A Longview historian digging up details about the region’s early days to post on a digital story map is looking to the community for some assistance.
In her quest to rewrite the 1993 Turner Valley District Driving Tours, historical author Susan Raby-Dunne is collecting colourful stories and photographs for an interactive story map and possible phone app being developed by the Turner Valley Oilfield Society, and needs the community’s help.
“I’m looking for interesting stories from old-timers about the history of ranchers, roustabouts, pioneers, First Nations people, veterans and the North-West Mounted Police,” she said. “The original driving tours brochure was very informational but it was very dry. This is going to be full of colourful stories about the really interesting people that settled and founded these communities.”
Raby-Dunne has collected images and narrative descriptions about the historical importance of people, places and events that shaped the region since June.
“I’m using a lot of colourful stories that most people will not have heard to bring this history to life,” she said. “I want to bring these stories to life with photographs and stories of the individuals who pioneered this area.”
Raby-Dunne is working to create three self-guided tours that will feature pioneers, historic places, ranchers and roustabouts.
“I will concentrate quite a bit on the oil discoveries, like the Dingman No. 1 and Royalite wells, the communities that sprung up around the oilfields and some of the original drillers and investors and mavericks that came out to get involved in the oil industry,” she said. “The idea is that you can click on a point of interest and all this stuff comes up. It will be beautiful and colourful with great historical photographs.”
Among the stories Raby-Dunne will tell is that of Turner Valley Municipal Hospital and its founders, physicians David and Harry Lander – a story that isn’t included in the existing driving tours.
“The brothers Lander were fascinating guys,” she said. “They did everything above and beyond the call of duty. They would go in blizzards to people’s homes in the middle of the night.”
Raby-Dunne said the doctors frequently treated oil-well workers for a variety of ailments.
“There were a couple of catastrophic burns and a lot of alcoholism and wild characters they looked after,” she said. “A lot of people were born in that hospital and people have a real fondness for it and those doctors.”
In her research, Raby-Dunne learned that David was ahead of his time with holistic thinking and pioneered treatment for alcoholism, founding the Lander Treatment Centre in Claresholm.
“David was awarded the Order of Canada and named by the Alberta Medical Association as one of the ‘100 Doctors of the Century,’” she said.
Raby-Dunne also learned some interesting facts about John Ware, an African-American rancher who was widely admired as one of the best cowboys in the region.
Ware may have been one of the first people to suspect oil was in the area. After noticing a slick on water and a seep in the Sheep River, she said he took a sample to a Calgary doctor to get analyzed.
“The doctor dismissed it as worthless coal gas, instead of what it actually was, evidence of oil,” she said.
Raby-Dunne said she hopes these stories about Ware, the Landers and many other interesting people and places in the region will be available to the public this spring.
“Right now I’m just in the original research, which is a whole new field of education for me,” she said. “I hope I can generate some enthusiasm and that people might contact me and say, ‘I have a great story about so and so.’ Every other day I’m finding stuff… just really intriguing stuff.”
Turner Valley Oilfield Society member Larry Kapustka said the digital story map will make the region’s history more accessible to the public. The society is a group of citizens interested in advancing public knowledge of the area’s oil and gas discovery and development while honouring the people involved, and their struggles and innovations.
“While there’s a lot of information in the book In the Light of the Flares, it’s not accessible in the same way that people access information these days,” he said. “We thought it would be useful to translate some of that information into digital format in the form of a story map.
"There will be an emphasis on the oilfield itself, but we will expand out some distance from that because we want to capture some of the other things that went on in terms of ranching and what made it possible for this area to gain the prominence that it did with interesting images and short stories about people, places and events.”
To contact Susan Raby-Dunne with historical information about the region, call 403-689-3990.
For information about the society visit https://www.turnervalleyoilfieldsociety.ca/