W. H. Hammond
W. H Hammond was one of Petrolia’s early settlers, a pioneer
oil man, business leader, mayor of the town, and for many years, a revered and
highly respected police magistrate.
But like so many of Petrolia’s founding fathers, his life
story reads like one of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches novels.
William Harrison Hammond was born in South
on Feb. 18, 1837, the same year Queen Victoria
ascended to the throne.
It was in that locality he grew to manhood in modest
circumstances and received an elementary education in local schools.
Like many young men of that era, he decided to seek his
fortune in the new world and at the age of 20 set sail for Canada, arriving
on its shores in the early summer of 1857.
What attracted him to Lambton
County is a matter of conjecture but
by some particular twist of fate he arrived in Plympton Township
on July 17, 1857, where for a short time he was employed as a labourer on the
Great Western Railroad.
But seeking better opportunities, he left there and for two
years ran a flour mill in Kent
County for another man.
In 1857, he left this enterprise and moved to Sarnia, where for six
months he was employed at the Western Hotel.
During this time he was able to save a little money and
while residing in Sarnia
attended a horse sale and purchased a horse for $30.50.
He then bought a consignment of apples and traveled between Sarnia and Watford peddling
his fruit along the way, apparently meeting with marked success.
He returned to Sarnia and soon
thereafter entered the business of supplying provisions to the labourers on the
Grand Trunk Railway line, then being built between Port
Huron and Detroit.
This led him into a meat packing business in Port Huron, Michigan
which he operated during the early 1860s.
However, at that time hostilities continued to rage between
the states and he thought there were better opportunities north of the border.
Consequently, he returned to Canada and in 1863 arrived in
Petrolia, where he would remain the rest of his life.
Consequently, he witnessed and also played a role in the
transformation of Petrolia from a rough-hewn oil town to that of a cultured
Petrolia’s west end consisted of three log shanties
would later comment that when he arrived in Petrolia that year, there were only
three houses in the west end of town, and these were little more than log
He added that while a number of successful businesses
existed in the east end, most of what would later become the Town of Petrolia was still
covered in heavy timber.
For a time Hammond was engaged in the business of “teaming
oil” from Oil Springs to Wyoming before landing a contract to assemble a large
quantity of oil for the European market.
He then purchased a half interest in an Oil Springs
refinery, which he subsequently moved to Petrolia and latter sold at a profit.
Following that, he engaged extensively in the production of
crude oil, acquiring a number of good wells in the area.
For many years he was also manager of the Crown Warehousing
Company, a Petrolia-based firm that engaged in the storage and transportation
of crude oil.
In addition to his oil interests Hammond was also a civil contractor of sorts,
having taken on the contract of cutting down the Durham Creek Hill to
accommodate the construction of the much needed Plank Road, a laborious task which in
those days was done with horse-drawn dump scrapers.
Prominent in Municipal Affairs
met with marked successful in his business enterprises, having steadily risen
from the position of a poor man to that of being one of the leading business
men in town.
However, he also took an active role in the community and
its municipal affairs, as an article in the Petrolia Advertiser Topic noted
that during his years in Petrolia “he has held every office within the gift of
A long-time councilor, he also served as deputy reeve, reeve
and was elected mayor in 1875, 1882 and again in 1884, and as a consequence
served on both Petrolia and county councils.
He was also a long-time member of the town’s high school
In 1897, he was appointed the town’s Police Magistrate and
served in that office until the time of his death, which at the time, prompted
the Advertiser Topic to note that Hammond had always dispensed justice tempered
On June 30, 1864 W.H. Hammond married Eliza Anderson of Ormeston, Quebec
and in 1891 built a comfortable home on Petrolia’s main street where the couple
was said to have “dispensed a gracious hospitality.”
While the Hammonds
had no children, a niece, Miss Lizzie Hammond made her home with them from
In politics W.H Hammond was a Liberal and in religion a
devout member of the Church of England.
Saw price of crude go from $10 a barrel to pennies
W.H. Hammond died suddenly at his home on Sunday, Mar. 6,
1904 at age 67.
The following evening, in respect to his memory, the town
council passed a motion to adjourn its meeting until after the funeral.
Mayor John D. Noble noted that Hammond enjoyed the respect and admiration of
all who knew him and that it would be difficult to fill his place in the
As a fellow oil man, Noble further commented that Hammond was a true
pioneer of the oil industry and during his long association with the industry
had witnessed the price of crude oil plummet from $11 per barrel down to 10
cents a barrel.
He noted that Hammond was
also present at Oil Springs in the early days when thousands of barrels of oil
was wasted and allowed to run down the creek into Lake St.
W.H. Hammond is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.