History of Swan Hills and the Swan Hills Area

History of Swan Hills and the Swan Hills Area
Born in the legends of the native Indians and developed through the discovery of oil, in many ways the story of Swan Hills is an echo of the story of Alberta.

The name Swan Hills was first given to the area by the native Indians, who believed that giant swans nested on the estuary of the Assiniboine river. During the summer prairie thunderstorms it was said the thundering wing beats of these great birds filled the air as they fled for shelter.

The settlement of the Swan Hills Area by European homesteaders seemed almost accidental. Originally bound for the rich farmland in the province’s northern Peace River region, early settlers set off from Edmonton by way of the Swan Hills in order to make use of the shortest route around the muskeg so prevalent in the area. But the route was
difficult, and many were forced to either turn back or stake a claim in a place that was not their destination. The government of Alberta virtually ignored the entire area until pressure from these waves of settlers forced it to open a wagon trail through the Swan Hills Area in 1911. However, after this achievement, the area once again fell into oblivion, and remained so for the first half of the 20th century, as settlers cleared and homesteaded, and tried to build a new life for themselves. Eventually they succeeded, and once again began to pressure the government to create a transportation link with the rest of the province that would allow them to take their grain and livestock to market. But it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the government of Alberta agreed to construct a major highway through the area.

This road construction was to change the fate of The Swan Hills Area forever.

In September, 1956, a foreman with Home Oil named Fred Willock set out along the new road to prospect for oil in the area; only one of many oil prospectors who converged on the area, sending down their wellshafts in the hope of striking it rich.

Willock did! In the spring, he helped drill the well that brought in the Swan Hills field; which became the third largest oil discovery in Canada (containing an estimated four billion barrels of oil), and helped to propel Alberta into the decades of oil prosperity that it has enjoyed ever since.

The race was on.

In 1959, the oil company Amoco Canada, together with British American (Gulf) helped make history by striking the first well of the South Swan Hills Unit. By the time the field’s boundaries were defined in 1963, the South Swan Hills Unit encompassed 100 square miles, had a capacity of producing 831 million barrels of oil and had 193 working wells.

There’s nothing like an oil boom to help build a town, and like so many other Alberta communities that owe their existence and prosperity to oil, Swan Hills is no different. During the years of the oil boom, the base camp that had been set up for the workers quickly exploded into a town site as homes, schools and recreational facilities were put in for the oil companies’ employees.

In 1967, Swan Hills again took a place in history by becoming the first township incorporated during Canada’s centennial year. The town is young, and because of that its residents enjoy a wonderful lifestyle incorporating new schools, new technology, new facilities and a young and vibrant population. It’s a young town full of the opportunity that has always characterized the west.

Part of this opportunity culminated in the development of the Alberta Special Waste Treatment Facility . Built in 1987, this world-class facility has helped to diversify Swan Hills’ economy and brought many new jobs to the community.