In the summer of 1998, before we had children, we decided to take a day trip with my family to Oil Springs, Ontario. We piled into my parents powder blue Tempo, my Mom, Dad, brother Bill, husband Rob and myself. Shoulder to shoulder, we held our breath as we drove slowly down the road, Rob and Bill complaining about the boring trip to come as I sat between them.
Across the Southwestern Ontario's flat land rolled the Tempo on the hot sunny day. We finally arrived at our destination, a ghost town. Hundreds of holes littered the ground. Primitive oil rigs spotted the landscape. We got out of the car, stretched our legs, and headed into the Oil Springs Museum. Rob and Bill snickered at the primitive artifacts, drilling equipment and model oil rig. They were still laughing when we entered a small room with chairs to watch a film about the history of the oil industry. I thought I might have to sit between them to keep them under control.
During the film we learned that Oil Springs is home to the world's first commercial oil well, dug by James Williams in 1858. For a couple of years, the output was good, but in 1860 Mr. Williams abandoned the well and returned to Hamilton. Nearby Oil Creek in Enniskillen County is home to Canada's first oil gusher, which Hugh Nixon Shaw hit on February 19, 1862. For several weeks the gusher threw oil up to the tops of the trees, at the rate of 2000 barrels a day. The nearby village of Petrolia also got in on the act, drilling holes to find the black gold. By 1870, there were a hundred refineries in the area.
We also learned that Oil Springs, a former boomtown of 3000 people, boasted a Methodist Church (two turrets), a school, a community hall, a hotel (Oxford House), a post office and several general stores. People were transported by horse-drawn busses on streets with gas-lit lamps, even before they had them in Europe. Entrepreneurs flocked to the town to get a taste of the black gold.
After the movie, Rob and Bill were starting to realize the importance of Oil Springs in our Canadian history. But what really hit home was when our tour guide told us the name of one of the prominent oil families in Oil Springs' heyday -- the Ewings! The Ewing's were the family from the 1970's and 1980's TV hit "Dallas". The producers of the show must have done their research thoroughly. Rob really perked up when he heard that news. Well, I guess it wasn't a wasted trip afterall.
Photo of Oil Springs circa 1867 courtesy www.lclmg.org.