Gulf Alumni Event To Celebrate ‘Glory Days’

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It’s being billed as the final annual Gulf Canada Resources Ltd. alumni reunion, but there’s much more to the story about the March 12 event — just ask former Gulf employee Doug Phillips.

Phillips, who worked for the former energy industry giant, which was acquired by Conoco Inc. (subsequently ConocoPhillips) in 2001 for C$6.7 billion, says the history of Gulf in many ways is a story of the “glory days” of the Canadian oil industry, which he thinks are unlikely to return.

“There was a special bond at Gulf among employees,” said Phillips, who was hired by the company after graduating in engineering at the University of Manitoba in 1977 and served in various roles with Gulf for another 18 years, subsequently working for several companies in roles overseeing joint ventures.

At one time Gulf Canada employed 10,000 people and occupied the still impressive Gulf Canada Square, located in downtown Calgary.

The group the 65-year-old Phillips heads — he’s calling it the final reunion because nobody else has taken over the reins and he is semi-retired — is one of three Gulf alumni organizations.

The group Phillips heads, called the Gulf Alumni, will meet at Bottlescrew Bill’s Old English Pub, located at 140-10th Ave. SW, at 4:30 on March 12.

It is one of three alumni groups, reflecting both the fact that Gulf Canada had so many employees (4,000 in Calgary alone) and the culture that existed in the company, said Phillips.

“We had 30 different clubs we supported through Gulf and about 90 per cent of Gulf employees belonged to them,” he said. “Gulf provided the financing.”

These included everything from clubs aimed at casual get-togethers, such as the one he still heads, to cross-country skiing and bowling clubs.

“We had 100-plus people volunteering their time [to the various clubs],” he said. “You don’t see the social clubs of the 1970s and 1980s now.”

Even in the 1970s and 1980s, though, he said Gulf’s “family oriented culture” was unique.

There are two other Gulf reunion groups. One, the Gas Gang Grads, includes most former downstream workers with Gulf. The company once had service stations throughout Canada and also once included the Petro-Canada downstream assets. They meet about five times a year for luncheons.

Another group, the Gulf Retirees, includes mostly former supervisors and executives. They hold luncheons in May and October at a local golf and country club.

His group, the Gulf Alumni, started life as a somewhat facetious and informal “have you been torched lately” group, as a wave of layoffs spread through the Canadian oil and gas industry in the late 1990s. It changed its name in 1999.

Many of its members were geophysicists and engineers.

In its earlier days as many as 150 people showed up. That has now shrunk to 60 to 80, as former employees have moved, died or lost interest.

However, Phillips said the bond among former Gulf employees was so strong there is likely to be continued interest in reliving the “old days” among former employees. He hopes someone will volunteer to take over the reins of the group.

After leaving Gulf Canada, he worked for a number of mid-sized companies, in roles ranging from overseeing joint ventures to gas plant operations.

But Phillips, who now heads his own consulting firm, said he will never forget the halcyon days of the oil and gas industry, when conventional oil and gas assets were much sought after and companies like Gulf reigned supreme.

Unfortunately, given the shift to non-conventional assets, such as the oilsands and the Montney and Duvernay, which require far fewer workers to operate — and almost no geophysicists and few engineers — he said it’s unlikely those days will return.

As a longtime Calgarian, he said he fears that means the empty downtown office buildings that once housed large companies like Gulf may remain vacant until high-tech or other companies occupy those spaces.

But, meanwhile, he and his former Gulf colleagues will be celebrating those glory days at the upcoming reunion.

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