A walk through history; Western tours Oil Springs

Pat McGee talks about oil history at Fairbank Oil in Oil Springs as part of the Canadian History and Environmental Summer School hosted by Western University. Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative Photo

Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative

“You really get a sense of the oil industry from its beginnings,” said History Professor Alan MacEarchern of the University of Western Ontario.

MacEarchern was one of 40 people on a tour of the historic Fairbank Oil Fields in Oil Springs on Saturday as part of the Canadian History and Environmental Summer School. Western University brings together graduate students, faculty and other scholars interested in the fields of environmental history, historical geography and environmental humanities for the tour.

The theme of the weekend was environmental history seen through the 19th century oil industry in southwestern Ontario and Pennsylvania. MacEarchern who teaches and researches Canadian history with an emphasis on environmental and climate history, said it was great to tour the oil museum and oil fields and get a sense where the first commercial oil well in North America was drilled in 1858.

The group first toured the nearby Oil Museum of Canada, before heading into the Fairbank Oil Field under the guidance of Charlie Fairbank and Pat McGee, the fourth generation owners. The group then headed into Petrolia to see the oil history there.

MacEarchern said the group is looking back to the time in the last half of the 1800s when Oil Springs and Petrolia were at the centre of the burgeoning oil industry. He said many Canadians are surprised to find out the oil industry didn’t start in Alberta adding the symposium made comparisons between the Ontario Pennsylvania’s oil industries.