Alberta at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Alberta oilsands display caught the attention of the Corporate Ethics environmental group and, as some historians claim, kickstarted the Tar Sands Campaign which continues to this day.

For two weeks in the summer of 2006,  Alberta was the talk of the town in Washington, DC.

Report by Dan Claypool, Vern Blinn & Doug Gibson. Photographs courtesy of Dan Claypool.

Alberta was featured at the 40th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival which was held from June 30 to July 11, 2006 in Washington, DC. This was the first time in the Festival’s 40 year history that a Canadian province had been featured on the National Mall of the United States.

More than 150 Albertans brought contemporary Alberta to life in an area the size of five city blocks on the National Mall, just a short walk from the White House, in the heart of Washington, DC, between the Capital Building and the Washington Monument. Participants demonstrated Alberta’s work life, performing arts and cultural heritage. Concerts and theatre performances by Alberta artists took place throughout Washington, including free concerts at the Kennedy Centre. Alberta at the Smithsonian provided an opportunity to represent the many faces of the province — our ethnic diversity, industry, urban sophistication, rural health, artistic expression and technological innovation, to Alberta and Canada’s largest trading partner. Approximately 20% of all energy consumed in the USA is provided by Canada, and the bulk of that is provided by Alberta.

In traditional Stampede spirit, a free pancake breakfast was held at the Canadian Embassy on July 4, 2006.

Approximately 60 tents were situated on the grassed area, surrounded by the 16 Smithsonian Museums.

One tent was dedicated to conventional energy and drilling for oil and gas deep into the earth. Three individuals represented the conventional oil and gas industry; Doug Gibson from Enform (now Energy Safety Canada), plus Vern Blinn and Dan Claypool from the Canadian Petroleum Discovery Centre at the Leduc #1 Historical Site.

Alberta’s Conventional Oil & Gas tent team (L-R): Dan Claypool, Vern Blinn, and Doug Gibson.
Over the course of the 2-week event, the Conventional Oil & Gas averaged 1,000 to 1,200 visitors per day.


An estimated 1,000 – 1,200 persons visited the Conventional Oil & Gas tent each day. The Folklife Festival was open to the public from 11:00am to 5:30pm each day with approximately 900,000 people attending over the course of the two week period. The festival was closed on July 5 and 6  which provided a rest period for the Albertans who were not accustomed to 90˚F temperatures with 90% humidity.

Disaster struck on the evening of July 4, 2006. After attending a pancake breakfast at the Canadian Embassy, hosted by the Calgary Stampede Group, it was a busy day at the tent explaining oil and gas drilling to people who were out celebrating the Independence Day holiday. It was suggested by the organizers we should shut down the tent early as a violent storm was brewing with lightning, high winds, and rain expected. The tent was secured and the crew headed for the bus stop to catch a bus to transport the Albertans back to their hotel, the Key Bridge Marriott, in Arlington, Virginia across the Potomac River. The wind and rain arrived prior to catching the bus.

“Disaster struck on the evening of July 4, 2006…A wind estimated at 50-60 mph hit the 60 tents of the Alberta delegation.”

A wind estimated at 50 to 60mph hit the 60 tents of the Alberta delegation. Only one tent failed. The Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Tent was blown away and the models inside were completely destroyed. On July 5, Smithsonian staff and the Conventional Oil & Gas people viewed the damaged models which had been moved into a building on site. Two scenarios confronted the conventional oil and gas crew. (1) Shut it down and take a holiday for the next seven days or, (2) get a replacement tent and re-organize to the best they could, prop up the destroyed models, and get back in the business of telling people about Alberta’s conventional oil and gas industry. Needless to say the crew decided on the second option. After taking a day and a half off, and the Smithsonian people providing a replacement tent along with a big sign that read “Models Destroyed in the July 4th Wind Storm,” the conventional oil and gas crew were back in business after half a day of re-rigging what was left.

(Here is Vern’s firsthand account of the microburst [1:26])

On Independence Day (July 4), a windstorm swept through the Festival taking out the Oil & Gas tent demolishing most of the rig models.

An assessment by the three conventional oil and gas industry representatives is that the Alberta involvement was a success. An article subsequently appearing in Wildcatter magazine which seems to confirm that opinion.

On July 11, the materials that had been shipped down from Alberta — including the destroyed models — were crated up for shipment back home. The Folklife Festival was drawing to a close.

Many individuals within the Alberta Government and the Smithsonian Institution deserve a great deal of credit for the success of “Alberta at the Smithsonian.” However, they are too numerous to mention. Also the many volunteers, suffice it to say each did a 100% job. The 150 people who represented Alberta proved to be excellent ambassadors. This report would not be complete without mentioning several people who provided leadership and vision in making “Alberta at the Smithsonian” such a great success (in no particular order): Ralph Klein (Premier, Alberta Provincial Government), Denis Ducharme (Minister, Alberta Provincial Government), Murray Smith (Alberta D.C. Office),  Al Chapman (Project Manager), Barbara Strickland (Contracting Officer, Smithsonian), Dr. Nancy Groce (Curator, Smithsonian).

This report was prepared on behalf of the three representatives of the Conventional Oil and Gas team at the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.