Petrolia’s first female councillor
It may be a consequence of its boom-town origins, but from its earliest days Petrolia has always been a fiercely independent town and on more than one occasion has gone against the grain when it came to municipal matters.
However, over the years the Hard Oil town has also revealed itself to be among the more progressive municipalities in the province.
In the 1930s it was indeed rare to see a women involved in politics of any kind.
Actually, it was an era when many Canadians still believed it improper or even unladylike for a woman to enter the political arena or, for that matter, consider such an endeavor.
Well, it was during that decade that Petrolia elected its first female councillor.
For a number of years acclamations had prevailed on the town council and life-long Petrolia resident Florence Stone (known to everyone as Flossy) had become discouraged with the apathy that existed in town when it came to local elections.
Consequently, she decided to throw her name in the ring with the idea of forcing an election and thereby giving residents a choice of candidates.
Flossy was nothing if not tenacious.
During her municipal career she was defeated nine times.
However, in the municipal election of 1937, to her great astonishment, and to everyone else in town, she was elected, making her the only women in Western Ontario at that time to be elected to a municipal council.
It was also the first time in the town’s history that a female would hold a position on any of its municipal bodies.
Flossy Stone was born in Petrolia on March 7, 1892 and lived here her entire life.
As a young woman, she married James “Nimmy” Stone, a well-known Petrolia blacksmith, and for many years the couple made their home on Robert Street.
Flossy served her first term on council with a modicum of success, but was defeated the following year (municipal elections were held annually at that time).
However, she rebounded and was successful in the elections of 1943, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948 and again in 1949.
When she was returned to office in 1943, she was quoted in the Petrolia Topic as saying she ran for office because the municipality’s finances were a little shaky and she thought the town needed “a little trimming up.”
She added that she and newly-elected mayor William Cole had grown up together.
“He is a quiet, solid thinking man, and we will see that every taxpayer’s dollar is well spent,” she said.
The following year the town cleared off a large deficit.
She was vehemently opposed to councillors being compensated for their services and in one election campaigned against a proposal to grant councillors an annual stipend of $50 a year.
“If a man or women can’t voluntarily donate enough time to attend at least one regular meeting a month and take an active interest in municipal affairs without getting paid for it, there is something wrong,” she said.
Described as a robust and jovial woman, Flossy Stone was also a consummate entrepreneur and developed one of the first homes for the aged in town.
At that time there were few options for the aged and after a local doctor asked her to care for an elderly patient, she conceived the idea of opening her spacious Robert Street home to otherwise homeless senior citizens who were in need of care.
From a modest start, the enterprise soon grew to accommodate more than 30 residents and a staff of several persons.
As a result, many elderly residents in the area were able to live out their lives in comfort and security.
During her years on council Flossy Stone served on various boards and committees but was most enthusiastic upon her appointment as chair of the town’s relief (welfare) committee.
Coming from a humble family and being the youngest of 10 children, she once commented that as a young girl she knew what it was like to want.
“As a girl I never had all I needed,” she recalled, adding that any person in need could be assured of getting aid from her and her committee.
While a highly compassionate women to those who were truly in need, it was said that she could be equally critical of those she deemed not deserving of assistance.
In her council work she was said to have been outspoken and provided the basis for most of the serious discussion on council.
Flossy also had a great interest in sports and was one of the town’s greatest proponents of the “Hard Oil” slogan that has bolstered local teams since the town’s earliest days.
However, her great love was harness racing and she was well known among the local racing fraternity for the horses trained and raced in her name.
While her son, Cecil, did most of the training, it was not uncommon for Flossy to hop on the sulky and work a colt herself.
Following council’s inaugural meeting in 1949, she commented that she loved every minute of her municipal career and vowed to continue as long as the people would have her.
Unfortunately, just a few days later on Jan 16, 1949 she was stricken by a heart attack while visiting her son Cecil’s Blind Line farm.
She was taken to CEE hospital where she died a short time later.
At her funeral service Rev. R. U. McLean of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church spoke of her worth to the community and of the generous impulses that prompted her many charitable acts.
She is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.