Apartment project at Fairbank House clears first hurdle


Owner tells committee historic home will be a reception centre in five years


David Burnie’s plan to build a 16 unit apartment building on the historic grounds of Fairbank House has cleared its first hurdle.

The Kalamazoo man’s family has owned the iconic building, which is the gateway to the town, for decades. It has fallen into disrepair.

In December, Burnie came to the Committee of Adjustment to ask permission to build an apartment building on the west lawn.

The committee put the decision off, saying it needed evidence of a plan to restore Sunnyside – which is commonly known as Fairbank House.

Monday, Petrolia’s Committee of Adjustment gave Burnie approval to build a second dwelling on the lot.

But the approval comes with one condition: Petrolia Town Council must approve Burnie’s plan to restore the first mansion in Canada built on the wealth of the oil fields.

Burnie, and his engineer Geoff Dale of Robert E. Dale Engineering, appeared at a meeting in town hall Monday outlining some of the changes they had made to the apartment building plan.

Burnie also shared a broad outline of how Fairbank House would be “restored, repaired and modernized” over the next five years so it could be used as a reception centre for family celebrations.

Burnie told The Independent he plans to use the first floor dining room, living room, front foyer and  library, to host events such as weddings and family gatherings in the future. He expects it could be ready to use in five years.

But the owner’s restoration and repair plan was less than detailed. Burnie’s engineer said work would begin this winter with “interior clean up and restore/repair and modernization of the rear quarter of the main building.”

Over the summer there are plans to restore a exterior slate wall, the outbuilding and restore the exterior trim on the top level.

The work continues until summer of 2-2-, when the railing and lattices on the front and west porches are replaced and new steps are built. By the winter of 2021, Burnie’s plan is to complete the clean up and restoration of the first floor.

The Chair of Petrolia’s Committee of Adjustment, Les Whiting, didn’t seem impressed.

“This is not what I would call a comprehensive plan,” he told Burnie. “It’s a guideline for the next five years.”

And while Burnie talked about his plans for restoration of the historic home, he and his engineer revealed some changes they’ve made to the apartment proposal.

The first draft of the plan showed the building close to Petrolia Line, potentially cutting off sight-lines to Fairbank House. Lambton County Planner Rob Nesbitt says it has been moved back on the lot so that the Tank Street apartments would obstruct the view of the new building.

They’ve also made the building much smaller. The original building was actually larger than Fairbank House with a 542 square meter foot print. That’s been scaled back to 432 square meters – 35 meters smaller than the original home.

Burnie says the building will have underground parking so it can be further off the street. “There will be a much greater area of greenspace due to the use of underground parking,” says Burnie.

A 10 foot-high fence will be built to seperate the building from the Henry Plant behind the property. Officials at the plant had voiced concern about the new apartment complex.

Committee members and Sylvia Fairbank, one of only four members of the public at the meeting – aside from Mayor John McCharles and Councillor Joel Field – was whether the building could be restored after being left so long. “I personally went through the home,” says Dale…I wish more buildings were built this way. This building is not easily restored but it is able to be restored.

“I have no qualms standing behind the structural integrity of the building.”

Fairbank also wanted to know if there were still apartments in the main home. “No, they’re not there anymore,” Burnie says.

Burnie did not get any precise timelines for the construction of the apartment building adding he would like to get started as soon as possible this year. However, Dale says the site plan is not complete yet.

That plan will have to go the town council for approval and Burnie’s restoration plan of Fairbank House will have to meet council’s approval to get the okay to build the apartment. That meeting on the site plan could be this winter yet, if Burnie is able to complete the plan.

And the owner adds the restoration of the main house won’t be a quick process. “This is a process which can take a lot of time because of the nature of the work and the nature of the materials we use,” he says adding it took three years to find the right brick to repair the buiding.

“I can’t just go to Home Depot and get what I need. It’s a whole different kettle of fish.”


  1. This is a sheer travesty. Every chemical plant, business, Union should be trying to help buy this home back and repair it. Easily one of the most important buildings in Ontario.

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