150th Anniversery Lambton County Tour
9:00 a.m. – Arrive Petrolia Discovery
The Petrolia Discovery is a working oil field and interpretive center which opened in 1980. It features pumping wells, the Fitzgerald pumping rig, operating jerker lines, the movie "Hard Oil", and guided tours through the history of oil development in the Petrolia area. Allow at least 1.5 hours to tour this side. A nominal entry fee is charged.
Film – "Hard Oil"
Guided Tour of Site
11:00 am – Town of Petrolia Tour
Depart from the north end of The Petrolia Discovery and turn left onto Discovery Line.
Canadian Oil Refinery Property
On the north-west corner of Discovery Line and Tank Strets is the site of the former Canadian Oil Company refinery. The independent company was formed in 1901 and a refinery was immediately built. Its main prouct was kerosene for lighting but, as cars became more abundant, emphasis switched to refining gasoline. The company was a rival of larger Imperial Oil and competition was fierce. In 1907, the company was taken over by the National Refining Co. of Cleveland and the famous "White Rose" was introduced. By 1938, Canadian interests again controlled the company and it had expanded acorss the country. In 1952, a large, modern refinery near Sarnia replaced the aging Petrolia facility. Shell Oil eventually bought Canadian oil Companies in 1962. Today, an environmental service company occupies the property.
Turn left on Tank Street. Tank Street was named for the oil tank–wagons that lined the road, waiting to be unloaded at the refineries. The nodding heads of beam pumps on oil wells can be seen on both sides of the road.
Van Tyul and Fairbank
Turn right at Railroad station, the first street north of Petrolia Street, and left on Station Street. In this block is located Van Tuyl and Fairbank Hardware opened in 1865. Originally a grocery and liquor store, it soon expanded into hardware and oil supplies at the corner of Petrolia Street and Station Street. In the early 1870’s it was the largest hardware store west of Toronto. After the stock market crash in 1929, the Fairbank family sold the store front on Petrolia Street but it has remained in business until the present day. Although entry into the 21st century has required some changes, the products available for the heritage oil industry, farmers and general consumers have not varied widly. You can still buy nails by the pound.
Turn right on Petrolia Street. On the north side of Petrolia Street is an impressive Victorian structure, the Petrolia Public Library. It was built by the Grand Truck Railway in 1903 and served as a railway station until 1903. After the discovery of oil in Petrolia in 1866, Petrolia needed access to the railway to ship its products. A group of businessmen led by J.H. Fairbank, undertook the constrction of an eight kilometre spur–line from Wyoming to Petrolia. I twas taken over by Great Western and opened on December 17, 1866. However the Great Western’s monopoly hurt the development of the oil business until 1877. At that time, the Canada Southern Railway ran a spur–line into Petrolia from Oil City. With its arrival, excessive rates for the shipment of crude oil and its products were eliminated, and the oil refiners flourished.
Oil Well Supply Company
Turn right on Fletcher Street than left on Robert Street. On the right side, in the first block of Robert street is the Oil Well Supply Company. The firm was started in 1866 by Hector McKenzie, a machinist. He later joined forces with James Joyce, a blacksmith, and the business prospered. The company manufactured drill rigs, speical tools for the oil industry, as well as pumps, valves, and many other quality industrial products. The largest drill bit ever producted by Oil Well Supply was 30 inches in diameter, 14 feet long, and weight 5,000 pounds! Tools built by Oil Well Supply in Petrolia accompanied the foreign drillers all over the world.
Baines Machine Shop
Continue down Robert Street to Center Street and turn right, then left on James Street. The Baines Machine Shop, on the right, is another enduring industry in Petrolia. William Baines and his son, Albert, opened for business in 1914. Blacksmith work was carried on into the 1960’s. Custom machining, welding and repairs to oil equipment are still done by Albert Jr. It is the only company in Canada still making leather valve cups for subsurface oil pumps used by the heritage producers. Pulleys on overhead shafts and canvas flat belts still transfer power from a central motor to a variety of lathes, presses and drills just as they did at the turn of the century.
Continue along James Street and turn left on Eureka Street and turn onto Petrolia Street. You will begin to see evidence of the wealth that oil created. Victorian commercial buildings line the main street and graceful churches appear throughout town. To cater to the well–off residents, merchants stocked gourmet foods from Paris and the latest fashions from London and Rome. Grocery bills of $600 per month were not unusual for a Petrolia family at the turn of the century! On the south side of Petrolia Street at Wingfield Street is th eoriginal Post Office and Custom Building.
Turn right on Greenfield Street. Elegant Victoria Hall stands out on the right. Completed in 1889, the building housed the municipal offices, police and fire stations, and a jail. However, tax-payers of the town had only approved construction on the condition that an opera house alaos be included. The building was extensively renovated in 1970 but on January 25, 1989, was seriously gutted by fire. For a year, with the remaining walls supported by scaffolds, its fate hung by a thread. However, the citizens of the Petrolia area rallied to the cause and the Victoria Hall was restored to its former elegance. Victoria Hall still serves as the town administrative office and houses the Victoria Playhouse on its second floor.
First Baptist Church
Continue along Greenwood Street and turn left on Walnut Street. At the Southeast corner of Greenfield and Walnut Streets is the First Baptist Church. It was erected in 1896 in Gothic style. Barrels of oil, it is said, were often given as yearly offerings – a cumbersome but valuable tithe. Unlike many frontier boom–towns, Petrolia was generally law–abiding, peaceful and civilized. Churches outnumbers saloons and only one near–lynching occurred! Fortunately, logic prevailed, and a vigilante group of oilmen railroaded a suspected robber out of town rather than finish the hanging.
Christ Anglican Church
Continue along Walnut Street and at the end of the street is Christ Anglican Church. The first Anglican church was built on this site in 1882. In 1910, a chime of eleven bells was donated by J.L. Englehart, one of the town’s most prominent oilmen, and installed in the tower. The original church burned in 1957 but the tower and bells survived. The present church was built around the tower in 1959 and includes unique stained glass windows. Look closely at the left window on the north side; a three–pole derrick is visible.
Turn left on Oil Street, right on Henry Street and drive around the crecent. Some of Petrolia’s most beautiful and stately homes are located here in Crecent Park (also known by the locals as "Quality Hill"). Henry Warren Lancy, a developer from Maine, purchased the land from the Crescent Petroleum Company in 1872. All the streets are named after Lancey or members of his family. Owners of houses on the crescent were Major Benjimin Van Tuyl, co–owner of Van Tuyl & Fairbanks, George Moncrieff, first mayor of Petrolia, Fred Edward, foreign driller of note, A. McQueen, vice–president of Imperial Oil, G. Pitkin, manager of Van Tuyl & Fairbank, Charles Jenkins, co–owner of the Petrolia Crude Oil Tank Company and in more recent times, Charles Oliver Fairbank, II.
Little Red Bank
Continue around the crescent and then right on Oil Street. As you turn right onto Petrolia Street you will see a grey stucco building on the right that was previously the "Little Red Bank". This private bank was owned by John H. Fairbank and Leonard Vaughn, both outstanding citizens with oil and other commercial intrests. The banks opened on this site in 1869 after the building was purchased for $70 and moved from first year. Fairbanks and Vaughn virtually financed the local oil business on their own. When the bank closed in 1924, it was reconized as one of the most successful and long–running private banks in Canada.
Fairbank and Lancey Houses
Further down Petrolia Street on the left is Fairbank House or Sunnyside. It was built in 1890 by oil and business magnate John H. Fairbank. All the wood for the mansion came from Fairbank land and was cured for a year before construction. The grand home had twenty–two rooms. They included a ball–room on the third floor, a billiard hall, and a servants’ quarters. The Ohio clay bricks for the exterior were individually wrapped in wax paper before shipment to Petrolia. The lovely white frame house on the other side of the street was built by Henry Lancey for his daughters in the 1870’s. The home, an example of Georgian symmetry, was originally larger by ten rooms. The coat of arms of the U.S. Confederacy crowns the marble fireplace. It’s another reminder of the influence and contribution of American pioneers and business men who flocked to Lambton County to take part in the oil boom. Many remained to develop in industry and build local communities alongside the Canadian.
In the early 1860’s, the oil seeps in the flats of Bear Creek attracted oilmen to the Petrolia area. Early oil explores associated oilfields with stream beads; there was some justification for this theory because the glacial sediments were thinner in the flats of the stream and so it was easier for oil leaking from depths to migrate up into the floodplains. However, it was Captain King’s well in the swamps on the heights west of Bear Creek near Eureka Street that put the Petrolia Oilfield on the map.
Continue along Petrolia Street. Oilfield fires destroyed many early wood buildings so firehalls became as important to Petrolia as the oil derricks. At the corner of First Avenue and Petrolia Street is Union Firehall, built in 1889. There was an ongoing competition between Union Station at the east end and the firestation at Victoria Hall to reach and extinguish fires because only the first crew on the scene was paid. The firehall has been designated as a heritage site and is presently a private residence.
12:00–12:15 p.m. –Trip to Oil Springs
Petrolia East Oilfield
Continue along Petrolia Street to the traffic light on Oil Heritage Road. Cross over Oil Heritage Road and drive about 1.5 km along the road. On the south side of the road, you will see the oil storage tanks of the Petrolia East Oilfield. In the adjacent fields, you will see three sizes of pumpjack. The large pump jacks are producing oil from a Silurian pinnacle reef from a depth of 550m (1,800’) and the small pumpjacks are producing oil from the Devonian carbonates at 150m (500 feet). The largest pumpjack produces oil from a horizontal well whose wellboare crosses under the road and below the houses on the north side of the road. The Silurian reef in the Guelph (Niagaran) Formation was discovered by seismic exploration in 1972; the shallow Devonian wells have been extracting oil from the westerly extension of the Petrolia Field since 1870. Geological studies show that the Dundee–Lucas Formation in this area has an incremental structural relief of about 3 meters (10 feet) because of the underlying reef; as a result, this segment of Petrolia Field is still producing oil whereas all the wells in the adjecent area have been abandoned. The Petrolia East Field is the only case in Ontario where crude oil is extracted simultaneously from two levels. One operator owns the gas rights to 1,000 feet and the other operator has leased the oil and gas rights below 1,000 feet.
Corey East Field
Turn around and proceed back to Oil Heritage Road. Turn left onto Oil Heritage Road to Oil Springs. About five kilometers south of Petrolia, on the southwest corner of Oil Heritage Road and Shiloh Line is an example of modern petroleum technology, the Corey East Oilfield. Cream covered oil storage tanks and three pumpjacks come into view. This field was discovered in 1978 by seismic exploration. The trap is a pinnacle reef in the Guelph Formation of Silurian age. The area of the field is 60 acres, the gross thickness of the oil pay is 57m (186’) and the depth is 550m (1,800 feet). Seismic exploration and wildcat drilling continue on a modest scale throughout Lambton Country and Southwestern Ontario; new oil and gas resources are still being discovered.
Continue south on Oil Heritage Road to Oil City, a two minute drive. The important name obscures Oil City’s minor role in the development of the petroleum industry. In 1852, Charles Tripp owned the land where Oil City was eventually built and the property alternated between goverment control and ownership by oil speculators. In 1873, the Canadian Southern Railway constructed a line just north of the present village. Stores, a grain warehouse, blacksmith shops, a hotel, and a stave mill were built to capitalize on the anticipated boom but great prominence was never achieved. Ironically the oil bearing formations by–passed Oil City so no commerical production was possible. The lumber business sloweed as the surrounding forest was depleted and heavy industry preferred the St. Clair River shore. Today, Oil City has become a residential community due to its convenient location at the intersection of Highways 21 and 80. The oldest remaining building in Oil City is the United Church at the corner of Shamrock and Main Street; it was built in 1880 by Methodist parisioners.
Oil City Gas Field
Proceed to the Courtright Line and turn left for a short division. At 0.6 km (0.4 miles) on the north side of the road you will see wellheads sticking out of the ground. These are wells drilled into the Oil City Gas Field. The field was discovered by seismic exploration in 1975. The trap is a Silurian pinnacle reef in the Guelph (Niagaran) Formation at the delpth of 550m (1,800 feet). About 51 millions m3 (1.8 bcf) of gas has been recovered from the field and the depleted gas reservoir is now used by Union Gas Limited for the seasonal storage of natural gas. Natural gas from Western Canada is injected into the pool during the summer months and then drained out of the pool in winter when the demand for natural gas in Ontario reaches its peak.
The Plank Road
Turn around and cross over the Oil Heritage Road. Continue along the Courtright Line about 3.3 km (2.0 miles) to the South Plank Road. Turn left onto the Plank Road.
When oil was discovered in Oil Springs, int he midist of the Enniskillen swamp, transportation was a problem. There were poor roads and no trains. To move supplies in and crude oil out to a market, the Plank Road was built from Oil Springs to the Port of Sarnia. Planks were cut from white oak timbers by portable steam sawmills and laid across the road for a distance of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles). It was completed in 1865 and a toll road. Can dyou imagine how many logs would be necessary to build a road 30 kilometers long! Continue along this road and you will be entering Oil Springs as the teamsters did in 1865. Turn left onto Oil Springs Line and cross over onto the Main Street of Village of Oil Springs.
Village of Oil Springs
Oil Springs does not have many of the stately Victorian houses and store fronts found in Petrolia. Although many wells were drilled in the field and some of the wells flowed oil at great rates, the oil reserves were much smaller than in Petrolia; as a result, the oil could not sustain the community for a long period of time.
Watson’s Machine Shop
Turn left on Main Street in Oil Springs and then right on Kelly Road. The yellow brick building on the south–east corner of Victoria and Kelly Road is an Oil Springs landmark. The shop was built in 1880 by the Oil Well Supply Company. The founders, Anderson and Murray, designed, built and repaired tools and machinery for the local oilmen. One of their significant innovations was a gas–powered engine that made oil production very efficient; the engines ran on natural gas from the same oil wells that they pumped. Continue south to the Oil Museum of Canada.
12:15–12:45 p.m. – Lunch at Oil Museum of Canada, Tour of Oil Museum Site
The Oil Museum of Canada
The Oil Museum of Canada, a national historic site, opened in 1960 and is located where James Miller Williams dug the first commercial oil well in 1858. Outside exhibits include spring–pole and Canadian drilling rigs, three–pole derricks, a nineteenth–century oil wagon, and original buildings from boom times. The modern, main building comprises numerous galleries which contain a wealth of petroleum industry artifacts, geological displays and mementoes of the foreign drillers. One unique artifact is a roller drill–bit donated to the museum by recluse billionare Howard Hughes. Audio–visual presentations and guided tours are available. Nominal admission is charged. Allow from one to one and a half hours to completely tour the museum and outdoor exhibits.
2:00 p.m. – Tour of Oil Properties
Oil Springs Receiving and Pumping Station
Turn left on Gum Bed Line. On the south–east corner of Gum Bed Line and Kelly Road is the last remaining oil receiving station in Ontario. Numerous stations were built in the Oil Springs and Petrolia area, within a day’s travel for teamster and oil wagon. These central storage and transfer facilities allowed local producers to break the monopoly that the Canadian oil producing and Refining Co. had on crude oil transportation to the refineries. This particular building was constructed in 1915 and used until 1973. It was designated an offical historic site in 1985. As you drive along Gum Bed Line, you will see the wooden pump blocks on the wells. In summer, the sheep will be grazing placidly amidst the lines.
Follow along the Gum Bed Line and turn right into the first laneway. About 100m on your left is the building which houses the James pumping rig. Inside the building is a small electric motor whose fast speed of rotation is converted by a system of inventions of electric motors, the pumping rig was run by steam engine. The jerker line system invented by J.H. Fairbank in 1863 was, and still remains, an efficient way to provide power to pump the wells from a central source. Note: The James Rig is located on private property. Permission must be obtained from Fairbank Oil Properties before you can enter the building.
Follow along the Gum Bed Line and turn right onto the Crooked Road. At about 300 meters, follow the road to the left under the hydro line. The road meanders through the oilfield until you come to another tight left bend. At this point, the quality of the road deteriorates to a clay base and in wet weather its condition is reminiscent of earlier days. To see the remnants of the Oil Springs gum beds, it is advisable to walk along this road and into the woods. If the weather is wet, you will need approprate footwear to make the trek, and insect repellent is a good precaution. Be aware of the presence of poison ivy in the woods. If you have not been frightened by the above precautions, walk to the east along the laneway until it turns sharply to the right. Turn north into the woods along the rough vehicle path. About 100 meters along the path, you will see chunks of black gum on the ground, and as you look around, you will detect small mounds and excavations where the gum was originally extracted by the Tripp brothers in 1855. When crude oil migrates to the surface, the lighter hydrocarbons vaporize and leave behind the asphalt or gum. The asphalt which was used in sealing the hulls of ships and in the construction of the sidewalks in Paris, France at the time was the primary product of Tripp’s operations. Note: The gum beds are located on private property. Permission must be obtained from Fairbank Oil Properties to enter this property.
Return to your vehicle and drive back along the Crooked Road to the Gum Bed Line. Turn right on the Gum Bed Line and proceed to the intersection of Gypsie Flats Road. Along the road, among the trees, you will catch glimpses of wooden and metal oil storage tanks, jerker lines, and wooden and metal pumpjacks. You will often have to stop and watch in order to detect motion, but in most cases, the pump block will be slowly pumping oil. Turn left onto Gypsie Flats Road. Once again as you drive along, you will see jerker lines, thanks and pumpjacks acattered among the brush and trees. When you drive across the concrete bridge on the Black Creek, look to your left at the salt flats. The jerker lines have been working in this area for 130 years. And in the salt flats is the site of Hugh Nixon Shaw's successful well. In January 1862, after many discouragin months of drilling, oil gushed from his well at great rates. The oil boom in Oil Springs was rekindled once more. Proceed along the Gypsie Flats Roads to Main Street.
Turn left at the stop sign onto Main Street in Oil Springs and then after a distance of one–half kilometer, turn left on Duryee Street. As you look down Duryee Street, a large painted mural can be seen on the Fairbank barn. This oil wagon and horse–team illustration was the logo for the Van Tuyl and Fairbank hardware store as early as 1867. At the end of Duryee Street, the road becomes private as it descends into the flats of Black Creek. From the top of the hill, you can see the pump blocks working in the flats of Black Creek, and on the other side of the creek on top of the hill is the Fairbank residence. Be aware that the oil field is private property. The Fairbank family welcomes visitors to the Oil Springs Field.
Fairbank Oil Property
On this field trip, we will tour the Fairbank Oil Property and see jerker lines, oil–water seperation facilities, underground wooden tanks, dug wells and well–pulling machines. Much of the tour will be walking; if the weather is wet, bring approprate footwear.
3:45 p.m. – Leave Fairbank Oil Property