Oil Museum redesign gets a big boost from Alix grant

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The Oil Museum of Canada redesign project has been given a major boost thanks to a grant from the Judith and Norman Alix Foundation.

The site – which opened in 1960 – preserves the site of the first commercial oil well in North America dug by James Miller Williams in 1858. The National Historic Site tells the story of Lambton County’s contributions to the development of the world’s oil industry. It is the centerpiece of the Oil Heritage Conservation District, and showcases the jerker system pioneered by Canada’s first oilmen.

But the exhibits are in need of an update and the museum has been working on the Visitor Experience Project to modernize the space. The $81,100 donation help bring the museum and its story into the 21st century with a number of up-to-date amenities.

“The site itself is 60 years old, and some of the components of that oil story are original to the establishment of the museum,” Lambton County general manager of cultural services Andrew Meyer said. “So we are looking to enhance the site with more interactive learning experiences, really focusing in on the science, technology, engineering and math areas in terms of how we design it.”

The goal is to encourage visitors to interact with the displays instead of just looking, says Meyer. “We have a lot of school and other tours, and we really want to enhance the educational experience at the site. So that is a key driver for sure,” Meyer says.
Interpretive signs will provide greater detail into both the background and technical workings of artifacts at the museum.

These new signs will also hone in on the STEM related components of the oil industry, highlighting the history of oil innovation in Lambton County while also showing how the science, technology, engineering and math fields can help the Lambton economy move forward, both in oil and other sectors.

There will also be new artifacts for visitors to explore.
The total cost of the project was expected to be around $450,000. The foundation grant compliments a capital investment by the county, which will allow for several maintenance repairs to be completed. The county will fix the roof, heating, ventilation, air equipment, lighting, windows and doors, among other areas. “The whole building is getting a refresh,” said Meyer.

Work on the Visitor Experience Project is expected to begin in the fall, although it is not known if the museum will be open by that time.

“The County is grateful for the support of The Judith and Norman Alix Foundation with the redevelopment of this important National Historic Site”, says Meyer. “This funding builds on the Alix family’s strong legacy of support for cultural institutions in the community, and will allow us to re-imagine how we share the story of Lambton’s proud oil heritage.”
In addition to the Oil Museum, the Judith and Norman Alix Foundation made donations to a pair of Sarnia organizations: $100,000 to the Inn of the Good Shepard for the purchase of food and other essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and $90,000 will be given to Pathways Health Centre for Children in Sarnia to refurbish their therapeutic pool.