Mary Tidlund was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, in a home with 45 other foster children. One of three to be adopted, Tidlund and her adoptive family lived in Montgomery in a 640 square foot home.
“I’m the only brown girl in the family [but] I was raised in diversity. I saw every race, age, and gender. I had very loving parents,” she says.
Pursing her path as an adult
Though she initially had little interest in school, Tidlund decided to pursue a degree in Geographical Science at the University of Calgary after finding out that her birth father had attended university. After graduating from university, she pursued a career in oil and gas, helped along the way by some of her friends’ fathers who were already in the industry.
Tidlund took a job at Pan Canadian but didn’t stay long, citing; “there was not a lot of visibility for women.” Momentarily leaving the oil and gas sector, she decided to go in search of her birth parents. The search took her first to Ghana, and eventually led her to New York, where she found her biological father.
Pioneering a small niche business
After fulfilling her goal of locating her birth parents, Tidlund found herself back in oil and gas. This time, however, she eschewed the large corporation for a more home-grown, niche business model. Tidlund started an oil and gas exploration and service company – Willison Wildcatters Oil Corporation – in a small town in Saskatchewan, which she operated as President and CEO for ten years.
“We had a service division, our own semi division our own drilling rigs, and our own trucking fleet. The unique thing was that we were pioneering horizontal drilling,” she explains.
Establishing new technology
When asked, Tidlund says that she is uniquely proud of her company’s role in establishing the practice of horizontal drilling.
“It was fun. Few people were doing it at the time. Working with new technology is exciting and challenging at the same time,” she says.
“The banks were averse to us and didn’t believe that the reserves would last past a year since we were pulling out the oil so fast compared to vertical wells. I travelled to Toronto and raised funds with Bay Street investors. It was an exciting time, and it was new.”
Enriching the community
Tidlund and her partners recognized the community enrichment that they could initiate with the success of the company.
“Our headquarters were in a historical courthouse in Arcola, Saskatchewan, with a population of about 500 people. We uplifted the community by buying an historical opera house and opening a restaurant, bar, art gallery, and other retail.”
After a period of financial difficulty, Williston Wildcatters Oil Corporation went bankrupt and laid off 250 employees. Tidlund decided to spend two years travelling, where she developed a new vision for her future, creating the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation. She wanted to do something for the communities she was visiting and put together a board. They raised millions of dollars and strategically gave it away - mostly to women and children in the form of healthcare, education, and elevation out of poverty.
“I was given so much. I was adopted into a loving, nurturing family. I wanted to give back a little of what I had been given. It could have gone the wrong way for me, but my parents were philanthropists of the heart. They didn’t have a pocketbook, but they had heart,” Tidlund says.
Talking about mistakes
When asked, Tidlund would say that her greatest lesson was acknowledging and sharing her mistakes.
“Many young women don’t talk about their mistakes and those are some of the richest parts where you can really grow. For me it was my bankruptcy. But I pulled it together, forgave myself, and moved forward. My unique abilities were still there regardless of the loss.”
From foster care to university, finding her biological parents, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, Tidlund’s rich and varied life has obvious reverberations and impacts on the communities with which she engages. Currently sitting on several boards in the US and has written a book, Memoirs of a Wildcat: Unadoptable, Unstoppable, Unconditional Love. Tidlund boils her vast experience down into a piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“You must be courageous. It is not a path for the weak of heart. You must believe in yourself and not believe what others tell you. Stay on course and surround yourself with like-minded people. Trust your intuition, it’s a powerful tool. Be flexible and be diverse. Diversity begets innovation.”