A. C. Edward
Former mayor was instrumental in developing the town's water works
With recent discussions at town council centred on proposed upgrades to the town’s water system, it evokes the name of a man who was highly instrumental in the construction of Petrolia’s original water system more than 100 years ago.
A.C. Edward was Mayor of Petrolia in 1896, 1897 and again in 1908. He, among others, was a driving force behind the movement to pursue the Herculean task of piping fresh and dependable Lake Huron water to the town.
Petrolians began clamoring for a safe water source as early as 1871, largely because nearly all the local surface wells were polluted and were spreading death and disease throughout the town. It’s been suggested that many of the burials in the East End cemetery were the result of a diphtheria outbreak during that era, and polluted water was said to have been the culprit.
In a town-wide referendum held in early 1896, Petrolia residents voted 344 to 118 in favour of council approving a bylaw to raise $172,000 to finance a pipeline to Lake Huron and a water distribution system within the town. The decision wasn’t without its critics and it must be considered that at a time when a man could be hired for $1 a day, $172,000 was a tremendous amount of money.
Nevertheless, after the bylaw was passed Mayor A.C. Edward and waterworks committee chairman Albert Duncan personally visited farmers all along the proposed pipeline route from Petrolia to Brights Grove to negotiate a right-of-way for the line. It may well be a testament to the business-like approach and negotiating skills of these gentlemen that all the land needed was acquired for $2,000 and without a single case of litigation.
When the water system was completed in Nov., 1897, Petrolia could boast one of the longest water pipelines in Ontario (24 miles) as well as a water works replete with a pump house powered by steam pumps, a significant water tower, and 100 fire hydrants. It’s by no means a stretch to say that the project was an engineering marvel of its time.
Alexander Clark Edward was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on Sept. 30, 1845. As a young man he went to London, England where he was employed with an investment company as a chartered accountant. He was highly regarded by his employer and was sent on special assignments to France, Russia, the USA and other countries to seek out and evaluate business opportunities in which the company could invest. He was once sent to Texas to estimate the value of the Hudson and Texas Railroad.
After his return to England in 1876, he was dispatched to the Petrolia area to seek out oil investments and shortly thereafter was appointed manager of the Western Canada Oil, Lands and Works Company.
After several years in this position, Edward decided to strike out on his own in the oil business and subsequently met with great success, becoming one of the largest oil producers in the area.
In addition, he ventured into foreign fields and even drilled for oil on Manitoulin Island. He was also one of the early real estate developers in town and was responsible for developing much of Petrolia’s west end. He is credited with giving Oozloffsky, Ignatiefna and Valentina Streets their names, ostensibly naming them in honour of people he had met in foreign oil fields. However, some have suggested he gave these streets their rather cumbersome names out of wry sense of humour.
In 1883, he married Jennie Gertrude Dawson and they had a family of six children, one girl and five boys which included: Mary Lee Edward, the eldest who became one of Canada’s first female medical doctors (more about her in a future column); Alexander Clark, who became a bank manager in Sudbury, Fred, a Petrolia oil producer and foreign driller; Charles, a London insurance agent; Harry a customs officer in Petrolia; and Thomas, a Sudbury businessman.
A.C. Edward was very much a man of the world. He was well read and spoke several languages, was widely travelled and familiar with the opera. His mental arithmetic was said to have been phenomenal.
An editorial in the Canadian Oil Advertiser suggested he may have been one of the best mayors the town had ever had, but his straight-forward, no-nonsense approach often made him a controversial figure.
Newspapers were known to be highly partisan in those days and when he was defeated by Dr. Dunfield in the hotly contested mayoral race of 1895, the headline in the Canadian Oil Advertiser read: “The Best Man Lost.” The adjoining editorial stated: “He was an able man, plain, blunt, economical, and irrespective of the public’s opinion, would take the course he considered right.”
It went on to suggest that Mr. Edward was too plain spoken to be popular.
In politics A.C. Edward was a Conservative, in religion an adherent of the Anglican Church. He died at age 76 on Feb. 18, 1921 at his stately Oozloffsky Street home, which remains today. He is interred in Hillsdale Cemetery.