In the Public Interest The Oil and Gas Industry of Saskatchewan, 1905-1950
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In the fall of 1930, in an action anticipated as "nothing less than the consummation of Confederation itself", the natural resources of Saskatchewan and Alberta. were transferred from federal to provincial jurisdiction. Professor· Chester Martin noted that changes in the use and management of those resources were inevitable. "Federal purposes are not provincial purposes neither are federal ways provincial ways for their achievement." The people of Saskatchewan, having agitated for the return of resources for decades, did indeed perceive specific provincial objectives in their exploitation. These included the enhancement of the wealth, economic self-reliance and power of the province, and their utilization in the creation of a new prairie society, an "alternate economic and political order." Resources such as agricultural land land the forests were well known, their potential tested; others, such as oil and gas, remained speculative but nonetheless appealing. For decades they held an alluring but elusive promise of prosperity and economic transformation. The hopes and objectives of Saskatchewan with regard to natural resources were often represented in the statements of public men and women. The question of oil and gas development was continually being addressed in this period. The provincial government was bound, however, by practical reservations, ideological constraints, and in the case of oil, by the priorities and needs of a powerful industry. Despite the real changes in the life of Saskatchewan in the decades before and after the transfer - a period of growth followed by prolonged depression and drought, the dislocations of war, the opportunities of post-war prosperity, and the shifts in political power - public policy with regard to resources maintained a remarkable consistency. This consistency was paralleled in the discontents and demands of an influential sector of the agrarian community. Within the context of this conflict of attitudes, dreams and ambitions, the oil industry of Saskatchewan emerged. Faced with an array of physical and structural economic difficulties, it never entirely fulfilled the hopes of its promoters. Nor did it succeed in securing the province the independence and industrial strength it coveted. Only after many years of effort and investment did it become a major resource component of the provincial economy. The purpose of this study is to trace the evolution of the oil and gas industry from its origins through the first two decades of provincial control of natural resources. It will involve examining the ambitions attached to it, the nature of the changes that over took it, and the forces that ultimately determined those "provincial ways" for its development .