Centennial tells town’s story of oil and gas
Performing Arts: Playwright Sharon Pollock brings past to life in upcoming play
Wednesday, May 07, 2014 07:23 am
Ghosts of Diamond Valley’s past will reflect on the vibrant years of the oil and gas industry that forever changed Alberta’s history in a historical production hitting the stage next week.
Calgary playwright Sharon Pollock collected 75 minutes of real-life accounts from when oil and gas was discovered in Turner Valley in 1914 and throughout the next 30 years to create the play Centennial, showing at the Flare ‘n’ Derrick Community Hall on May 14 and 18. The May 15 show is sold out.
Pollock was commissioned by the Turner Valley Oilfield Society to write and direct a play in celebration of 100 years since Dingman #1 spewed a 20-foot high column of natural gas liquids on May 14, 1914 and attracted thousands of workers to Turner Valley. The play takes place in conjunction with numerous activities planned for May 14 including tours of the Turner Valley Gas Plant.
“We wanted to bring people’s attention to their past history and how this province got started because the coming in of Dingman #1 really brought the oil industry into being and that’s what this province is built on,” said society chairperson Sandra Farr-Jones. “We initially thought to just involve the high school, but it was pointed out to us that it was bigger than that and it should be maybe done professionally because we would be attracting a lot of people to the community for the celebration itself. It’s a really important event in the history of this province. You have to do something to make it memorable.”
When the society presented the idea to Pollock, she took on the assignment with great enthusiasm.
Although she visits the area every year to shop and camp, Pollock admits she knew little about Diamond Valley’s rich oil and gas history and had a lot of research ahead of her.
Pollock spoke with older residents, toured the Turner Valley Gas Plant and researched the history of the industries in books and online.
“One of the things that I found fascinating was just reading the biographies of a number of individuals, people who did incredible things in those early years in terms of their belief in the oil that lay in geographical locations that was difficult to access,” she said. “People could drill for years and get nothing.”
Pollock created characters composed from stories from that era to tell their own tales about living in the area. One character is based on an important figure in the Turner Valley oilfield and the oil and gas business, William Stewart Herron.
“These incredible giants in the oilfield started it all off and worked against incredible circumstances to bring about the wealth of Alberta today,” she said. “There are these figures that were really important in terms of the economic development of this province and of oil exploration in the world.”
Pollock said the play touches on many interesting facts of that time including the terrible smell that permeated everything, the burning of excess oil in a coulee called Hell’s Half Acre, which burned so bright people could read by the light at midnight, and the danger of pots blowing off of stoves because the flow of gas wasn’t regulated.
“There were many interesting stories during those years,” she said. “It was finding a way to get that information out so that it was entertaining. That was the challenge of it.”
The idea to have the stories told by ghosts struck Pollock when a server at the Black Diamond Hotel mentioned a ghost is believed by some to reside at the hotel.
Pollock brings her audience to the past with funny sketches, storytelling and singing, which is portrayed by professional actors from across southern Alberta.
“There’s a ton of people’s stories, amusing scenes and it’s diversified in an entertaining way,” she said.
Pollock said she enjoyed the opportunity to portray an important piece of history that is often overlooked.
“We think of explorers who came across Canada discovering land and mountains and rivers and lakes and these people were explorers, except they were exploring what was below the surface as opposed to what was on the surface,” she said. “It bothered me that we are not sufficiently aware of that important aspect of our history today.”
Tickets to see Centennial cost $25 and are available at Coyote Moon Cantina & Espresso Bar in Turner Valley, Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond and Okotoks Country Florist. They can also be purchased at www.bluerockgallery.ca or at the door if tickets are available.
Show times are 5:30 p.m. on May 14 and 3 p.m. on May 18.