Historic gas plant to open for tours
Turner Valley: Facility to be open on weekends through end of September
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Friday, Jun 27, 2014 01:08 pm
Turner Valley’s historic gas plant will be opening for tours over the summer, a move many hope is the first step to turning the facility into a full-time tourist attraction.
The site will be open on weekends and holiday Mondays through to the end of September and tours could start as early as July 5 if enough staff can be found in time.
The site has been closed to regular visits since 2004, but was opened for tours in May marking the centennial of the Dingman No. 1 well that kicked off the Turner Valley Oil Boom.
The historic site’s director Ian Clarke said last spring’s centennial celebration helped show value in opening the site for tours.
“We always knew there was interest and value, but the centennial certainly was the trigger our management needed to say this was probably a good idea,” he said.
He said they aren’t ready to open the site full-time, but this summer’s weekend tours are the first step towards this eventual goal.
The provincial government revealed earlier this year $23.5 million is needed to get the site open to regular visitors. The Province is working with municipalities and oil and gas companies to try to come up with the funds.
In the meantime, Clarke is working to get enough staff so the site can be open this weekend.
Once open, the tours are planned to run every weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 28. Admission will be by donation.
Tours will be guided by site staff, starting at the interpretive centre, then going to the Dingman No. 1 well site and through the gas plant. Clarke said people will not be allowed to go on the site without a guide.
The gas plant’s roots stretch back shortly after the 1914 discovery of the Dingman No. 1 well. After a small compressor and absorption plant built by Calgary Petroleum Products burned down in 1920, the Royalite Oil Company built a new compressor station and a gasoline absorption plant by the fall of 1921.
The plant expanded over the years and operated until 1985.
The site was taken over by the provincial government in 1988. Since then, $18.9 million worth of environmental remediation and reclamation work has gone into the site.
Clarke said the site was open for season tours between 1995 and 2004, but was closed after the 2005 flood. He said the tours weren’t advertised back then, yet they got a couple thousand visitors each year over the summer months.
Since then, the only way for people to see the inside of the facility was to book tours with Alberta oil and gas historian David Finch.
The author of the book “Hell’s Half Acre” is glad to see the site now being reopened to visitors.
“As a historian who’s been supportive of the development of an interpretation program at the site, I am very supportive, that’s why I’m very pleased with this new development,” said Finch.
He said it could prove to the provincial government that there is value in cleaning up the site and opening the facility up as a tourist destination.
“I hope the tours this summer show that there is interest in more regular visitation to the site and that kind of programming can be developed next year,” he said.
The president of the Diamond Valley Chamber of Commerce said the tours are great news for businesses in the area, particularly merchants, who stand to benefit from more visitors being attracted to the area.
“I’m hoping it will be a real good boost for the businesses in the area, especially Turner Valley,” said Bev Geier. “I think if Turner Valley can start getting more tourism and more interested parties to come out have a look and see what we’ve got it’s going to benefit everybody.”
She said the gas plant could attract people interested in the history of oil and gas in the region, just as the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site attracts visitors interested in the foothills’ ranching history.
The gas plant may be located in Turner Valley, but Black Diamond also stands to benefit from the tours, said David Petrovich the town’s economic development officer.
He said the area is a popular day’s trip destination and this could help to attract more people to Black Diamond and Turner Valley.
“If we can offer more in this region… it gives more reason to come and spend time here,” said Petrovich.
He said it could also give a boost to the town’s work to attract a new hotel to Black Diamond.
Information will be available at turnervalleygasplant.org