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Former Canadian Hunter boss Jim Gray

Model of an oilman


James K. Gray (born 1933) is a household name in oil and gas exploration, company building and community organization. Although his roots are in Kirkland Lake, Ont., and St. Catherines, Ont., Gray has been a westerner since he studied geology at the University of British Columbia and arrived in Alberta to begin his 45-year career in the oil and gas industry.

An oilpatch veteran, Gray has remained active in the years since he eased out of his role as president, and later chair, of Canadian Hunter Exploration, the Deep Basin pioneer producer he co-founded in 1973 with fellow geologist John Masters.

Before starting the junior, the men were colleagues at Kerr-McGee and resolved to form their own company rather than move to Oklahoma City with their employer. According to Gray, he and Masters started Canadian Hunter with little more than a borrowed office, some pencils and paper, and two yellow Ford Pintos.

Despite that unpromising start, just three years later in 1976, the company made the seminal Elmworth natural gas discovery, which many believe opened up Alberta’s Deep Basin to large-scale natural gas development. The rest, as they say, is history, and Canadian Hunter was ultimately bought out by U.S. independent Burlington Resources.

Long before he left Canadian Hunter, Gray was a leader in the industry, taking on high-profile roles, both formal and informal. He took on a central role in organizing the 16th World Petroleum Congress (today the World Petroleum Council), an event that drew some 4,000 energy executives to Calgary in 2000.

Following the success of the World Petroleum Congress, it was Gray’s idea to create an industry-funded scholarship to benefit students whose studies would lead to careers in the industry. The result was a $4.2-million scholarship fund endowed by corporate donors. At one point, the fund was distributing roughly $600,000/year, awarding 200 students with scholarships of $3,000 each.

Partly in recognition of his industry leadership, Gray was the Energy Council of Canada’s Canadian Energy Person of the Year in March 2001. That same year, he was inducted into the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame, joining a long line of industry veterans.

In 2004, Gray served as chair of the Athabasca Oil Sands Transportation when it was tasked with studying the costs and benefits of improving the rail link between Edmonton and Fort McMurray, largely with a view to beefing up access to oilsands projects.

Awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Calgary in 1991 and a citation for citizenship by the government of Canada the following year, Gray was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995.

Apart from leading roles in the oilpatch, he has been consistently active in the community and led a campaign against video lottery terminals in the 1990s it was, however, ultimately unsuccessful when then-premier Ralph Klein legalized the devices, ensuring the province would profit from gambling revenue.

Married to Josie and the father of three grown children, Gray has served in leadership positions for a wide range of community enterprises in Calgary: MindFuel, the YMCA, the Canada West Foundation, the Calgary Academy, Calgary Inc. and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Charter for Business award.

A fundraiser extraordinaire, Gray has helped underprivileged children, those with learning disabilities, aboriginal residents of Calgary, chemically dependent youths and victims of domestic violence. He and Josie have been honorary chairs of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter’s annual fundraising dinner since its inception in 1995. Gray’s fundraising has furthered medical and scientific work and research into economic and public policy issues.

Today, at 83, Gray is still active, an industry icon and a respected colleague whose advice is sought years after he officially retired from the industry after a 45-year career.


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