Change is coming! For the past 154 years, Fairbank Oil Fields has relied on VanTuyl and Fairbank Heavy Hardware in nearby Petrolia to supply all of its tools and oil well fittings. This fall, the store will close.
Three times the store has passed from father to son and is now owned by Charlie Fairbank, the great-grandson of the founder, John Henry Fairbank.
Fairbank Oil Fields manager David Taylor will order all our oil equipment directly. A newly erected building at Fairbank Oil will store the pipe, valves, brass fittings, and other materials for oil production.
“It is sad to close but we have been hit with a tsunami of market forces and cannot continue any longer,” Fairbank said. “For the past century and a half, the store has faced and survived steep challenges – fear of Fenian raids, depleting oil, fire, floods, the depression, two world wars and great leaps in technology.”
When his great grandfather, John Henry Fairbank, opened John H. Fairbank General Store in Petrolia in the fall of 1865, it was not because the oilman suddenly wanted to be a merchant. Instead, he wanted supplies for his oil wells and having a store made it easier. The store has been evolving ever since. It rose to become the biggest hardware store west of Toronto in the 19th century, carrying everything needed and desired for a Victorian home.
VanTuyl and Fairbank Heavy Hardware, as it has been known since 1874, is a one-of–a-kind store at 394 Station Street. It carries a vast array of tools and equipment, nails by the pound, umpteen kinds of shovels and gloves, and all that local oil producers, electricians, gardeners, farmers, plumbers, and do-it-yourselfers might need. Staff can sharpen chainsaws, custom cut lengths of steel and advise on projects. It also has photovoltaic panels on the roof, a line of solar panels and extensive ordering data on its computers.
Anyone can see it is unique just because it has a life-size metal sculptures of a horse and man on its roof with an exact replica of a wagon once made by the Petrolia Wagon Works, once a sizeable business. Ads from the 1800s and early 1900s hang on the walls and there are historic items displayed like the copper Fairbank Fire Extinguisher, a brass cash register, and a hand-crafted metal claw for scooping nails.
When hard times hit in the 1920s, the store was reduced to three freight sheds under one roof and has been in the same spot for 90 years, strategically situated across from the former rail station. This made it easier to unload heavy cast iron stoves and oil equipment.
Change at the store has been constant through the past 15 decades. It has always been a microcosm of the town and the times. “With wonderful managers we miraculously survived as long as we have” says Fairbank. “We’ve been keeping customers happy for 154 years and that’s an achievement.”
– Patricia McGee