Alberta’s Quiet Revolution: The Early Lougheed Years

All earth is OIL, OIL, OIL and city lights drown the stars.” – Dorothy Livesay[1]

Albertans are understandably more aware than other Canadians of the geology that lies beneath their feet. Not in the way that Californians are – fearful that the earth might tremble and shatter their world. It is more a vague awareness of an underworld crusted in coal, concealing vast reservoirs of black gold.

Toppling Social Credit
Governing Alberta
The Politics of Oil
The Black Gold Rush
The Cultural Efflorescence
Opposing Currents

Twice in the twentieth century, first at Turner Valley in 1914 and then at Leduc in 1947, the province’s otherwise bleak economy was remade with dramatic discoveries of oil and gas. But nothing prepared the province for the seismic aftershock from October 6, 1973, when Egyptian tanks rumbled across makeshift bridges over the Suez Canal and Syrian guns loosed thunder from the Golan Heights. The surprise attack on Israel, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, emboldened the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to seize control of oil pricing from the “seven sister” multinational oil companies.[2] To support their Arab brethren in the war, OPEC delegates convened in Kuwait City and announced that they would raise the price of oil by 70 per cent.[3] From 1965 to 1973 real oil prices had fallen at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent,[4] and the Kuwait announcement triggered economic panic throughout the industrialized world.

Lougheed leads his first cabinet down the steps of the legislature after their stunning victory (PAA/J12/6).

The war did not go well for the Arabs, and while it ended on October 26 with the Israelis poised outside Cairo, the oil embargo dragged on.[5] By March of the following year, the world supply of oil had been reduced by 9 per cent; a serious reduction since oil supplies had been rising by 7.5 per cent a year between 1965 and 1973.[6] Canada, however, suffered a little less than the U.S. from the crisis. Canadian imports fell only 6.3 per cent, but projections of heating oil shortages in Eastern Canada drove prices ever upward.[7] American television footage of long car queues, closed gas stations and talk of possible quotas fed the general sense of panic. “Soon the needy were joined by the greedy” and “the OPEC nations were quick to ‘follow the market’ that their Arab members had contrived,” raising the price from $2 a barrel in October to over $7 per barrel on December 31, 1973.[8]

Meanwhile Albertans saw the price for their new oil rise to world levels. But, because of federal energy regulations, they had to accept prices of no more than 75 per cent of world levels for the oil derived from sources developed prior to 1973. In quick succession, in the autumn of 1973, federal energy minister Donald Macdonald asked Alberta producers to freeze prices until the end of January and imposed a 40-cent per barrel export tax on crude oil. This was the first salvo in the oil war between the province and Ottawa and Alberta critics cried foul over unfair federal taxation of provincially owned resources. Unmoved, Macdonald raised the export tax to $1.90, a move widely condemned as an unjustifiable subsidy of other Canadians, and “a shattering blow to Confederation,” according to federal Conservative MP Peter Bawden.[9]

At the epicentre of both the oil boom and the fight with Ottawa were Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and his Progressive Conservative government. The tension over energy policy between Ottawa and Alberta preceded Lougheed and would persist after him, but it was Lougheed who conducted the critical campaigns. And it was Lougheed who put his stamp on the dramatic decade of the 1970s. The economic, social and cultural forces unleashed by the OPEC Crisis of 1973 and its happy confluence with the election of a forward-looking and pragmatic government created a sea change in Alberta so broad and profound that its only parallel in Canadian history might be the Quiet Revolution in Quebec a decade earlier.

Toppling Social Credit

In March 1965, just after he announced his candidature for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, Peter Edgar Lougheed went into the gallery of the legislature to get his first look at its proceedings. Social Credit Premier Ernest Manning spotted him and sent him a handwritten note: “I hope your visit to the assembly doesn’t dim your enthusiasm to enter actively into provincial public life. The first twenty-five years are the worst.”[10] Indeed, it looked like a long haul. Lougheed had joined a party that had been led by some competent leaders over the years, but not one had been able to crack the Social Credit fortress. In 1965 the Conservatives had no leader, no seats, no money and no organization. Lougheed had been considering joining the federal Conservatives and running in Calgary South when a friend suggested that he run provincially. But what did he face? The Social Credit government was the closest thing to a dynasty in Canadian politics and Ernest Manning, who was, as Lougheed acknowledged, not only popular but brilliant, led it.[11] Although not a lawyer, Manning was attorney general of the province, and, although not a businessman, pretty much ran the oil and gas industry. He had such an iron grip on the legislature that he had it in session for only four weeks a year. Further, Manning had more than a political bond with the people of Alberta, because many of them faithfully listened to his Sunday radio show, “Back to the Bible Hour.”

Lougheed insightfully recognised that the Socreds’ main strength was also their weakness. It was a one-person government and Lougheed was young enough to wait Manning out. While the old party was still cruising to election victories in 1959, 1963 and 1967, to name just the latest ones, the signed-up membership at the constituency level was sometimes less than 200. The party was becoming a victim of its own popularity, and some annual constituency meetings attracted as few as fourteen people.[12] This gave Lougheed an image to build a campaign on, one in which he could portray the ancien régime as tired and inward looking. For Lougheed the decision to enter politics was partly emotional – the prospect excited him for it was “where the action was” – and it was partly opportunity.[13] He had gauged the weaknesses of the incumbents and found them an effective foil to his own strengths: his energy, his modernism and his skill at organising and setting priorities.

Lougheed had a strong sense of his family heritage. His grandfather, James Lougheed, had been one of Alberta’s leading figures, a successful businessman who one year paid half the real estate taxes in Calgary.[14] A strong supporter of the federal Conservative Party, James Lougheed was outraged when Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier withheld the rights to Alberta’s resources when he made Alberta a province. Though the Lougheed family’s fortune waned and the family mansion was auctioned off, the grandson seemed to inherit the political fire.[15] Young Peter was always a leader among the boys. He was president of the student bodies of Central High School and the University of Alberta. He studied law and played varsity football. When he played for the Edmonton Eskimos the coach said he had the “guts of a burglar.”[16]

Lougheed graduated from Harvard and practiced law in Calgary before joining the construction giant Mannix Corporation. “There, surrounded by western regionalists and fierce free-enterprisers, he learned to be concerned about the eventual exhaustion of the oil reserves and the necessity for diversification into industrial and petrochemical operations.”[17] In his five years at Mannix, with the exhausting meetings, negotiations, contract disputes and, above all, the deal making, Lougheed gained the perfect training for his political career.[18]

When he first ran for the legislature, Lougheed was like a man possessed. Some archival television footage catches him literally running like a halfback from house to house, grasping hands and asking, “What’s your name?” “Nice to say hello, Henry.”[19] He and five other Conservatives were elected in 1967, but Lougheed never stopped campaigning and challenging the government. When Conservative MLA Lou Hyndman showed the cheek to introduce a private member’s bill, the sheer defiance almost caused the speaker to faint.[20]

Not least of Lougheed’s strengths was his willingness to learn. On becoming leader, he visited the most successful Conservative leaders in the country. Robert Stanfield, who had been premier of Nova Scotia for ten years before becoming leader of the federal party in 1967, had also taken over a party with no seats, no organization and no money. Stanfield told Lougheed the parable of the auditorium chairs. It was important for a leader to help the volunteers carry the chairs before a meeting, Stanfield confided to Lougheed, and to help fold them and put them away after. You got to know the people that way and they got to know you as someone who did not consider himself above them.[21] The advice from the commanding figure of John Robarts of Ontario was simpler: never take a cent from the federal Conservative Party. That way, when you win, you will not be indebted. For Duff Roblin of Manitoba the key was in recruiting candidates who were most likely to win. Lastly, from Daniel Johnson of Quebec came the pivotal strategic advice of how to run a campaign, not as a single provincial fight but as a series of local battles centred on each constituency.[22] Lougheed put all this advice to good use in 1971. As Roblin had advised, for example, he hunted down promising candidates such as Helen Hunley in Rocky Mountain House. Hunley, a single mother, ended up running and winning.[23]

Dramatic historical events, such as Lougheed’s win in 1971, in retrospect often take on an air of inevitability. Thus most analysts regard the Lougheed victory as “the inevitable result of the arrival of modernity in Alberta,” and the logical outcome of social changes over the previous twenty years, particularly the growth of the cities. Political scientist Edward Bell cautions against this easy assumption and reminds us that Social Credit always had substantial support in the cities and held it into the 1960s.[24] Nevertheless, John Richards and Larry Pratt paint a vivid contrast between the two party leaders, observing that “while the pious Manning was still delivering his weekly radio Back to the Bible Hour sermons, … Lougheed was thumbing the pages of Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1960 and sharpening his television image in the Kennedy mould – the young, dynamic, and safely right-of-centre heir to a family dynasty.” As Richards and Pratt see it, “the new middle class was urban and secular in its outlook and impatient with the Social Credit’s blend of religious fundamentalism and the remnants of its agrarian populist past.”[25]

In truth, the 1971 election was a near run thing and was not simply decided on a split between the rural and the urban vote. Even on the afternoon of the vote Lougheed was very pessimistic, telling an Edmonton Journal reporter that “I don’t think we’re going to do it.”[26] The popular vote went 46 per cent to the Conservatives and 41 per cent to Social Credit. The Conservatives were only four percentage points ahead in Calgary.[27]

This supports Edward Bell’s argument that there was no real erosion of Social Credit’s base. So why did the Conservatives topple the Socred regime in 1971? There seems no doubt that the ancien régime suffered a major blow when Ernest Manning, who had served as leader and premier for twenty-five years, retired in 1968. The new leader, the reluctant Harry Strom, a rancher from Bow Island, had a universal reputation as a thoroughly decent human being, but as a leader lacking political savvy, much less a public image suited to a televised campaign. When asked about the television-advertising budget, the Social Credit co-ordinator replied that “nobody watches television in the summer anyway,” and Strom reduced the amount of advertising in the final week of the campaign “because we’re winning.”[28] But as one Alberta farmer was reported as saying during the campaign, “that Lougheed feller looks like he’s got brains. I like old Manning, but Strom just doesn’t project.”[29] Such hints indicate that while it is fair to accept that demographic, economic and social forces played a part, the leadership of Lougheed and his team were more significant in the victory. While Lougheed portrayed the Socred dynasty as tired and inflexible, and as both spending too much and too little, he was careful not to appear too radical – indeed, Strom was already warning that a vote for Lougheed would push the province towards socialism. Whatever the causes, once Albertans awoke to the startling change of government, it was only natural that the press gave vent to sentiments about “fresh breezes of change” and a “euphoria of newness in the air.”

Governing Alberta

Lougheed’s government was sworn in on September 10, 1971, by Lieutenant-Governor Grant MacEwan, who could not contain his enthusiasm, observing that events that day were parallel to the birth of democracy in Greece 2,400 years before.[30] The government began by passing a flurry of legislation. A total of 243 bills were passed in its first two years in power, including the Individual’s Rights Protection Act, the Alberta Bill of Rights, an Industrial Rights Protection Act, a Mental Health Act, and liberalized drinking laws. A move to daylight savings time was also ratified. Quietly, the Conservatives dispensed with the odious eugenics law (under which hundreds of citizens had been sterilized) that the Socreds had never seen fit to eliminate. It also made the job of MLAs full-time, nearly doubled their pay and gave them staff to support their work. This pace of legislative change was sustained throughout Lougheed’s years in power – his governments passed an average of 94 bills a session between 1971 and 1985.[31]

Lougheed always said that he was glad that he headed a “Progressive” Conservative government. His roots lay more in Western progressive traditions than in the strain of conservatism that ran through Social Credit and on into the Reform and present Conservative parties. Somewhere between those contradictory words “progressive” and “conservative” lay a pragmatism which meant, for Lougheed, judging actions less on ideological or philosophical views than on what he took to be their value in furthering the common good of Albertans. If this meant that government could do something better than business, then it should do it. His decisions were not always popular among many of his conservative followers, but as he noted, “our basic guidepost is to maximize the number of our citizens controlling their own destiny.”[32]

Lougheed always saw himself as being Canadian before being Albertan. This might surprise many Canadians outside Alberta, but it is firmly rooted in his strong belief in what historians call the “compact theory” of Confederation.[33] While it can be a sterile debate among academics, for political leaders the question can be fundamental – which came first, the nation or the provinces?[34] For Lougheed the provinces were primary and the conflicts with Ottawa were part of a delicate, even dangerous, balancing act in which the responsibility of a premier was to defend the interests of his or her province as laid out in the constitution. Since the federal government took the opposite view – that the interests of the nation were paramount – there was bound to be conflict. But Lougheed never saw those differences, even during the oil wars, as being cause for doubting the federation. Rather, it was a “dynamic” in which the country had to remake itself from time to time. The difference in the Lougheed years was, of course, that as a result of the incredible westward shift in economic power, Alberta would have a far more forceful voice.

Lougheed’s first Cabinet included the “original six,” who were elected in 1967: oilman and former CFL quarterback Don Getty in Intergovernmental Affairs, Edmonton lawyer Lou Hyndman as government leader, Hugh Horner, a physician from Barrhead, Len Werry, an accountant (soon to die in a traffic accident) and Dave Russell, an architect.[35] One of Lougheed’s first acts was to establish a Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs Department and to appoint respected political scientist Peter Meekison as deputy minister. Lougheed and his circle of like-minded friends were, in the words of political commentators Clarkson and McCall, “a combination football huddle and cozy cabal.”[36]

Another way that change was enacted was through government appointments. Lougheed purged the incumbent deputy ministers, including two who had held their positions since the Socreds came to power, and replaced them with people from his own corporate background. One example is Alan “Chip” Collins, president of Mannix subsidiary Manalta Coal, who was named deputy treasurer. Collins had played a role in Lougheed’s political campaigns from the start and “could count (and squeeze) a penny with the best of them.”[37]

At the very top of Peter Lougheed’s agenda was what he called “province-building”; that is, preparing for the day when Alberta’s resource base would inevitably decline. In order to achieve this province-building, Lougheed was determined to reconcile his devotion to free enterprise, which he shared with his conservative colleagues, with his conviction that government had the responsibility to steer economic and social development, a view not shared on the conservative right. Lougheed took a different approach from his predecessors by creating joint venture agreements between the government and the private sector, which had a further value of allowing for more direct participation by Albertans. In 1973, for example, he created the Alberta Energy Company, one-half of which was owned by the province. When the province decided to sell its 50 per cent interest, instead of offering it to another oil and gas company, it offered 7.5 million shares to Albertans. For a period of time in November 1975 representatives from brokerage firms presented themselves in shopping malls around the province offering everyone the opportunity to buy shares.[38]

The Politics of Oil

In light of later economic developments, Lougheed’s proposals for province-building seem logical – except for the fact that in 1971 there was no sign of an economic boom. When he took over, Lougheed soon found that the Socred reserve, supposedly some $300 million, did not exist. Furthermore, the province was legally bound to 33,000 oil and gas leases that limited the maximum royalty rate payable by producers to 16.7 per cent of gross production. Alberta NDP leader Grant Notely proposed a “renegotiation” of the Socred royalty agreements, but Lougheed found a subtler means. The new Conservative government in 1972 introduced a Natural Resources Revenue Plan to boost royalties from the 16.7 per cent level without breaking contracts, in effect raising the maximum royalty to 23 per cent.[39] The Canadian Petroleum Association accused the premier of morally breaking the contracts. In a pique, the Calgary Petroleum Club (which prided itself on keeping the names of its members secret) revoked Lougheed’s membership.

The easiest way to boost revenues for the province was to raise oil prices, but the federal reaction to any hint of increased prices was brutal. In October 1972 the overconfident Liberals had an unpleasant surprise in the federal election and found themselves clinging to power with a scant two-seat margin over the Conservatives. Forced to run their second term as a minority government requiring the support of the NDP, they responded sympathetically to the vote-rich oil-consuming provinces.[40] Obviously, energy is not a commodity like any other. It is an essential element of economic development and social progress, particularly in a nation as vast and intemperate as Canada.[41] Thus it is not surprising “that the politics of energy, perhaps more than any other aspect of Canadian politics, expose the potentially conflicting constitutional, regional, intergovernmental and government-industry relationships of power that underlie Canadian political life.”[42]

While the 1973 OPEC price shock galvanized the Lougheed government to press for substantially higher prices for Alberta’s depleting supplies of oil and natural gas, it also motivated the federal government to remove Canada from the international oil market as soon as possible.[43] For Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s oil was “a natural advantage,” that should be used “against our competitors.” From his point of view the federal government deserved a “fair share” of energy revenues.[44] For Lougheed, however, the revenues from the soaring prices were a well-earned windfall that could be used to diversify Alberta’s economy. He considered Ottawa’s actions to be a blatant move to siphon off cash in order to subsidize consumers and industries in Ontario and Quebec.[45] While the constitution guaranteed provincial control over resources, the federal government had jurisdiction over interprovincial and international trade, but even Trudeau admitted that Lougheed “had good historical cause to be suspicious of the influence Toronto’s Bay Street and Montreal’s St James Street have had in Ottawa.”[46]

Alberta retaliated in response to Ottawa’s moves in September 1973 to freeze the price of oil and to impose an export tax on oil shipped to the United States – acts which Lougheed considered “political aggression.” In December 1973 the Lougheed government moved unilaterally, without consulting the industry, and announced that future royalties would rise with oil prices, while the oil industry would be offered $130 million to expand exploration.[47] That an avowedly conservative government made these changes was little comfort to the oil industry, which clung to “purple arguments about the sanctity of contracts.”[48] Ottawa escalated the conflict by declaring the increased royalty charges for Crown reserves ineligible as deductions in calculating federal income tax.[49]

Caught in the crossfire between Alberta and Ottawa was Ontario, which had long been used to receiving oil at below the U.S. market price. Ontario feared that escalating oil prices would have severe repercussions for its industries and employment. Premier Bill Davis demanded a royal commission and threatened to challenge Alberta in the courts.[50] By 1974 the fight with Ontario was overtaken by world events as the price of Alberta oil almost doubled to $6 per barrel and gas exports rose 56 cents per thousand cubic feet. Of the fight with Ontario then Energy Minister Don Getty recalled that “we interfered, but the interference was needed.” Petrochemicals were flowing out of the province to stock giant refineries in Ontario and that had to stop. When he became energy minister, Getty had discovered that one of his jobs was to sign Natural Gas Removal Permits, allowing oil and gas to leave the province. After telling Lougheed of this, the premier told him never to sign another. As Getty noted, without such measures “you would never have built the kind of province that Alberta is now.”[51]

For Lougheed, the financial boon was not just about “fair value” to the owners of the resource, the people of Alberta, but was necessary to pay for his activist agenda. On the first day of his regime plans for three new wilderness areas, subsidies for seniors and homes for disabled children were announced. Further plans were outlined before the end of 1972, with the government proposing building a network of rural airports and offering millions of dollars in grants to homeowners. Then, after 1974, there was aid for mass transit and $100 million for oil sands development, rural electrification, cities, schools, the disabled and seniors. The government also launched the Agricultural Development Corporation, the Alberta Opportunity Company and the Alberta Development Corporation. Government spending soared from $929 million (from revenues of $958 million) in 1971 to $6.6 billion (from $9.4 billion in revenues) in 1980,[52] and the number of civil servants increased from 18,495 to 33,607.[53] Lougheed later admitted that he may have overdone the new spending but he argued that the Socreds had allowed the provincial infrastructure to deteriorate badly.[54]

Such unabashed government action rankled right-wing conservatives. For many, all that separated Lougheed from the hated socialists was his failure to nationalize the oil patch and his reluctance to institute a wholesale redistribution of wealth. Conservative critics exploded when in the summer of 1974 the province acquired a controlling interest in Pacific Western Airlines (PWA) for $36 million. This move aimed to bolster the province’s position as the “gateway to the North” and to prevent PWA from moving its operations to Vancouver.[55] As Lougheed remembers, he spent many Saturdays trying to explain to his own supporters why his government was in the airline business.[56] There were also anguished outcries from the airline industry and the British Columbia government. The dispute went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in Alberta’s favour.

While it is easy to say that Lougheed ran against Ottawa in the provincial election of 1975, every premier at some point taps that deep well of resentment. But Lougheed was also able to run on what he had accomplished. Albertans responded and Lougheed won an astonishing sixty-nine of seventy-five seats and 63 per cent of the vote. The Socreds were reduced to a ragged band of four. That only left the sole NDP MLA, Grant Notley, and the independent Gordon Taylor.[57]

In 1976, shortly after the election, the government declared its first big surplus, an estimated $600 million, much of it earmarked for pay raises, mortgage subsidies, libraries and research. With government finances solidly in the black, Premier Lougheed rose in the legislature to announce the creation of the Alberta Heritage Savings and Trust Fund with an initial contribution of $1.5 billion and a commitment that 30 per cent of the royalties from non-renewable resources would flow into the fund.[58] While meant to serve as a “rainy day fund” for the time when oil and natural gas production no longer supplied the lion’s share of provincial revenues, it would also be a tool to aid economic diversification and to enable Alberta to break away from its historic boom and bust cycles. The fund became a touchstone of prosperity and a source of pride for Albertans, and although it initially attracted little national attention, it soon became the focal point of controversy, becoming a symbol of the transfer of wealth westward at a time when the federal government was running up deficits and other provinces were struggling.[59]

Amidst the frenzy to find hidden oil throughout the boom,[60] was the tantalizing prospect of solving the riddle of the Athabasca oil sands. Here lay an estimated one-third of the world’s oil reserves, perhaps six times that of Saudi Arabia. But oil was not easily recoverable from the heavy, dense bitumen, and making it pay would be expensive. Four U.S. controlled companies, Imperial Oil, Gulf Canada, Atlantic Richfield and Canada-Cities Services formed a consortium called Syncrude Canada, which sought a provincial permit to build a large plan to extract oil from the mother lode.[61]

Sidebar: The Alberta Oil Sands

The so-called oil sands of Alberta reputedly contain more petroleum than the entire reserves of the Persian Gulf. Compared to conventional oil, however, producing synthetic crude from bitumen is expensive and complicated. Bitumen is heavier than water and more viscous than molasses.

In its natural state, bitumen is suitable only for paving roads. Compared to conventional crude oil, bitumen contains too much carbon and too little hydrogen. In making synthetic crude oil, special refining processes are used to remove impurities and to correct the carbon-hydrogen imbalance. Bitumen reserves occur in sedimentary formations in three major Alberta areas, Athabasca, Cold Lake and Peace River. The 41,000 square kilometre Athabasca deposit surrounding Fort McMurray, where the Athabasca River cuts a channel through the shale and limestone, is the largest and nearest the surface.

The northwest corner of the Athabasca deposit contains the world’s only two commercial surface mining oil-sands operations. Both use the hot-water process, developed by Karl Clark of the Alberta Research Council, Sidney Ellis and R. C. Fitzsimmons and patented in 1929, for separating bitumen from oil sands. In 1967 Great Canadian Oil Sands Ltd, now part of Suncor Energy Ltd, opened the first modern upgrading plant. Syncrude Ltd. opened in 1978. However, only about 150 billion cubic metres, or 8 per cent of Alberta’s bitumen, can be reached by surface mining. The remainder requires in situ recovery techniques, by which steam is injected into the oil sands deposits, melting the bitumen and allowing it to be pumped above ground.[62]

While the great oil sands initiatives of the 1970s were fraught with politics and speculation, by 2005 some $34 billion had been spent to deliver one million barrels a day. In 2005 another $87 billion in investment in the oil sands was announced in order to push output past two million barrels a day – putting northern Alberta on par with major OPEC producers.[63]

Development of the oil sands has proven a boon to the local Aboriginal population as the oil companies formed partnerships in the 1970s with the First Nations and Métis settlements to ensure that they would benefit through employment, decision making and education. Today Syncrude is one of the largest employers of Aboriginals in Canada, with over 700 employees, consistent with the percentage of the Native population in the area.[64]



While Lougheed invited the Americans to provide capital, he looked to give Albertans a large share of the profits. The bargaining began in 1973. The provincial government wanted a 50 per cent share of future profits, 80 per cent public ownership of the pipeline to Edmonton, 50 per cent ownership of the electric generating station and, most contentious of all, a 20 per cent stake in Syncrude after the final costs were determined.[65] Energy Minister Don Getty showed his determination to walk away from the talks if the province did not get what it wanted. After tough negotiations, the consortium gave in, except on the ownership issue. For Peter Lougheed it was an important step in his goal of securing the future self-sufficiency of Canada.

The euphoria over the original deal lasted just fifteen months. On December 6, 1974, Atlantic Richfield pulled out, citing soaring costs.[66] The consortium went back to the government for better terms. The possible failure of the deal seemed to age Lougheed, and the Globe and Mail reported that “his soul seems as clenched as his jaw line.” On February 2, 1975, meeting at a neutral site in Winnipeg, federal ministers Donald Macdonald and Jean Chrétien, Premier Bill Davis of Ontario, Lougheed and representatives of the oil industry, which now included Shell, made a new deal. The consortium would increase its investment to $1.4 billion and retain 70 per cent equity. Ottawa bought in for 15 per cent at a cost of $300 million and allowed Syncrude to sell its oil at the world price. Alberta added $200 million for a 10 per cent interest (down from 20 per cent) and Ontario chipped in $100 million for a 5 per cent share.[67]

This time there was no dancing in the streets and there were widespread cries of sellout. University of Alberta political scientist Larry Pratt portrayed the Lougheed government as a naïve victim of the multinational oil corporations.[68] Canadians were shouldering the costs, he declared, while the profits poured into the coffers of the multinationals. The CBC aired a program based loosely on Pratt’s book on September 12, 1977, portraying Lougheed as a dupe of the multinational oil companies. A furious Lougheed successfully sued the CBC for libel.[69] He considered the Syncrude deal one of his five most significant accomplishments and felt that he had protected the province from any risk if the project failed. The accounting would be a while in coming as falling oil prices kept Syncrude in a constant state of retrenchment. Although Imperial Oil suspended Cold Lake in 1981 and Alsands did the same in May 1982, Lougheed’s forecast of more than $1 billion became a reality in 1983.

The Black Gold Rush

The surge in oil prices in 1973 continued for the next seven years. For Albertans it was a boom of unprecedented proportions. Alberta became “Tomorrow Country,” brimming with confidence. “Everything here is brand new,” crowed Calgary lawyer Edward McNally. “The people are fresh, the air is fresh, the buildings are fresh. In Alberta you get up and see a clear sky. In Ottawa and Toronto, you get up and look at dark buildings covered with pigeon shit.”[70] Gordon Lightfoot put it more delicately in his 1971 song “Alberta Bound”: “Oh, the prairie lights are burnin’ bright, / The Chinook Wind is a-movin’ in, / Tomorrow night I’ll be Alberta Bound.”[71]

The 1970s were years of outstanding growth in the petroleum industry, which in 1972 earned $18 in net income for every $100 earned. This figure rose to $24 in 1975 and $42 in 1980. Meanwhile the rate of return on shareholders’ equity rose from 10 per cent in 1972 to over 21 per cent in 1980.[72] The petroleum industry recorded increases in after-tax profits in 1979 and 1980 of 53.8 per cent and 31 per cent.[73] There were some 3,800 geologists and geophysicists scouring the province for wildcat fields in the western sedimentary basin. The independent explorers had already been active, even before the OPEC hike, and were responsible for discovering 40 per cent of the new conventional reserves.

For the media, the “heroes” of the 1970s were the entrepreneurs. Robert Blair of Nova was seen as the cool and able conscience of the corporate world. Jack Gallagher of Dome was the gambler who built a multi-billion-dollar petroleum empire on the frontier. But there were many others too, notably Bill Hopper of Petro-Canada and Charles Heatherington of Panarctic Oil. Oilmen sometimes dressed and played their parts with cowboy boots, Stetsons and three-piece western suits. Although they viewed the idle rich with some distain (they had even more contempt for the “idle” poor), the oilmen ignored the way in which the institutions of private property operated unequally for Canadians. “Within the business world, those that succeed deserve to be wealthy. In the oil industry itself this is reflected in the spirit of competition which dictates that the loser must recognize the legitimacy of the winner.”[74] Any rumblings of discontent were dismissed as “sour grapes.”

Four of every five Alberta oilmen were Canadian, seven of every ten were born in Western Canada and they were the kind of people who suspected the Tories of being too “socialistic.”[75] They were a homogeneous group, nearly all married and supporters of the provincial and federal Conservative parties. They were almost all from Anglo-Celtic stock. “To put it negatively, the oilmen of Calgary include almost no women, no radicals, no Jews, no Native Indians, no Inuit, no East Indians, no Blacks, and no French Canadians.”[76] Their drive was nicely matched by Alberta’s new premier, whose grandfather Senator Sir James Lougheed had invested in Alberta’s first oil discovery at Turner Valley in 1914. While Lougheed conferred often with the oilmen, his overall relations with the industry were frosty. The industry fretted over his interventionist mindset and the rising royalties he made them pay. Nevertheless, to them Ottawa was worse. “He may be a son of a bitch,” one executive told the Globe and Mail, referring to Lougheed, “but he is our son of a bitch.”[77]

The aura of frenzied competition spread into the field, where exploration companies and speculators hired scouts to spy on drilling operations with high-powered binoculars. Nevertheless, the biggest discovery of the 1970s came not in Alberta but high in the Arctic archipelago. Led by the polo-playing, wine-loving Charlie Heatherington, Panarctic made a huge natural gas discovery on King Christian Island. The discovery almost brought ecological disaster when the well blew wild and caught fire, spewing gas at some 2.8 million cubic metres a day for three months.[78] From 1970 to 1986 Heatherington managed the greatest discoveries of oil and gas in Canadian history. Panarctic drilled 173 wells and found 415 million proven barrels of oil and 5.6 billion possible barrels, as well as 15 billion cubic feet of gas. The boom found only two world-class discoveries in Western Canada, the deep gas well in the foothills at Elmworth and the other at West Pembina.

A number of fortunes were made by Albertans providing equipment and services for the oil patch. Large profits came from reinvesting cash flow and through the stock market, where shareholders of start-up companies made enormous profits. Even though Ottawa kept prices below world values, there was more than enough cash in the oil patch to make a lot of people wealthy and this was reflected in the lounges and restaurants of Calgary, with the pinnacle of status being the secretive Oilman’s Club. The boom also brought a new kind of entrepreneur, the buccaneers who, unlike the “old money,” were not reluctant to court publicity or to flaunt their wealth. Peter Pocklington arrived in 1971, supremely self confident that even the prime minister’s job might not be challenging enough for him. He turned his successful car dealership into a multi-million dollar real estate, food and sports empire.[79] Famously, one of the handshake deals between Pocklington and that master of the real-estate flip, Nelson Skalbania, brought Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers to Edmonton. Pocklington then expanded to buy out two food-processing companies, Fidelity Trust, oil drilling operations, a soccer team and a Triple-A baseball team.[80]

Alberta’s economic growth fuelled by oil revenues far outstripped all other provinces. It also brought a population explosion, as the province grew from 1.6 million people in 1971 to 2.2 million in 1981.[81] Edmonton and Calgary became classic boomtowns as suburbs mushroomed and construction seemed endless. The 1,000 square foot bungalow formerly typical in the cities was replaced by sprawling split-level and multi-storey homes. The size of houses in Alberta doubled in the 1970s, following the “bigger is better” lifestyle of the baby boomers. In Calgary, which emerged as a leading financial centre, annual building permits reached a staggering billion dollars a year. In Edmonton the increase came in the development of the petrochemical industry and the city’s expanding role as a government, education and supply centre.

Along with this success came escalating costs, which wreaked havoc on family budgets. Housing prices climbed astronomically. In 1971 the population of Calgary was 400,000 and climbed to 600,000 during the following decade.[82] Whole new districts, like Edmonton’s Mill Woods, transformed the major cities. During the urban construction boom, Calgarians and Emontonians joked that the “hammer-headed crane” was the provincial bird of Alberta.[83] The frantic pace overwhelmed the urban planners and left a legacy of lifeless city centres in Calgary and Edmonton. An Edmonton planning report plaintively described what was left of Jasper Avenue as a “sterile, bland, dirty, windswept place.” The retailers followed the developers out to the shopping centres. Indeed, the Ghermezian family defied all critics and opponents to build the most grandiose shopping centre in the world, the West Edmonton Mall. This artificial urban aesthetic is one of the more questionable legacies of the boom.[84] While preservationists had a great deal of success preserving green spaces from the clutches of developers, notably along the North Saskatchewan in Edmonton and along the Bow in Calgary, they lost most of the battles fought to prevent developers from demolishing historical landmarks.

Smaller urban centres also grappled with similar challenges. Mid-sized cities, such as Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Canmore, annexed huge parcels of adjacent land to keep up with population growth. But Fort McMurray experienced the most explosive growth. The former salt-mining town is located on the 41,000 square kilometre deposit of oil sands, or bitumen, said to contain an estimated 4.5 billion cubic metres of recoverable synthetic crude oil.[85] Although experimentation in recovery of oil from the oil sands dates from the early twentieth century, the town had a population of only 2,000 in 1964 when the Great Canadian Oil Sands (now Suncor) project began construction. By 1974 its population had increased to 9,542, when Syncrude Canada began construction of an extraction plant. By 1976 the workforce on the massive ore processing plant was 10,000.[86] By the time Syncrude was operational in 1978 the population had topped 35,000. With this growth came the growing pains, particularly housing shortages, lack of medical and educational facilities and increased crime.

The influx of newcomers to the province in the Lougheed years changed the province demographically. One founding group that received significant reinforcement was the Franco-Albertan community, which in the 1970s surpassed the Manitoba Francophone population in numbers. This resulted in major improvements in French-language instruction, French immersion schools, new radio and television facilities and in vitality in theatre, music and dance. The early to mid-1970s also saw the beginnings of another demographic shift, resulting from the liberalization of Canada’s immigration laws after 1967. The new regulations provided for two categories, sponsored or nominated immigrants, that is, ones who were relatives of Canadian citizens, and independent immigrants, who had to meet certain criteria under a “points system,” which placed heavy emphasis on the applicants’ education and skills. This policy opened Canada’s doors to virtually the whole world.[87]

By the late 1970s immigrants from Asia made up over half of Alberta’s 10,000 annual immigrants. Most came from Hong Kong, South Asia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Korea. They came for economic opportunities, but some also arrived because of political reasons. Alberta became host to Asians expelled from Uganda in 1972, and similarly offered a new home to refugees fleeing Chile in 1973 after the overthrow of the Marxist Salvador Allende government. The movement of the Vietnamese “boat people” began in 1975 and continued until 1979–80. While Alberta now differed considerably from the racist society dominated by the Ontario Anglo-Celtic elite of the early twentieth century, there were still incidents of intolerance in the 1970s. For example, the Sikh community in particular suffered several incidents of assault and violence.[88] But in contrast to the historical experience of many immigrants in Alberta, new immigrants, as well as older ethnic communities, were now supported by both federal and provincial multiculturalism policies. Albertans, particularly Ukrainians, helped develop national policies and their success in expanding the idea of bilingual education to include Ukrainian studies was a model for German, Cree, Chinese, and Arabic communities.

The Cultural Efflorescence

“Culture in Alberta has always been confused with sport and spectacle,” writes Aritha van Herk.[89] Indeed it seems that sports best mirrored the economic boom of the 1970s. In 1971 Calgary captured its first Grey Cup in twenty-three years, a particularly happy event since it came at the expense of the Toronto Argonauts. The Eskimos came out of years of mediocrity to win the cup in 1975, 1978 and 1979.[90] In November 1974 the Edmonton Northlands Arena opened as host to the Edmonton Oilers of the WHL. Vancouver businessman Jimmy Pattison brought the Cowboys to Calgary in 1975. In 1979 the Oilers joined the NHL, followed by the Calgary Flames a year later.[91] Edmonton was further introduced to the wider world of sport with its successful staging of the Commonwealth Games in 1978. Edmonton built a velodrome, an aquatic centre, a shooting range and stadium. Some 2,000 athletes competed and Canada led the medal count with 109. The star of the games was Edmonton swimmer Graham Smith, who won gold in six events.[92]

In spite of the seeming preoccupation with sports, Alberta took “high culture” seriously as well. In 1971 the new Conservative government expanded the role of government in culture when it became the first province (other than Quebec) to create a separate ministry of culture. One of the department’s components was the Literary Arts Branch, which encouraged writers to find markets for their work. Although Alberta Culture had only a small budget, it increased somewhat throughout the 1970s after the government targeted a small portion of its lottery funds for the arts.[93] While this modest financial support may have played a role in the flurry of cultural activities in the 1970s, Alberta’s seeming renaissance likely had more to do with a broader wave of cultural nationalism sweeping across Canada. Much of this activity came in the afterglow of the centennial celebrations in 1967 and with the encouragement and support of the Canada Council.

The signs of a cultural explosion were everywhere. During what Fil Fraser has dubbed the province’s “Camelot Years” in the 1970s, Edmonton had more live theatre per capita than any other city in North America.[94] The Citadel Theatre, which took its name from its original home, a former Salvation Army building, opened in November 1965. The original building was replaced by an elaborate complex built in three phases between 1974 and 1989. While the Citadel Theatre operated as a “mainstage house that happens to be situated on the prairie,” other types of theatre quickly proliferated in Edmonton where Theatre 3, Northern Light, Theatre Network, Catalyst Theatre and Workshop West were all spawned in the 1970s.[95] While Theatre Calgary (established in 1968) looked after mainstream theatre in Calgary, Lucille Wagner and Douglas Riske founded Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) in 1972, the first theatre on the prairies to establish itself as a totally alternative theatre.[96]

By the 1970s, visual artists in the province were becoming more aware of the national and international context for their work. Some artists, such as painters Sylvain Voyer and Harry Savage, continued to identify their work as specifically Albertan by depicting recognizably Albertan subject matter. Others, however, began to situate their art within the broader context of late twentieth century modernism. Through the exhibition and collection activities of the Edmonton Art Gallery (EAG), which moved to a new building in April 1969, many artists became exposed to developments in American and European modernist art. The EAG collection grew significantly during the 1970s and its new director, Terry Fenton, proved to be a courageous champion of emerging artists.[97] While a “Discernible Edmonton style” never emerged, modernist abstract art, which began with Edmonton painter Doug Haynes in the 1960s, emerged more fully in the early 1970s with artists such as Graham Peacock in Edmonton, Bruce O’Neil in Calgary and later Ann Clark, Robert Scott and Terry Keller in Edmonton.[98] One of the most important forces in energizing painting and sculpture was the drive of Fenton and the gallery’s chief curator, Karen Wilkin, to organise workshops and shows and to bring painters such as Jack Bush from Toronto, Dorothy Knowles from Saskatoon and critics such as Clement Greenberg from New York to inspire local artists.[99]

Sculpture also began to take on a more prominent role in the 1970s – again, especially in Edmonton with the emergence of a form of assembled abstract sculpture. Its first adherents, artists such as Alan Reynolds and Catherine Burgess, worked in wood, but with the arrival of British sculptor Peter Hide to teach at the University of Alberta in 1977, welded steel became the medium of choice. “With the addition of Hide to the scene, and the return of Ken Macklin from London in 1979, Edmonton became a vital international centre of sculpture.”[100]

One of the most influential Alberta architects, Douglas Cardinal, developed an Indigenous style, characterized by gracious organic forms, which had both national and international influence. His award-winning building, St Mary’s Church in Red Deer, was built from 1965–68. In the 1970s he also designed the Grande Prairie Regional College in Grande Prairie (1972–76) and the Alberta Government Services Building at Ponoka (1977). Cardinal similarly drew on his Métis heritage when he designed the Canadian Museum of Civilization in the 1980s.[101]

It was also during the 1970s that the Banff Centre reached the pinnacle of success under its president, David Leighton, who with considerable support from Jeanne Lougheed, an accomplished singer who had studied at Banff during her university years, persuaded the government to give the school stand-alone university status. The Banff Centre Act passed the legislature in 1979, and the centre became a year-round educational institution.[102] In the early 1970s Oscar Peterson and Phil Nimmons arrived at the centre to create an innovative program for jazz musicians.

Opera was generally a hit and miss affair in Calgary until 1972, when the Calgary Opera Association was founded. Almost overnight, Calgary, with its brash cowboy image, became the respected home of an opera company. It produced its first opera, La Bohème, in 1973 with Maria Pellegrini and Ermanno Mauro, a tenor born in Trieste who immigrated to Canada in 1958 and studied with Jean Létourneau in Edmonton. Over the next two seasons the association expanded to two operas per year, adding Rigoletto, Carmen, Madama Butterfly and Faust to its productions. During the Lougheed years the Calgary Opera sold an average of 23,000 seats per season.[103]

One of the most dramatic outbursts of cultural activity in Alberta during the 1970s was the creation of some twenty or so publishing houses, supported by provincial or federal funding. The seed was sown by Edmonton’s Mel Hurtig, who opened his famous bookstore in 1956 and entered into publishing in a modest way in the late 1960s. By 1972 Hurtig Publishers was the only trade publishing company with a national scope located outside Toronto. Whether encouraged by Hurtig’s success or simply due to the expansive aura of the times, other enterprises cropped up. The Tree Frog Press, which sprang from author Allan Shute’s vision, was founded in 1971. It focused on publishing novels, poetry and art books until the publication in 1974 of Bonnie McSmithers, You’re Driving Me Dithers, a tremendously successful children’s book that led the company to focus on children’s literature. On a different plane, the University of Alberta Press began operations in 1969, bringing regular scholarly publishing to the prairies.[104] It has gone on to publish serious non-fiction, trade fiction and poetry and books of regional interest. In 1975 a group of English professors at Red Deer College organized the Red Deer Press, with the goal of promoting the development of literature and culture in Western Canada. Under the editorship of Tim Wynne-Jones the press went from publishing a single title a year to fifteen or more. Another creative organization emerged in 1977 when University of Alberta English professor George Melnyk formulated a plan for a literary press. NeWest Press published a range of titles, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction, most of it with a “western” point of view.[105]


Sidebar: Mel Hurtig

Mel Hurtig was both a driving force in Alberta culture in the 1970s and an important figure in Canadian politics. If Peter Lougheed was Alberta’s best-known public figure, Mel Hurtig was not far behind. Hurtig founded his famous bookstore in 1956 and moved tentatively into publishing in 1967 to reprint rare Canadian books. He soon broadened the company’s scope into literature and politics. Eli Mandel’s An Idiot Joy won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1968 and Hurtig entered the realm of Canadian bestsellers with Alberta: A Natural History, and The New Romans. Hurtig, like Jack McClelland before him, came to his nationalist views through his experience as a Canadian book publisher. Canadian publishers work in a foreign-dominated market, with little sympathy from governments for the important contributions that they make in providing an audience for Canadian authors. It was Hurtig, for example, who published the controversial and influential The Unjust Society by Harold Cardinal.

By the late 1960s Hurtig had already become one of the leading nationalist spokesmen in the country. At a time in the early 1970s when the prevailing image of Alberta outside the province was of Lougheed’s resolve and of incipient separatists, Edmonton-based Hurtig was leading a national movement to promote Canadian economic and cultural independence. Hurtig was the head of the Edmonton branch of the nationalist Committee for an Independent Canada and in 1971 became its national co-chair with Eddie Goodman.[106] Hurtig’s activities during the Lougheed years was neatly summed up by Saturday Night magazine: “Lougheed’s opposition is almost laughably weak: government benches occupying both sides of the chamber, with the six opposition members shunted off together… It sometimes seems as though the most vocal opposition consists of one non-elected man – Mel Hurtig.”

Lougheed was never one to be cowed or even annoyed with his opponents and Hurtig’s opposing views on matters such as foreign ownership did not prevent the premier from helping to fund Hurtig’s idea for a Canadian encyclopedia, providing him with $3.5 million for research from the province’s seventy-fifth anniversary fund.[107]



While Alberta popular culture in the 1970s continued to move increasingly toward a homogeneous Americanized culture dominated by Hollywood entertainment and mass media, there continued to be a spate of fiction as well as histories and expressions of local experiences.[108] Among the authors who contributed to the latter were a group of historians devoted to sharing their enthusiasm for Western history. These included James MacGregor, who eventually produced twenty books on Alberta history, and the prolific Grant MacEwan, who carried on his passion for history while serving as lieutenant-governor from 1966 to 1974. James Gray’s books, written after his retirement from business, investigated such facets of prairie life as the Great Depression, prostitution, prohibition, the Calgary Stampede and the legal profession in Alberta. Hugh Dempsey authored several First Nation biographies, including those of Red Crow and Crowfoot. Other popular historians included Tony Cashman and John Charyk. One of the most important non-fiction writers in Alberta also emerged in the 1970s. Myrna Kostash’s All of Baba’s Children (1977) offering a striking reappraisal of the Ukrainian identity in Canada and set a new standard for this type of writing in Alberta.[109]

Outside book publishing, other kinds of publications gave further voice to the creative outburst of the 1970s. In Edmonton, Sheila and Wilfred Watson established the literary magazine The White Pelican in 1970 with their own money and help from Douglas Barbour, Stephen Scobie, John Orell, Dorothy Livesay and artist Norman Yates. Ted Byfield founded two influential political magazines, the Saint John’s Edmonton Report in 1973 and the St. John’s Calgary Report in 1977. The two combined in 1979 to become Alberta Report and continued to publish articles and commentaries from a conservative Christian perspective.[110] The magazine was one of Canada’s most widely read publications until its demise in 2003.

The early 1970s saw a new spirit expressed in literature, mirroring the sense of change in politics and the economy, but also giving voice to issues and experience outside the political wars and the materialism of the oil patch. Much of this new cultural activity emanated from the University of Alberta, which in the late Social Credit days had seen enormous growth in its arts faculties. In 1969–70, the English Department hired some twenty-one faculty, mostly Canadians, from all over the country. This created a “critical mass” of creative individuals who would thrive under the tutelage of writers Wilfred and Sheila Watson.[111] Rudy Wiebe, who was born into a Mennonite family in Saskatchewan and grew up in Coaldale, Alberta, published two novels before his fictional account of the life of Cree leader Big Bear, The Temptations of Big Bear, gave him a national reputation with his first Governor General’s Award for Literature in 1973. Robert Kroetsch, who was born in Heisler, Alberta, explored myth and the fabulous in his Out West triptych, Words of My Roaring (1966), The Studhorse Man (1969) for which he won the Governor General’s Award, and Gone Indian (1973). While Wiebe’s retelling of Western Canadian history develops an epic voice, Kroetsch’s mock heroic tones question the very nature of narrative. In 1977, W. P. Kinsella published his first book, Dance Me Outside, a collection of short fiction set in Hobbema. His later collection, Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (1980) led to his internationally famous novel Shoeless Joe (1982).[112]

Like short fiction and the novel, poetry did not blossom in Alberta until the 1970s. From 1946 to 1969, only three Alberta poets published in any significant quantity. The renaissance began in 1971 with Christopher Wiseman’s Waiting for the Barbarians (1971) and Douglas Barbour’s more experimental Poem as Long as the Highway and Landfall, both of which were published in 1971. Barbour’s colleague and partner in “sound poetry,” Stephen Scobie, published his first two books, Stone Poems and The Birken Tree in 1973. Other poets active in the 1970s included Miriam Mandel, Sid Marty, Charles Noble, E. D. (Ted) Blodgett, and Monty Reid.[113]

In drama, George Ryga, a Ukrainian from a poor farm bordering on a Cree reservation in northern Alberta, raised the conscience of anyone who saw his famous play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. The portrayal of the tragic death of an Aboriginal woman on the streets of urban Canada stood in stark contrast to the urban mythology of streets of gold. In book form the play sold some 24,000 copies from 1970 to 1976. The climate of nationalist fervour produced new playwrights who gained local audiences and national recognition. Sharon Pollock’s Walsh (1973) dealt with the issues of treaty making, and her Komagata Maru Incident (1978) with racism.[114] John Murrell, who was born at Colorado Springs, Colorado, settled permanently in Calgary in 1970, graduating from the University of Calgary in drama. His first play, Haydn’s Head, won a provincial competition in 1971. He was appointed playwright-in-residence at Alberta Theatre Projects, which premiered the prairie history play A Great Noise, A Great Light (1976), set in the Calgary of the William Aberhart Depression era. His most popular play, Waiting for the Parade (1977), was about the experience of five Calgary women coping alone during World War II. Murrell’s most successful play, Memoir (1978), an exploration of actress Sarah Bernhardt’s final days, has been translated into fifteen languages and performed in twenty-six countries.[115]


On the darker side of sudden prosperity and ostentatious spending were con artists, drug dealers and prostitutes. So too, despite the political excitement and economic prosperity, there was an increase in crime during the 1970s. In 1962 there were 1.8 homicides and 254 assaults per 100,000 population in Alberta. By 1977 these rates had risen to 7.8 homicides and 640 assaults, the second highest in the country and well above the Canadian average.[116] The well-reported crime increase led to widespread paranoia as the corporate elite hired bodyguards and women carried knives. Child abduction, and a well-publicized attack on entrepreneur Peter Pocklington, caught the news, but the most disturbing trend was in sexual assault. Ideologues lined up on both sides, with feminists blaming the “patriarchal society” and conservatives blaming the “permissive society.” The best finger pointing was done by Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein who blamed “creeps and bums” from Eastern Canada. But one of the most powerful portraits of the underside of the 1970s boom was the autobiography written by Maria Campbell, who moved to Edmonton in 1963. Halfbreed (1973) is her tragic personal story of poverty, prostitution and racism. It became a national bestseller and “contributed to an increased consciousness of discrimination and native rights.”[117]

While Albertans generally approved of their image as frontier capitalists, many were not so comfortable with a less flattering image, that of the redneck. A flashpoint for many Canadians was the well-publicised bumper sticker, originating with oilman and geologist John Frey, declaring “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark.” Frey was surprised at the thin-skinned indignation of Easterners but the epithet came to symbolize for the rest of Canada an Alberta “redneck” image. There were other colourful characters, such as Rod Sykes, the ebullient mayor of Calgary, who butted heads with everybody from the provincial government to separatists in Quebec. He extracted himself from accusations of scandal but caught national attention during the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline debate when he called the Native activists troublemakers and “people who would rather talk than work.” Further down the scale was Jim Keegstra, who came to represent the face of bigotry in Alberta. Keegstra travelled a well-worn trail to his anti-Semitism. He conducted his own “studies” which proved to him that Jews were behind all the world’s evils. From 1968 he systematically indoctrinated his students with his anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic invective. He denounced Pierre Trudeau as a Zionist and claimed that the Holocaust was Jewish propaganda. The real embarrassment to Albertans was not that there was a crank among them, but that he was supported by his principal and by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. He was eventually fired in December of 1982 and charged in 1984 under the Criminal Code. Finally the voters of Eckville repudiated him as mayor and he was condemned by Alberta’s religious leaders.[118]

Opposing Currents

It is not clear from the standard histories that, despite the overwhelming support for the Lougheed government, there was considerable dissent in the province. Amid the prosperity was the contrast of those left behind, for example the First Nations. Harold Cardinal, who grew up on the Sucker Creek Reserve near High Prairie, gained a national forum across Canada with his book The Unjust Society (1969). He attacked governments and churches for manipulating the First Nations and lambasted the federal government’s White Paper as a blueprint for cultural genocide.[119] In Northern Alberta, Native marchers identified with armed American Indian Movement members in South Dakota, who were defying federal marshals at the site of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.[120]

In truth there was nowhere for formal political dissent to go. The Socreds were a spent force. By 1975 Lougheed had built a reputation as “King Peter,” in journalist Christina Newman’s words, “a president-premier who practices an ideology that might be described as Aggressive Conservatism.” The most effective critic was Grant Notley, the leader of the NDP, who nonetheless had no chance of forming a government. The NDP held a consistent base of support in northern rural Alberta and working-class Edmonton, and in the legislature Notley provided the only real political opposition, gaining him an almost oracular status among the left. Meanwhile, the extreme right railed against the “socialist” press and the interference of government. These ideological conservatives would have their day, of course, but not until the boom ended and their own brand of conservative thought took over the premier’s office. The Social Credit Party virtually collapsed as conflict over policy and leadership sapped the party’s energy. Eventually, it was taken over by a small group of Douglasites[121] and other extreme right-wingers, after which it became little more than a marginal platform for their anti-Semitic views.


Sidebar: Grant Notley

There was another political leader in Alberta who was elected leader in the late 1960s of a party that had no seats and no prospects. Walter Grant Notley was raised on a farm near Didsbury. He became leader of the newly formed provincial New Democratic Party in 1968 and managed to win a seat in the new riding of Spirit River-Fairview in the Lougheed breakthrough of 1971. Between 1971 and 1982 he was the sole NDP member in the legislature.

Part of the problem Notley faced in trying to make inroads against the Lougheed Conservatives was that in many ways his policies on energy, economic diversification and intervention were almost identical to those of the government. But Notley, as political scientist Larry Pratt puts it, “kept one eye on the underside of the boom.”[122]

For Notley, Saskatchewan was the Promised Land: “the moderate agrarian socialism of the Douglas and Blakeney governments represented for him a model of progress, tolerance, honesty and administrative competence.” Notley was frequently shocked by the range of tax breaks and subsidies accorded to the big oil companies, and he was a serious critic of the secrecy of the Lougheed government. He was also a strong federalist. In the heat of the war over the National Energy Policy, he was the only MLA to vote against Lougheed’s retaliatory measures.[123]

Lougheed respected Notley and was saddened by his death in an airplane crash near High Prairie in 1984, but he was also shrewd enough to use Notley as a bogeyman in negotiations with the oil companies.



By late 1978, with another election in the air, Lougheed unveiled a $750 million six-year package to support municipal transportation infrastructure and another $1 billion to reduce civic debt. Some Tories were so confident that they boasted that they would win “79 in 79.” Just before the election Lougheed announced the creation of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, using $300 million from the Heritage Fund. The election results mirrored those of 1975, as the Conservatives captured seventy-four of the seventy-nine seats and 57.5 per cent of the votes. The Socreds clung to their measly four seats, and while the NDP increased their popular vote to 15 per cent, they once again only elected Notley.[124] The thankless job of trying to keep the provincial Liberals alive fell to Nick Taylor, a Calgary oilman. Taylor’s ideas of environmental restraint and an emphasis on high-tech service industries as an antidote to energy megaprojects found little appeal in boom time Alberta. By 1982 the Liberals were clinging to life with only 2 per cent of the vote.

Although Lougheed declared in 1972 that “Western separatism simply does not exist,” there certainly were grumpy undertones. Things were not made easier by the patronizing tone of some Eastern media, which did not hesitate to lecture Albertans about being selfish. The idea that Alberta “was being robbed blind” was behind the formation of the Western Canada Party in early 1971, which soon collapsed in factionalism. Geologist John Rudolph and others formed the Independent Alberta Association in 1974 to address “the high cost of confederation, the incredible price we pay to be Albertans and the rampant spread of socialist philosophy.” Rudolph, though, seemed to prefer to use what he perceived as the tactics of the Quebec Separatists of just threatening separation in order to force concessions from Ottawa. Though it garnered some press, the movement had no popular support. The inadvisable language of its proponents could always undo the separatist movement. Millionaire Milt Harradence was one of the most outrageous. He called Trudeau a “crypto Communist” and Peter Lougheed his “almost socialist” dupe. The movement lacked a leader like René Lévesque and in the words of the Calgary Herald’s Bill Gold, Alberta had “five separatists with $100,000 each while in Quebec there are 100,000 separatists with $5 each.”[125]

To be fair, there were equally fatuous statements made by the federalists. Ivan Head, one of Trudeau’s advisers, declared that Albertans “look to Texas and Oklahoma as the source of their ideas and lifestyles, turning their back on Canadian history and heritage. If they became more Canadian they would have even more influence in Canadian affairs.”[126] But if Western separatism was not a real threat, there was no doubting a widespread sense of discontent, which the political scientists call “alienation.” In a 1976 survey conducted by political scientist Roger Gibbins, some 75 per cent of Albertan respondents agreed or strongly agreed with statements such as “The economic policies of the federal government seem to help Quebec and Ontario at the expense of Alberta,” and “Alberta usually gets ignored in national politics.” Along with this economic and political alienation, Gibbins found a deep antipathy to Quebec and the bilingual policies of the federal government.[127]

While Albertans initially fell for the charms of Pierre Trudeau (Liberal leader Nick Taylor even claimed that the phenomenon of “Trudeaumania” was born among the screaming girls at the Calgary airport in April 1968[128]), his imperious figure soon became a focal point for many Albertans of what was wrong with the country. One-third of Albertans voted for him in the spring election that year. But many came to see his vision as one obsessed with Quebec and ignorant of the grievances of the West. “Trudeau catered to Lower Canada (Quebec), ruled Upper Canada (Ontario) and ignored Outer Canada (Everywhere Else)” wrote one journalist after Trudeau’s death.[129] Of particular concern was the Official Languages Act, aimed at the advancement of Francophone civil servants and the support of French-language education in English Canada. While Trudeau dismissed opponents as “cultural racists,” many Albertans reacted to this legislation by saying that French was being “shoved down their throats.” The Calgary Herald predicted that this language legislation would leave the federal civil service dominated “by a small cohort of bilingual technocrats” and would lead to the development “of a bilingual elite running everything from defence to letter carrying.”[130] Another Western bugbear was the conversion to the metric system initiated by the Trudeau government in 1970, which many Albertans saw as an attempt to undermine the province’s British heritage.

The feminist revolution hit Alberta in the early 1970s, aided by the publication of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which the Trudeau government accepted in 1970, moving quickly to adopt many of its 167 recommendations. Some activists in Alberta formed organizations such as the Calgary Birth Control Association. The movement was aided by the prosperity of the oil boom, which encouraged growing female participation in the work force. Nevertheless, the political voice of women in Alberta politics was muted. The predominantly conservative political culture discouraged female participation. Even the so-called “new look” Conservatives in 1971 ran only two female candidates among seventy-five. Of 120 campaign promises, only those offering increased support for daycare and increased participation on provincial boards were directed at women.[131]

Another dissenting group with some successes to their credit was the environmental lobby. While early on the oilmen prided themselves on pretty much running the world on a handshake,[132] it was not long before there were as many lawyers as engineers and geologists in the industry. The main challenge was not government, but the environmental activists, who raised formidable opposition to exploration in the Arctic and in the Alberta Foothills and also asked serious questions about the inclination of the government to turn a blind eye to industrial polluters. One of the first of these environmental lobbies was the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, established in 1971 to oppose Arctic oil and gas development.[133] The environmentalists won a lasting victory in 1975 when, after public hearings, the Lougheed government created a zoning system that promised to preserve 70 per cent of the foothills region as wilderness. Support for the environmentalists increased after a sour gas well blowout in Pincher Creek forced the evacuation of a 600-square-kilometre area.

The flashpoint between the environmentalists and the oil industry was the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline enquiry. The Canadian Panarctic Gas Pipelines consortium proposed a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, up the Mackenzie Valley to Alberta. A federal royal commission, led by Judge Thomas Berger (despised by the Alberta right for being a socialist), was appointed in March 1974 to consider the proposals and their social and economic impact on the north. The commissioners held community hearings across the north, beginning in 1975 and ending November 1976, dealing with the concerns of First Nations and environmentalists. The commission’s report, issued April 1977, suggested that a ten-year moratorium on the Arctic Gas Proposal and that it should only proceed after Native land claims were settled along the route.[134] The Trudeau government accepted the ten-year moratorium.[135]


* * * * *


The economic forces unleashed by the OPEC Crisis of 1973 left virtually no aspect of Alberta untouched, either by government action or by economic opportunities. In contrast to the ideological conservatives who followed him, Lougheed at least ensured that the wealth derived from the province’s resources benefited those outside the business community. No politician escapes criticism entirely – and Lougheed’s level of spending would not be sustainable during the downturn of the 1980s – but in his day Lougheed was even more popular than Ernest Manning had been. While he projected an aura of corporate teamwork, Lougheed towered over his government every bit as much as his predecessors Brownlee, Aberhart and Manning had done. Critics like NDP leader Grant Notley cavilled at his secrecy and backroom dealings. Like so many other party leaders – most recently in the Reform Party – Lougheed had argued while in opposition that members should not be forced to vote on party lines, but when in office he quickly expelled Tom Sindlinger from the caucus for expressing approval of Trudeau’s plan to patriate the constitution. Those on the left believed that his deals with multinational corporations were not the best that Albertans could have made. As for that holy grail of diversification, Alberta seemed if anything more dependent on oil at the end of the Lougheed years than it had been before. But Lougheed succeeded in his goals of province-building, of bringing Alberta’s voice to the national stage and of uniting Albertans of all walks of life under his regime. He also had a profound influence on other provinces, especially Saskatchewan and British Columbia, which had experienced similar economic growth during these years. Together with his Western allies Allan Blakeney, Edward Schreyer and Sterling Lyon, Lougheed achieved a serious realignment of the Confederation.[136]

The 1970s went out, just as they had come in, with widespread anxiety over oil prices. The year 1979 echoed 1973, as the removal from world markets of 2.5 million barrels of Iranian oil a day brought a new oil crisis.[137] While the province was prosperous and confident, no one could predict when this good fortune would end. Lingering in the background was a comment by Pierre Trudeau that would resonate in the coming years: “At what point,” he mused, “do the resources of any one province belong to all Canadians?”

Suggested Further Readings

Cardinal, Harold. The Unjust Society. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1969.

Doern, G. Bruce, and Glen Toner. The Politics of Energy: The Development and Implementation of the NEP. Toronto: Metheun, 1985.

Fraser, Fil. Alberta’s Camelot: Culture & the Arts in the Lougheed Years. Edmonton: Lone Pine, 2003.

House, J. D. The Last of the Free Enterprisers: The Oilmen of Calgary. Toronto: Macmillan, 1980.

Hustack, Alan. Peter Lougheed: A Biography. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979.

Hurtig, Mel. At Twilight in the Country: Memoirs of a Nationalist. Toronto: Stoddart, 1996.

Pratt, Larry. The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1976.

Richards, J., and Larry Pratt. Prairie Capitalism. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979.

Van Herk, Aritha. Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta. Toronto: Penguin, 2001.

Wood, David G. The Lougheed Legacy. Toronto: Key Porter, 1985.


NOTE: The author wishes to acknowledge his gratitude to Lorraine Snyder for her assistance in collecting materials for this chapter.



                     [1]           Dorothy Livesay, Collected Poems: The Two Seasons (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972), 332.

                     [2]            The so-called “Seven Sisters” – Exxon, Shell, British Petroleum, Mobil, Texaco, Social and Gulf – would secretly agree on their shares of the world market and then set a price system based on the delivery of expensive East Texas oil. See Anthony Sampson, The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), 274–96.

                     [3]            Edgar O’Balance, No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War (San Rafael: Presidio Press, 1978), 327.

                     [4]            G. Bruce Doern and Glen Toner, The Politics of Energy: The Development and Implementation of the NEP (Toronto: Metheun, 1985), 8-9. In sharp contrast, from 1974 to 1981 real oil prices grew by 18 per cent per annum. The effect of the OPEC actions to increase prices cannot be overestimated since we now know that there was no serious shortage of supply.

                     [5]            Globe and Mail, 27 October 1973, A12.

                     [6]            P. J. Stevens, et al., OPEC and the World Oil Market, 1973–1983 (Surrey, England: Eastlords Publishing, 1984), passim.

                     [7]            Globe and Mail, 7 December 1973, A1.

                     [8]            M. A. Adelman, “The International Context,” in Canada’s Energy Policy: 1985 and Beyond, ed. E. A. Carmichael and C. Herrera (C. D. Howe Institute, 1984), 5.

                     [9]            Henry C. Klassen, A Business History of Alberta (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1999), 275.

                  [10]            Colby Cosh, “From Red Tories to Ralph Tories,” Alberta Report 23 (16 September 1996).

                  [11]            Peter Lougheed in discussion with James Marsh, March 2005.

                  [12]            Ibid.

                  [13]            Ibid.

                  [14]            Alan Hustack, Peter Lougheed: A Biography (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979), 15. Hustack adds: “There is some suspicion that not all of his wealth was earned legitimately.”

                  [15]            “Whether the family crisis, which undoubtedly was an important factor in shaping his character, also established Lougheed’s outlook on policy is dubious. Allan Blakeney, who grew up in Nova Scotia, was just as determined to diversify Saskatchewan’s economic base as was Lougheed’s Alberta.” Gerald Friesen, The Canadian Prairies: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), 444.

                  [16]            Tom Radford, director, The Life and Times of Peter Lougheed, CBC documentary (November 1996).

                  [17]            Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, 444.

                  [18]            Lougheed, March 2005.

                  [19]            Radford, The Life and Times of Peter Lougheed.

                  [20]            Lougheed, March 2005.

                  [21]            Ibid.

                  [22]            The author first heard this story in a conversation between Mr. Lougheed and then Governor General Jeanne Sauvé at Government House, 2 July 1986.

                  [23]            Lougheed, March 2005.

                  [24]            Edward Bell, “The Rise of the Lougheed Conservatives and the Demise of Social Credit in Alberta: A Reconsideration,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 26 (1993): 3. Historians such as Howard and Tamera Palmer are typical in arguing that it was large-scale social change rather than the behaviour of individuals that led to the Conservative victory. See Howard Palmer and Tamara Palmer, Alberta: A New History (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1990), 324–25).

                  [25]            J. Richards and L. Pratt, Prairie Capitalism (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979),166–67.

                  [26]            Edmonton Journal, 31 August 1971.

                  [27]            Government of Alberta, A Report on Alberta Elections, 1905–1982 (Edmonton: Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, 1983), 93–96.

                  [28]            David G. Wood, The Lougheed Legacy (Toronto: Key Porter, 1985), 76. “I’ve often wondered at the Social Credit strategy regarding television in that campaign,” Wood writes. “It would seem to me that you would shoot a non-performer like Strom ‘candid camera,’ talking to his friends in a home setting, milking a cow on his farm, or presiding over a Cabinet meeting at the Legislature Building.”

                  [29]            Bell, “The Rise of the Lougheed Conservatives,” 470.

                  [30]            Wood, The Lougheed Legacy, 83.

                  [31]            Christopher Serres, “Deconstructing Lougheed,” Alberta Report 21 (1994): 13. In contrast, the Klein government’s average is closer to forty.

                  [32]            Richards and Pratt, Prairie Capitalism, 68.

                  [33]            Compact theory is laid out classically in the work of John George Bourinot: “The weight of authority now clearly rests with those who have always contended that in entering into the federal compact the provinces never intended to renounce their distinct and separate existence as provinces, when they became part of the Confederation… Far from the federal authority having created the provincial powers, it is from these provincial powers that there has arisen the federal government to which the provinces ceded a portion of their rights, property and revenues.” As quoted in Paul Benoit, “The Political Ethics of John George Bourinot.” Canadian Parliamentary Review, 7, 3 (1984), accessed online at

                  [34]            Paul Romney, Getting It Wrong: How Canadians Forgot their Past and Imperilled Confederation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 138.

                  [35]            David Wood reports Getty’s reluctance for the post as a “nothing portfolio… I wouldn’t be running anything.” See Wood, The Lougheed Legacy, 107.

                  [36]            Stephen Clarkson and Christine McCall, Trudeau and Our Times, vol. 1 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1997), 301.

                  [37]            Wood, The Lougheed Legacy, 43.

                  [38]            Inaugural assets include oil and gas exploration rights to the 600,000-acre Suffield Block in southeast Alberta. In April 2002 AEC merged with PanCanadian to form EnCana Corporation. The original $10 share had increased in value to $379 in 2005.

                  [39]            Doern and Toner, The Politics of Energy, 90.

                  [40]            Clarkson and McCall, Trudeau and Our Times, 124.

                  [41]            Ulf Lantzke, World Energy Outlook (Paris: International Energy Agency, 1982), 7.

                  [42]            Doern and Toner, The Politics of Energy, 3.

                  [43]            Ibid., 19.

                  [44]            Pierre Trudeau, Memoirs (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), 293. “Alberta was not eager to remember the days when their industry was subsidized,” he wrote.

                  [45]            In October 1973, the return to Alberta for its exported oil was $114.6 million and to the federal government $12 million. As a result of the export tax, in December the return to Alberta had dropped to $98.3 million and the return to the federal government has risen to $49 million. See Hustack, Peter Lougheed, 159.

                  [46]            Hustack, Peter Lougheed, 290.

                  [47]            Canada, Department of Mines and Resources, An Energy Strategy for Canada (Ottawa 1976): 152.

                  [48]            Doern and Toner, The Politics of Energy, 90.

                  [49]            Globe and Mail, 8 December 1973, B01.

                  [50]            In August 1979, Premier Davis released a document, Oil Pricing and Security: A Policy Framework for Canada, in which his government proposed that Ontario, as a consuming province, should have as much right to participate in setting oil prices as did Alberta. See Wood, The Lougheed Legacy, 159.

                  [51]            Radford, The Life and Times of Peter Lougheed.

                  [52]            See Public Accounts of the Province of Alberta, 1971 and 1980.

                  [53]            Public Service Commissioner, Annual Report, 1970 and 1980.

                  [54]            Lougheed, March 2005.

                  [55]            Wood, The Lougheed Legacy, 125–26. Wood quotes Lougheed as saying “our information was that if we sat back and did nothing, the probable destiny of Pacific Western Airlines would have been controlled by a group, basically oriented towards British Columbia and the B.C.-Yukon access to the North. This would have been a clear threat to Alberta’s position as the Gateway to the North.”

                  [56]            Lougheed, March 2005.

                  [57]            “Comparative Statistics,” Elections Alberta, (accessed 29 March 2005).

                  [58]            Globe and Mail, 24 March 1976, 31.

                  [59]            See Allan Warrack, The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund: An Historical Evaluation (Economic Council of Canada 1982).

                  [60]            Despite fluctuations in prices and political uncertainty, the number of wells completed in Alberta continued to grow annually, from 1,938 wells in 1972 to 3,646 in 1976 and 5,573 in 1979. See Alberta Mines and Minerals, Annual Reports, 1972–1980.

                  [61]            Andrea Lorenz, “The Honest Broker Who Rescued ‘Our Saudi Arabia’: Syncrude,” The Petroleum History Society Archives Newsletter 4 (2001): 4.

                  [62]            G. R. Gray and R. Luhning, “Bitumen,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, ed. James H. Marsh, (accessed 30 March 2005).

                  [63]            “Alberta’s Earth-shaking Ambitions,” Globe and Mail, 4 April 2005, B4.

                  [64]            Interview with Alain Moore, Public Affairs at Syncrude Canada Ltd. See also Eric Newell, “Aboriginal Partnership and Development,” in Alberta: A State of Mind, ed. S. Sharpe, R. Gibbins and J. Marsh (Toronto: Key Porter, forthcoming).

                  [65]            Edmonton Journal, 7 December 1974.

                  [66]            Calgary Herald, 7 December 1974.

                  [67]            Lorenz, “The Honest Broker,” 4.

                  [68]            See Larry Pratt, The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil  (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1976).

                  [69]            Calgary Herald, 11 May 1982, A2.

                  [70]            Clarkson and McCall, Trudeau and Our Times, 305–06.

                  [71]            John Robert Colombo, Famous Lasting Words (Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000), 19.

                  [72]            Petroleum Monitoring Agency, Canadian Petroleum Industry: 1980 (Ottawa 1981), 2.

                  [73]            Doern and Toner, The Politics of Energy, 7.

                  [74]            J. D. House, The Last of the Free Enterprisers: The Oilmen of Calgary (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1980), 114.

                  [75]            Ibid., 132.

                  [76]            Ibid., 9.

                  [77]            Quoted in Ted Byfiled, ed., Alberta in the 20th Century, Lougheed and the War with Ottawa 1971–1984 (Edmonton: United Western Communications, 1998), 17.

                  [78]            John Livingston, Arctic Oil (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1981), 75.

                  [79]            Peter Verburg, “Would You Buy a Used Hockey Team From This Man?” Canadian Business 70 (1997): 82.

                  [80]            Ibid., 84. By the time Pocklington decided that it was time to run for prime minister, his business empire was crumbling. He lost his status as a public hero after a violent labour dispute at Gainers and after he sold Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings.

                  [81]            Statistics Canada, “Census of Canada, 1971: Population, Alberta” (92-704); Statistics Canada, “Census of Canada, 1981: Population, Provincial Series” (93-909). Total provincial population for the three census periods during this decade is as follows: 1971, 1,627,874; 1976, 1,838,037; 1981, 2,237,724.

                  [82]            Statistics Canada, Census of Canada, 1971: Population, Alberta.” (92-704); Statistics Canada, “Census of Canada, 1981: Population, Provincial Series,” (93-909). Total Calgary population for the three census periods during this decade is as follows: 1971, 403,319; 1976, 471,397; 1981, 592,743.

                  [83]            John Herd Thompson, Forging the Prairie West (Toronto: Oxford 1998), 181.

                  [84]            For a concise discussion of the cultural impact of the West Edmonton Mall, see Tracy C. Davis, “Theatrical Antecedents of the Mall that Ate Downtown,” Journal of Popular Culture 24 (1991): 1–15.

                  [85]            Frits Pannekoek, “Fort McMurray,” in The Canadian Encyclopedia, ed. James H. Marsh, (accessed 29 March 2005).

                  [86]            It is projected to be some 30,000 workers by 2010. See Globe and Mail, 4 April 2005, B4.

                  [87]            Howard Palmer and Tamara Palmer, eds., Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985), 419.

                  [88]            The prejudice that led to these incidents, writes Norman Buchignani, centred on the stereotype that all South Asians are “Packis” or “Ragheads.” Part of this negative stereotype is rooted in Canada’s British heritage. See Howard and Tamara Palmer, “South Asians in Alberta,” in Peoples of Alberta (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985), 434.

                  [89]            Artitha van Herk, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta (Toronto: Penguin, 2001), 327.

                  [90]            “Grey Cup Scores, 1968–2004,” in The Canadian Encyclopedia, ed. James H. Marsh, (accessed 29 March 2005).

                  [91]            Don Morrow and Mary Keyes, et al., A Concise History of Sport in Canada (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989), 219.

                  [92]            A. A. Ryan, The XI Commonwealth Games, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, August 3–12, 1978: An Official History: The Friendly Games (Edmonton: Koala Books, 1980), 68.

                  [93]            George Melnyk, The Literary History of Alberta, vol. 2 (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1999), 184. The Literary Arts Branch awarded some $800,000 to writers, publishers, and libraries.

                  [94]            Fil Fraser, Alberta’s Camelot: Culture & the Arts in the Lougheed Years (Edmonton: Lone Pine, 2003), 9. “The government treated culture as if it really mattered.”

                  [95]            Diane Bessai, “The Prairie Theatre and the Playwright,” in The Making of the Modern West, ed. A. W. Rasporich (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1984), 211–12.

                  [96]            Ibid.

                  [97]            Kate Davis, “Difficult Challenges – Great Joys: History of the EAG,”  Edmonton Art Gallery Update (August 1984): 13.

                  [98]            R. Bingham, ed., “Interview: Terry Fenton,” The Edmonton Review (Winter 1995/96): 6.

                  [99]            R. Bingham, “Interview with Karen Wilkin,” unpublished, provided to the author in manuscript.

               [100]            Terry Fenton, “Sculpture City,” Edmonton Art Gallery Update (September/October 1985): 6.

               [101]            Cardinal similarly drew on this heritage in his design for Washington’s National Museum of the American Indian, “one of the plum architecture jobs of the decade.” See Globe & Mail, 26 October 1996, C22.

               [102]            See the Banff Centre Official Web Site <>.

               [103]            Kenneth DeLong, Calgary Opera: The First 30 Years (Calgary: Calgary Opera, n.d.), 2.

               [104]            Melnyk, The Literary History of Alberta, 171.

               [105]            Roy MacSkimming, The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2003), 219–45.

               [106]            Mel Hurtig, At Twilight in the Country: Memoirs of a Nationalist (Toronto: Stoddart, 1996), 117.

               [107]            Mel Hurtig, conversation with the author, March 2005.

               [108]            Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, 453.

               [109]            Melnyk, The Literary History of Alberta, 121–22.

               [110]            Brian Bergman, “The Ranting ‘Redneck’,” Maclean’s 112 (1999): 62.

               [111]            According to Douglas Barbour, poet and professor of English, “In those days, before there were so many demands, the Canada Council would pay for as many as 12 readers a year to come to Edmonton.” This combination of a respected old guard, newcomers and outsiders, such as Margaret Atwood, who taught creative writing at the University of Alberta in the early 1970s, brought a rare sense of engagement. See Douglas Barbour, personal discussion with the author, March 2005.

               [112]            Melnyk, The Literary History of Alberta, 16, 22, 51.

               [113]            Ibid., 63–82.

               [114]            Ibid., 96, 98.

               [115]            Gaetan Charlebois, ed., Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre, <> (accessed March 2005).

               [116]            Property crimes increased in Alberta from 3,000 incidents per 100,000 people in 1965 to 6,300 per 100,000 in 1975 (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Catalogue No. 85-205).

               [117]            Melnyk, The Literary History of Alberta, 132.

               [118]            Linda McKay-Panos, “Hate Crimes in Canada,” Law Now 28 (2004): 1–4.

               [119]            Harold Cardinal, The Unjust Society (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1969).

               [120]            Thompson, Forging the Prairie West, 197.

               [121]            Major C. H. Douglas, a Scottish engineer, claimed that the people have lost their monetary authority to a dictatorship of bankers. To reclaim control, he declared that the state must issue “social credit” in the form of a national dividend issued to every person. See John A. Irving, “The Evolution of the Social Credit Movement,” in Prophecy and Protest: Social Movements in Twentieth-Century Canada, ed. S.D. Clark, J. Paul Grayson and Linda M. Grayson (Toronto: Gage, 1975), 133.

               [122]            Larry Pratt, ed., Socialism and Democracy in Alberta: Essays in Honour of Grant Notley (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1986).

               [123]            Allan Tupper, “Opportunity and Constraint,” in Socialism and Democracy in Alberta, 90.

               [124]            “Comparative Statistics,” Elections Alberta, <> (accessed 29 March 2005).

               [125]            Larry Pratt and Garth Stevens, eds., Western Separatism: The Myths, Realities and Dangers (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1981), 115. Political scientist Daniel Latouche nicely summed up the differences in the separatist movements of Alberta and Quebec: “Separatism was born in Quebec because everything seemed possible; in Alberta it began because nothing seemed possible. In Quebec, the saying went ‘Give us an inch and we’ll take a foot,’ while in Alberta it’s more like ‘If you don’t give us an inch, we’ll take a foot.’”

               [126]            Quoted in Thompson, Forging the Prairie West, 174.

               [127]            Roger Gibbins, “Western Alienation,” in The Prairie West, ed. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1985), 585ff.

               [128]            As quoted in Ted Byfield, ed., Alberta in the 20th Century: Lougheed and the War with Ottawa (Edmonton: History Book Publications, 2003), 69.

               [129]            Peter C. Newman in The Life, Times and Passing of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Toronto: Key Porter, 2000), 47–48.

               [130]            Calgary Herald, 17 May 1969.

               [131]            The two women were Helen Hunley, the mayor of Rocky Mountain House, and Catherine Chichak, a legal secretary from Edmonton. See Hustak, Peter Lougheed, 120.

               [132]            J. D. House, The Last of the Free Enterprisers, 50. “People in the oil business spend money on a man’s word. It’s probably the only business in the world where a million-dollar well is drilled and there are no signed papers.”

               [133]            Livingston, Arctic Oil, 23.

               [134]            Thomas Berger, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, vol. 1 (Ottawa 1977).

               [135]            Livingston, Arctic Oil, 133.

               [136]            Donald V. Smiley, Canada in Question: Federalism in the Eighties, 3rd ed. (Toronto: McGraw Hill, 1980), passim.

               [137]            Doern and Toner, The Politics of Energy, 102.√Alberta’s Quiet Revolution: The Early Lougheed Years

James H. Marsh



  • David Finch


    Dear Mr Marsh, Thanks for this fine retrospective. I believe one part of it is in error - and I quote: In 1973, for example, he created the Alberta Energy Company, one­half of which was owned by the province. When the province decided to sell its 50 per cent interest, instead of offering it to another oil and gas company, it offered 7.5 million shares to Albertans. For a period of time in November 1975 representatives from brokerage firms presented themselves in shopping malls around the province offering everyone the opportunity to buy shares.[38] The Alberta government owned 49% of the company and sold the remainder to the people of Alberta at the time of its creation - and so Lougheed has his own "national oil company" two years before Petro-Canada was created. Lougheed wanted to have his "own" oil company, though he gave its president full reigns over the enterprise. By selling 51% to the public - and the Alberta public bought it all up in a flash - he was able to make it appear as though the company was other than a tool of government policy. In Alberta Views I recently wrote a thorough review of the history of royalty rates in Alberta, going back to 1931. Lougheed effectively tripled them during the 1970s, using the distraction of rising oil prices and the perceived threat posed by big oil and Ottawa as a distraction from his much needed repatriation of at least some the power over the oil industry back to the legislature in Edmonton. He used the Alberta Energy Company, royalties, new taxes and many other tools to try to diversify the Alberta economy, and our current oil sands production is also part of his doing. Thanks again for your work on this piece and on the TCE. Much appreciated, highly valued, and constantly used by us workaday public historians. Truly, David A Finch - Historian 403-277-7448

  • Clemmie


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