a love story
by Judy Keightley
I would like to dedicate this story to my dear father, Lional John Humble, who passed away on June 19th, 2001.
He was a great historian and my mentor.
I would like to thank Laura Keightley for designing the cover for this
CHARLOTTE AND JAKE - A LOVE STORY
My husband and I bought our old house in 1996. According to the deeds of the house there had only ever been two owners in a hundred and twenty years. This by itself seemed quite remarkable but the stories of these two families are even more remarkable and are every bit an integral part of the history of Petrolia.
The main focus of this book lies essentially with the first family, the Moncrief's, although the love story, that between Charlotte and Jake, is also so much a part of the old house's history that the two cannot easily be separated.
The old saying, 'If walls had ears.....', has repeatedly beckoned me to research the actual history of this house. Having lived and breathed the atmosphere here, I feel that I have begun to understand and empathize with the original occupants. Interestingly enough, all the woman who lived here have been very strong minded and pro-active in the community. The men have also been the 'movers-and-shakers of Petrolia. I particularly have been very impressed with George Moncrief who, in his quiet but determined way, truly was the 'first gentleman' of Petrolia and remains in my eyes, an unsung hero and a much under rated historical figure in the history of Petrolia.
Bella and George had only been married one month when mama had suggested that Minnie come to live with the newly weds. They had just moved into their house in Warren Street and already Bella felt like an old married woman. The trouble was, at the age of thirty-one, George was very ambitious. Already acting as Reeve for the village of Petrolea he had spent ten years being involved with the politics of rural Lambton. Bella was immensely proud of her husband who had been born in Scotland, emigrated with his parents, and then had attended first the University of London and later MacMaster University in Hamilton. However, George was a lawyer first, and a husband second. Bella didn't really resent that so much as the deep loneliness she had felt since leaving her family on the farm to marry George. Having Minnie with her would help conquer that sense of isolation even though her sister was only ten years old. Bella looked down at her standing silently at her side. One hand clutched her rag doll while her other hand was curled into a tight fist. Her little face looked pale and tired. A small tear drop rolled down her cheek.
In 1865 only half a dozen oil wells had been dug along the banks of Bear Creek. The settlement of Petrolea consisted then of just six log cabins which a few of the American oil drillers from Oil Springs had migrated to. It wasn't until the following year in 1866, when Benjamin King dug a well in the west end of the village and struck pure liquid black gold in abundance, that Petrolea's name got put on the map. Drillers and speculators rushed to the site and the price of land suddenly soared bringing with it massive building construction. Almost over night Petrolia became a bustling town with a population of over two thousand residents, four churches, a school, hotels, stores and numerous boarding houses for all the prospectors. Petrolea was nestled into a rolling, heavily wooded, landscape. It was not as swampy as other areas of South Western Ontario, and a small pioneer farming industry had already been established some years before the oil rush.
Businesses flourished in Petrolea. Entrepreneurs flocked eagerly to the town. Huge amounts of money changed hands as the oil began to flow. In the late 1860's, John Henry Fairbank and his partner, Benjamin Van Tuyl, opened up an oil supply and general hardware business. This partnership flourished with great success until Van Tuyl's death thirty-five years later. In 1869, John fairbanks entered into another partnership this time with Leonard Vaughan. The two men opened a private bank. They purchased an old house in Oil Springs and had it hauled over to Petrolea. The house was made of red barn wood and was knick-named ,'The Little Red Bank'. At the end of the first year of trading Fairbank and Vaughan had realized over $1.5 million in business.
By the time Isabella and George were married in 1873 despite a still rather 'frontier-like' appearance, Petrolia had grown into a very prosperous small town. No longer called Petrolea, but renamed, Petrolia, the new town was thriving. There were many wealthy people wanting to live the life of a rich society with all the trimmings. Clubs and committees were formed. George Moncrief became a member of a committee that planned the Petrolea Assemblies. Two or three times a year the elite would gather at the Town Hall, affectionately called,' The Opera House'. Musicians were brought in from London or Toronto and sometimes from Detroit. A race course was built for the racing of thoroughbred horses. A Masonic Lodge was built and large hotels sporting flashy signs soon appeared along with the prostitutes, offering excitement and diversion to the huge numbers of oil speculators that boarded in hotels and houses all over the town.
At first when Isabella had arrived in Petrolia, she had found the oil men rough and crude and extremely frightening. She was scared to venture into the town without George at her side. The women in the town also seemed rather rough particularly the ladies who stood outside and around the hotels. Their painted faces and suggestive clothing made Isabella shake with fright. George had insisted that they employ a maidservant when they were married so that Isabella need not go shopping by herself but instead could send the maid. Although she was relieved at the thought of not having to face the rough towns people, having a maid was a mixed blessing. Not going out on shopping errands made Isabella feel more and more like a prisoner in her own home.
The next day Minnie and Bella breakfasted together. George had already left for the office. Bella noticed that her little sister still clung to her rag doll but her eyes looked less haunted and her cheeks had more colour. Minnie ate her egg silently but when she had finished eating she looked up at her big sister and said;
With lunch over, George stopped to talk to Harry Prince, manager of the Western of Canada Oil Works and Land Company. Minnie was later to learn that George was highly suspicious of Harry Prince and was not in the least bit surprised when a couple of years later Prince skipped the country with a quarter of a million dollars of other peoples invested money.
George took Isabella and Minnie home and returned to his office. As a barrister, attorney-at-law, and a solicitor he was kept extremely busy sorting out the legalities of oil claims, frequent bankruptcy cases and a growing number of domestic legalities and land deals. Shortly before marrying Isabella, George had been made Reeve when Petrolea had first became a town and the name of the village was changed to Petrolia. He was just thirty-one years old. George was later to become the town solicitor, a position that he would hold until his death. His friend, William McGarvey had been the first Reeve the previous year before going out West for a year.
On returning to their home, Isabella and Minnie went upstairs to rest before getting ready to visit Helena McGarvey. The McGarvey house was situated down the newly developed Petrolia line and it was surely a fine, new , grand house. William had commissioned the builder to build the grandest of houses sparing no money. It was built while the family went out West seeking potential oil wells and selling oil drilling equipment. The family had recently returned and had just moved into their beautiful new home.
Helena Wesolowski of Mount Clemens, Michigan ,had married William Mc Garvey in 1868. At the time of their marriage William had owned several oil wells in both Oil Springs and Petrolia and his parents ran a successful shop in Wyoming. By the age of thirty, William was a strikingly dynamic figure of a man, broad shouldered and handsome with a luxuriant moustache that always looked a bit droopy giving him a blood hound look. Helena and William had a daughter, little Nellie, and a son Frederick. Later they would have another daughter, May.
Isabella and Minnie knocked on the impressive oak front door of the McGarvey house. The maidservant answered and showed the ladies into the parlour room where Helena and little Nellie were seated on a plush crimson velvet ottoman. Helena rose to welcome her guests. She was a stunningly beautiful woman with thick ash blond hair pulled up into a fashionable chignon. She wore stylish clothes and spoke with a thick polish accent which both Isabella and Minnie found difficult at first to understand.
Nellie and Minnie eyed each other from across the room. Nellie was small for her age. At six she only looked half her age with her golden baby curls and large blue eyes. She was dressed in a voile dress with a huge blue velvet sash tied around her waist. Matching velvet ribbons were tied in her hair giving Nellie the appearance of a porcelain doll. Minnie felt self conscious in her drab brown pinafore. Where Nellie was blond and dainty, Minnie felt dark and clumsy. They both fell into an awkward silence broken only by Helena calling the girls over to drink some milk and cookies.
The following month was a whirlwind of social events enough to sweep little Minnie straight off her feet. Isabella insisted that she attend all the tea parties and gatherings that well wishes had bestowed upon George Moncrieff's new bride and her little sister. It was obvious that George had made his mark on the townspeople.
Minnie started school that September and was pleased to see little Nellie McGarvey and the Fairbank's boys in attendance. The school was called 'Jubilee House' and was situated on First Avenue. It was a one room affair with all the boys seated on the one side of the classroom and all the girls on the other side. The girls all wore aprons and before entering the class all the children had to have their hands inspected. Minnie noticed that some of the boys and girls wore no shoes and looked as if they needed a good bath. Their teacher carried a cane and went around the room reminding the children to sit upright, elbows off the tables and feet firmly together. Minnie, who could already read and write found her first month of schooling very repetitious. The days dragged by and she sorely missed the tea parties and socialising with Isabella and the other ladies of Petrolia.
The New year came and went and soon there was great excitement in the house. George was to be made Mayor of Petrolia. William McGarvey would take over the role of Reeve. Black gold continued to be pumped out of the ground producing over three million dollars of illuminating oil a year.
In February of that year George was returning from London on the Great Western Railway where he had been visiting his dear parents. The Sarnia Express had departed from London at 6.20 pm that evening . The train was made up of three oil tank cars, one baggage car and two passenger cars. Suddenly an awful fire broke out in the saloon car, probably caused by a knocked over oil lamp. Seven people were burnt to death and many passengers were injured including George who sustained bad burns to one of his legs. Isabella was so relieved that George was relatively unharmed . She wept with joy when he limped into their living room the next day.
That summer a crowd of people packed the railway station to wave goodbye to the first of many hard oilers who were leaving to go drilling on foreign-shores. Isabella, George and Minnie also went down to the station and joined in the lively festivities. The local band had come out and were playing popular tunes. As the train started to pull out, carrying away drillers Joshua Porter, Malcolm Scott and William Covert, the crowds all broke out singing ,"Will ye No Come Back Again". These three men were headed for Indonesia, East Java. Isabella stood next to George waving goodbye to the men when she suddenly felt overcome with dizziness. She reached out to George and leant against him whispering to him that she had to go home quickly. Minnie was alarmed by her sisters sudden pallor. The three of them got into the horse and buggy and trotted home at a pace. George carried Isabella into the house and sent the maid to call for the doctor . Minnie stayed by her sisters side pressing cold compresses to her forehead. Isabella felt silly. All this fuss and it was probably just the heat and maybe her corsets had been tied just a little too tightly. The doctor arrived carrying his little black leather bag.
"Mrs. Moncrief, what have you been up to ?"
With that he proceeded to examine Isabella. At the conclusion of his examination he put his hands together and announced that there really was not much wrong with her other than the fact that Isabella was with child. The baby would be due around March the next year. George was thrilled and Minnie didn't really know what to make of it all. Her sister with child. That would make her an aunt !
That autumn, Minnie met Jake Englehart for the first time. She never got to speak to him but sat on the stairs of their house and listened and watched as George greeted his acquaintance and showed him into the study. Her first impression of Jake was of a very smartly turned out man, very business like and sure of himself. He had looked up at her and had winked as he was shown into the study. This had caused Minnie to blush and hide her face in her hands. After he had left she had overheard Isabella asking George about his guest. Minnie had strained her ears to hear what George had to say about Jake.
Baby George Glen Moncrief was born on March 20 th, 1875. Isabella had a good delivery and soon fell into the swing of motherhood. George became Town Solicitor, a position that he would hold until his death twenty-six years later. In that same year the Moncrief's decided to build a new home for their fledgling family. James Lancy , a developer, had set up a small, elite sub-division in a secluded area called Crescent Park. Knowing that the wealthy oil men desired lavish homes Lancy built elegant, spacious brick and frame homes modelled on the New England style of architecture. George and Isabella lived just around the corner from Crescent Park and they were to watch their new home being built. They chose a large plot which sloped down to a shallow valley. The house would look out on a circular park of grass and shrubs, ideal for children to play on. The street names of Crescent Park were named after the developer's family, Emma Street, Emmeline Street, Ella Street, and Lancy Street.
Isabella was to have one more baby in their old house, a little girl who they named Isabelle. That same year they took up residence in 430, Emmeline Street. Charlotte was thirteen years old.
In 1877 tragedy struck the families of Petrolia. There had been several outbreaks of typhoid but 1877 saw a particularly rampant strain of the virus. There were eleven deaths recorded. Dysentery also took its toll of lives that same year. Sadly, Isabella's good friend Kate Van Tuyl died of dysentery. She was forty-three years old. Edna Fairbanks, fearful of catching the disease, took little May, who was eight years old to Pasadena in South Eastern Texas where they stayed at a health spa for the rest of the summer. Isabella, Minnie and the children went back to their parents farm for the summer months, hoping to avoid the dreaded typhus and dysentery.
Helena McGarvey and Isabella were still good friends particularly as Helena had been left on her own so much since William had been appointed a member of the Federal surveying party surveying North West Canada for oil. There had been a general recession in the oil market and many oil drillers sought their fortunes elsewhere. Helena feared that William's involvement with the Geological Survey would make him restless and he would no longer be content to stay in Enniskillen. Helena's daughter May and Isabella's daughter, Isabelle, were born the same year. William was not there for his daughters birth but Isabella stayed with her friend all through the long hours of her labour. The following year George and Isabella had another babe in arms, little Helena, named after her good friend Helena McGarvey.
Petrolia was expanding rapidly. Already the West end had become the fashionable area for the wealthy oil barons to build their mansions. With developers like Kerr and Lancy more permanent business premises were being erected on the West side. In 1879 the Vaughan Block was built . Petrolia was now considered a major importing and exporting centre with occasional records of the highest tariff revenues in the whole of Canada. On the oil front entrepreneurs such as Fairbanks and Englehart were acquiring more and more oil fields. Jake had sold his London refinery which instantly made him a millionaire. After selling off the refinery he bought The Carbon Oil Company of Hamilton and moved the whole business to Petrolia. It was said that Jake's oil fields and refineries were the biggest and most efficient in the world. By 1879, Jake had two hundred and twenty five oil wells in Petrolia and his Silver Star Refinery was indeed the largest in the world.
As for Minnie, by 1879 she had finished her schooling and now stayed at home helping Isabella bring up their five young children. Little George Glen was only four years old when Isabella had her fifth and last child, baby Hugh. There were three boys, George, Colin, and Hugh, and two girls, Isabelle and Helena. Minnie loved her nieces and nephews dearly. She particularly loved to read to them and teach them little songs and nursery rhymes. At sixteen, Minnie had developed into a tall, attractive young woman, friend and sister to Isabella and doting aunt to all her nieces and nephews.
In 1880 ,to Isabella and Minnie's dismay, the McGarvey family talked about moving to Germany. William had met John Bergheim, a British engineer who was interested in oil exploration. Both William and John had studied the European and Asian oil markets with growing interest. They knew that existing oil fields had been mined in Galicia, then part of the Austrian Empire. In order to drill in Germany, both men had to join The Continental Oil Company. Shortly after joining, McGarvey was named the company director. The German oil fields were not too successful and McGarvey and Bergheim decided to move their activities to Galicia and Uherca. Here they struck it lucky. A well was sunk that gushed out thirty thousand barrels of oil a day. McGarvey became a millionaire almost overnight and he immediately sent for his family to join him.
With Helena and her children gone, Isabella felt a deep void in her life. Although she was quite friendly with Edna Fairbanks, the closeness that she had felt towards her dear friend Helena could never be replaced. Meanwhile, Edna's husband, John, had just gone into business with Jake Englehart opening up The Crown Loan and Savings Company. John Fairbank had also turned his head towards politics. Being Alexander Mackenzie's good friend, John had always supported the Liberals. In the spring of 1882, he was chosen as Liberal candidate for East Lambton. Sadly, his election victory was coloured by a family tragedy. Two months before, Henry, John's oldest son, committed suicide while studying at the University of Michigan. Henry had graduated from the University of Toronto in 1880 and had then enrolled in the medical school of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Charles, Edna and John's second son, was at that time a commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery in Woolwich, England. He was summoned home for his brother's funeral. Jake Englehart and Benjamin Van Tuyl were honorary pall-bearers.
Minnie was nineteen at the time of the funeral. She had grown up with Henry and Charles and it fairly broke her heart to see the pain and suffering of the poor Fairbank family. It seemed that Edna was inconsolable. Unfortunately, John's political career had just taken off and it meant that he would be away for long periods of time in Ottawa. Charles decided to forfeit his promising military career and stay at home to help his mother during her sad period of mourning. He would remain in Petrolia for the next seven years. During his stay many townspeople hoped that young Minnie Thompson and Charles might become a couple and there was a great deal of speculation. Minnie was too busy helping her sister to rear her demanding family. Already the Moncrief house seemed too small for the five children, George and Isabella, Minnie and the maidservant. After much discussion it was decided that they would build an extension to their existing home. Isabella wanted an additional two bedrooms and a large dining room for all the entertaining they seemed to be doing , and George desperately needed a study. The builder was called in and plans were drawn up. It was decided that while the builders worked on the extension Isabella and Minnie would take the children to visit their grandparents on the farm outside Adelaide. The children rarely saw their relatives and the fresh country air would do them all some good. Although the very strong 'skunk' smell from the oil had been greatly reduced by a new invention patented by Edward Hodgens, the smell was still quite pungent. Edward had devised a deodorising process using caustic soda and lead monoxide which modified the smell but did not remove the sulphur.
On the business front, Jake Englehart and Frederick Fitzgerald had joined together nineteen oil men, forming a company which they named 'Imperial Oil'. Within three months Imperial Oil shares were trading at $28 a share. In that short period of time, Jake made over $37,000 . Overseas, oils men Robert and Ludwig Nobel were busy establishing oil refineries in Russia. Two years previous they had two hundred refineries at Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Unfortunately, there was no easy way of transporting the oil out of the country. The Nobel brothers appealed to Europe for help and the Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, a very rich banker in Paris, put up the money to finance the building of a railroad from the Port of Fatui on the Black Sea to Baku on the Caspian sea. By the end of the year 1882, Robert and Ludwig Nobel were able to export their vast quantities of Russian oil to Europe and beyond, making the brothers multi-millionaires.
Isabella, Minnie and the children spent the whole of the summer at their parents' farm. The children just loved the countryside and Grandpa Thompson taught little George how to shoot grouse and pheasant. It was good to be home with the family again . Although Isabella and Minnie's brothers no longer lived at home, Kate their sister, affectionately nick-named 'Toothie', still lived with their parents, and was absolutely thrilled to see Bella and Minnie .
The little girls, Isabelle and Helena loved to go down to the hen house with grandma Thompson to feed the hens and collect the eggs. Baby Hugh once got chased by a clucky mother hen being rather protective of her chicks. He ran screaming to the farm house where his sisters teased him remorselessly.
Summer past and soon the leaves on the trees started to turn gold, heralding the onset of autumn. It was time to return to Petrolia. George had sent word that the extension was ready for 'a woman's touch'. He wanted Isabella to choose tiles for the fireplaces and light fixtures and to arrange for curtains to be made. With a sadness of heart the Moncrief's bid farewell to their parents and headed back to the oil town, Petrolia.
On arrival Isabella and Minnie were amazed at the transformation of their home. The side extension had been so carefully crafted that the whole house looked as if it had always been built that way. The front door was now a double door that led into a completely enlarged hallway. No longer a long, narrow entrance the hall was now as spacious as any parlour room and the staircase had been pushed back and now curved around overlooked by an upstairs gallery balcony. But it was the diningroom which took Isabella's breath away. It was over thirty feet long with a walk-in pantry one end of the room and sliding panel doors which led into George's study the other end of the room. The fireplace in the diningroom was carved oak with a cast-iron insert with spaces left for the tiles yet to be chosen. All the windows were clad with mahogany shutters both inside and outside the house. The floors were made up of part cherry wood, part oak and mahogany. Isabella was absolutely thrilled with everything.
The following months were a blurr of decision making for Isabella. What tiles did she want for the fireplaces? What type of lamps, chandeliers, candelabras should they choose? Minnie tried to assist her sister with these decisions. They decided on some strikingly beautiful hand painted tiles which had to be imported from Italy and would take months before they could finally be fitted. Minnie's choice veered very much towards nature as she had grown to love flowers and gardening. Over the summer months on the farm her mother had taught her all she knew about plants and flowers, particularly about roses as her mother was a very keen rose grower. Meanwhile George was as busy as ever working as the town solicitor. Jake Englehart had become a frequent visitor to the Moncrieff household. Isabella secretly thought that the man was desperately lonely. He boarded with Ed Kirby the mayor of Petrolia, who was also a bachelor. By all accounts Jake seemed to be a total workaholic and had little time for women. The Imperial Oil enterprise had grown beyond his wildest dreams. In October of 1884 the company was producing 12,691 barrels each containing 40 prime gallons which were being transported from coast to coast, helping to open up the West by offering kerosene lamps and oil products to the pioneers. The large oil barrels were also used by these early settlers as wash tubs.
George Moncrief never stopped admiring his friend Jake for his shrewdness and general business acumen. Whenever Jake visited his house whether as an invited guest for dinner or on business he always appeared immaculately dressed, favouring dark suits, high starched collars, and always a fresh flower in his button hole. Often when visiting, Jake would sit and talk to Minnie. She found him fascinating to talk to but also a very easy listener. She talked to him about her garden and love of roses and her interest in the Church. He talked to her about his business and concerns for the safety of his workers. He also talked about his dreams and visions of opening up the Northern territories of Canada.
Petrolia itself was rapidly expanding. A race track was built at Greenwood to race thoroughbred horses imported from all over the world. Grand balls and extravagant parties attended by the elite of Petrolia were very much part of the lifestyle of the nouveau-riche oil barons. No expense was spared at these functions. Musicians were brought in from London, Toronto and often an all Negro orchestra was brought in from Detroit to play at these balls. Most of the grand parties were held in the Town Hall, affectionately called The Opera house. Later on when the Fairbank had built their grand house with its own ballroom many of the elite of Petrolia would get together and party at the Fairbank's house.
Isabella, George, and Minnie always attended these balls and the women would spend weeks planning their dress attire for the occasion. Sometimes George would accompany the ladies to Chicago on the train and they would spend delicious hours dress shopping. Other times they would have their gowns made locally but would use fabric imported from Europe in all the latest patterns and colour. Isabella, at thirty-six was still an attractive woman although her dark auburn hair now sported some grey and her freckled skin showed signs of aging. George and she were still very much in love. Minnie, at twenty-one was taller than her sister and darker in colouring. She was not particularly pretty having a rather long face and high forehead, but she wore her clothes with style and elegance, and her face radiated a sweetness which the men found quite appealing. At these very public gatherings Minnie often appeared shy and preferred to keep out of the lime light, although the women of the town still speculated about who she would marry and gossiped mercilessly about her behind her back.
In 1886 Sir John A MacDonald visited Petrolia. A reception was held for him at the curling rink on Tank Street. People were packed in like sardines to hear their Premier's speech. George Moncrief was embarrassed that the Prime Minister should be so welcomed. He invited Sir John A MacDonald to stay at his home, much to Isabella's consternation. The Prime Minister accepted George's invitation to dinner but declined to spend the night as he had to push on to Sarnia for the following days political rally. George, for some time, had been getting more and more involved with politics. Being a staunch conservative he supported and believed totally in the conservative parties policies. The following year he decided to run for MP for East Lambton, a position held by John Fairbanks for the Liberals. On Tuesday, February 22nd 1877, George Moncrief was elected Conservative Member of Parliament with a majority of 142 votes, and thus started his political career.
After Sir John A MacDonald's visit to Petrolia, it was decided that a new hall would be built, one that could accommodate a large number of people, particularly the dignitaries that often visited Petrolia. The building would be called Victoria Hall and it would accommodate the town's council chambers, jail, fire hall and would also include a stage, balcony and seats edged with wrought iron railings. It would cost $35,000 to build and took almost three years to complete. When finished, the hall was such a success that everyone felt that it had been money well spent. The hall was used for numerous functions from political meetings to annual balls. A thousand wicker seats could be set up quickly to watch stage performances but they could just as easily be taken down to make way for the balls and conferences. Such artists as Sarah Bernhardt performed at the theatre, and Pauline Johnson, the famous Canadian poet, read her poetry on the stage of Victoria Playhouse.
The same year that Victoria Hall was opened, 1889, George Moncrief was made Queens Council by Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada. Isabella and Minnie were so very proud of him. George had worked hard in his quiet, unassuming way to build up the town of Petrolia to be a pleasant, decent place to live, far beyond the rough, frontier-like town he had brought his wife to sixteen years previous. It seems that his quiet persistence had not gone unnoticed as the honour of being called to Queens Council was bestowed on very few people. Isabella, although immensely proud of George, did find that his public and political career had a down side. Like Edna Fairbanks, she soon found that George was gone for long periods of time to Ottawa, and that when he was in town they seemed to be forever entertaining . She did not mind the dinner parties so much as George being away. Jake Englehart still often called around sometimes on business other times just to visit socially. Whenever Jake came to the house he would be rapturously welcomed by all the children. Young George Glen at the age of fourteen, was a serious young man. He loved to play chess with Jake. Not so his little brother Hugh who was the prankster in the family. He just loved to hide from Jake, and when George and Jake were deeply concentrating on their game of chess, would jump out from behind the chair making everyone almost jump out of their skins. Minnie would tell little Hugh off but always noticed a smile on Jakes lips. Jake and Minnie often wandered into the garden together. Minnie had designed a beautiful rose garden and was only too pleased to share her love of flowers with Jake, who appeared genuinely interested in the roses. Sadly, that same year, 1889, Jake received news of his fathers death. He left Petrolia heavy of heart to attend the funeral of his father in Ohio. Several weeks later, rumour reached Petrolia that Jake was courting an old flame from New York, a girl friend he had known for many years. Much speculation and gossip hit the streets of Petrolia for, after all, Jake Englehart was indeed a very eligible bachelor. As for Minnie, on hearing about Jake's rumoured girl friend she suddenly felt unaccountably jealous.
By 1890 Petrolia was supplying nearly all of Canada's oil needs. It was known as the oil capital of the world. John Fairbank, successful as ever, decided to build his wife Edna a beautiful home in keeping with their new found wealth and status. Bricks were ordered in from Ohio and were delivered individually wrapped in wax paper. The design of the house was to be a mixture between Gothic and Tudor revival styles known in architectural circles as Eclectic Revivalism. The roof curved in turrets and towers over fifty feet high. Wrought iron railings wrapped the broad front veranda, and heavy iron gates admitted the visitor up a long driveway to the mansion. By 1891 the grand house was completed and the Fairbank's moved in to take up residence. Edna named the house "Sunnyside".
Jake returned from his extended stay in Ohio and was soon seen publically with Minnie. The gossiping tongues started to wag again and great speculation abounded. When Jake had returned to Petrolia after his fathers' death, he in many ways was a changed man. After Jake had visited the Moncrief household Minnie had immediately noticed the difference in her friend. He appeared very remote and his eyes had a haunted, sadness about them. Minnie, observant and sensitive as ever, had encouraged Jake to talk about his feelings. It transpired that his fathers' death, and then the subsequent rejection of his long time girl friend had left him feeling rejected and incredibly lonely. At forty three it appeared to the world that he had everything. All the wealth a man could ever dream of but instead, he felt that he really had nothing. His life felt so empty. It seemed that Minnie's compassion touched a chord in Jakes heart because he suddenly began to notice her in a different light. No longer did he see little Minnie Thompson the girl with the long, serious face and large, sensitive eyes but instead, here before him stood an attractive woman of twenty-seven. Her thick dark hair caught up in a fashionable chignon framing her intelligent, compassionate eyes and generous full mouth. Had he been blind before, had he never seen the real woman he had so mistaken for just a mere child ? With a jolt, Jake realized that his friendship and feelings had blossomed into love and, in true Jake fashion, once his true feelings had been discovered he was determined to pursue Minnie until she felt the same way about him. As it transpired, Minnie didn't need too much convincing. Jake had always appeared a hard hearted business man but when she discovered the sensitive, vulnerable side of him, her heart went out to the man and she fell deeply in love with Jake.
Their engagement was announced and immediately Jake set to building a magnificent home for his bride-to-be . The Englehart home would be every bit as grand as the Fairbank's home with bricks imported from Ohio, porcelain tiles from Italy, and a beautiful slate roof. The mansion was to be built on the West side of the town on a ridge overlooking Bear Creek. It would be set in acres of land which would become beautifully landscaped and gardened under Minnie's watchful eyes. Six months before the wedding, Isabella and Minnie's father, Thomas Thompson, passed away. Both sisters were heart broken as they had loved their farther dearly. This time Jake was there for Minnie just as she had been there for him when his own father had died the previous year. The wedding had been planned for the summer but due to death in the family, it was postponed until December of that following year. The year 1891 was an exciting year for the Moncrief family for, not only was Minnie to be married, but George got re-elected as MP for East Lambton, this time with an over whelming majority of 592 seats. Sadly, that September, George's father died in London. William Moncrief was known as one of Canada's best orators and was known widely for his dignity and intellect. He was 75 years of age when he died.
In the evening of the 29th December, 1891, Jake and Minnie were married. Minnie walked down the aisle of the Christ Anglican Church on the arm of her dear brother-in-law, George. Her nieces, Nellie and Belle were bridesmaids and Jake presented both girls with diamond matching rings. Irving Dittenhoefer, Jake's nephew, a prominent lawyer from New York, was the best man. Minnie had seen to the church decorations with flowers adorning the windows, aisle and altar in beautiful profusion. Minnie insisted that she have orange blossoms in her chiffon veil although the rest of her gown was simple but fabulously cut in white faille. Her veil was held together with an elaborate diamond and white gold fleur-de- lis pin, a wedding gift from Jake. Minnie carried a simple bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley and orchids. The bridesmaids carried her favourite flowers, yellow roses entwined around golden shepherd crocks. At Minnie and Jake's request, the wedding reception was held back at the Moncrieff house. As the clocks struck twelve the bride and groom, Mr and Mrs. Englehart, boarded the train headed for New York where they would board a ship to take them on their honeymoon to England.
In all the time Jake had been living in Canada, twenty five years in total, he had never taken a vacation. Minnie had travelled with her sister and brother-in-law to Toronto, Ottawa and Chicago, but she had never visited New York or left the North American shores. Their first stop was New York where Jake introduced his new wife to his relatives. At twenty-eight, Minnie was a self-assured, confident young woman and Jake's aunts and uncles took to her immediately. They would have preferred Jake to have married a young Jewish girl like his first wife, but they were thrilled all the same that their successful nephew had finally re- married at the ripe age of forty-four, twenty-six years after his first marriage.
The passage across the Atlantic was relaxing although Jake and Minnie spent most of the days and nights below deck. Winter winds blew bitterly across the decks bringing snow and ice which rendered the decks hazardous. Jake and Minnie did not mind. They had weeks to really get to know each other in every way possible. On arrival in England the couple took a train from Southampton docks to London where they stayed in a cosy, very private hotel in Mayfair. Jake had promised Minnie that he would not do anything remotely connected to work, however he could not resist sneaking into The Corn Exchange in Piccadilly to check what Imperial Oil Shares were currently trading.
From London, the couple took the train up to Scotland where they toured around Edinburgh. It was while staying at St. Annes that the honeymooners were first introduced to the game of golf. Both Minnie and Jake were enthralled with the game and right there and there Jake vowed that he would build a golf-course in the grounds of their new home, Glenview in Petrolia. Minnie was delighted with everything she saw in England and Scotland. Whilst in London she visited Kew Gardens and Battersea Gardens, not to mention Hyde Park and St. James. She bought rose bushes to be shipped back to Canada and gifts for all her relatives.
Unfortunately, their honeymoon came to an end and the loving couple returned to Canada and their new home,"Glenview". Almost immediately Jake designed the golf course which would be built the other side of Bear Creek, opposite their home. Minnie busied herself with settling into the role of wife and homemaker. It felt strange just the two of them living in the magnificent house, almost unreal. Secretly Minnie missed the noise and general hustle and bustle of the Moncrief household with all the children and George's busy social life. She prayed that Jake and she would be blessed with children of their own very soon.
That Springtime, with the roses in full bloom and the smell of sweet apple blossom in the air, Minnie and Jake hosted the first of what would become many, garden parties in their newly terraced and landscaped garden. Jake had invited all of the founders of Imperial Oil and their wives, the Fairbank's, Vaughn's, Van Tuyl's, and of course, George, Isabella and the children. The gardens at Glenview were a sight for sore eyes. Minnie had worked very hard in designing and planning the garden. She worked alongside their gardener and all her hard work had finally paid off. The rose bushes she had purchased in England were now a blaze of colour, mostly yellows and oranges with white Alyssum planted as a border edging accentuating the intricate design of the flower beds. Minnie adored her garden but it aggrieved her that so many of the townspeople were not as fortunate as she was in having such beautiful flowers. Minnie decided that she would open up their garden to the public and allow the towns people to pick flowers to be placed on the graves of their loved ones in Hillsdale Cemetery. From then on, once a year, the Englehart's would open their beautiful garden to the people of Petrolia. This became affectionately known as 'cemetery 'days.
Two years went by and Minnie and Jake still had not born a child. Minnie busied herself with the church and also threw herself into establishing a relief fund for the victims of the vicious fires that frequently blew in the volatile oil fields.
By 1893, Imperial Oil had twenty-three branch offices across Canada from Halifax to Victoria supplying kerosene, lubricating oils, axle grease and candles. By 1895, Imperial Oil had developed over one hundred by products of oil, particularly different brands of lubricating oil designed to meet the needs of the new machinery appearing on the market. In Germany, Karl Benz had already designed a three wheel, internal combustion horse-less carriage as had Gottilieb Daimler with his four cycle, single cylinder horseless carriage. Both of these early motor cars needed specially modified fuel.
Back on the home front in Petrolia, Minnie and Jake found themselves very much a part of the elite nouveau-riche. They were invited to parties and social events weekly. Edna and John Fairbank had included a ballroom in their mansion and Edna just loved to throw a party. Minnie and Jake enjoyed the balls and parties at the Fairbank's but in the summer time the upstairs ballroom was too hot for dancing. Edna was an excellent hostess. She loved to dance although John, her husband refused to join her on the floor. Benjamin Van Tuyl, however, was light of foot and many a time he was seen dancing the quadrille with Edna. They made an attractive couple, he with his handsome military bearing, and Edna with a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes rarely seen on other occasions. Indeed, the tongues wagged and gossip prevailed. The Fairbank's entertained a number of royal visitors. Earl Albert Gray, later Governor General of Canada, Lord Henry Lascelles, Earl of Harwood who married Princess Mary, were amongst some of the royal guests of the Fairbank's. They, however, were not the only Petrolians' to entertain royalty. Back in Europe, Isabella's great friend, Helena McGarvey had much to celebrate. Her youngest daughter May had married the Count Van Zeppelin, brother of Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin who later was to invent the airship. May and her husband took up residence in a beautiful castle overlooking a picturesque lake just outside of Vienna. It looked as if the McGarvey's finally had everything and Isabella was thrilled for her dear friend.
Sadly, in 1896 Edna Fairbank died rather suddenly while convalescing in Pasadena. She was sixty seven years old. Her body was brought back to Petrolia to be buried at the Hillsdale Cemetery.
Meanwhile, 1896 saw Imperial Oil struggling against fierce competition from the American company, Standard Oil which was owned by John Rockefeller. Standard Oil had been aggressively buying up many of the smaller oil refineries particularly in the Maritimes. Although Jake's company owned over fifty percent of all the oil refineries across Canada, there was still a great deal of anxiety over Standard Oil. In 1897 Standard Oil bought out John Fairbank's oil refinery in Petrolia and at the same time purchased an oil refinery in Sarnia. Jake and his partner, Fitzgerald, could see the writing on the wall. The Directors of Imperial Oil met with John Rockefeller and decided to sell off seventy five percent of their capital stock and inventories. It was decided that the name Imperial Oil would still be kept, but Rockefeller wanted to move the whole refinery to Sarnia. Piece by piece the Petrolia Imperial Oil refinery was dismantled. The local people looked on with utter horror and sadness. For twenty years Jake Englehart had run the refinery superbly well. Always a fair employer he had gone out of his way to provide for his employees, setting up compensation for workers injured on the job and pensions for those that had retired.
It seemed to his loyal staff that he was betraying them to the Americans and many of his workers could not forgive him for selling out from under their feet.
By 1900, Jake and Minnie had been married nine years and sadly were still without children. Jake was fifty-three. However, the year 1900 proved to be an auspicious year, for a new career for Jake was about to emerge, one that would change the Englehart's life style considerably. Before these changes had taken shape, Jake was still the Vice-President of the newly expanded Standard / Imperial Oil. His pace of life had begun to slow down as he no longer had to drive his oil industry himself, being essentially Vice-President in name only. Minnie and he had more time together, and in their recreation time they would derive great pleasure in playing golf on their own nine hole golf course. Minnie had continued to beautify the landscaping and the couple still held garden parties and golf tournaments throughout the summer season. Both Jake and Minnie were involved with civic, political and church committees. Jake was President of the Conservative Association in Petrolia, and was a Director of the Bank of Toronto, as well as honorary Governor of the University of Toronto. On many occasions Jake met with Sir James Whitney, leader of the Conservative party in Canada. Sir James talked to Jake about his vision of opening up the North, unchartered territory just waiting for colonization. Later, that same year ,after speaking to Jake, the government sent out ten surveying parties to survey a route for a railway to travel from North Bay to connect up with the Canadian Pacific and the National Transcontinental Railway.
In Petrolia, Minnie was busy helping her sister Isabella recover from a severe illness. She had spent a month in hospital in London and now needed to convalesce at home. George declined to run for Parliament again, as he too, was declining in health and at fifty eight he felt ready to retire from politics. Sadly, the following year in 1901, George died unexpectedly at St. Joseph's hospital after five doctors performed an emergency operation on him. Jake, a true friend to the last, accompanied Isabella to the hospital and was with George to the end. Jake arranged for his body to be transported back to Petrolia where a large funeral took place.
By 1902, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway was opened and three years later over one hundred and thirty-right miles of track had been laid. There was a big problem in keeping staff to maintain this railway,as not only railway workers but the Ontario Government was having difficulty sustaining management, particularly the chairman. The Prime Minister, Sir James Whitney, visited Jake Englehart and asked him if he would consider taking on the position of Chairman of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway. Jake discussed it with Minnie. The position would mean being away from Petrolia for extended periods of time and, of course, it would mean leaving the Oil business. Minnie knew that Jake loved a challenge and was a compulsive worker. He was only truly happy when totally engrossed in the work world. Since the Imperial Oil takeover she had noticed that he had become more and more restless. Maybe the challenge of opening up the North would calm her husbands' restless spirit . As long as she could travel with Jake and share in his interests and work, she would be happy for him to accept the challenge of being Chairman of the Railway. Their beautiful home and magnificent gardens and golf course would always be there for them. Suddenly, Minnie was filled with a great spirit of adventure. Colonizing the North would indeed be a great challenge and she realized that she really wanted to be a part of Jake's exciting, entrepreneurial, world .
The summer of 1906, Jake and Minnie boarded a plush Pullman carriage at the Petrolia Railway Station. Other than her sister, Isabella, and her nephew George, no one else was there to bid farewell to the couple. Minnie, sensitive as ever, had felt that it would be better to leave Petrolia quietly and with little fuss in case the townspeople felt that they were betraying them. Indeed, 'Glenview', was still their home and they had every intention of returning home whenever possible. Realistically, they knew that Jake's work might mean being away from Petrolia for months at a time.
To begin with, Jake and Minnie travelled the length of the railway so that Jake could assess the situation carefully. He realized that if the railway was to succeed, it would need very careful management and good public relations. It was a tough job for the men who worked on the line, and Jake realized that he would have to handle the men very carefully. The other side of the business Jake concluded, would have to be a massive publicity , public awareness, and marketing of the North project. Spurred on by the massive silver strike discovered in Cobalt, 340 miles of track had to be laid. The North would have to be sold to the people as having massive prospects for mineral discovery, fabulous game and hunting, and rich ,fertile farming lands. Jake publicized the merits of the North everywhere. Soon the public took the bait and began to take some interest in the new, untamed land. Colonization finally began.
In 1908, a town which had previously been called 'White River Crossing', changed its name to Englehart to honour the man who had succeeded in opening up the North. Jake and Minnie were deeply honoured although that same year they both had much more to think about. Isabella and Minnie's mother had passed away and their youngest sister, Kate,'Toothie' had moved in to live with Isabella. Minnie had returned to Petrolia to be with her sisters after the funeral of their darling mother. At the start of her visit she had felt weak and nauseous . After calling in the family doctor, to everyone's utter joy and amazement Minnie , after seventeen years of a barren marriage, found herself with child. However, for a couple of years prior to her pregnancy, Minnie had not been well. She had frequently found herself breathless and she had a persistent cough which would not leave her. Jake had insisted that Minnie stay at their hotel in Toronto over the hard winter months. He was concerned that the harsh, extreme winters up north would be too risky for her in her weakened state. The couple hated to be parted but when Minnie found herself pregnant, she was determined to do anything to save her unborn child. As the months went on her breathlessness got worse and Minnie started coughing up blood.
The summer came and with it Jake returned. Minnie was thrilled to see him again and begged him to allow her to travel with him again. She hated being parted from Jake. The Engleharts' left Toronto together and for a while Minnie's health improved. By October, however, it was obvious that she was very sick. Her constant coughing wracked at her body, now heavy with child. She asked Jake if they could stop at Gravenhurst, a small town located halfway between North Bay and Toronto. Gravenhurst had recently opened up a new hospital for consumptive patients. Minnie knew that she was gravely ill. She feared desperately for their unborn child. At Gravenhurst Minnie met with a solicitor and drew up her last will and testament.
Jake was devastated. He knew that his darling wife was ill but he had never dreamt that she might be dying. By November, Minnie and Jake were back in Toronto and admitted into St. John's Hospital where they called upon the best physicians of the land to try to save Minnie and the baby.
Sadly, a month later, on December 30, one day after the couple's seventeenth wedding anniversary, Charlotte Eleanor, 'Minnie', Englehart gave up her valiant fight to save their unborn child. Both mother and child died during a gruelling childbirth. The death certificate had Toxic Nephritis down as the cause of death although Dr.Cameron confirmed that Charlotte had actually been suffering from Tuberculosis for over eighteen months prior to her death.
Jake was absolutely inconsolable. He telegraphed Minnie's two sisters, Isabella and Kate. George, Isabella's son, arranged to have Minnie's body transported back to Petrolia.
She was laid to rest in a simple marble mausoleum overlooking the scenic lake at Hillsdale Cemetery.
In Charlotte's will she bequeathed her beautiful home,'Glenview', and the golf-course, to the Municipal Town of Petrolia. The house was to be converted to a hospital and was to be named, 'The Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital'. One condition of the will was that clergy of all faiths should have equal visiting rights to the patients and that the property was to remain in Jake's hands until he wished to hand it over to the town.
Jake knew that there was an immediate need for a hospital in Petrolia and he felt that Minnie would have wanted him to proceed with her request as soon as possible. In true Jake style he hurried on the conversion at his own cost. A thirteen bed hospital was opened to the public on January 31st 1911.
A few years later, Jake financed the addition of another two wings, an operating theatre and a nurse's residence. He equipped the maternity wing and personally endowed the hospital with four hundred shares of Imperial Oil stock which would ensure its independence and financial security for the future. In his will ,Jake also left money to pay for the costly X-ray machinery so needed by the hospital, and left a stipend of $2,500 a year towards the upkeep of the building.
Jake continued working for the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario railway right up until his death in 1921, by which time he was familiar with every foot of the line from North Bay to Cochrane.
Jake Lewis Englehart would be forever remembered as a man of large affairs, a kind and gentle man who embodied the true ideals of democracy. His love affair with Minnie and his supreme love of nature highlighted the sensitive side to an otherwise very private, quiet, yet extremely shrewd business man of whom the town of Petrolia would forever be indebted.
His body lies next to that of his beloved wife, Charlotte "Minnie", in the marble mausoleum at Hillsdale Cemetery, a lasting monument to the Engleharts' of Petrolia and a testimony of their special love shared for both the town and for each other.
After Charlotte's death , Isabella, and Kate, their youngest sister, who had been married to their first cousin, John Toothe, continued to live on in the house in Crescent Park. Isabella's children all left home and moved away to London, Toronto and Winnipeg. Isabella died in 1915 leaving her last remaining sister living in the big house alone until Kate herself died in 1924.
The Corey family was a wealthy oil family who had made their money during the halcyon days of the 1890's and had built a substantial mansion along the West side of the town on Petrolia Line. Their son, Harrison, was to marry Helen Scarsbrook, the daughter of the highly successful Scarsbrook grocery store on Main Street. Helen Scarsbrook had grown up living in the Scarsbrook house just across the park from Emmeline Street. Bloss Corey loaned his son $500 to buy the Moncrief house in Crescent Park. The happy couple moved into the house after their wedding.
Helen and Harrison Corey were blessed with two children, "Tip" and Diana. Helen became famous throughout Petrolia for her magnificent piano recitals. Both Harrison and Helen were staunch Conservatives and strong Anglican Church members. They were very much a part of the social 'set'. Indeed, the huge parties and gatherings held at the Victoria Hall and the Fairbank's ballroom continued to grace Petrolia for many years long after the oil boom had gone.
Harrison Corey died in the 70's and Helen lived on in the big house for another twenty years until she died at the age of 96 in 1996.
In December, 1996, the Keightleys' took possession of 430 Emmeline Street, Crescent Park, almost 120 years after Isabella and George Moncrief, their two young boys and "Minnie" Thompson.
Morritt ,Hope, Rivers of Oil, Quarry Press, 1993
Lauriston, Victor, Lambton County's Hundred Years, 1849 - 1949, Haines Press, 1949
Phelps, Edward, Petrolia,1874 - 1974, Petrolia Print, 1974
Lambton County Library Archives
The Discovery Museum
A special thanks to Catherine McCewen for research on George Montcrief's family