Gary May couldn’t pass up an opportunity to tell the history of Petrolia from a more personal perspective.
The former London Free Press reporter has written extensively on the history of the oil industry including Hard Oiler and Groundbreaker. Now, he is examining life in Petrolia after the oil boom in the family history “A Hard Oiler LoveStory.”
The book was commissioned by Shelia Rose, one of the daughters of the subjects Amy and Amos Barnes.
“I have written several books and newspaper and magazine articles about the oil boom, its something that interests me and something I plan to write more about,” says May, who will be in Petrolia Sunday to launch the book at the library. “This was an opportunity to tell a little of Petrolia’s history from different prospective. Most of my books are directly connected to the history of the oil producers. This is a family on periphery of the oil industry.
“They’re just an ordinary run of the mill citizens of Petrolia when the bloom was off the boom. It allows me to delve into a little of what Petrolia was like after the oil industry died down.”
The book recounts the story of Amos and Amy Barnes from about 1917 to the 1950s. Many of the stories come from still living siblings and children and photos from the family collection. May also knew the family. He met Rose when he was a reporter and had met Amy Barnes in person.
But there was much to learn. May says while the family’s life was coloured by Petrolia’s oil industry, it was their sense of self-reliance that struck a chord with him as he researched and wrote the book.
“I was most affected by how people dealt directly with problems …they were very self sufficient,” says May. “We have lost so much of that, everything is at our finger tips, if we have a problem with the plumbing in our house or the roof is leaking we call someone they come and deal with it…
“In those days, people were constantly coming across problems, Amos had his own oil fields worked for others…when he encountered a problem he was required to fix it as was Amy when there was a problem in the home.”
That theme runs through the family history. And May says that while it is a family history, people will definitely learn something about the community they live in.
“I try to write these books as though they were novels, they are based on hard facts written in a fashion as thought you were reading a novel,” he says. “I want to contribute to the accumulation of information about this particular community. I am very much preserving the community’s history with this.
May and relatives of Amos and Amy Barnes will be at the Petrolia Library Sunday between 1 pm and 3 pm with copies of A Hard Oiler Love Story on sale for $20.