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Oil Springs to Host Global Heritage Conference

It’s a first!

International oil heritage specialists will tour Oil Springs this spring. It marks the first time heritage experts beyond North America will study its significance in global development from the very early days of the modern oil industry.

114 Year old cast iron field wheel

The cast iron field wheel which acts as a hub for the jerker line this one is approximately 114 years old and still working around the clock. Field wheels are now rare, and Fairbank Oil Fields has 12 of them. The upcoming international conference will be touring Oil Springs and seeing all of the 19th century technology used daily here.
= photo by Al Hayward

The group of 30 experts will study the authentic system of 1860s technology at Fairbank Oil Fields. This technology is not just preserved, but used around the clock, pumping 24,000 barrels of crude annually.

Touring the Oil Museum of Canada in Oil Springs, they will study the site of the 1858 discovery well. James Miller Williams dug the well, produced oil, refined it and sold it as illuminating oil that year, a first in North America.

The tour on May 9 is part of the conference organized by The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). It provides technical expertise in assessing potential World Heritage sites, in partnership with The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Oil Springs plans to apply to Canada’s shortlist to be considered for World Heritage designation.

The conference is being held in Sarnia because of its proximity to the historic oil field of Oil Springs. The focus is on industrial heritage, the physical heritage of historic processes inherited from earlier times and maintained for future generations.

Industrial heritage is attracting tourists of all stripes who are looking for something different and interesting. Europe is leading the way in celebrating industrial heritage and World Heritage is increasingly designating these sites.

A TICCIH study of the world’s conserved oil heritage is at the centre of the conference and tour. Sixteen countries contributed to the study and it includes Oil Springs as one of the 11 Case Studies.

Attendance has been capped at 30 and it is attracting participants from Spain, Scotland, the Netherlands as well as the U.S. and Canada. Experts from Taiwan, Norway, Chile, Saudi Arabia and Germany have also expressed an interest in coming.

Hosting the conference comes with expenses and The County of Lambton has contributed $7,500 through its County Creative Fund. A Lambton steering committee is seeking sponsorships.

Fairbank Oil Fields requested TICCIH to conduct the study on global oil industries and contributed $10,000 to help fund the writing. Earlier, TICCIH produced a study on the water industries and World Heritage.

In recent years, Oil Springs has been gaining more interest and recognition. For the 150th anniversary of the Williams Well in 2008, ICOMOS Canada held a symposium in Oil Springs and in the same year a Canadian-U.S. oil heritage conference was held in Petrolia and Oil Springs. In 2010, County of Lambton established The Oil Heritage Conservation District.

In 2017, Oil Springs applied for Canada’s shortlist of candidates for World Heritage consideration. Though unsuccessful then, Oil Springs is now strengthening its case to be designated a World Heritage Site. The TICCIH conference and tour will serve as an important building block and we’re excited!

– Patricia McGee