W. H. Hammond
W. H. Hammond
Mayor Of Petrolia, Pioneer Oil Man, Refiner
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 Lincolnshire, England 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 Victorian community.

 Petrolia’s west end consisted of three log shanties

 Hammond 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 shanties.

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

Hammond 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 the people.”

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 board.

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 with mercy.

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 childhood.

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 community.

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. Clair. 

W.H. Hammond is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.


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Latest comments

17.08 | 00:02

My name is Patricia Mcilwain , Kate Newton was a second cousin,. My mothers first cousin, Florence( Chambers) Young. Interesting story.

22.01 | 13:44

William Hay, my uncle, served on Petrolia as cook. My picture dressed in a navel uniform with an H.M.C.S. hat band, I was told was the " JACK" (Mascot)

19.08 | 12:32

I was Raised to the sublime Degree of a Master Mason on September 6, 1975 in a Masonic ??? Lodge #503 Ontario Canada.
My lodge Ira A. Beck #503 Battle Creek MI

05.06 | 03:34


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