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Local Lloydminster entrepreneurs set up the first heavy oil cracking plant

[this article appeared in the August 1982 issue of The Roughneck magazine]

Until the arrival of Husky Oil in 1946, the development of the fields around Lloydminster was undertaken by local entrepreneurs and no undertaking better describes the residents belief there was money to be made in the oil business than the Dina refinery near Ribstone which operated from 1938 to 1942. A subsidiary of the Lloydminster Gas Company, every summer the small plant produced asphalt, light and heavy lubricating oils, a diesel fuel and gas combination, and "distillate", something that apparently made the tractors of the day really purr. The products were sold to the local market.

The whole story started with a man named O.C. Yates, a C.P,R. agent who in the early 1930's had a dream of forming a gas company to supply Lloydminster with natural gas. Another loca enterprise, called the Oxville Oil and Gas Company, had been drilling with varied success around Ribstone since 1927 but went broke early in 1933. Yates persuaded some farmers and businessmen from the area to raise the necessary $1500 to acquire Oxville's assets, and in particular he received $300 from brothers Stuart and Colin Wright who were big farmers in the area at the time. Colin's son, Keith, today [1982] describes the company's formation as Yates having the silver tongue; the Wrights having the money.

The Lloydminster Gas Company enjoyed early success and brought in the first commercial gas well in Saskatchewan near the town of Lloydminster in March of 1934 and soon had a distribution system set up in the town. However, Oxville's assets also included some heavy oil wells near Dina, straight south of town near Ribstone, and it was the curious Stuart Wright to whom the credit must be given for moving the company into the refining business.

Stuart had taken home a pail of this heavy black crude from the wells at Dina back to his farm and began experimenting with it on a hot forge. He discovered that once heated, the oil broke down rather easily into identifiable by-products. Convinced he was on to something, Stuart took samples to the next directors meeting of the Gas Co. and persuaded the other company executives this oil had refining potential.

A subsidiary, called the Lloydminster Development Company, was set up and since Stuart was the resident expert on refining, he became the head of the endeavour at the whopping salary of $85/month. He married his bride, Olive, and the honeymoon was spent near Signal Hill, California, the site of a recent big oil discovery, where Stuart studied the refining processes of. the day. He returned to Lloydminster and near the site of Oxville’s early oil discoveries at Dina, began setting up the refinery.

Dina Oil Field showing wells and Dina Refinery to the right - c. 1938
Note two men standing beside automobile between camp buildings
and wooden derrick of Dina No. 4.
[for an interesting article on the history of the Dina Refinery - click here]

By 1938, the Dina refinery was in operation, cracking the oil from six wells virtually right on location. Since most of the plant’s customers were farmers, the refinery operated only in the summers producing asphalt which was put in barrels, hauled to Lloydminster and shipped off by train, and lubricants and fuels for the farming community. Today [1982] Olive Wright recalls arriving at the refinery in the early spring and leaving in the fall while Stuart's brother Colin ran the farm. The diesel and distillate produced by the refinery was said to be the best available in the area and the plant operated for four summers.

By 1942, the impracticality of the location of the Dina refinery was becoming obvious. The plant was taking feedstock from wells near the plant and trucking oil in from the west towards Wainwright, but the wells were not great producers. In Lloydminster, the Excelsior Refinery was operating, and the distance of the Dina location to the rail line made the economics of continued operation prohibitive, particularly the costs of hauling crude from Lloydminster to Dina and back in refined form.

The Lloydminster Gas Company was a money maker, but the refinery was closed down and Stuart Wright was soon in another business when he opened the industrial supply store in Lloydminster which bears his name today.

Today the site of the oil Dina refinery is unmarked and virtually all the equipment has disappeared. You could look, though, for a permanent patch of pavement in the middle of a field.