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Vern "Dry Hole" Hunter


Vernon Hunter, born in Nanton, started as a junior clerk working for Royalite Oil and part-time for North West Oil (subsidiaries of Imperial Oil) earning $40 a month. In 1926, much to his satisfaction, he was transferred to a field position as clerk truck driver for Highwood #1, a cable tool rig drilling west of the town of High River. He then moved to the Turner Valley Oilfield as a clerk and truck driver.


In the early years of the Depression, almost all drilling shut down and Vern was laid-off. By doing odd-jobs and raising chickens (he had 300 white leghorns), he was able to make a meagre living. Rehired by Royalite in 1934 as a driller, Vern was delighted to have a full-time job again. In 1936, he was transferred to ARCA Development, High River. Vern drilled on the ARCA #1 well using a rotary rig. After he returned to I.O.L., he drilled in the Turner Valley field and also drilled on several wildcat wells in southern Alberta. The ARCA well went over 10,000 feet with a wooden derrick. "We never should have gone that deep with the equipment we had," he recalled. By 1940 he had been set up as a toolpush and was in charge of one of the first portable diesel powered rigs in Canada. Now with Imperial Oil, he was pushing tools near Brooks when one of the engines broke down in the middle of the night - a pivotal incident that was to have an enormous impact on his future career.


Walker Taylor, western production manager for Imperial Oil was out from Calgary on an early morning pheasant shoot. He stopped at the rig about 4:00 am where he found Vern helping to tear out the engine. He asked Vern what he was doing there when he had a crew to do that kind of work. Vern explained it was hard to sleep when one knew an engine had broken down. A few months later when the CANOL project got underway, Walker Taylor was named superintendent at Norman Wells. He selected Vern as drilling supervisor for the project.


After approximately one year at Norman Wells, where he was separated from his family, he went back to pushing tools. A succession of dry holes in Saskatchewan, earned him the name of Dry Hole Hunter. Some claim it was the expropriative aspirations of the CCF Government towards big business that drove the Imperial Oil drilling crews out of Saskatchewan in the spring of 1946. In mid November, Vern received orders to move the rig, Wilson #2, to a location a few miles west of the town of Leduc. On November 20, 1946, the now famous Imperial-Leduc No. 1 was spudded in on Mike Turta's farm about twenty miles southwest of Edmonton.

Thursday, February 13, Vern and his crew brought in the famous Leduc #1 Well. After that, Vern drilled only one more well, Leduc #3 again using the Wilson #2 rig. Soon after this, Vern was promoted to field superintendent, thanks to his good friend Walker Taylor, who went to bat for him against the wishes of Mike Harder, general manager in Toronto. Mike wanted to bring someone from the United States for the job. He was then transferred to the Red Water field where Vern was instrumental in building the Redwater Curling Rink - three times, as the rink burned down twice. Another promotion in 1952, this time to management assistant, brought Vern to the I.O.L. office in Calgary. In September of 1955, Vern was appointed the first manager of the newly formed Regina Division, an I.O.L. organizational change brought about by the discovery of commercial oil in Saskatchewan. His duties included all aspects of the division including exploration, seismic, drilling and production.


In March of 1961, Vern was promoted to manager, Edmonton division, a position he held until 1967. During this time, he was responsible for the start up of the Cold Lake Project in 1963 and the plays at Judy Creek and Rainbow Lake. This division was the largest producing area in Canada. In September of 1965, Vern was appointed manager, Drilling with responsibility for re-organizing the department. In 1967 he chose early retirement.


Vern was made a honorary life member of the Canadian Petroleum Association in 1968. This was done to honour his distinguished service in furthering the objects of the association and the development of the Canadian petroleum and natural gas industry. The same year, Vern with his son Donald and good friend Lou Pajak, formed V.H. Hunter and Associates, Oil Well Consultant Ltd. Vern served as president until the company was dissolved in the late 1970's. Vern, along with a few other oilmen, was instrumental in forming The Arctic Petroleum Operators Association, an organization to promote safe drilling practice in the North. All oil companies involved in northern drilling belonged to the association.


The first blow-out control training program, located at Golden Spike, Alberta was opened in September 1972 by the honourable Bill Dickie, minister of mines and resources. Having been instrumental in developing this safety program, Vern was invited by the Canadian Association of Oil Well Drilling Contractors to be the main speaker at the official opening of the training well.


On February 13, 1987, the 40th anniversary of the official birth of Leduc #1, Gateway Park was opened. The Wilson #2 derrick presented to the city by I.O.L. in the 1960's stands next to the Tourist Information Centre. Vern was instrumental in donating the derrick to the City of Edmonton in 1967. Vern was very supportive of education so 25% of his estate was set up as an endowment with the proceeds to be donated to worthwhile educational and other projects. To date, scholarships in his name are in place at the University of Alberta and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). As well, donations have been made to Capitol Projects at both NAIT and Leduc #1.


Career Summary:
1927 First roughneck job on the early rotary rigs in the Turner Valley field.
1947 February 13, Vern and his crew brought in Leduc No. 1 Well; appointed first field superintendent.
1961 Promoted to manager, Edmonton division of Imperial Oil Ltd.
1968 Formed V.H. Hunter & Associates, Oil Well Consultant Ltd. with his son Donald and good friend Lou Pajak.


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