The name Margaret Stokes has long been associated with Petrolia’s IODE Chapter, a philanthropic organization that, over the years, has made a significant contribution to the town’s quality of life.
However, few in Petrolia today know much about the lady this venerable organization was named after, or why that particular honour was conferred upon her.
Margaret Stokes was born July 11, 1849 in a small rustic community north of Toronto then known as Mitchell’s Corners, which is today, the Town of Aurora. She was the daughter of Sgt. John and Janet Grieve. Her father served in the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders for 27 years and took his discharge when he married. He was subsequently engaged for many years as Clerk of the Court, Justice of the Peace, and Solicitor of the Queen’s Bench in nearby Richmond Hill.
Margaret came to Petrolia in 1869 at the age of 20 to visit an aunt, and as fate would have it, remained here the rest of her life. Two years after arriving in town, she married Samuel Stokes (1848-1908), an oil man and highly successful local contractor, best-known for the construction of the underground oil tanks that in those days were ubiquitous in the oil fields and refineries surrounding Petrolia. He also played a significant role in the construction of the St. Clair Tunnel in Sarnia.
The couple lived for a time in the East End flats and then for a number of years on Eureka Street before building a comfortable brick home on Petrolia Street west, now the home of Peter Davy and family.
Throughout her long life Margaret Stokes was one of the town’s greatest boosters, taking an active interest in town affairs. She was a devoted member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where she was an avid Sunday- School teacher and a life-member of its Women’s Mission Society, having been a charter member and its first treasurer.
She enjoyed an active social life and through her many charitable endeavors, earned the esteem of her fellow citizens.
Margaret and Samuel Stokes had three children: a son John Stokes, who for many years was an oil driller in California, Lt.-Col. Samuel Gladstone Stokes of Sarnia, former commander of the Lambton Regiment who served in both world wars and was presented the Military Cross by King George V in 1919, and a daughter Jessie, who married Dr. J.A. Drummond of Petrolia.
Known affectionately as “Petrolia’s Grand Old Lady,” when Margaret Stokes died on Feb. 21, 1951 at age 101, she was the town’s oldest resident and the last of its early settlers. Possessed of a cultivated intellect, she remained mentally alert even at her advanced age and kept in touch with world affairs through her daily newspaper.
On the occasion of her 100th birthday she was interviewed by a reporter from the Petrolia Topic and commented that when she first arrived in Petrolia, the town’s west-end did not yet exist. However, she added that the settled section of the community was a thriving affair.
“It was a boom town then,” she recalled.
“It has always been about oil, oil, and more oil.”
She said the town had undergone many improvements since she first arrived and the availability of water was chief among them. “People are lucky to have lots of water nowadays,” she said, recalling that water was once sold at a cent a pale by men traveling from door to door with tank wagons.
However, she said the biggest improvement she had seen in her 80 years of residence in the town was in the quality of its schools and churches.
She added that while she enjoyed modern innovations, she had pleasant memories of older times.
“The old days had their good points too,” she opined.
In 1900 a women’s charitable organization called the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire or IODE as it later became known, was formed in Fredericton New Brunswick. It was an exclusively Canadian organization and chapters were formed in Canadian towns from coast to coast.
Consequently, when an IODE Chapter was formed in Petrolia on March 30, 1949, its 13 founding members decided to name it in honour of a tireless community worker, Margaret Stokes, who was soon to celebrate her 100th birthday.
She was made an honorary member and at a reception held in her honour she received a congratulatory message from non-other than Their Majesties, King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth.
In 1974, Lt. Colonel Samuel Gladstone Stokes established the IODE Stokes Award to honour the charitable work of both his mother Margaret and his wife Louise. The Stokes award is presented annually in June to one student graduating from each of three elementary schools in Petrolia. These students are chosen by the teachers as the best all around students based on academic achievement, involvement in school activities, leadership, class spirit and co-operation with others.
For many years Margaret Stokes' granddaughter Mrs. Nancy (Nan) Punnett, a member of the Errol Egremont Chapter of Camlachie and the Hon. Norman Rogers Chapter of Sarnia, attended each year in June to present the Stokes Award to Petrolia's outstanding elementary students.
The Margaret Stokes Chapter IODE remains active today and continues to serve both the community and beyond through its many charitable endeavors.