Scattered and Divided: The Uncertain Future of the Canadian Energy Museum’s Artifacts and Stories

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This piece is the third in a series of blogs about the Canadian Energy Museum, a small museum situated in the town of Devon, Alberta that is facing imminent closure due to the loss of funding.  The goal of these blogs is to share some of the Canadian Energy Museum’s rich collection with the broader community of environmental historians and museum professionals before the museum closes, as well as to tell the story of the unfolding funding crisis amongst smaller regional museums in Canada through the perspective of this museum. We hope that NiCHE’s readers might be compelled by these pieces to either donate to the effort to save the CEM, or to play a more active role in advocating for the continued funding of small regional museums across the country.

One of the most frequent comments the Canadian Energy Museum (CEM) staff get from visitors is how the CEM is “…so much bigger than we thought!” — and that is after seeing just what is displayed in the public galleries. Despite the compact front facade, the Museum has five distinct gallery spaces, with a large back extension that doubles the building’s size. We also have a sprawling collection of large equipment and vehicles displayed outside. The Canadian Energy Museum certainly is not small.

view of several displays inside the museum, including a large tractor and other machinery. Photos and descriptive text surround the displays.
A view of the gas and oil pipeline exhibit in the Back Gallery. Photo: Danielle Lane. Used with permission of the CEM.
A view of the interior of the museum with display cases, podiums, and art of the wall. The floor is carpeted, the walls are light grey, and the low ceiling shines bright lights.
A view of paintings, bronzes, and hand craved art in the Art Gallery. Photo: Danielle Lane. Used with permission of the CEM.

The Museum started as a small hobby collection organised by former oil workers and passionate supporters of Leduc #1 and its history, and the collection has passed through several hands since its inception in the 1990s. Since taking on the role of Collection and Exhibition Manager in January 2023, I have made it my mission to bring the collection into the 21st century, updating the management software, standardising policies, digitizing records, and making our stored artifacts accessible to the public through an online portal called HUB.

Something that struck me when I first arrived at the CEM was the diversity in objects we hold. While a lot of what visitors expect are machinery, vehicles, and instrumentation, we also have decades of industry-related memorabilia, promotional objects, personal effects and equipment, personal histories and stories, corporate records, original drilling reports, large-scale models, artwork, and decades of photographs. And, in all of these objects can be found stories that would likely never make it into history books: the stories of the oil wives who built strong bonds and communities, the scrapbooks and photo albums of proud workers, items that represent a snapshot of a different time and culture, and the personal record keeping of Wildcatters. At last inventory, the collection exceeds 7,000 unique objects, only 2,000 of which are presently in the public galleries. The rest are in storage for safe-keeping and research.

A view of the interior of the museum. Several display cases feature memorabilia of Texaco, including a model truck and gas station pump.
A view of the Carol Haggerty Collection and Willys Jeep in the Front Gallery. Photo: Danielle Lane. Used with permission of the CEM.

One of my favourite items of curiosity are the Oil Patch Kids. These novelty toys were produced between 1985 and 1987, in Edmonton, and beyond that very little has been recorded about their history. Truly, in all my research I have only found passing mentions of them in two Canadian doll collectors guides; one online and one published book.1

Two cabbage patch dolls wearing yellow overalls and hard hats. The dolls have white skin, dirtied with smudges, and black hair and blue eyes.
A girl and boy Oil Patch Kid doll, complete with container, certificate, and Oil Patch Pal. Photo: Danielle Lane. Used with permission of the CEM.

These oil-themed dolls were modelled after the very popular Cabbage Patch Kids, and came in both girl and boy varieties. The dolls came as a set including the doll, a smokey-black translucent storage/display barrel, a ‘license’ slip, and a small plush ‘Oil Patch Pet.’ A fun feature of the dolls are the unique oil stains smudged on each doll’s face.

Two cabbage patch dolls placed inside their original packaging, which was meant to resemble an oil drum.
A girl and boy Oil Patch Kid doll, inside their barrels. Photo: Danielle Lane. Used with permission of the CEM.

These dolls represent a moment in time and the culture that sprung up around oil in Alberta. The CEM is lucky enough to have five of these dolls in our collection, one of which was gifted as part of the August 4, 1990, Leduc #1 Rig Raising and donated to the museum by Dan Claypool, who was a worker on Leduc #1 and involved in the creation of the CEM.

My greatest concern with the potential closure of the museum is where the collection will end up. While priority will be given to rehoming our artifacts in other institutions, they will undoubtedly have to be broken up. There is certainly no other oil or energy institution situated to take our artifacts as is — we really are the only museum of our size preserving the history of oil and gas in Canada. Finding a new home would be an enormous undertaking, and the collection would likely be in limbo for years as destinations are secured, paperwork is completed, legal red tape is navigated, and transportation is arranged. Moving artifacts from one museum to another is no small task.

What the museum needs right now, is the bridge funding to get us through the next two years, so we can implement our long-term sustainable strategic plans. These include hosting regular events/functions and market day, investing in promotional material and pubic visibility, and hiring the needed staff to run the museum are full capacity and efficiently. We are seeking organisations and businesses to partner with and sponsor artifacts, exhibits, and whole gallery spaces. If you know someone who may be interested in such a partnership, we urge them to reach out to us — they could make all the difference.

A view of the Coal display in the Back Gallery Corridor. Photo: Danielle Lane. Used with permission of the CEM.


1. Evelyn Robson Strahlendorf. Dolls of Canada: A Reference Guide. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986).

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Danielle Lane

Collection and Exhibition Manager at Canadian Energy Museum
Danielle Lane is the Collection and Exhibition Manager at the Canadian Energy Museum (Home of Leduc #1) and holds a Masters of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. Originally from New Zealand, Danielle has lived in Australia and the UK, and now calls Alberta home. Her areas of interest include social and landscape history, as well as material history with a particular focus on printed ephemera (newspapers, promotional booklets/flyers, and product packaging).

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