The story of the Trans Mountain Pipeline begins with a discovery near Leduc, Alberta that irrevocably changed the course of Canada’s economy.

In 1947, oil drillers had for 30 years been pursuing the dream of finding oil in Alberta and establishing Canada’s energy independence. Despite drilling more than 2,000 wells, they’d only ever found two oil fields of consequence and neither was a game-changer for the industry. Even the better of the two, in the Turner Valley, was only sufficient to give Canada a three-month supply of oil.

Drilling results had been so consistently disappointing and expensive that most in the industry were simply walking away. In February 1947, Imperial Oil, frustrated by a string of 133 consecutive insignificant wells, decided to take one last chance at a location 30 kilometres southwest of Edmonton. As history would have it, this final venture unlocked the key to understanding the geology of the province’s sprawling underground oil reserves.

On February 13, they drilled down 1,500 metres, far deeper than conventional wisdom would support, and tapped the rich field that would be known as Leduc No. 1. The country never looked back — Leduc was just the first of a series of huge game-changing discoveries. By 1952, Canadian oil reserves were substantial enough to support the entire country’s requirements for 10 years.

There was another challenge, however. There was no pipeline infrastructure in place to get the oil to hungry markets beyond Alberta’s borders.

The Interprovincial Pipeline was set in place and moving oil to eastern Canada by 1950. The industry, supported by some Canadian senators, decided a conduit to the West Coast was also vital to Canada’s interests.

A petition was presented to the Canadian Parliament in support of the recently founded Trans Mountain Oil Pipe Line Company. The petition asserted that a pipeline to the West Coast would provide Canadian oil producers a new market for Canadian oil and would greatly improve energy security for British Columbia.

The pipeline to the Pacific “would greatly contribute to the whole economic development of the oil provinces and Canada as a whole,” according to a 1954 book about the project, The Building of the Trans Mountain Pipeline (by Neill C. Wilson and Frank J. Taylor). The necessary legislation was drawn up and the Federal Board of Transport Commissioners approved it.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline, transporting oil from Edmonton to a terminal in Burnaby, BC, was completed in 1953, defying skeptics who did not believe it would be physically possible to construct a transmission-grade pipeline system across the most challenging geography in North America – the Rocky Mountains.

Even today, Trans Mountain stands as the only pipeline system carrying oil to the West Coast of North America.