Author: Paul Morden, The Sarnia Observer
Fairbank Oil Fields has updated one of the ways it shares the history of the family that has pumped oil from the ground in Oil Springs for 158 years.
Charlie Fairbank, and his wife writer Pat McGee, are the fourth generation of the family in the oil business in central Lambton County where the first commercial oil well was dug at Oil Springs in the 1800s.
They recently launched an updated website – www.fairbankoil.com – with photo galleries, information about the history of the 600-acre property and its wildlife, as well as a blog McGee writes and other information and resources.
It also has information about the site’s nature trail and a driving tour visitors can take to see how 1860’s technology is still used to operate some 350 oil wells.
McGee said Fairbank Oil’s original website was created in 2011 for its 150th anniversary but its aging technology was limiting its use.
“We had to start anew, so we did,” and they updated the site with help from a company in nearby Wyoming that organized and packaged a huge amount of material, McGee said.
“We explained that we needed the website to appeal to visitors, historians, photographers, heritage people, industrial archaeologists, kids, adults, birdwatchers, nature lovers, artists, writes, geologists, politicians, machinists and anyone in the oil industry,” she said.
“We are always fighting to be better known – locally, nationally and beyond our borders.”
McGee said the best way to understand the story of Oil Springs is to visit and see the oil fields still in operation there, while also visiting the Oil Museum of Canada.
“Since that’s not always possible, because of time and distance, the next best thing is to tell the stories with photos, with videos and words,” she said.
The information available on the new website also enhances the experience of those who do visit, she added.
“Even it you drive around and look at it, you might not understand what you’re looking at or why it’s there, or how long it has been there, or what it even does.”
Along with its oil wells, the property includes woodlands, wetlands, meadows and grasslands creating a diverse wildlife habitat.
Local naturalist Larry Cornelis has been surveying the site and provided nature photographs for the website. Members of the Petrolia Camera Club also contributed photos.
McGee said the Oil Museum in Oil Springs is a good place to start out from and it can provide visitors with information on how to use their car radio to listen to a narrative broadcast during part of the year for the driving tour.
A map of the driving tour is posted on the new website.
Stops on the tour feature more than 24 life-sized metal characters created over several years by Murray Watson.
“They’re put together like actors in a play to show how the early oil men worked and the kinds of jobs they did,” McGee said.
Visitors also often stop to take their picture with a mural on the site’s barn.
“This has got to be the most photographed barn in all of Lambton County,” McGee said.
Fairbank got the idea years ago from the Joyce Carey novel, The Horse’s Mouth, where a group of friends come together to create a mural.
In 1981, he had artist Anne Marsh Evans take a horse-drawn oil wagon logo for the VanTuyl and Fairbank Hardware Store in Petrolia and use it to layout squares on the north wall of the barn, and then friends were invited out to help paint them in to create the mural.