Perry Kotkas among 2019 Palliser Wall of Fame inductees

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Perry Kotkas, left, receives his scroll from Wall of Fame Committee Chair, and teacher, Michael Saad at the induction ceremony.

Perry Kotkas had a career filled with highlights. A major player during the heyday of oil and gas exploration, he recounts Concorde flights to Dakar and breakfast with the president of Togo.

The 2019 Palliser Regional Schools’ Wall of Fame inductee, however, credits life in small-town Barons with instilling in him many of the principles which guided his career.

“Living in a small village, people helped me learn about ethics and hard work and being practical. Those are three key things, along with self-reliance, that have absolutely defined me,” says Kotkas, adding he tried to instill those same values in his children and co-workers.

Kotkas, who attended Barons Consolidated School from Grades 1-9, was inducted into the Palliser Wall of Fame for outstanding achievement in the field of geophysics. Also inducted at the ceremony, as part of Opening Day celebrations for Palliser staff, was Linda Davies. The graduate of Picture Butte High School was recognized for her efforts in the area of humanitarian service.

Kotkas has called Calgary home for decades, but when asked where he’s from during his travels, “Barons” remains his reply. While that usually raises further questions as to what or where Barons is, he knows it’s the place that helped instill in him a love of science. 

He fondly recalls collecting dinosaur bones and other treasures at the nearby badlands at Scabby Butte as a youth. Kotkas’ interest was further piqued by the activity at a small oilfield near the family’s homestead farm.

The pyrotechnics used by the seismic crews and the resulting mud and water blown sky-high would thrill any child. And then there were the stirring sights and sounds of a drilling rig nearby.

“You could hear the roar of the engines, and the clank of steel-on-steel of the drill stems and chains. And at night there were the derrick lights,” Kotkas recalls. “That was pretty exciting for a farm kid.”

Further cultivating those interests were his Grade 9 teacher Enid Allen, and ‘Uncle Oscar.’

He remembers ‘Mrs. Allen’ as very strict, but still able to make learning fun. Although Kotkas would like to thank all of the teachers who impacted his life, he says he and his classmates would have “walked on broken glass” for her. ‘Oscar,’ who was actually his dad’s cousin, entertained a wide-eyed country boy with stories of adventure and discovery as chief geologist for Gulf Oil in Calgary, and enlightened him about geophysics.

Geophysics is the study of the structure and composition of the earth using remote sensing devices. In the petroleum exploration world that’s primarily achieved through seismic exploration, where sound waves are sent deep into the earth and then bounce back off different layers, formations and features below.

“It was pretty exciting and of course the intention is to find a drilling location. If you find one it generally gets drilled. And if you get a discovery, it’s just like the movies, everybody’s really happy about that,” sums up Kotkas of his job.

His first management position was exploration manager with Ocelot Industries, a “darling” of the Canadian industry.  Kotkas would become president at one of the top seismic acquisition companies in the country, Sourcex Geophysical Inc., a promotion he would have never dared dream of when he started out.

“(Here) I am a farm kid who was over the moon to have graduated university and found a really exciting job. That job (geophysics) just got more exciting as the years went by,” he says.

Kotkas served as president of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysics (CSEG), and received the Meritorious Service Award and a Lifetime Honorary Membership from that organization. He was also named a Fellow of Geoscience Canada.

While being recognized by one’s peers is satisfying, he calls a place on Palliser’s Wall of Fame a “wonderful honour” that was both “terrifying and humbling” given the accomplishments of previous inductees.

“Perhaps my parents and my former teachers would be looking down with great big smiles on their faces and saying, ‘huh, the kid made it,’ ” says Kotkas.

An early retirement from the industry allowed him to serve as chair of the CSEG’s national charitable organization, and he spent years volunteering at career fairs, sparking an interest in geoscience in the young attendees.

Kotkas also spent many years with the Scouts Canada organization, which had nourished his love of the outdoors as a youth.

“The personal satisfaction of helping, and doing something that is really good for people who appreciate it, is incredible,” he says of his community service work.

The goal of the Palliser Regional Schools’ Wall of Fame is to celebrate the success of former students and staff, but also to inspire the students of today and tomorrow.

Kotkas says in his younger life he never dreamed about a future outside his immediate world, which was “pretty small and very local.” His advice to students would be to get a well-rounded education, broaden their horizons through travel – whether real or virtual in nature – and pursue their dreams.

To view biographies of past Wall of Fame inductees, go to

For more information on geophysics and earth science, go to