Marking Petrolia’s architectural wonder


It’s an architectural wonder and now people passing by will know all about it.

The Petrolia Heritage committee is recognizing the importance of the Petrolia water system to the growth of the community and it’s mark on history with a large sign outlining its history.

Nearly 150 years ago, the contaminated water wells and creeks caused outbreaks of diphtheria, typhoid and scarlet fever in what was then a shantytown. Residents began to complain.

There was also the constant concern for fire in a town which contained mostly wooden buildings.

But it wasn’t just the citizens who were concerned according to Dave Hext who did some of the research for the new signs which are in front of the standpipe. The future of Petrolia’s oil refineries also depended on water for cooling.

Town leaders turned down the idea of a 38.6-kilometer pipeline from Bright’s Grove to Petrolia and a new water system for a number of years before approving the $172,000 in 1896..

“I believe that industry finally drove the project forward,” says Hext. “Imperial Oil was right here,” he says standing beside the tower on Centre Street.

It wasn’t a simple job. First the town had to negotiate with each farmer along the route for the rights to go through the property. The trenching for the pipeline was hand dug by men and dredged by horses.

The standpipe itself was a technological wonder at the time. No one else had ever built a water tower, says Hext. “It had to be engineered with a different thickness on each level gradually getting thinner on the way up.”

It was also huge – 25 meters in diameter and holding over 1.1 million liters of water.

And for all the engineering firsts, there were some oddities, Hext says. The base of the tower is “chunks of stone that they piled up and they built the water tower on that. And it’s still pretty straight,” he says.

The project was costly and officials ran out of money so there isn’t a top on the tower. Instead, a decorative fence was installed. Hext says it didn’t stop teens, like his father, from taking a dip on a hot summer night.

The sign explaining the tower’s history is now up, and the heritage committee will officially mark the project in the spring.

Hext says it’s fitting to honour the people who built the town’s water system which blazed a trail that helped secure the town’s future. “Now, we take all of this for granted – we have running water just by turning on the tap.”