits. There was one problem. They didn't know much about the oil industry. So I became one of the liaison people whose task was to explain the various parts of the oil industry to the designers, so they could come up with displays that would highlight that area, especially its challenges and achievements.
Now, it may be hard for some of you to believe but in 1996 there were still lots of folks who hadn't heard about the Internet and certainly hadn't used it. I was not one of those. I had dived in already, back in the days before the world wide web, when all that was exchanged was code like sentence fragments on a phosphorous screen. So, when I was faced with conveying bulk information, plus pictures and diagrams - it soon occurred to me that the old way of sending packages through the post office could be greatly improved on and sped up if I posted the information on a web site and then discussed it with the designers by telephone while we both looked at the same stuff on our screens. This didn't always go smoothly. I sometimes had to walk people at the other end through: how to turn on you computer, how to get your browser going, what to type in as a URL ( what a URL was and where it went ), how to open an e-mail, etc. etc.
It was from that beginning that www.lloydminsterheavyoil.com was born. I soon could see that the web site had the potential to fulfill the vision of the interpretive centre in a much better way than the proposed physical site at the museum. That was a much harder sell. I think only one or two people ever got that. Unfortunately, those one or two people were not people controlling any funding and the web site remained a sideline that I laboured on on my own. That's pretty much continued to be the case. Without my efforts, there would have been no "companion web site". It remains today a volunteer contribution, which has languished in some years as the increasing workload at my day job consumed my life.
Now I have retired from my day job so I am able to resume some work on my hobby websites, including this one. I hope a few people find it interesting and useful. I know there have been and continue to be some interesting people and challenges in heavy oil and I look forward to having more time to capture those stories and share them with those visitors who come by.
If you can support the efforts to record and celebrate the achievements of Heavy Oil
Here are links to some News Releases from the days when the Interpretive Centre (physical site) was a popular community project.
Official Opening (August 5, 1999)
It's Official (January 1999)
Oil Wives Gala Fundraiser (December 1998)
Upgrading the Upgrader (September 1998)
Heavy Oil Ready for Prime Time (June 1998)
Fundraising gathers momentum (November 1997)
Outline of Responsibilities for
the Creation of the Physical Site
of the Heavy Oil Science Centre - click here