Our history

Canada, as a country, was only 13 years old when The Imperial Oil Company was formed by 16 oil refiners in Ontario. As Canada has grown, Imperial has grown with it, sharing its prosperity and weathering the tough times.


Our history

The timeline includes some fun and interesting facts. It also shows that over our company’s history we’ve evolved, using innovation to adapt to changing times. We hope you enjoy reading a bit about our history, and also think about what Imperial will look like more than 140 years from now.


Sixteen southwestern-Ontario refiners form The Imperial Oil Company in London, Ontario, to find, produce and distribute petroleum products in Canada.
Imperial operations move to Petrolia, Ontario, after lightning strikes the London refinery.
1875 – 1898
Imperial Oil Company delivery wagon in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Twenty-three branch offices across from Halifax to Victoria give Imperial a presence across Canada. Pictured: Imperial office in Halifax, Nova Scotia below the Caledonia Hotel.
In need of expansion capital, majority interest of Imperial sold to the Standard Oil group in the United States. ExxonMobil, a descendent of Standard Oil, still owns 69.6 percent of our shares.
Imperial Oil acquired the Bushnell refinery in Sarnia and began rebuilding it.

Imperial opens Canada's first service station in Vancouver, British Columbia, where gasoline was dispensed by a garden hose.

Watch our Esso television commercial showing historical images of service stations, from the first one in 1907 through the 1950s.

Race car driver Bob Burman after setting new Canadian record (1 mile in 50 and 4/5th seconds) using polarine and Premier gasoline in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Imperial forms a subsidiary, the International Petroleum Company, Limited, to search for oil in South America.

Imperial builds a refinery at Burrard Inlet, east of Vancouver. Pictured is the Refinery baseball team in 1918/1919.


Imperial builds refineries in Regina and Montreal. Pictured: Aerial view of the Montreal Refinery.


Imperial becomes the first company in Canada to adopt a system of joint industrial councils, an innovative approach to labour-management relations. Pictured: Inaugural meeting of the first Joint Industrial Council in Sarnia, Ontario.

Imperial builds a refinery at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.


Imperial discovers oil at Fort Norman (now Norman Wells), N.W.T., on the Mackenzie River.


Imperial begins operations at the Calgary refinery.


Imperial hires Dr. Reginald Stratford to found the company, and industry’s, first research department.


Charles Lindbergh buying Imperial Oil gasoline for his plane in Quebec City, Quebec.


Imperial sponsors Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts for the first time. Pictured: Father and son listening to Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcast.

By 1950, three million Canadians listened to Esso hockey broadcasts each week – and in 1952, we expanded our broadcast sponsorship to include television.

Watch the Hockey Night in Canada final scores.

Learn more about history with hockey.


Imperial joins the Canadian and U.S. governments in Canol, a project to provide fuel for the U.S. war effort in the northern Pacific.


Imperial discovers oil at Leduc, marking the beginning of Western Canada’s great oil development.


Imperial establishes a chemical product department in Sarnia.


Imperial’s first research centre in western Canada opens in Calgary.


Imperial begins an experimental program to extract bitumen from the oil sands in Cold Lake, Alberta.


Imperial builds Strathcona refinery to replace older refineries in Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg and Calgary.


Imperial purchases Texaco Canada Inc. At the time, it was the second-largest corporate acquisition in the nation’s history.


Imperial moves its head office to Calgary from Toronto.


Imperial and ExxonMobil Canada acquire a multi-year exploration license, covering more than 500,000 acres, to explore for hydrocarbons in the Beaufort Sea.


Imperial announces its decision to fund the first phase of the Kearl oil sands project, a new mining development northeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta.


Imperial announces approval of an expansion of the company’s Cold Lake operation in northeastern Alberta, called Nabiye.


Imperial announces the start-up of the initial development of the Kearl oil sands project.


Imperial launches new corporate brand and logo.


Imperial announces the successful startup of the Kearl oil sands expansion project, ahead of schedule.

Watch Kearl from initial development to expansion project.


Imperial moves to a new campus-style office complex in southeast Calgary. A new, state-of-the-art, oil sands research centre in southeast Calgary also opens.


Imperial donates 43 artworks, with an estimated value of $6 million, to 15 museums and galleries in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial. Pictured: Lawren S. Harris painting, Billboard Jazz, donated to the National Gallery of Canada. 


First Mobil-branded service stations open in Canada. 


Imperial announces commitment to a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions intensity in its oil sands operations by 2023.


Imperial becomes the official fuel partner of PC Optimum loyalty program, allowing customer to earn PC Optimum points at over 2,000 Esso and Mobil stations across the country.


Imperial announces multi-year agreement with the NHL, naming Esso the Official Retail Fuel of the NHL in Canada. The company also launches a nation-wide commercial and campaign “How far will you go” focusing on the hockey journey.

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