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Peter C. Bawden (1929–1991)
In an industry that has become increasingly specialized, it’s rare to find individuals who have cast their personal and professional net as wide as Peter Bawden. As a respected member of the drilling community, Peter was known for going beyond his horizons to seek out new and better opportunities.
His many firsts include being the first to drill beyond the Canadian Arctic Circle, the first to drill in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (Dome Petroleum’s pioneering Winter Harbour well on Melville Island in 1961) and drilling what at the time was the northernmost well in the world.
But Peter was also not a man to put all his eggs in one basket. As friend and long-time employee Doug Rourke remembers, Peter was the kind of man who wasn’t afraid to take a risk and go where no drilling company had gone before.
“He was always a visionary, and he was always coming up with new and innovative ideas. He was always thinking ahead and outside the box for where there was opportunity.”
This forward-thinking attitude lead Peter to a career in drilling, producing, charter aircrafts and even politics and in all aspects he dedicated himself to the betterment of the industry.
Born in Toronto in 1929, Peter’s first love affair with the industry began after he stopped in Edmonton, on his way back from naval training on the west coast, to manage a lumber company in 1950. On his delivery trips to the rigs, Peter began to realize the growing potential of drilling.
With some advice from oilfield equipment manufacturer National Supply, Peter purchased what would be the first of many drilling rigs in 1952 and Peter Bawden Drilling was born. Within six years, Bawden Drilling was well on its way to becoming one of Canada’s largest drilling contractors and setting new standards for the industry.
In 1959, Bawden Drilling signed a contract with Richfield Oil to drill at Arctic Red River (now known as Tsiigehtchic), putting the company in the history books as the first company to drill beyond the Arctic Circle.
While most would think the selection was made on the basis of technology used or experience proved, the reality, Rourke says, is more pedestrian: Richfield contracted for Bawden Drilling largely on Peter’s commitment to work with the oil company to overcome the myriad logistical challenges involved in drilling in Canada’s Far North.
Rourke says this vignette of Peter’s willingness go the extra mile for his clients is what set Bawden Drilling apart.
“Peter worked with oil companies to help them achieve the logistics to get the equipment up to these very remote areas rather than just saying, ‘Get me the ships and equipment and everything else you need,’” he says.
Bawden remained a private company for 35 years, almost unheard of in the industry, until its sale to Noble Drilling Services in 1988.
But Peter’s passion for the oil industry didn’t stop at drilling and was not limited to direct involvement in the industry.
At age 17, he earned his private pilot’s licence and remained a strong advocate of air transportation. In 1959, he purchased two small aircraft to airlift drilling crews to support his northern drilling operations. This venture grew into The Executive Flight Centre, a business that caters to charters throughout western Canada to this day.
In 1971, Peter extended his vast knowledge of the industry to the federal government when he took office, representing the riding of Calgary South for seven years.
“To have an individual that understands the business, in Ottawa, is great,” Rourke says. “I think he was able to explain some of the issues related to the industry that most people down there didn’t understand.”
During his time in office, Peter remained chairman of the board of Bawden Drilling but, once again, sought a broader horizon. A conversation with a fellow executive convinced Peter to move into the production side of the industry and subsidiary Mosswood Oil & Gas was formed in 1977.
Though the company remained small, Rourke says, “It was a good fit. It was good to have some diversification from the drilling side.”
Peter’s successful business practices, however, did not stop at his sound monetary investments. He understood that without good people, none of his work would have been possible. Rourke can attest to this.
People were Peter’s most important and valuable asset. The people and the know-how to manage and operate the equipment, it’s a must to run a quality business,” he says. “He made them feel part of the company, not just a paycheque. Peter was such a great guy to many people and what he did for the industry just as a leader and his ongoing demand for high standards [are part of that]. I thought: who better could be in the Hall of Fame?”
Peter was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada in April 1990 and died the following year.