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A Missing Link? The Carman & Fairbank Oil Field at Bothwell, Ontario (1900-1920) as a Key to Understanding Social and Corporate Development in Canadian Oil Production

Ms. Deborah M. Knall,B. Ed.
!33331- 90 Street, Edmonton, AB, T5E 3M7  Canada

A year before North America’s first commercial oil well began production at Oil Springs in 1858, oil was found near Bothwell, twenty miles southeast. Forty years later, in 1898, on leases purchased by partners C.O. Fairbank and Frank Carman, Bothwell oil production resumed in earnest.  Oversight of the new field was entrusted to drillers from Fairbank fields at Petrolia, Bruce McLeod and his son J.H. McLeod.  The McLeods corresponded regularly with Fairbank office manager, A.M. McQueen, concerning field operations; this shared oversight strengthened their friendship, forming a foundation for development in the next stage of Canadian petroleum production at Turner Valley, near Calgary.

In 1915, Fairbank Oil’s long association with the Imperial Refining Company resulted in McQueen accepting the position of vice-president responsible for Imperial’s newly created exploration and production departments. With Imperial’s 1921 acquisition of petroleum assets at Turner Valley, McQueen asked his trusted friend and colleague, J.H. McLeod, to carry the collective experience of three generations of Southwestern Ontario’s oil producers to a new generation of oilmen emerging at Calgary. For the next quarter century, McLeod provided increasing leadership to Western Canadian petroleum production.

This paper draws on over twenty interviews with people in Alberta and Ontario, as well as analyses of primary and secondary sources, to provide a picture of oil production at Bothwell during the early 20th century. More importantly, this research reveals managerial and social networks evolving at Carman and Fairbank, as they were in businesses across North America during this period (Chandler, 1977; Taylor, 1992). These findings reveal a previously missing, but critical link in Canadian petroleum history, key to understanding the chain of events that brought Southwestern Ontario oilmen to Alberta.

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