Shell was one of the first Canadian oil companies to expand beyond fuels to commodity chemicals like the methyl ethyl ketone trumpeted in this ad from the June 1949 issue of Chemistry in Canada. Like the ad says, such solvents were in demand for coatings for furniture and musical instruments, as well as the manufacture of paints, adhesives, polymers and synthetic rubber. The year this ad ran was a big one for the company: by this time, Shell’s Canadian operations were processing 3 million barrels of crude oil each year and had acquired 400,000 acres in Alberta and 2 million acres in Saskatchewan making it the second most active exploration company in the west after Imperial Oil, an effort that led to the discovery of the now-famous natural gas and oil sands deposits.

Shell’s operations began in Canada when the Royal Dutch/Shell Group incorporated its Canadian business in 1911. That same year, the company opened a bunker plant and tankage facility at Montreal’s Longue Pointe with six employees and $50,000 in capital. By 1928 the company ran a network of 19 service stations; today there are 1,300 in Canada. The Montreal East refinery, constructed in the early 1930s, was one of the company’s first two Canadian refineries along with the Shellburn refinery in Burnaby, B.C. that was built around the same time to handle raw crude from abroad.

In 2010 the Montreal East Refinery was downgraded to a storage terminal, but western operations continue to bustle. The Scotford upgrader, which opened in 2003 near Edmonton, Alta., processes 100,000 barrels per day of synthetic crude from oil sands operations into gasoline and other fuels. Commodity chemicals are still important; an adjoining plant produces styrene monomer and monoethylene glycol for the plastics industry. Last fall, Shell announced it would go ahead with the “Quest” project at the Scotford upgrader, one of the largest carbon capture and storage projects attempted to date. The project is expected to come online in 2015.