The Oil Sands Story (1960s, 1970s & 1980s)

The 1960s is the birth of the company’s future. The U.S. parent company invests $250 million to establish the Great Canadian Oil Sands project in Fort McMurray. Some deem it "a daring venture into an unknown field" and "the biggest gamble in history." It is the largest, single private investment in Canada’s history.

Construction begins in 1964, with then president and chairman J. Howard Pew, saying, "I am convinced this venture will succeed, and it will be the means of opening up reserves to meet the needs of the North American continent for generations to come."

The 45,000 barrel per day project officially opens on September 30, 1967.

Milestones (1960s)

1960

Darwin W. Ferguson becomes president of Sun Company of Canada.

1962

Sun Company reduces interest to 55% in Sun-Canadian (a joint partnership with a company called Canadian Oil).

1963

Sun Oil invests almost a quarter-billion dollars in the Great Canadian Oil Sands project. Some describe it as "the biggest gamble in history" and a "daring venture into an unknown field." For Canada, the sum made financial history. It was the largest, single private investment in the country at that time.

 

Bucketwheels are the technology of choice. Each bucketwheel excavator weighs 1,600 tonnes and towers over a 10-storey building.

 
1964

Kenneth F. Heddon becomes president of Sun Oil Company Limited.

Construction begins at the oil sands plant (then known as Great Canadian Oil Sands) in Fort McMurray. J. Howard Pew, president and chairman of Sun Oil said, "This is a great challenge to the imagination, skill and technological know-how of our scientists and engineers ... I am convinced this venture will succeed, and that it will be the means of opening up reserves that will meet the needs of the North American continent for generations to come."

 
1967

Construction ends on September 30th of the 45,000 barrel per day oil sands plant at a cost of $240 million and five days ahead of schedule.

 

On opening day, Alberta Premier Ernest Manning said, "This is a red letter day, not only for Canada but for all North America. No other event in Canada's centennial year is more important or significant."

 
1968 Up to 1968, Great Canadian Oil Sands spends more than $1 billion in capital and operating costs; the majority with Canadian-based companies.
  The first oil flows down the Interprovincial Pipe Line from Fort McMurray, Alberta to Sarnia, Ontario.
1969 Sun Company of Canada celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

Expansions, mergers, discoveries and soul searching sum up the 1970s. The highlight of the decade is the formation of Suncor Inc. – a merger of the Canadian operations of Sun Company and Great Canadian Oil Sands. As the years progress, daily operational challenges at the oil sands plant (breakdowns, fires, freeze-ups, power shortages) force Suncor management to spend many hours examining the pros and cons of continuing the struggle.

The company perseveres and President and CEO Ross Hennigar is chosen to lead the company into the next decade.

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Milestones (1970s)

1970

Sunoco in Sarnia, Ontario opens first car wash and is the first company in Canada to offer low-lead gasoline.

1971

Sun Company establishes Sunoco Exploration & Production Limited to explore in Canadian frontier areas.

1972

The Sarnia refinery expands and makes its first shipments of bunker fuel to Detroit Edison.

 

First Sunoco self-serve gas station opens.

 
1974

Sunoco Exploration & Production Limited merges into Sun Limited.

1976

Employees in Fort McMurray uncover bones of a woolly mammoth while extracting oil sands. Later, the company donates the bones to the provincial museum in Edmonton.

1977

Sun Company transfers almost all of its downstream assets into a newly created subsidiary – Sunoco Inc.

 
1978 Ross A. Hennigar becomes president of Sun Oil Company Limited and deputy chairman of Great Canadian Oil Sands Limited (GCOS).
1979 Suncor Inc. forms when all the Canadian operations of Sun Company Inc. are amalgamated with Great Canadian Oil Sands.
  Once amalgamation takes place, Ross A. Hennigar becomes president and chief executive officer of Suncor Inc.

Times are tough in the 1980s. The Canadian federal government announces the controversial National Energy Program to increase Canadian control and ownership of the energy industry. This significantly affects Alberta oil companies with many companies leaving the province. Add to that a collapse of world crude oil prices, a major fire at the oil sands plant, a long and bitter labour dispute, and the tragic death of President and CEO Ross Hennigar and times are tough.

Despite the lows, President and CEO William R. Loar, leads the company during its highs, which include an expansion of the oil sands plant, record annual production levels, and deregulation of oil prices, allowing oil producers to sell at market value. The roller coaster ride eventually ends.

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Milestones (1980s)

1980

Ottawa begins the controversial National Energy Program removing world crude oil price from first 45,000 barrels per day of oil sands production.

1981

Sun Company Inc. sells 25% of its interest in Suncor to the Province of Ontario.

 

Suncor celebrates 200 millionth barrel of oil flowing down the pipeline.

 

A $185 million expansion brings production to 58,000 barrels per day.

 
1982

At the oil sands facility, the compressor house catches fire in -45C weather. When extinguished, the building is covered in ice that is chipped away.

1983

Tragic plane crash north of Toronto kills Ross A. Hennigar, chief executive officer of Suncor.

 

William R. Loar replaces Hennigar as president and chief executive officer of Suncor Inc.

 

Later in the year, Suncor dedicates a park in Fort McMurray in Ross A. Hennigar's memory.

 
1985 The federal government deregulates oil prices allowing oil producers to sell at market value.
1986 Thomas H. Thomson becomes president and chief executive officer of Suncor Inc.
  World crude oil prices collapse.
  Oil sands plant achieves record annual production level of 55,015 barrels per day.
  A long and bitter labour dispute ensues at the oil sands facility. After six months, the union and company ratify an agreement for the 1,100 Suncor workers.

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