Petrolia’s First Post
Patrick Barclay was one of Petrolia’s prominent pioneers and
among other things is credited with being the town’s first resident; its first
Post Master; one of its early oil producers; and the man who gave “Petrolea”
its distinctive name.
During his long and busy life he was said to have taken an
active part in all that concerned Petrolia, not only dedicating himself to a
life of business, but to one of public service as well.
Patrick Barclay was born Sept. 8, 1827 in Paisley, Scotland,
the son of Matthew and Mary Barclay.
As an interesting side note, it should be observed that his
father was the founder of the factory in Scotland in which the celebrated Paisley
shawl was first manufactured.
However, the elder Barclay sold that business in 1832 and
moved his family to Ontario, settling in Trafalgar Township, Halton County,
where Patrick grew to manhood.
There is no indication of what attracted him to the area but
Patrick Barclay arrived in Enniskillen Township in 1853, bringing with him a
brother and two younger sisters.
He purchased a farm at Lot 14, Concession 10, a property
that, by a twist of fate, would later lie within the corporate limits of the
Town of Petrolia.
Barclay quickly built a log cabin on this property and
A number of years later, obviously after acquiring some
wealth from the oil industry, he built a substantial Victorian brick home on
this same heavily timbered property.
That home today (4058 Petrolia Line) is an historically
designated site and remains one of the town’s more stately edifices.
In an interview with an Advertiser-Topic reporter some 50
years later, Barclay commented that when he arrived here there was no Petrolia.
“This was but a wild spot in the wilderness in those days,”
However, he added that a few years later oil was discovered
in the area and the town got its start, as did he.
Barclay was a pioneer of the oil industry and among a
plethora of other endeavors, remained engaged in this enterprise the rest of
his life, having owned a number of good wells in the area.
Barclay, like so many of town’s fathers, had a penchant for
Soon after he moved to the area in 1853, he was made Ensign
of Lambton County’s Third Battalion, and in 1860, became its lieutenant.
When a post office was proposed for the booming young town,
the able Barclay was made Post Master and served in that position with public
approval until the time of his death, 40 years later.
In addition, he served as the town’s treasurer for 30 years
and for many years was the community’s Justice-of-the-Peace.
A story about him in the Petrolia Advertiser Topic some
years later noted: “The funds of our town have passed through his hands during
all these years and he has been a good and faithful steward.”
In religion Barclay was a Presbyterian, being one of
thirteen gentlemen who founded the Petrolia’s Presbyterian Church, and served
as an elder for many years.
Fraternally, he was a member of Petrolia Masonic Lodge No.
194 and was that organization’s first treasurer.
While he never actively engaged in politics, he was said to
have supported the principals of the Reform Party.
Barclay was obviously a man of many talents who contributed
greatly to the early development of the town, but is probably best known as the
man who gave Petrolia its name.
In 1861, Barclay and three other gentlemen named the
community “Petrolea,” an appropriate combination of the words petro and lea, a
reference to the area’s abundant oil resources and its many leas or green
However, when the settlement was incorporated as a village
in 1866, a clerical error resulted in the name being spelled “Petrolia” and for
a number of years both spellings were employed.
Nevertheless, the name Petrolia eventually gained common
usage and became permanent.
Patrick Barclay died in Petrolia on April 20, 1902 and an
editorial in the Advertiser Topic referred to him as “one who had bravely borne
much of the ‘heat of the day’ and had done much to make the paths of those who
followed easier to travel.”
He was laid to rest in Hillsdale Cemetery.