Town of Englehart celebrates 100th anniversary
By John Phair
It seems Oil Springs isn't the only community with a connection to Petrolia
planning a big celebration in 2008.
The Town of Englehart will mark its 100th anniversary next year, and as most
will know, this Northern, Ontario community of about 1,500 was named after
Jacob Englehart, one of Petrolia's early oil barons.
Englehart was a man who made a significant contribution to Petrolia's early
development and had a lot to do with enhancing the quality of life we continue
to enjoy today.
I have often thought that as a community we have really given scant recognition
to a man who bequeathed the town a hospital, golf course, and a substantial
The Town of Englehart, it appears, has done a much better job in recognizing
Englehart's generosity and the benefits he bestowed on their community.
Its council has charged an anniversary committee with organizing an entire week
of celebrations to run from July 25 to Aug. 4, 2008.
Events planned include parades, picnics, historic walking tours, and a gala
reunion banquet, just to name a few.
I suggested some time ago that the Town of Petrolia should send a delegation to
bring greetings on behalf of our community and also use the opportunity to show
our appreciation to Jake and Charlotte for the lasting legacy they have left in
our fair town.
Jake Englehart was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1847 and arrived in Canada at the
tender age of 19.
There has been much speculation over the years as to how Englehart, at such a
young age, acquired the money to set himself up in business in such a big way.
Nevertheless, shortly after arriving in London, Ontario, he founded the J.L.
Englehart Company, building a refinery there and opening an office in New York.
It was a time when kerosene was in great demand to replace the dirty and smokey
whale oil that had been used as an illuminating oil for centuries.
Englehart soon acquired oil properties at Petrolia, which was then in the midst
of an oil boom, and where he also established a refinery, said to have been the
largest and most efficient in the world at that time.
By 1880, he was to play a pivotal role in establishing Imperial Oil Ltd., one of
Canada's great corporations.
Englehart married Charlotte Eleanor Thompson in 1891 and during their years
together built Glenview, their beautiful red brick mansion.
Following Charlotte's death in 1908, he gave their home to the Town of Petrolia
to be used as a hospital and also endowed it with Imperial Oil stock so it
would not become a burden on the taxpayer.
Interestingly, as great as his contribution was to the Town of Petrolia and the
development of the oil industry in Canada, he is best remembered in Northern,
Ontario as the builder of the Ontario Northland Railway.
When James Whitney was elected premier of Ontario in 1905, he found the
fledgling railroad in a financial mess.
Englehart, known as a staunch Tory and a man of substantial business acumen, was
the first person Whitney approached about taking the helm of the troubled
railroad and rescue it from its financial woes.
Englehart accepted the challenge and reputedly worked day and night at setting
the failing enterprise back on course.
He pushed the railroad further north and eventually put it back on a sound
However, in Northern, Ontario, Englehart is most revered for the largess he
demonstrated when a disastrous forest fire swept through Northern Ontario in
1911, leaving many, homeless, penniless and without food.
Englehart worked diligently organizing relief efforts and used his trains to
carry hundreds to safety.
He also spent his own money freely buying food for those who had been left
A local legend has it that during the height of the great disaster he nailed a
sign on his station at Englehart that read: "No one need pass here hungry -
Jake Englehart died in Toronto April 6, 1921 at age 73.