Roadside Attraction: Canada's First Oil Well

Lambton County, Ontario

First Oil Well in Canada
Photo courtesy of C. Bell (Lambton County)


It may be a surprise to most but the first oil well in Canada was not discovered in Alberta, but rather in Lambton County, Ontario more than 150 years ago!

In 1858, while looking for water on the banks of the Black Creek near Sarnia, oil was unexpectedly struck. The first oil well in Canada was soon erected in Oil Springs, Ontario (formerly known as Black Creek) and become the first oil well in North America to supply a steady flow of crude oil.

This discovery happened well before the invention of the mass-produced car by Henry Ford in 1909 and the electric light bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879. The refined products from the oil well were used as machine lubricant and lamp fuel.

The oil well discovery came at an opportune time as the whale population was in severe decline which caused a shortage of clean burning lamp oil (kind of morbid but that was the technology of the time). This oil well helped Canada and the rest of the continent to transition from whale oil and dirty kerosene from lard and coal oil to cleaner petroleum-based kerosene.

The first commercial oil well in Canada preceded the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania by one year. It was not until 1902 that the first oil well in Alberta was discovered.

Oil was sent to Hamilton, Ontario by horse and railway where it was refined. The first oil well is no long producing but small quantities of oil (around 100 barrels a day) are being collected from wells in the Oil Springs area.

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In 1925, the first commercial oil well was designated a national historic site and a commemorative plaque was placed near the original site in 1938. A replica of the original rig was erected near the Oil Museum of Canada (1-519-834-2840 ) which pays homage to the first oil well in Canada.

There's lots more to discover in Ontario!