Wildcatters: The Story of Pacific Petroleums and Westcoast Transmission


306 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7710-3539-X





Reviewed by T.D. Regehr

T.D. Regehr is a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan and
author of The Beauharnois Scandal: A Story of Entrepreneurship and


This discovery of oil and natural gas in western Canada, made by wildcatters such as Frank McMahon and his associates, has transformed the economies of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. Journalists and the so-called “oil patch scribblers” have long been fascinated by the colourful and frenetic activities of the men who made it all possible. And now we have, from the pen of one of the best known of those “oil patch scribblers” a detailed history of Frank McMahon and two of the most successful companies he founded. McMahon’s early career as a wildcatter is told in a compelling and colourful manner. But before we are halfway through the book McMahon becomes more of an entrepreneur than a wildcatter; it would probably be more accurate if this book were entitled “Wildcatters and Entrepreneurs.”

Earle Gray, the longtime editor of Oilweek Magazine, describes himself as “a devoted disciple of a competitive market economy” (p. 289) and he is clearly an admirer of men like McMahon. It is therefore particularly interesting to read his all-too-brief account of Westcoast Transmission’s controversial dealings with the New Democratic government of Premier Dave Barrett. That encounter, in Earle Gray’s view, actually spared Westcoast a serious financial embarrassment. Also, the takeover of Pacific Petroleums by publicly owned Petro Canada is described as a good financial deal for all concerned.

The best and most detailed sections of the book describe the long and controversial pipeline hearings before the Canadian National Energy Board and the Federal Power Commission in Washington. These sections, like most of the book, however, deal primarily with the problems and activities of Pacific Petroleum and Westcoast Transmission. If the oil patch at times resembles a jungle, this book describes the growth of two of the hardiest plants in that jungle. It thereby contributes to a better understanding of important aspects of North American oil and gas policies. It is not, however, a work which provides a comprehensive overview of national and international energy policies. It is, as the subtitle indicates, the story of Pacific Petroleum and Westcoast Transmission, written from the perspective of the promoters of those two companies and their numerous affiliates.


Gray, Earle, “Wildcatters: The Story of Pacific Petroleums and Westcoast Transmission,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 3, 2021, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/39043.