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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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150th Anniversary of Canada's Petroleum Industry

Ontario's Petroleum Legacy

In the mid-19th century, the primary fuel sources were wood, coal, water, and the muscle-power of humans and animals. This all changed in the period May through August, 1858 in Enniskillen Township, Lambton County, Ontario. Oil seeps revealed the existence of petroleum and these encouraged the first drilling of wells. The result would be the birth of a global industry.

After 150 years, the Oil Springs and Petrolia Fields still produce commercial quantities of crude oil from at least 650 active wells. Many still use 19th century technology operated by the jerker line system developed in 1863. Petroleum historicans and community representatives would like to see the area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site commemorating the world's industrial heritage.

Discover this incredible story of ingenuity, risk-taking and hard work. While today, many are questioning the environmental risks involved in the oil industry, at the time of discovery, the very development of Canada was at stake. The Geological Survey of Canada had mapped resources across the country. Their exploitation would make Canada an industrial power.

A number of projects commemorate this important anniversary in Canada's scientific, technological and industrial development.

  • Ontario's Petroleum Legacy - Earle Gray, Canada's pre-eminent petroleum historian, has written a gripping account of the discoveries and the evolution and challenges of a global industry. Read the preface and introduction.

  • Songs - The Lambton County Oil Museum has commissioned Bernie Gilmore to write songs that reflect this era and tell the story in music and lyric. Listen to the songs.

  • Stamps - On Friday, May 2, post offices across Canada started selling a new 52-cent postage stamp celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first commercial oil well dug by James Miller Williams in Oil Springs, Ontario.

  • Photos - View contemporary photos of Oil Springs and Petrolia taken at the Oil Springs, Ontario 150 Years Back to the Future International Symposium by Adriana A. Davies, Editor-in-Chief, Heritage Community Foundation - the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.

  • Events - The Oil Museum of Canada, a National Historic Site, has planned a range of events to commemorate the anniversary. See the listing.

  • Timeline - View the timeline of early petroleum development in Petrolia and Oil Springs.

  • Publications - Many books document the early history of Canada's oil industry. See the bibliography.

  • Feature Articles - A range of media coverage of the anniversary bridges the past and present.

  • Conference - Petroleum historians and descendants of petroleum pioneers gathered at Petrolia in May, 2008 to share scholarship and new stories. View the conference program.


Order Ontario’s Petroleum Legacy now

Ontario’s Petroleum Legacy: The Birth, Evolution and Challenges of a Global Industry

Author Earle Gray
112 pages
Colour and black and white
History; Industry
Full index
Published by the Heritage Community Foundation

Ontario's Petroleum Legacy is a a dynamic account of Canada's petroleum industry from the coming in of the first wells at Oil Springs in 1858 to an assessment of contemporary issues. Researched and authored by Earle Gray, Canada's senior petroleum historican, it is a popular and authoritative account with insights into the people, communities, scientific and technological innovation.

For a preview, download a low resolution PDF copy (please click here, or right-click and choose Save Link As/Save Target As from the right-click menu).

The link above leads to a PayPal order form. If you would prefer not to use PayPal, please use the PDF Book Order Form to order the book from Earle Gray. Explore his other publications by visiting Earle Gray: Graymatter.


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††††††††††† For more on the oil industry in Alberta, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.
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