New 16-foot mural depicts Petrolia’s oil history


Petrolia’s oil history is the subject of a new mural now gracing the Railroad Street side of the Vantyl and Fairbank Hardware building.
It has taken some time from the time the idea was first spoken to an actual work of art. Vantyl and Fairbank Hardware owner Charles Fairbank had the idea. “I talked to Frances about it three years ago,” he said. “Bob Tremain (since retired from his post as general manager of the Cultural Services Division) was raving about this guy. I went to Frances about a couple of murals and this is the second one.”
The giant mural, which is 16-feet long, is the work of artist Frances Martin, who has created other murals places like Watford, Oil Springs, Strathroy, Melborne, Mt. Brydges, and Mitchell’s Bay. The self-taught artist used an airbrush and sepia tones to recreate a vintage photograph of Petrolia during the oil boom days which Fairbank found while searching Lambton County archives. It was taken in the 1890s.
The mural was made in the artist’s studio and transported to the Petrolia site in four equal sections.
The sections were fastened to the side of the Vantyl and Fairbank workshop facility on Nov. 4.
The mural incorporates the many facets of life in Petrolia’s oil production days. “It’s a charming picture of Petrolia in the 1890s,” says Fairbank. The picture illustrated all the structures, such as drilling rigs, oil derricks, pumps, and horse-drawn wooden tanker wagons that were necessary for oil production.
The human aspect of the picture also adds to its appeal: two men are about to shake hands, as if sealing a new deal; a woman and her child are regarding the viewer with curiosity; two boys are roughhousing in the foreground; and several distant figures can be seen tempting fate by lounging atop the towering oil rigs.
Mr. Fairbank says a third mural is in the planning stage.

  • Bonnie Stevenson