E.D. Fletcher Sr.
Hotelier, horseman, and oil operator
Petrolia’s early pioneers were an eclectic and adaptable group and none had a more versatile career than than E.D. Fletcher (1839-1904), who at various times in his life was an oil pioneer, hotelier, livery operator and impresario.
Edwin D. Fletcher or “Uncle Ed” as he was commonly known around Petrolia, was born in 1839 in Fairford, Glouscestershire, England.
In 1863, he married Miss Annie Health and immediately after their marriage came to Canada, settling in Oil Springs when the oil boom was at its zenith.
Shortly after his arrival, Fletcher entered the business of oil production and continued in that enterprise with notable success for a number of years.
He was said to have been among the first to drill for oil in the area North West of Bear Creek and during his career developed a number of good-paying fields.
After spending close to 10 years in Oil Springs he moved to Petrolia and in 1886 purchased the Grand Trunk Hotel, a wood framed structure situated on, what is now, Petrolia Line and Fletcher Street, just west of the former Grand Trunk Railway station (the present Library).
That establishment became known as the Fletcher House, as did the brick building that was built to replace it in 1902, and remains an anchor in Petrolia’s downtown core.
Since then, the building has at various times been known as the Park Hotel, the Hillman House, Chit-Chats and various other names.
Until the late 1960s its lower level also housed Herb Slack’s barber shop, which had been a town landmark for many years.
Today the building serves as the site of Helen’s Hideaway, a popular downtown restaurant.
E.D. Fletcher operated the hotel for many years and upon his death his wife Annie and son Edwin Fletcher Jr., (a former mayor of the town) continued on in the management of the business.
ED Senior was also an avid horseman and ran a busy livery stable business in a brick building that once stood at the rear of the hotel.
It was here he carried on a general livery business and bought and sold horses.
In an Advertiser-Topic interview in the early 1960s his son, Ed Fletcher, then in his 80s, recalled that prior to the advent of the motor car nearly everyone owned at least one horse.
As a consequence, most of the men in town had a keen appreciation of good horse flesh and many of the town’s more prominent citizens were engaged in breeding fine horses.
“Eli Perkins, Harry Brake, George Brake, Dr. John Dunfield, Harrison Corey, O.W. Chamberlain and others were all prominent owners and breeders of good horses,” he said.
“Many’s the day when a little bragging or discussion downtown ended up with a bet and horse race at Greenwood Park between the above owners.”
He added that it was also not unusual to see several horses racing down the main street on a Sunday afternoon.
“These were hard working men and regular church goers, but enjoyed their horse racing too, and did so without a lot of fuss from the town’s clergy or council,” he said.
The senior Fletcher was also highly regarded as a local impresario who, for many years, leased Victoria Hall from the town and hosted visiting entertainment companies.
E.D. Fletcher was an enthusiastic entrepreneur and certainly among those gentlemen in town who loved the Sport of Kings.
However, he was also a man who took civic responsibility seriously.
During the Fenian troubles of 1867, he served with the St. Clair Borderers and was the recipient of the medal awarded to those who took part in that conflict.
And like others who served he was given 160 acre land grant by the Ontario government.
In religion, he was a faithful member of the Anglican Church to which he contributed liberally and was instrumental in its early establishment Petrolia.
Fraternally, he was a member of the Masonic order, an Odd Fellow and was also an enthusiastic Orangemen.
In politics, he was a staunch Conservative and was known as a diligent worker for that party at election time.
Along with a son Edwin, he had three daughters: Mrs. Wm. Jackson, Edith and Beatrice.
He also had a brother, Alfred Fletcher, who in partnership with James L. Simpson operated the Great Western Railway Hotel in Petrolia.
A grandson, Heath Fletcher, was a long-time Petrolia lawyer.
E.D. Fletcher died in Petrolia on Sept. 16, 1904 and in tribute the Advertiser-Topic noted: “A large number of the leading business men and citizens were present at the funeral service, paying a last tribute of respect to the memory of one who had been largely instrumental in the development of this town from a virgin forest to its present fair proportions.”
He is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.