A pipeline from Calgary to Carbon is installed in 1958

Natural gas existed under our feet for eons, but its potential began to be felt in the 20th century. Alberta was recognized by drilling companies as having a vast source of natural gas and began to tap into it. Pipelines sprouted up, but they were designed for export out of Alberta.

The Town of Wetaskiwin celebrates the installation of natural gas service with a flare ceremony (photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A6592)

Urban centres were able to take advantage of the cheap heating that natural gas provided, but rural communities were being left out in the cold. Unless a natural gas pipeline went right through a rural yard, most companies were unwilling to spend the dollars needed to bring a pipeline to a single farming household.

Wood was still a common household fuel in Alberta in the 1930s and 1940s (photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A5934)

Even in the 1960s, burning wood, coal, and sometimes propane, were the sources of heat for most Alberta rural homes and farms.

Alex Onody helped form Forty Mile Gas Co-op Ltd. out of frustration of the cost of propane to fuel irrigation pumps. He is shown here with a gas-powered irrigation pump in the early 1980s

In the 1950s, after stories of American farmers cutting their fuel bills in half by switching their irrigation pumps from propane to natural gas, interest in natural gas for Alberta farmers took off.

(L to R) Jack Fears, Larry Lawler and Tom Adams of the Meota Gas Co-op Ltd. look over pipe materials

In 1962, farmers in the Priddis area, southwest of Calgary, were fed up with companies charging high prices to tap into their pipelines. Instead, they enlisted Jack Fears of the Glaholt and Associates engineering firm to help them design their own gas utility pipeline system. Quite literally around a kitchen table, these farmers created the Meota Gas Co-operative and touched off the gas co-op movement.

Volunteers in Meota Gas Co-op Ltd. help lay a pipe through a trench

After some initial unwillingness to approve the utility, Jack Fears and Meota's Stan Jones convinced the provincial government to allow Meota to install its own pipelines. By then, it was already October and there was a rush to install the system before winter. Meota's Tom Adams organized volunteers to wrap black corrosion-fighting tape around three-miles of two-inch steel pipe, recalling that the volunteers worked seven days a week from sunrise to midnight.

Pollyanna Powell glues plastic pipe together

By Christmas 1962, five Meota households had natural gas. Thirteen more were hooked up by Christmas 1963. Volunteers continued to build the system, with six volunteers, including grandmother Polly Anna Powell, painstakingly gluing 30-foot lengths of plastic pipe together for the 15-miles installed in 1963.

The original Certificate of Incorporation of the Federation of Alberta Gas Co-ops Ltd

Other communities noticed the success of Meota and began to form their own natural gas co-operatives. Four of these groups - Meota, Tirol, Gem, and S.R. & B. Gas Co-ops - realized there was strength in numbers and rallied together to form the Federation of Alberta Gas Co-ops Ltd.

Henry Tomlinson, Chairman of the Federation from 1975 to 1998, address the audience at the 1977 Federation Convention.

Incorporated under the Co-operative Associations Act on July 6, 1964, the Federation's prime purpose was to speak out on behalf of the gas co-ops. There were still detractors telling government that farmers shouldn't be distributing gas. By combining forces, the Federation became the influential organization to showcase just what farmers and gas co-ops could do.

Leo and Elsie Skanderup, pictured with their son, David, out of their kitchen helped run the Federation

The Federation initially also acted as a central ordering house for co-op supplies, operating out of the kitchen of Leo and Elsie Skanderup in the community of Tilley

The first two loads of pipe arrive at Rosemary Gas Co-op Ltd.

By the early 1970s, approximately 25 gas co-ops had come into existence around rural Alberta.

Premier Peter Lougheed poses with the Lamco Gas Co-op Ltd. Board of Directors at their co-op's ribbon cutting.

In 1971, Conservative Leader Peter Lougheed made an election campaign promise to "expand the provision for natural gas to Alberta farms at a reasonable cost." He would go on to win the 1971 provincial election.

Henry Tomlinson (left) poses with Minister of Telephones and Utilities Hon. Roy Farran at a meter installed on Tomlinson's farm.

In 1972, Onoway hog farmer Henry Tomlinson and a group of friends began collecting names for a new gas service. Since 1965, he had been trying to get Northwestern to let him tap into their pipeline just three miles away, but was repeatedly told it was economically unfeasible. After a community meeting highlighted by speaker Helmut Entrup, the group voted to create Ste Anne Natural Gas Co-op. Tomlinson and his friends set about creating what would become the prototype of the new gas co-ops.

Crews install natural gas to a home in the Battle River Gas Co-op.

By the beginning of 1973, natural gas may have made it into 79% of Alberta households, but in rural Alberta less than a quarter of homes had been hooked up to natural gas. That was about to change.

An early poster and brochures from the Rural Utilities Branch, encourages people to choose natural gas.

In April 1973, the provincial government created the Rural Gas Program to support natural gas service to all towns, villages and farming communities in rural Alberta, with MLAs like Roy Farran, Hugh "Doc" Horner, and Farmers' Advocate Helmut Entrup helping to lead the way. Intended to fight rural de-population, the program offered a grant to offset the high cost for utilities to bring pipelines to remote homes and farms.

A worker installs a pipeline in the Battle River Gas Co-op Ltd. area.

Volunteers in gas co-ops were often used to fan out and solicit new members. Some were reluctant to join. One story tells of a farmer who refused pipe to cross his lands because he had been feuding with his neighbor for 30 years and he wasn't going to let him have gas! Others were more than happy to join. Tomlinson recalled one story where he walked into a run-down home with a dirt floor, thinking there was no way this guy could afford the service - the man pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and paid $1,450 cash then and there!

Today, pipelines such as those on this reel are carefully inspected to prevent faults like the 3306 leaky pipes.

There were bumps - the biggest being the 3306 problem. The province had bought up plastic pipe with Dow 3306 resin - but by 1976 it was painfully evident that the pipes leaked like a sieve. 2,880 miles of bad pipe had to be replaced, fortunately the province brought in a 3306 replacement program to pay for the costs! The problem also caused the government to create the Quality Assurance Program to inspect pipelines bound for rural gas utilities, a program now operated by the Federation.

The 1977 Federation Board of Directors.

Realizing the need to organize the large number of gas co-ops forming under the new Rural Gas Program, the Federation re-invigorated itself under the urging of Helmut Entrup in 1973. Henry Tomlinson was also brought on to the Federation Board of Directors, becoming its Chairman in 1975. Henry helped make the Federation one of the strongest political lobbies in rural Alberta, and charted the course to building a strong organization of gas co-ops. He would remain as Chairman until his retirement in 1995.

A pipeline is installed in the East Smoky Gas Co-op Ltd. region.

1973 until the mid-1980s was a mad rush to try to build tens of thousands of kilometers of pipeline to rural households. Fortunately, the Alberta Gas Trunk Line, later run by NOVA, was a spider-web of 9,000 miles of pipelines that would become the backbone for a provincial distribution system. NOVA was a good corporate citizen, helping to design the system and train co-op staff.

Terrains often prove challenging, but they can be overcome. Here, a plow installs a pipeline underneath a creek in the Paintearth Gas Co-op Ltd. area.

Many co-ops hired contractors to construct their systems, but some formed their own construction companies to do it themselves. In many cases, volunteers ran plows running new lines through fields, bush and muskeg.

Gas Alberta was formed as part of the Rural Utilities Branch in the 1970s. Today, it is a private entity owned by the Federation Member Utilities.

Gas Alberta was initially established under the provincial government's Rural Utilities Branch as a broker to buy gas, pool the costs, and resell the gas to co-ops. This entity was privatized in 1997 and became owned by the Federation Member Utilities (made up of both gas co-ops and municipal gas utilities).

The sun breaks on a RMO Station in the Forty Mile Gas Co-op Ltd. area.

In the 1990s, the NOVA-operated RMO (Regulating, Metering and Odorizing) stations transitioned to ownership by the Federation Member Utilities. This led to the creation in 1998 of the Federation Measurement Department to oversee the approximately 750 RMO stations that dotted Alberta. This department is responsible for regularly inspecting these stations, and monitoring the gas flow from supplier pipelines to the Member Utilities.

The 100,000th customer, Louise Deacon, was honoured by Federation CEO Mike Heck (left) and Federation Chairman Ken Sydnes in a ceremony at the Legislature Grounds in 2002.

In 2002 - 40 years after the creation of the first gas co-op! - the Federation signed up its 100,000th customer. These "customers" are, in essence, our owners, and come from every facet of rural Alberta, served with natural gas from either their local gas co-op or public municipal utility.

In 2004, the Federation Centre opened its doors.

By the early 2000's, the Federation had become a large enough operation that it needed its own building. Member Utilities raised enough money on their own to purchase land in Sherwood Park and built the Federation Centre. This building now serves as the headquarters for the Federation of Alberta Gas Co-ops Ltd., as well as the Alberta Federation of Rural Electrification Associations.

RMO Field Accreditation from Measurement Canada was granted to the Federation in a 2007 ceremony. Pictured are (left to right) Measurement Field Manager Mark Ewanchuk, Measurement Manager Ed Keef, and Measurement Canada President Alan Johnston.

The Federation received an incredible honour in 2007 by being granted Field Accreditation from Measurement Canada. This allows Federation Measurement staff to be able to inspect and re-verify RMO station meters in the field without having to send them back to a meter shop. To this day, the Federation remains the only gas system in Canada to have this accreditation!

Staff from The Co-operators pose during the Federation's 2010 Convention and Trade Fair.

In 2010, the Federation gained a larger stage nationally on the co-operative front by becoming a Member-Owner of The Co-operators.

Field workers learn to install Residential AMR devices on household meters during a hands-on course at the Federation Centre.

Then in 2011, the Federation was instrumental in influencing Measurement Canada policy to allow utilities across Canada to install Automated Meter Reading devices on residential gas meters. With these devices deployed across much of rural Alberta, it has reduced the number of vehicles needed to be on roads to read meters manually. Gas co-ops are at the forefront of this technology with many meters now being read by airplane, and experiments ongoing collecting meter reads through devices on fixed towers.

Chairman Bert Paulssen (right) presents Rural Utilities Branch Head Tom Kee (left) and Alberta Agriculture Assistant Deputy Minister Jo-Ann Hall with a plaque at the 2013 Convention recognizing the 40th Anniversary of the province's Rural Gas Program.

In 2013, the provincial government's Rural Utilities Branch was downsized. The Federation agreed to assume a number of the activities the Branch had previously provided - including administration of the Rural Gas Grant (the province still provides the funding for the grant), the Quality Assurance Program, and Easement and Utility Rights-of-Way services. The same year, it also embarked on developing its own Geographic Information System (GIS) database.

The gas co-op movement continues to be an Alberta success story five decades since it all began!

The gas co-op movement continues to be an Alberta success story five decades since it all began!

For many decades, the gas co-op movement has helped build a better rural Alberta by ensuring that rural communities can maintain a quality of life that is second to none. As a testament to the success of the gas co-op movement, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Federation of Alberta Gas Co-ops Ltd. in 2014!