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John Lineham (1861-1913)
John-widely considered western Canada's first "oil man"-was born in 1861 i n Ontario and was the first of his family to move West, settling in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, where he started a Red River cart service between Portage and Edmonton. He later built a sawmill on the Sheep River near what is now Okotoks, Alberta.
In 1901, George Leeson (whom John met in Fort Edmonton during his transportation days) appealed to John's entrepreneurial spirit and convinced him that the oil business was where they needed to put their money. Along with engineer Allan Patrick, the trio established the Rocky Mountain Development Company in February 1901 and later that year began drilling Alberta's first oil exploration well, on the site of known oil seeps near Cameron Lake, in what is now Waterton Lakes National Park.
The well, drilled with equipment bought from Petrolia, shipped by train to Fort McLeod and from there to the wellsite by horsedrawn team, encountered light sweet oil at about 1,020 feet, but the surface casing failed and surface gravel poured into the hole-but not before a flow of about 300 barrels per day was produced.
In an effort to clean out the hole, the drilling crew disabled the pressure relief valve on the boiler to build pressure. The expected happened-the boiler blew and the drilling season was over. The following year, Lineham returned to the well and installed a pump, eventually producing some 8,000 barrels of high-quality, sulphurfree crude, about 700 barrels of which were sold. The well never returned to its earlier production of 300 barrels a day, and by 1904, production had dwindled to virtually nothing.
Lineham drilled two more wells in the area in the following years, as did several other firms, but no significant discoveries were recorded, until Shell Oil returned a half-century later with more modern drilling technologies and found what Lineham was looking for.
John's success, however brief, sparked an interest in oil exploration in western Canada, and the widespread drilling efforts that followed his first well at Cameron Lake eventually led to the discovery of oil at Turner Valley in 1914.
John was three times elected a member of the territorial legislature, and while in government was chairman of the committee that established the current boundary between Alberta and Saskatchewan when the two provinces were created in 1905. He was instrumental in the construction of a number of buildings in Calgary, including the Empress Hotel, the Lesson-Lineham Building, the Elma Block, and the Lineham Block.
John died in 1913 at the age of 52, and has since been honoured by the naming of a lake and a creek after him, as well as a mountain in Waterton Lakes National Park.