William Oliver Gillespie,
His home 'Fairview'
This is a portfolio of pictures from
the Gillespie family. This is a great house that was sadly destroyed in
the early ca1970s. Obviously William
had a very interesting life and I have included only a fraction of what
there is. Special thanx to Kathleen
Gillespie for allowing me to use these pics from the family archives. I
have included all of the pics from the album. Some are postcards from Borneo,
Persia, and Egypt. These are all places that Gilespie had travelled to discovering
and starting oil production with Petrolia technology.
was built by Thomas Hopwood who came to Petrolia from Port Hope at the start
of the oil boom and struck one of the largest wells in the area. He
and his wife. Sarah Ann had ten children, seven girls and three boys. all
of whom survived into adulthood although one daughter predeceased her parents.
In ca.1877 Mr. Hopwood acquired a tract of land fronting on Petrolia
Street and extending to Pithole. The house was situated on the brow of the
hill overlooking Bear Creek and the main street. It was of yellow brick
with a slate roof surmounted by an ornamental iron cresting. Upstairs five
bedrooms opened off a wide hall divided towards the north end by a doorway
and two steps. Beyond this came the back stairs, back bedroom and
In ca.1929 William 0. Gillespie, a former foreign driller then living in Sarnia, approached Robert Watt about buying the property. The pumping rig had just burned down and Mr. Watt was undecided about replacing it so had put the place up for sale. He did start to rebuild the rig. Nevertheless the sale was concluded the following year. William Gillespie said that although the house had been vacant for 20 years not a window was broken. Despite the lack of vandalism, the house had suffered from the effects of time, weather and neglect and needed major work. Restoration went on for years. In the 1930's a vegetable garden and an old apple orchard separated the house and stable. East of the stable sat the rig with a cherry orchard behind. In front was a little hut for the vacuum pump and then a large henhouse. Part of Hillside Street had at one time run below the hill. Remains of gardens indicated the location of some former dwellings. There were apple, pear and plum trees and one quince, also lilacs, forsythia. honeysuckle, poppies, irises, horseradish, garlic, mint and other plants. There were 26 wells on the property. All had names - Taylor. Collins, Canneff, etc. More drilling was done on the Hopwood well in the 1930s The house was usually approached by a right-of-way from Tank Street. Only a narrow path and footbridge led to the main street. William Gillespie replaced this arrangement with a boardwalk and a gravel road down the hill. Across Bear Creek, as it then ran, he built a bridge capable of carrying horses and wagons or cars. Beyond the bridge the walk continued as two wide planks high above the road. Streetlights on telephone poles lit the way. To stabilize the swampy area around the creek, people wishing to dispose of their old cars were invited to bring them along. Many car bodies accumulated and were later filled in. The road and bridge proved useful as a detour to Tank Street on a couple of occasions when the Petrolia Street hill was blocked due to traffic . In the spring, however, the road was liable to become soft and sometimes the horses had to be called upon to extricate a car from the mud. In 1945 a local landowner bought the property through the offices of a Toronto lawyer, J.J. Gray, who arranged for title to be held in the name of his sister, Mabel Gray, Milton J. Williamson came to manage property and he and his wife, Hulda lived in the house. In December 1950 Mr. Williamson died of a heart attack. Mrs. Williamson left Petrolia. The house was abandoned and eventually torn down. The property now forms part of Bridgeview Park.
Editors Note: There were many men like Mr Gillespie who plyed their trade of discovering oil wells around the world with the technology learned and patented in Petrolia.They pioneered the oil industry as we know it today. And yet after this amazing odyssey that each one partook of , they settled into obscurity in retirement living out their lives . The ones that I knew personally Fred Beach and Earnest Kells all had amazing stories that novels are written for but as each generation passes these stories become more and more obscure and fade away. Hopefully on this website we can grasp and salvage these stories for this and future generations. Petrolia has a rich history in oil and the men that uncovered the geological frontiers of the world.
Email Martin of Petrolia Ontario Canada at email@example.com