Petrolia's History by J.H. Fairbank
This is a document that was written
some time around ca.1908. It captures our
history in a very interesting
way.There have been many requests for the
details of the Petrolia's history and I have
chosen JH Fairbank's eyewitness account
because it really sums it up very
well. For more on Petrolia books go to the
bottom of the page.and this link
to the 1908 Petrolia book. 1908 Petrolia
J. H. Fairbank
Sketch of Petrolia's Early Days
beginning the Township
of Enniskillen contained eighty-six thousand
eight hundred acres. By assessment
Roll, of 1847, it had three hundred and
ninety-six and a half acres under
cultivation by 37 settlers, who owned
thirty-four cows and sixteen dogs.
Very near the centre of this once grand
hunting ground, where, sheltered by the
towering walnuts, oaks and elms, the wild deer
roamed in freedom, and the wilder turkey
reared its brood, Petrolia was born. A spring
sowing oil was its father. It was named in
1861 by the first postmaster, Patrick Barclay,
and three others.
At the time oil had caught the attention of
George L. Thayer and other Boston gentlemen,
who acquired lands, sand curbed wells (40
feet from the surface) to the rock where
they found oil. They built a refinery. The
was heavy, an excellent lubricator but not
adapted to make lamp oil.
early in the fight were, S. J. Lancaster,
Joseph Barrett, John Wattie, Oliver
Chamberlin, Hugh Smiley, and Henry Canneff.
mile up stream, Bear Creek, ran a mill,
where John Woodley ground food for
years 1862-63-64, the infant Petrolia slept,
while Oil Springs budded, blossomed, bloomed
and faded. Its "rock poured forth rivers of
oil," and the oil rand down the "river."
In those days
there was no railway, no highway, no pipe
line. From Wyoming, by Petrolia, to Oil
Springs was only one mud hole. It was twelve
miles long, and of uncertain depth.
Oil men met -- met frequently -- and passed
resolutions. Andrew Elliot built a plank
The last half
of the year 1865 arrived. Lee and Johnson
had surrendered. The
American civil war
was ended. Crude oil had touched $10.00, gold.
The thing was inviting. Americans, ballasted
with greenbacks, invaded Petrolia. Hotels were
quickly built, and quickly filled: William
Boyce, at the Great Western; Lombard &
Simpson, at the United States; Fletcher &
Boswell, at the American; also the Saginaw and
New York, all in action. The "Boom" was on.
arrivals were Col. Thompson, Dow Elwood, Col.
Shoemaker, Frank SMith, Col. Parsons, Dr.
Underwood, Horace Blackmore, Major VanTuyl, H.W.
Lancey, Judge Avery.
There also came
John D. Noble, John McMillan, J.H. Fairbank,
Edwin D. Kerby, John Brake, and many others.
Amongst the early
builders were Walter Oliver, Robert Paul, John
Sinclair, Malcolm Scott. A little later came
John Crosbie (the hunter), J. & J. Kerr,
Robert Jackson, and others.
Of the early
storekeepers were Thompson, McQuien, Bennett,
McGarvey, McKenzie & Cary, Chris. McKenzie,
and Father Bishop, a little later.
In those days the
anvil of Goerge Sanson, "Petrolia's Blacksmith,"
rand to the forging of drilling tools that, with
Petrolia men who learned to use them, have
carried the name of Petrolia to the ends of the
earth. Tronson Draper's, and Hector McKenzie's
machine shops finished up these tools, Later the
mantle of these modern Tubal Cain's fell upon
James Joyce, the sons
of Hector McKenzie, McKee & Marwick, Mike
Gorman, and others.
Peter Taylor was
captain of transportation. With is 56 horses he
moved anything that had two ends to it.
In those days
Petrolia "took its medicine" from Dr. Buckham,
supplied by Druggist W. H. Dale.
In the spring of 1866 there were
four frame dwellings west of the bridge,
Wheelwright, Col Thompson, Bennett, Fairbank.
June first, 1866, the fool
Fenian raid occurred. It was a cooling bath to
Petrolia. Late in the year the "King" well was
struck, and Petrolia had "oil to burn," and a year
later burned it. On the 17th of December, 1866,
the Great Western Railway branch, Wyoming to
Petrolia, was opened. Eleven years later came the
Canadian Southern Railway.
In September, 1866, came the
first newspaper, "The Valuator and Petrolia
T. Galbraith, editor., It demised young. "The
Weekly News-Letter and Petrolia Advertiser," came
30th of September, 1870, J. B. Dale, proprietor
and editor. July 5th, 1872, R. Herring became
proprietor and editor of "Petrolia Advertiser and
Sentinel." March 20th, 1879, came the "Petrolia
Topic," Lowery Bros., proprietors and editors.
In 1867 came the first election for Legislative
Assembly. T. B. Pardee and Robert Rae, candidates
for Lambton. There was something to an election in
those days -- one polling place in all Enniskillen
-- two days polling. Booths convenient to poll --
"lashins" of refreshments perfectly free to all.
Here the "Free and Independent" openly recorded
John McDonald built stills for
John McMillan. A year or so later William
Stevenson and Arthur Kavanaugh built Parson &
Co.'s 2,000-bbl. still.
By 1868, oil refineries were
numerous here and elsewhere. At times they worked
together, at times they did not. There was a
surplus of crude. To aid export, A crude Oil
Association was formed, Dow Elwood, president; J.
H. Fairbank, manager; John Brake, Alex. Craise,
directors. Heavy sales for export only, at 60
cents, moved the surplus.
Among the many, who in these
days pitched their tents in Petrolia, were, James
Lawson, Joseph McDougall, R. A. Townsend, Samuel
and William Stokes, Melville Parker, Henry Fish,
Henry Rosenburg, J. C. Hyde, Robert Egan, Joseph
Ward, D. M.
Kennedy, William Lindsay, James Perkins (and here
the Perkins boys grew),
Hiram Cooley, W. H. Hammond, Patrick Gleeson, J.
J. Woodward, Harry Kittridge,
James Peat, A. T. Gurd, John Walker, James McCort,
W. G. Fraser, John Fraser,
J. W. Ford, "Mon" Crysler (another hunter), John
Tracey, King Houston, Ai
Moss, Adam Isbister, W. E. Reynolds, Lewis
Lambert, Charles H. Errington,
C. A. Farr, John Carmichael, Wallace Bell, H. H.
Gore, George Denham, John
Watson, Henry Prince, James Joyce, James Harley,
E. A. Archer, George Moncrieff,
W. K. Gibson, O. Simmons, Fred Reid, George
Primmer, Charles Ribighini, John
Shields, Duncan Sinclair, Neil Sinclair, J. S.
Lougheed, Thomas Cochrane,
R. S. Dunlop, John Rispin, Thomas Rutter, Donald
Cameron, Marshall, and Goodrich,
and many others. If not here just then, they were
coming. The churches kept step with the
procession. Three of them build on England Avenue,
Methodist -- Rev. G. W. Frazee,
Presbyterian -- Rev. J. W.
Chestnut, first minister.
Catholic -- Rev. Henry Japes,
In the "trek" westward the
Methodists and Presbyterians camped for a time on
the Flats. Here, too, the Baptists (Rev. T.S.
Johnston, first minister), first built. Rev. John
McRobie came in 1874 -- Here is here yet.
The Church of England first held service in
Fletcher & Boswell's barroom. Congregation
seated with back to the curtained bar, listened to
Rev. Wm. Brookman, the sailor preacher.
In the spring of 1869 came
Charles Jenkins. Some years later, he with John D.
Noble, R. D. Noble and others organized, built and
operated the P. C. O & T. Co., with its tanks,
pipe lines and warehouse receipts.
Also later in the year 1869 came
L. B. Vaughn and opened a banking office -- it is
open yet. Shot bags of silver was the currency in
these days. Some years later came A. C. Edward;
George Denham came, when he got ready, and sold
drugs; also as newspaper correspondent gave spicy
items from "Quality Hill." George also built a
brass band. Hardly on schedule time arrived J. L.
Englehart and Harrison Corey, but after they came
they "stuck to their job."
On the 30th of November, 1871,
the bagpipes announced the birth of Petrolia's St.
Andrew. As a child it was healthy, as a youth it
was strong, in its manhood irresistible.
The last Crude Oil Association,
"The Financial," was formed in 1886. Its prime
object was to improve quality of Canadian burning
oil. It did it. Fairbank, Smith, McMillan (James),
Woodward & Bradley, directors. Woodward,
Kittridge, Kerr (James), and The Imperial Oil
Company did good work in this regard.
Among the prominent public
men, who have visited Petrolia, are -- Prince
Arthur. Governors General, Earl Dufferin and
Lord Stanley. Dominion Premiers, Hon. Sir John
A. Macdonald, Hon.
Alexander MacKenzie, Hon. Sir John Thompson,
Hon. Sir Mackenzie Bowell,
Hon. Sir Charles Tupper, and Hon. Sir Wilfrid
Laurier. HonSir Henri and
Lady Joly also spent several days here,
guests of John and Mrs.
On the 8th of December, 1896,
came Finance Minster Feilding, and Minister of
Customs Paterson, two members of the Tariff
Commission. They fully inspected the oil wells,
how they were built and worked. When they left
they understood the oil question as they could not
have done without a personal inspection. This was
good day's work for Petrolia. Not a word was said
concerning tariff. That was done later on at
The early Municipal record of Petrolia, is --
Incorporated as a Village,
December 21st, 1866.
1867, first Reeve and Council --
Moncreiff, Hunt, Barclay, Chamberlain; J. G. Bold,
clerk and H. Smiley, treasurer.
1868-69-70, Reeve and Council --
Fairbank, Barclay, Taylor and Woodley.
1869, first Hook and Ladder Co.
-- Chamberlin, chief; Smiley, captain.
First Police -- James Ryan.
reeve; P. Barclay, treasurer; Dr. Mearns,
physician; William Lindsay, tax collector.
Incorporated as a Town, January
First Mayor -- George Moncrieff.
Council -- Perkins, Dunlop, Cooley, Garner,
Coryell, Chamberlin, Draper, Brake, McDonald,
1874 to 1887 -- J. H. Fairbank,
fire warden;; W. G. Fraser, assisting during the
last years, and succeeded him. T. G. Jackson,
chief engineer steam fire
1875 -- W. H. McGarvey, mayor.
T. G. Jackson, chief of police.
1879 -- G. S. McPherson, for
years reeve of Enniskillen, appointed town clerk.
The Fire Brigade has always been
a marked feature of Petrolia -- it has had much
Greenwood Driving Park,
Petrolia's play ground, was opened in 1882.
Lest we forget--a few
dates: Great fire at King Wells, 3rd August, 1867;
burning 2,000-bbl. still, 30th July, 1872. (The
writer is indebted to Mrs. J. D. Noble for these
The first really permanent
business building was The Vaughn Block, 1879.
Lancey Block was built in 1881; Town Hall was
built in 1887; Masonic Temple was built in 1887;
Iroquois Hotel was built by John Kerr in 1896; big
fire at Imperial, 22nd of April, 1896; Petrolia
Waterworks was built in 1896; Methodist Church was
built in 1898.
Petrolia has always been and
orderly, law-abiding, Sunday-observing,
church-going place. It has representatives in
every land who look back with pride and pleasure
to the "Old Town."
At home and abroad, its men have
been manly men, its women, womenly women, and it
babies, perfectly lovely and numerous -- at times,
two on a stem. The baby carriage always has the
right-of-way in Petrolia.
The "Old Town" looks with glad expectation to
August, 1908, to the coming
of the Old Boys and Girls.
note : special
thanx to Carol
Here is an item that the good John
Rochon of Sarnia brought over for me to copy. It
is a page from the ca.1872 Canadian
Illustrated News. It is entitled "The Governor
General's Visit To Petrolia"
Thanks to John this amazing item is
here for your
Petrolia Ontario Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org