Larry Evans: Westcoast gas gets off to coast with roar

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With all the talk of pipelines today, here is a story of one that was successful and still in use today. From the Alaska Highway News, October 10, 1957:

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An opening ceremony and reception marked the turning on of the Westcoast Transmission valve at Taylor which flooded the Pacific Northwest with Peace River gas. 

It would not be an overstatement to say that perhaps half the wealth of this continent was represented, controlled or owned outright, by the several hundred guests who arrived at the Fort St. John Airport that Monday morning.

One DC6 Canadian Pacific Airliner carried eighty passengers from New York City alone. Cabinet Ministers of both Alberta and B.C., Lieutenant Governor Frank Ross, Mayors, Senators, investment bankers, life insurance executives, railway and airline executives, utility tycoons, all with their wives, were among the guests who were treated to a luncheon and a tour.

Reporters from Time Magazine, The New York Times, and many other newspapers were present, as well as representatives from many broadcasting companies.

Large buses were brought up from the south to carry the sightseers on conducted tour. The tour began shortly after eleven o’clock from the airport, up through the Greyburn Subdivision, down to the Alaska Highway and along to the big well on George Bouffioux’s farm. Here the city folks saw the well being blown off in their honour.

From there, they visited an oil well which was shown in operation. Cocktails and sumptuous luncheon followed at Stearn Rogers Marwell’s dining room. Here overshoes were presented to each gentleman present and a dainty transparent pair were given to any feminine guests who wished them. Everyone was presented with an aluminium helmet. High good humour was the keynote of the day. None was as happy a group as the McMahons themselves. Frank and George with wives, sons, daughters and in-laws were obviously enjoying their own party thoroughly. At two-thirty the party moved off to inspect the scrubbing plant at Taylor. 

At four o’clock the entire party walked from the last scene of inspection to a prepared open air theatre on the banks of the Peace. Here were laid out a couple of miles of new and freshly pained board walks. These led to an enclosure facing a covered dais, equipped with chairs on raised platforms.

The sun shone brilliantly. The breeze from the Peace was crisp and fresh. The lovely furs worn by some of the visitors glinted in the frosty sun.

There were short addresses by the cabinet ministers of each province, a particularly good one from B.C.’s Mines and Resources Minister, Mr. Kiernan, who was born near here. A short speech was made by Dr. Hetherington, the well known petroleum scientist, and by Mr. George McMahon who said among other things, that they had been planning this great day for the past ten years. Then he said he guessed he better turn on the valves which would mix the Alberta and the B.C. brands and send it on its way. 

Suddenly there was a great hollow roar. Then another. Then in a matter of seconds came a great roar from the far bank of the Peace River. As the assembled company walked over to the wire fence enclosure to follow the first mile of pipeline with their eyes, Peace River gas was already a hundred miles on its way to the coast.

The Fort St. John tour was merely the beginning of the McMahon party. The entire group moved off in the waiting airliners for Vancouver, where all were accommodated at the Hotel Vancouver. Tuesday there was Premier Bennett’s noonday luncheon ceremony followed in the evening by the Lieutenant Governor’s dinner. Guests at the Vancouver party were Mayor Frank Spicer and George and Ma Murray (founders of the Alaska Highway News) of Fort St. John.

The opening of the Peace River country’s Big Inch Pipeline that week was overwhelming to all British Columbians.

At noon on Tuesday Premier Bennett turned on the valve which shot the natural Peace River gas into the U.S. pipeline. Frank E. Spicer, Mayor of the Village of Fort St. John, was present when the Premier performed this momentous task. The name of Fort St. John which George McMahon and Honourable Mr. Kiernan used instead of Taylor took weight and by the visiting pressmen who filled the Vancouver pages with the story. Fort St. John is the place!

Larry Evans is a former fire chief, city councillor, and lifelong historian living in Fort St. John.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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