| The whole story is told at The Oil Museum of Canada in Oil
Springs, just South of Oil City and Petrolia, on the corner
of Oil Heritage Road and Gum Bed Line. By way things are named around
here, we started to get the idea that oil’s big in these parts.
big in fact, that it’s been immortalized in the stained-glass
windows at the Christ Anglican Church in Petrolia. Yup, those
panes next to Jesus, usually reserved for the saints and such,
are all filled with scenes from the nearby oil fields. Under
his feet reads “And The Rock Poured Me Out Rivers Of Oil.”
We had no idea that Jesus was so into fossil fuels.
ago, the few folks scratching out a living on this strip of land
between Lake Huron and Lake Erie didn’t think much of the nasty,
black tar they called gum. All it was good for was ruining their
land and water. But then, in 1858, someone hatched a plan to use
the gunk for asphalt to pave roads. The men started digging up
the gum, standing in the awful muck, scooping it up in buckets
and sending it off to the Big City where folks had use for it.
An Oil Rush
southernmost section of Canada was absolutely
crawling with prospectors. In fact, the first commercial oil well
in North America was in this area.
the Mother of Invention stepped in, an ingenious device called
a jerker system was invented
to pump oil from numerous wells at the same time using just one
steam engine. Remarkable in its complex simplicity, a maze of
cables, connectors and wooden rods harnesses the power from the
large engine and sends it to pumps all over the field some
of them thousands of yards away. In fact, a working example is
still in use, pumping away on the Oil Museum grounds.
The Oil Museum sits right on the site of the first well and the
smell of oil literally hangs in the air. Inside the main building
there are two floors of exhibits. The first housing displays of
interesting oil business and technology memorabilia. Antique oil
cans, service station signs, advertisements are mixed in with
diagrams and discriptions of the geology and machinery that make
up the history of the oil business.
display seemed a bit too excited about what it called the
world’s first oil spill! The flow from this gusher decimated
the area with 100,000 barrels of crude fouling the fields
and water all
the way to Lake St. Clair. Now that’s something to celebrate! Not.
The main floor
also includes a theater showing a short and somewhat hokey film
that gives a fact filled look at the story of North America’s
first oil patch through the eyes of a letter writin’ Oil Rusher’s
basement is another story (no pun intended). A strange conglomeration
of artifacts with nothing whatsoever to do with oil, or even
Canada for that matter, are laid out for perusal. Bugs and
guns, a collection of eggs, scarves and clocks,
knives and spears from around the world are all displayed in glass
cases and along the walls. But, wait, there’s more — what arrangement
without an opium pipe, a conch shell or an elephant
tooth? The curators vaguely tied the items into the museum by pointing
out that there is oil in the places where they came from and that
oil men kept them as souvenirs.
us, the most entertaining part of the museum was the Oil Springs
Heritage District Driving Tour. We drove the two mile loop
on the nearby roads and found goofy life-sized dioramas of
odd metal sculpted men and beasts of burden in old-timey oil production scenes.
Each spot has its own radio frequency, so we tuned into narrations
from Angus but you can call me Slick (get it–like “Oil
Slick”) in his Texas drawl over a
background of delta blues
music. Of course, this IS the deep South, of Canada, so that makes
it all fit right in, eh?
back now, y’here?