Petrolia, it seems, has always attracted its share of delightful characters and the two gentlemen in the adjoining picture were no exception.
The photo features Bill McRae, on the left, and Bobby Brock standing in the doorway of Dale’s
Drug Store (located in what is now the west half of the Royal Bank) sometime during the 1920s.
William W. McRae was a giant of a man who stood nearly seven feet tall and weighed more than 300 pounds.
He was born in Beauharnois, Quebec in 1867
and when he his father died he came to Petrolia as a youngster to live with his uncle, William H. Hammond, who was a prominent oil producer and refiner in th early days of Petrolia's oil boom.
Bill was a foreign driller, having learned that trade
from his uncle and worked many years for the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company running drilling crews in Borneo, Java, Sumatra and Cuba.
Bill was an arden lover of horses and after returning to Petrolia in his later years became an avid
horse racing enthusiast and was a regular at many of the local racing ovals.
He served on the board of the Canadian Trotting and Pacing Harness Horse Association and was chair of speed events with the Petrolia and Enniskillen Agricultural Society.
Bill was also a past president of Petrolia's St. Andrew's Society and was a loyal member of Petrolia Masonic Lodge.
He had also been a renowned hunter all his life and during his years overseas was the subject of many photos taken with
elephants and other large animals acquired on the frequent big game hunts he attended.
Many of these photos are on display at the Oil Museum of Canada.
In all, Bill spent more than 25 years abroad but during his last trip was sent home suffering
from malaria, from which he never fully recovered.
While he did return to work for a short time, he was eventually forced to return to Petrolia to live a retired life where he died in 1926 from the ravages of gangrene. He is buried in Hillsdale
The other fellow is Bobby Brock who lived near Rutherford. By contrast, Bobby was a wee bit of a man who stood just over three feet tall.
He too, was an avid horseman who could, and often did, walk under a large work horse’s
belly rather than go around it.
He had a reputation for taking no guff from any man, or for that manner, from any horse.
He was an excellent teamster and what he lacked in stature, he made up in a super intelligence when it came to horse flesh.
According to the late Don Spearman, the former editor of the Dresden North Kent Leader, Bobby Brock was a popular figure wherever he went and was accorded near celebrity status in both Dresden and Petrolia.
In a conversation I had with him in the
late 1980s, Spearman relayed that Bobby could hold his own with the best in an argument and could do better than the rest when it came to handling a team of horses.
He said he would clamber up the flat rack like a spider, and once the reins were in
his hands the team was under his complete control.
He had a firm voice, magic hands, and all the ingredients required of a master teamster.
Spearman said those who knew Bobby Brock recalled him fondly.
He noted that he didn’t take
advantage of his affliction but made his way in the world in a fashion perhaps better than those who had it over him in height.
“He was honest and straight forward and that’s more than could be said for those who were inclined to scoff,”