The Oil Man and the Salish Sea

It seems appropriate that my uncle sent me a wonderful article about my great-grandfather this morning.

You see, my great-grandfather, Samuel Clarence Nickle, was an oil man. One of the most prominent business people in western Canada from the late 1930’s to the early 1970’s, he was instrumental in the development of the Canadian oil industry, and in the establishment of pipelines to transport the oil which his companies drilled. My great-grandfather was an innovator, an entrepreneur, and a financier. He was also, by all accounts, a very generous man.

Let me be clear: although I was raised in an “oil family”, I have very little knowledge of the oil industry. Three generations removed from my great-grandfather, I grew up in a middle-class family in the suburbs of Calgary. My father was a teacher and my mother was a stay-at-home mom, part-time social worker and tireless volunteer. I vaguely understood my family’s history in southern Alberta — many things around Calgary were named after my great-grandfather, or my great-uncle who carried on some of his father’s business interests. But beyond that basic knowledge, I knew less about oil than just about every other kid in Calgary.

When I entered the workforce as a Co-operative Education student in Computer Science, most of the primo jobs were with the oil companies downtown. With my mediocre GPA and my lack of passion for all things oil, I never managed to land one of those jobs. Somehow I wound up at Parks Canada — which turned out to be a dream job, and the start of something completely unexpected: a progressive, leftward shift in my thinking that would develop over two-and-a-half decades to where I now stand.

Politically, I’m pretty sure I voted for the Reform party — the precursor to our current Conservative party (which I was thrilled to see ousted from government last week) — when they first emerged in the early 90’s. Back then, I voted for “change” — even though I had no understanding of what that change meant. I have long since shifted my support to the Green Party — though admittedly I voted Liberal this time around, and unlike many of my friends I did not have to hold my nose to do it (that’s the topic for another post…). Anyway, my point is that my path from an Alberta-born Conservative at heart to a Left-wing West Coast Hippie has been a long, gradual shift. Some would say that my journey from the prairies to the Salish Sea has been an ascent, while others would call it an descent. I will stick with the word “shift”, because I have respect for those who are both right and left of me on the political spectrum. To quote one of my favourite bloggers, honeythatsok, in her post entitled Outdated Politics in a Time of Global Crisis: “I think every existing political philosophy has merit. Conservative, liberal, libertarian, social democrat, anarchy. I think if you slavishly subscribe to only one that you are pretty uninformed.”

My forthcoming novel, Goodnight Sunshine, explores my thoughts and feelings about politics, energy, and progress in general. You could say that I began writing my book with a hypothesis of sorts, and I came away with a somewhat different conclusion than I expected. I won’t say more than that about the book — or my own personal growth in writing it — but I will say that writing has led me to feel even more conflicted about the state of our world — and what to do about it — than I was before becoming an author.

Our federal election last week reminded me how many different views people hold about politics, the economy, the environment, and other important aspects of life on this planet. Seeing the article about my great-grandfather this morning reminded me that even within my own wonderfully close extended family, there is significant variety in how we see the world. In my own family history I can see why many of my family members, especially those who have worked within the oil industry, have developed more conservative perspectives (I would describe much of my family as “generous capitalists”). I can also see why others have distanced themselves from our family history — at least the part about oil. Personally, the aspect of my great-grandfather’s story that resonates most with me is his role as an entrepreneur — a game-changer — not that of a shrewd, hardened businessman. I see Sam Nickle as a man who saw potential for innovation, and invested much of his life to changing the world. If he was alive today, I would like to think that he would be chasing a completely different dream — perhaps a future that does not depend on oil — with the same kind of energy he exhibited during his time.

As seems to be the case with most things, it’s all a matter of perspective. We each see the world — even our own history — through whatever lens we choose. Mine happens to be shaded in green, but I can still see all of the colours of a rainbow.


8 thoughts on “The Oil Man and the Salish Sea

  1. Well said. Wonderful thoughts and interesting perspectives from the product of a very special family. Love your writing style. Like my son, you write just as you speak.. a rare talent!


  2. Your great grandfather sounds like a very interesting individual and as you called him a game changer. The world was a very different place back then.
    I am very excited to read your first novel, Goodnight Sunshine. Keep up the great work.


    1. Thanks Tricia! Yes, the world certainly was different then. And as for the book, it’s less than a month away now…


  3. Thanks again for the shout-out 🙂 This is a great post and exactly why I love blogs. Where else can you express yourself both personally and politically to an audience and have them come away with a better understanding of just how complex people are and all the bits we are made up of. I think everyone’s journey to ‘green’ is unique and endlessly fascinating because it means the ability to embrace something new and yet unformed, rather than just subscribe to old ideas.

    I look forward to your book! That is a great accomplishment!


    1. And thank you for your thoughtful words. I especially love the words, “and all the bits we are made up of.” Indeed, we are complex–and often paradoxical–creatures.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s