This thing we call black oil

By Sandra L. Brown

April 12, 2018 4:23 AM

Over the past few years the topic of heavy oil has been on our minds.
We’ve collectively held our breath when the price of oil rose only to fall again and watched in disbelief as many lost their jobs, homes and self-worth.
In 2004 as the heavy oil program for a class of elementary students was winding down, I asked the students if they had any questions. 
One young fellow spoke up and enthusiastically exclaimed that when his mother cooked supper, the oil she used was not black. 
Absolute silence followed. 
After all we had just spent the better part of an hour and half learning about heavy oil. Some of the adults registered shock on their faces while waiting for my response.
I gathered my thoughts together and replied, “We’re not talking about the oil your parents use for cooking or baking; we’re talking about the oil that comes from deep in the earth.” 
Since our early days, agriculture was the backbone supporting Lloydminster’s growing economy year after year. 
Samples were sent off after a local farmer’s cows refused to drink their well water and it tested positive for oil distillates. 
When oil was discovered it set-off a chain reaction that brought prosperity to our city. 
This also saw us as the “Black Oil Centre of North America” according to a brochure released circa 1959 by the Lloydminster and District Chamber of Commerce. 
We were in the midst of the largest black oil field in North America which extended 50 miles in all directions from the Border City.
Initially, asphalt manufacturing was the primary operation of the refineries. 
Asphalt products included briquette binders, coal sprays, protective coverings, various types of plastics, seals, adhesives and assorted types of roofing products. 
Rubberized asphalt was a new development for highway surfaces.  The Canadian Kodiak Refineries was a major producer and refiner of black oil. 
Their investment of $3,500,000 included the refinery, tank cars and more than 80 oil wells. 
The largest industry established in 1951 was the Sydney Roofing and Paper Company. 
They expanded as needed to meet the growing demands of the oil industry. Their specialty products were marketed throughout Western Canada and included tar paper, roofing asphalts, asphalt shingles and siding.
Established in 1950, Dominion Products Company was the largest producer in Western Canada. 
They manufactured foundation coatings, flat roofing materials, asphaltic aluminum paints and materials used by the construction industry.
As the sun set on the western Prairie, what did black oil really mean for Lloydminster during the 1950s? 
It meant a relentless industrial progress with an increase in population and the birth of new industries.  For the Chamber of Commerce, it meant Lloydminster being viewed as a major trading centre. 
It offered employment directly and indirectly.  During this time between 5-10 per cent of the male working population were employed by various oil trucking companies.
Black oil offered hope and fulfillment of dreams, not just for individuals or companies; but also for the community.

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