Samuel Aubrey Kerr, P.Geol.
A renowned geologist, author, historian and member of APEGGA, Calgary’s Aubrey Kerr, P.Geol., died Feb. 19 at 92. Mr. Kerr, whose oil industry roots go back to before the history-changing discoveries near Leduc in the late 1940s, established himself after retirement as a constant learner and a knowledgeable resource person on geology and the petroleum industry.
“For people who would listen, he was a wonderful resource. For people who wouldn’t, he was probably too much of an independent mind,” said a retired chairman of the National Energy Board.
Quoted in a Calgary Herald tribute written by David Finch, Roland Priddle continued: “Aubrey loved the profession of geology and later in retirement successfully recaptured in his books the early glory days of the Alberta industry, particularly Leduc and Redwater, and the people associated with those profoundly important discoveries.
“For that work alone, the Alberta public owes him a debt.”
Born Samuel Aubrey Kerr in Orillia, Ont., on Nov. 29, 1915, Mr. Kerr went to school and university in Toronto. After moving to Vancouver, he earned a master’s degree in geology in 1942 from the University of British Columbia.
The war effort and Imperial Oil had him looking for oil, in the wake of the peak of production and a quick drop off at Turner Valley.
Years later, Mr. Kerr would say: “There was utterly no future in the oil business. The Turner Valley field was producing about 15,000 barrels a day and was on its last legs.”
Things changed. Imperial Leduc No. 1 struck crude on Feb. 13, 1947. A real possibility of even more oil under the Prairies began to take shape.
Mr. Kerr was Imperial’s chief geologist and in charge of nearby Imperial Leduc No. 2. It became another success for Imperial and Alberta, proving the existence of even larger quantities of oil and a deeper reef, on May 7, 1947. The reef alone contained more than 390 million barrels of it.
Said Mr. Kerr in 2007: “We could tell it was going to be a very prolific one. The news got back to head office, even all the way to New York, pretty quickly.”
Mr. Kerr would call his work in the Leduc field “the greatest achievement I ever had. There was almost that element of Christopher Columbus about it, of sailing into that unknown world. What happened in those weeks and months in 1947 changed the whole face of Alberta forever.”
Mr. Kerr became chief geologist for Alberta’s Home Oil in 1949. When the federal government created the National Energy Board in 1959, it selected Kerr as its chief geologist.
Back in Calgary in the 1970s, Mr. Kerr saw the need to record and collect the history of the oilpatch while many of its players were still alive. He collected archival materials, and was also the driving force behind the creation of the Petroleum Industry Oral History Project in 1981. The project is a collection of recorded and transcribed interviews with more than 300 personalities in the Canadian oil industry, and today it resides at the Glenbow Archives.
Mr. Kerr published extensively. His articles on petroleum history appeared in, among others, the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists’ Reservoir, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen’s Negotiator, and Oilweek magazine.
He also wrote books, which for the most part he self-published and hand-sold. They included Atlantic No. 3, 1948 in 1986, Corridors of Time in 1988, Leduc in 1991, Redwater in 1994, Corridors of Time 2 in 2000, Corridors of Time 3 in 2004 and A Sampling of Searchers in 2007.
Mr. Kerr held memberships in both the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists and the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists. He was also involved with the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, its national council and the Petroleum History Society.
His work earned him plenty of recognition. Mr. Kerr received the Distinguished Service Medal from the Petroleum Society of the CIMM in 1990 and its Distinguished Lecturer Award in 1991.
In 1994, the Petroleum History Society awarded him the best book of the year prize for Redwater and its lifetime achievement award. The CSPG gave him honorary membership in 1997, the same year he began contributing a series of historical articles to Reservoir.
The University of Calgary awarded Mr. Kerr an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1998, and he was also inducted into the Petroleum Hall of Fame, that year.
Mr. Kerr and his recently deceased wife, Elsie, were generous patrons of the arts and culture, and contributed to other charities as well. They donated to the Petroleum History Society, the Calgary Civic Symphony, the Calgary Learning Centre, the Historical Society of Alberta, the Calgary Public Library Foundation, the Calgary HandiBus Association and the Glenbow Museum. They also financially supported the Kerby Centre and the Anglican Church, where they were active members.