Petrolia Discovery poised to reopen after two-year absence

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Gwenevere Cronwell and Amanda Leatherdale work on the deck surrounding the holding tank at Petrolia Discovery. Three summer students, hired with government grants, have been repairing walkways and cleaning up the site in the hope of opening sometime in early August. Heather Wright Photo

After two years of work by a volunteer board and summer students, Petrolia Discovery is on the verge of reopening the historic site to the public.
In Aug. 2015, after the sudden death of the then general manager of the site, the foundation which runs Petrolia Discovery and the Town of Petrolia struck a deal for town officials to manage the site. Within days, the town announced the site would be closed for repairs.
“Staff needs time to go through the facility and work to refurbish this very important piece of Petrolia,” said Mayor John McCharles in a news release at the time.
The town asked Lambton County building inspectors to come out to the site. By late September, the county had posted an Order to Remedy Unsafe buildings with six buildings being deemed unsalvageable.
The site was closed to the public and the town “reluctantly” stepped away from its agreement saying the repairs would be too costly for the taxpayers to foot the bill.
So for the past two years, the volunteer board has been quietly working with the building inspector on what should be repaired.
Dawn Sperling, vice-chair of the foundation board, says the goal is to be able to open the historic fields only by early August.
The buildings came down in 2016 and the bridges and walkways are being built this summer.
Sperling says the board approached local businesses for items they needed to fix bridges and displays. Two local lumber dealers, Watson Timber Mart and Lambton Home Building Centre, stepped up so three bridges, walkways and a viewing platform on an oil tank could be repaired by summer students hired by Discovery.
Crews from Fairbank Oil helped remove a number of outbuildings and a former portable which served as an office and board room supervised as the materials were burned. And OWS’s Railroad Division donated much needed railroad ties for the property.“I’m happy to see all these things done,” says Sperling. “This way we can soon open the oil field so people can see the Fitzgerald Rig and the fields. We won’t be able to open Boomtown or the other buildings yet, but this will still be a great tour. The oil fields tell the story… Discovery is getting back to its roots because it was the historic field which brought Discovery to life.”
First, there are a few bridges to cross. Sperling says volunteers and students are finishing up the major items. Then the county’s building inspector will have to okay the reopening.
Sperling is anxious for the day to arrive. She says the volunteer board has been working on keeping the wells operational day-to-day while trying to ready the site for visitors and it has been a great deal of work. “It was hard not to be open,” she says “so we’re working hard on it, so Discovery can be open to the public again.”

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