Relics of an old pumping rig are kept.
Photo: Al Hayward
A robin's nest hides outside the blacksmith shop.
Photo: Al Hayward
An oilman greases the threads of a pipe collar.
Photo: Willy Waterton
An oilman tightens the collar on a scraping tool.
Photo: Willy Waterton
A curious deer stops to view the onlooker.
Photo: Larry Cornelis
This 5-horsepower rig pumps 20 wells.
Photo: Al Hayward
Oil Springs, Ontario
Before oil was developed in Pennsylvania, Texas, the Middle East or Alberta, the Canadian boom town of Oil Springs, Ontario burst into existence.
In 1858, James Miller Williams carved his name in history when he dug a well, produced oil, crudely refined it, barreled it and marketed it as “illuminating oil” for lamps. Prior to 1858, he was distilling the bitumen of Oil Springs for lamp oil. A surveyor named John Henry Fairbank stumbled onto the fevered scene and in 1861 dug his first well.
That was 158 years ago and the family has been continuously pumping oil here through four generations. Fairbank Oil Fields is much more than just the site of Canada’s first gusher of the Shaw Well in 1862.
Today, it still operates a complete system of pumping oil using the authentic technology of the 1860s. This is unique in the world, and we believe Oil Springs meets all the criteria to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History happened here. Ingenious technologies developed here and the International Drillers (Foreign Drillers) took their expertise, tools and technology to 86 countries around the globe to open new oil fields. The significance of Oil Spring, Canada spread far and wide.
Though most drilling was done here more than 100 years ago, Fairbank Oil Fields produces about 24,000 barrels of oil annually has been supplying Imperial Oil with crude for nearly 140 years.
We have stories!
Navigate through our history, technology, nature pages above and info below.
Summer 2020 Touring of Fairbank Oil Fields
Despite the ongoing pandemic, you can still tour Fairbank Oil Fields in two ways. Although the Oil Museum of Canada is not yet opening, you can still tour Fairbank Oil. Together, Fairbank Oil Fields and the adjacent Oil Museum of Canada, form one National Historic Site.
The coronavirus has upended so many summer plans and here at Fairbank Oil Fields, we’re unable to offer our Horse-drawn Wagon Tours of the our oil field. It’s impossible to social distance on a wagon ride!
But the good news is that you can still take our Driving Tour (see Driving Tour section on this website) or hike through our Oil History Nature Trail at any time (See Nature section on this website). The Driving Tour’s audio narrative can be heard in your vehicle by tuning into the radio.
For news on when the County of will the Oil Museum of Canada, the archives, and its other museums will open to the public, stay tuned to local media.
Our much anticipated international conference in Oil Springs on oil heritage technology in has been moved to May 2021, due to covid-19. The conference will bring experts from several countries. It is being organizes with The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) and The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMCO) which provide expertise to UNESCO World Heritage.
From the comfort of your car, see the oilfield in action and life-sized metal sculptures depicting oilmen as they worked in the 1800s. Pick up map and guidebook at the Oil Museum of Canada and from May to October, you can tune into a narrative on your car radio. You’ll also see our barn mural, the most photographed barn in Lambton County.
OIL HISTORY NATURE TRAIL
Take the family on foot though woodlands wetlands and meadows to see oil history interpretive signs as well as the pumpjacks pumping oil. Highlights include the Foreign Driller art and the wonderful bridge over Black Creek is perfect for watching dragonflies. The diverse habitats draw deer, turtles, frogs and many species of birds and butterflies. Use the parking lot on Gypsie Flats Rd. and grab a trail map there.
Fairbank Oil Fields by Numbers
Number of oil wells now operating: 350
Number of oil wells operating in 1974: 70
Number of years since most oil wells were drilled here: 120 +
Number of acres: 650
Number of barrels of oil pumped here annually: 24,000
Number of barrels J.H. Fairbank pumped when he was the largest oil producer in Canada in the 1800s: 24,000
Number of barrels the Black and Matheson flowing well produced in Oil Springs in one day in 1862: 6,000
Year that Lambton County started sending its 500 Foreign Drillers to 86 countries around the world to open new oilfields: 1873
Population of Oil Springs on the February 1861 census: 54
Population of Oil Springs in 1865: 4,000
Population of Oil Springs in 2016: 648
Number of Munro Honey bees living at Fairbank Oil: 500,000
Number of acres farmed with crops here today: 100
Number of years that sheep have been raised here: 80
Ratio of oil wells to sheep: 3 to 1
Ranking of the abundance of flora and fauna biodiversity of Fairbank Oil in Lambton County: 2nd
Ranking of the abundance of flora and fauna biodiversity of Walpole Island in Lambton County: 1st
Number of butterfly species identified here: 29
Number of grassland bird species identified here: 43
Year Imperial Oil was formed in London, Ontario: 1880
Number of years Fairbank Oil has been shipping crude to Imperial Oil so far: 139
Number of years ago that glaciers covered this part of the country: 10,000 +
Number of years ago that the oil here was formed by plants and sea creatures: 350 million
Number of litres in a barrel of oil: 154
Number of Imperial gallons in a barrel of oil: 35
Number of American gallons in a barrel of oil: 42
Hours each day that the wells are pumping: 24
Average price of a barrel of crude in 2018: $69.52 U.S.
Average price of a barrel of crude in 1972 before the oil embargo on the Middle East: $1.82 U.S.
Average price of a barrel of crude in 1974 after the oil embargo: $11.00 U.S.
Number of wells the big Fairbank & Shannon rig had pumped in 1906: 212
Horsepower need for each of the six power rigs: 5
Number of km. of wooden jerker line on Fairbank Oil: 12
Number of km. if the depth of all the wells at Fairbank Oil were laid end to end: 37 km
Number of metres beneath the ground the oil is here: 133
Ratio of water to oil when it comes up to surface here: 50 to 3
Cost of installing the first disposal well in 1991: $250,000
Number of individual metal sculptures of real people here: 22
Number of donkeys: 1
Current number of domestic geese wandering the property: 7
Number of deer wandering the oilfields and woods: Countless
What else is here?
Lots! In all of Lambton County, only Walpole Island has greater biodiversity than Fairbank Oil Fields.
As the county is farmed more intensively and urban development grows, the forests, wetlands and meadows have largely disappeared. This makes Fairbank Oil Fields very important to preserving these habitats.
There are two key reasons the biodiversity is so huge here. One is that Black Creek meanders through the northern and western sections of our land. The second reason is that our various landscapes are large enough to be brimming with life.
Within our 600 acres of woodlands, wetlands and grasslands, we have sheep, geese, deer, wild turkeys, owls, beavers, possums, turtles, frogs, butterflies, more than 80 species of birds, plus we have 500,000 Munro Honey bees and a donkey named Jack.
And in total, we have 315 species of plants. A number of the trees and plants here are rare for Ontario or rare for Lambton County.