In the early days of its existence, there was no more familiar a figure on the streets of Petrolia than that of George Sanson, a robust and patriotic Scotsman who, among other attainments, is credited with being the town’s first blacksmith.
Born in Innerwick, Scotland on July 13, 1830, Sanson came to Canada as a young man, first settling in the Montreal area where he married Christina McGregor (originally from Brig of Allen, Scotland) in 1855.
After spending a short time in London, Ont., the couple and their young family arrived in Petrolia about 1865 where George and Christina would remain the rest of their lives.
In keeping with their Scottish heritage the Sansons were hard working and thrifty and were widely regarded as being among the town’s more active and progressive citizens.
Soon after arriving here George Sanson established a blacksmithing business, a trade he no doubt acquired in his native land.
However, along with the general repair work that was the normal fare of a blacksmith in those days, he would soon find a niche in the manufacture and repair of drilling tools and oil well equipment, much of which would be carried to distant lands by the town’s foreign drillers.
In addition, Sanson, like most of the town’s early inhabitants, branched into oil production and remained engaged in the petroleum industry most of his life.
Was active in civic affairs
Sanson, by all accounts a man of strong opinions, but of a fine intellect, also took an active role in the town’s civic affairs.
He served for many years as a member of the Public School Board and was a long-time Petrolia town councillor.
In 1882 – 1883 he served as deputy reeve and by virtue of that office was also a member of Lambton County Council.
In politics, he was a staunch member of the Reform Party and was known to be an avid campaigner on behalf of his party in the Dominion elections.
In religion he was an adherent of the Presbyterian Church.Fraternally, Sanson was a long-time member and former officer of Petrolia Masonic Lodge #194, having been initiated into the order on the same evening as his long-time friend Hector McKenzie, another of the town’s prominent metal workers, who also left his mark on the oil industry as a tool maker.
A founding member of Petrolia’s St. Andrew’s Society
There was also no greater booster of Petrolia’s St. Andrew’s Society than George Sanson, a perennial attendant of the society’s annual banquet, held in honour of Scotland’s patron saint (a tradition that continues to this day).
It’s been recorded that through his impromptu speeches at these events, Sanson revealed to all that beneath his rather rugged exterior, he was a man of intellect, literary prowess, and in possession of a wry sense of humour.
Family distinguished themselves
George and Christina Sanson had eight children, three daughters and five sons, all of whom went on to distinguished careers in their chosen professions.
Jessie Sanson (married Dean Swift and they followed the oil industry to the U.S. and lived out their lives in Ridgway, Pennsylvania; George Jr. graduated from Western University with a medical degree in 1886, and practiced medicine in Ashcroft B.C. and is a notable figure in the history of that area; Ellen was never married and spent her life teaching school in Petrolia; Christina M. married Otto Sauneramn in London, Ont. and resided in Cleburne, Texas; Alexander became a veterinarian in Petrolia; James, Tom and William were blacksmiths and prominent among the town’s many foreign drillers.
George Sanson died in Petrolia on Mar. 29, 1907 at the age of 77.
A tribute to him in the Advertiser Topic referred to Sanson as “one of those hardy pioneers who wrested from nature by force the wherewithal to make progress and demonstrated that the dignity of toil is indisputable.”
He is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.