As a child, I was a little ashamed of my hometown. Relatives and other visitors almost always made snide remarks about the distinct odour that would envelop them as they approached the outskirts of town. Living there on a daily basis made residents immune to the smell, and, in fact, unless pointed out to me, I never noticed the aroma. Not until I was a grown woman and working in the tourism industry did I realize the significance of that smell to the town, and, indeed, to the entire world. This is where the Canadian oil industry originated, growing from its fledging roots in nearby Oil Springs to local fruition in Petrolia (known for a little while as Petrolea).
The “black gold” that those first tenacious pioneer drillers pumped out of the ground in the 1860s was the foundation on which our little town was built. Incorporated in 1874, by the 1880s, with a population of 5,000, Petrolia was one of the richest towns per capita in Canada. All because of a foul-smelling, gooey substance extracted from the ground that would revolutionize the world and bring about changes never before imagined.
The history of Petrolia reminds me that fact is almost always more fascinating than fiction. Many intriguing stories and books have been written about Canadian oil barons and our sought-after “foreign drillers”—those brave, adventurous individuals who took with them to the far corners of the globe their hard-earned industry expertise and knowledge, and assisted in the development of major oilfields around the world.
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