It’s no secret that Scottish immigrants had an enormous impact on Canada’s early commercial and political development. Despite being outnumbered by other ethnic groups, their influence on the country as a whole was enormous. During
Canada’s formative years the Scots were strongly associated with enterprise and entrepreneurial activity and as a consequence, were very much at the forefront of the country’s burgeoning resource industry and timber trade.
they were well represented when the oil boom hit Petrolia in the late 1860s and like many towns across Ontario, Petrolia’s political, cultural and economic development was largely inspired by men from the Land of the Heather.
At the turn of the
20th century, there were few men around Petrolia who wore more hats, or indeed, were more prominent in the affairs of the town, then was an affable Highland Scot named John Fraser.
He was among the town’s early settlers and over a career
that spanned more than 60 years served Petrolia in a host of different capacities. While he acquired significant interests in oil production, he was also a downtown merchant, banker, and at various times served as the town’s mayor, post master,
justice- of- the-peace, and Member of Parliament, to name a few of the many roles he filled over the years.
John Fraser was born March 2, 1848 in Glen Urquhart, Inverness, Scotland. When he was three-years-of-age his family came to Canada, settling
in Huron County where John grew to manhood and attended local schools.
In 1867, an offer of a job managing a retail business attracted him to Petrolia. However, that position was short lived. Being an industrious and enterprising young man, he
soon owned a clothing store of his own, which he conducted successfully for a number of years.
He was later appointed manager of the Crown Savings and Loan Co. and held that position for several years as well, all the time taking an active interest
and prominent part in the civic affairs of the town.
Among other things, Fraser served as a municipal councillor, chair of the High School Board and president of the fair board. In 1885, he was elected Mayor of Petrolia, and at a time when municipal
elections were held once-a- year, was returned to that office on three more occasions.
Always a staunch Liberal and a forceful speaker, in 1896, he was encouraged to contest the Federal Riding of East Lambton on behalf of the Liberal party, opposing
the popular Conservative incumbent Petrolia lawyer George Moncrieff. While Fraser was considered a long shot, he nudged Moncrieff out by a narrow margin of only 14 votes. However, even by this slim plurality Fraser’s victory was notable because
the riding at that time was considered a Conservative stronghold. Fraser served one term in the House of Commons and was defeated in the following election by another notable Petrolia citizen, the redoubtable OIiver Simmons.
Following his stint in the
House of Commons, Fraser was appointed Petrolia’s Post Master in 1902 and served in that capacity the rest of his life.
Fraternally, John Fraser was active in the Masonic Order and the Sons of Scotland. He was past master of Petrolia
Lodge No. 194, and Past First Principal of Petrolia’s Bruce Chapter No. 53, Royal Arch Masons. He was also an active member of Petrolia’s St. Andrew’s Society, serving as its president in 1893-94.
John Fraser died at his home
on Garfield Avenue on Feb. 1, 1928, at the age of 79. He rests at Hillsdale Cemetery.