O.W. Chamberlain was among Petrolia’s early settlers and one of the town’s first oil drillers. He arrived here in 1860, a full five years prior to the discovery of the King Well in the fall of 1866.
This was the event that ignited the town’s infamous oil boom of the late 1860s and saw the town’s population explode to more than 2,600 in the matter of a few months.
When Chamberlain arrived here Petrolia consisted of six log houses, all
of which were in the East End. At the time, drilling for oil had been confined to the flats as the early oil men – most of them Americans – were convinced that oil could only be found near creeks and rivers.
Oliver W. Chamberlain was
born Nov. 17, 1839 in Oxford County where he grew to manhood and received his education at local schools. He was of French heritage. His grandfather, Orin Chamberlain, was born in France but moved to the U.S., settling in New York State where he and
his wife remained the rest of their lives.
Their son, Palmer Chamberlain, was born in New York State in 1812 and as a young man came to Ontario, settling first in the St. Catherine’s area and then moving to Oxford County where he took up farming
and raised six children, one of which was O. W. Chamberlain.
At age 21, O.W. was attracted to Petrolia where he took a job working as an oil driller. Being an enterprising young man, in the space of two years he had acquired his own oil field
and within a very short time could count himself among the area’s top oil producers. He later branched into the refining industry and over a career that spanned nearly 40 years was successful in both these enterprises.
A civic minded man,
Chamberlain was a member of the town’s first municipal council in 1873 and was re-elected to that post 27 times. He also served as the town’s reeve for a number of terms and by virtue of that office was also Petrolia’s representative on Lambton
County Council. In all, he was probably the longest-serving municipal politician in the town’s history. He also had the distinction of being Petrolia’s first fire chief.
However, in 1902 at the age of 63, he sold his business interests
in Petrolia and moved to Alberta where he purchased large tracts of land and invested heavily in the cattle business. He lived in Edmonton for a number of years but later moved to Swan River, Manitoba where he was actively engaged in business until the time
of his death.
It seemed the Chamberlain family had an affinity for the oil business. O.W. had two brothers who were also attracted to the petroleum industry as well: Amos, who became an oil producer in Pennsylvania, and Harvey, who was a prominent oil
man in Boulder City, Colorado.
In 1869, O.W. Chamberlain married Elizabeth Smith, who came from England to Elgin County in 1854. The couple raised three children, a daughter Lu Lu, who married W.L Beamer, an accountant with the banking firm of Vaughn
and Fairbank in Petrolia, Olive, who died at age nine; and Blake who was employed at the Petrolia branch of the Bank of Toronto.
In politics O.W. Chamberlain was a staunch Liberal. In religion, he was a prominent member of the Methodist
Church and fraternally, a charter member of Petrolia Masonic Lodge. He died Mar. 21, 1920 in Swan River Manitoba at the age of 81. Following his death his remains were returned to Petrolia on the Grand Trunk Railway and interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.