In recent years oil development in Alberta and Saskatchewan has stolen the limelight from Canada’s original “oil capital,” Petrolia, Ontario. The first oil well brought into production in North American continent was at Oil Springs, a few miles south of Petrolia, in 1857. The United States disputes this, and claims that the first oil well was drilled at Titusville, Pennslyvania, in 1859. Both claims are correct. The oil well at Oil Springs, two years before the Pennsylvania discovery, was “dug.” The oil well at Titusville was “drilled.”
The pioneer of oil in Canada was Charles N. Tripp of Woodstock, Ontario. He contrived a method of making asphalt from what he called “gum beds” in the Oil Springs area. He sold his holdings to James Miller Williams of Hamilton, Ontario, who although only thirty-nine years of age, had already made a fortune building carriages and railway cars.
Tripp used to boil the “gum” from which he made asphalt. Williams found that by digging he could get oil in liquid form and began operations in 1857 on the banks of the Thames River at Bothwell, Kent County. When he got down to 27 feet, he found oil mixed with water. Operations were then shifted to Enniskillen where better oil was found at 65 feet. The first wells produced from five to one hundred barrels a day.
This began the oil boom of the late 1850’s. Hugh Nixon Shaw found the gusher at Enniskillen on February 28, 1860. The name of the community was changed to Petrolia, which it is still called today. By 1895 production reached 800,000 barrels a year. There were fifteen refineries operating and the oil was taken to markets in carts drawn by teams of oxen.
In the 1880’s, Imperial Oil was organized and it built the largest refinery in Canada. Canadian Oil Companies then followed and built a pipeline to Froomfield on the St. Clair River where the oil flowed directly into ships.
Want to read more about Petrolia’s past? I suggest Petrolia Heritage‘s website.
- Pétrolia suspends oil drilling plan near Gaspé (cbc.ca)
- Petrolia Inc: Important Quantities of Hydrocarbons Trapped in a Reservoir in Bourque 1 (sys-con.com)