There will be few among the over 60 crowd in Petrolia (particularly the gentlemen) who don’t have fond memories of Bill Jackson’s Pool Room.
Jackson’s Pool Room was a landmark on Petrolia’s main street for nearly 100 years, during which time it was operated by four generations of the Jackson family.
The Jacksons were among the town’s early settlers and for many years were the only Black family in town.
George A. Jackson, the family patriarch, was born in 1832 in Louisville Kentucky.
Several years prior to the American Civil War, with a young family in tow, George and his wife Mary, escaped the bonds of slavery and came to Canada via the celebrated “Underground Railroad.”
The family resided in Strathroy for several years before coming to Petrolia in 1866, coincidental with the King Well discovery and the dawn of the area’s oil boom.
It’s interesting to note that many of the Black families who came to Canada during that period settled in the Dresden/Kent County area, while the Jacksons chose to put down roots in Petrolia.
However, being enterprising people, one could only assume that they, like nearly everyone else at the time, arrived here to seek business opportunities associated with the oil boom.
There is no question George A. Jackson was an enterprising individual and a skilled barber to boot.
After his arrival here he wasted no time in setting himself up in business.
In 1869, he took procession of a frame building in the town’s downtown core, adjacent to the former Van Tuyl and Fairbank building, where he established a barber shop and shoe shine parlor.
The business obviously flourished as was noted in the Petrolia Advertiser in Aug. 1880 when George A. Jackson retired and his son, George W. Jackson (Bill’s father), took over the business.
“Mr. George Jackson has purchased the barber business and good will of his father, and will hereafter run it on his own book,” the report read.
“George is an enterprising young man, a skillful hand with the clippers and a general favourite, and we have no doubt he will do a rushing business.”
The article further noted: “Mr. Jackson Senior intends on retiring to live upon the fruits of his industry, which he has acquired by his untiring zeal and close attention to business.”
It was also noted that during his years in Canada, George A. Jackson had acquired considerable property around Petrolia and elsewhere.
As we all know, in the days prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, racial discrimination in North America was rampant and Petrolia was certainly not immune to that.
However, the Jacksons were well liked and respected in town and it appears residents here were actually quite protective of them.
Long-time resident Les Clifford recalled playing baseball with some of the Jackson boys.
“When we were playing out of town if anyone bothered any of the Jacksons, they pretty well had to take on the whole team,” he said.
“They were good guys, great ball players, and were very well liked in town.”
George W. Jackson continued the business in the same main street location until the time of his death on Mar. 27, 1926, when the operation was passed on to his son, William B. (Bill) Jackson, of whom many of the older folks in town today still recall with great affection.
By the time he took over the family business a bowling alley had been added to the billiards room.
However, several years later he discontinued the barbering and bowling operations and successfully carried on the billiards business under the name of Bill’s Recreation Centre.
Following the Second World War, Bill decided to replace the old frame structure (which by that time had seen better days) with a new brick building.
Life-long resident Harold Finlayson recalled that in 1946, the billiard tables were removed to the Van Tuyl and Fairbank building at the corner (now Godfather’s Pizza) and the business continued while the old Jackson establishment was razed and new one-story brick building constructed in its place (which is now the home of Petrolia’s Tae Kwon Do club).
Bill Jackson was a kindly and friendly gentleman who won the affection and friendship of many.
His place of business became a local institution, known as the place where former residents would call upon when returning to their home town, for it was here that everyone received a cordial welcome from the genial Jackson.
Petrolia councillor Mary-Pat Gleeson recalled visiting the Jackson establishment with her father as a child.
“I remember that pool room so well, my dad and I would stop in there every Saturday morning on our rounds,” she said.
“Mr. Jackson would set up a pool table and I’d play away while he and Dad talked. He was a very nice man and much loved.”
Like others in his family, Bill was a gifted athlete and widely known for his musical abilities, having played both piano and clarinet with boundless virtuosity.
He was a former member of the Petrolia Citizen’s Band and also played in the St. Paul’s United Church orchestra as well as other musical groups in the area.
Fraternally, he was a member of Petrolia’s Star of the West Orange Lodge No. 1096.
Bill Jackson died Mar. 2, 1963 at the age of 71, stricken suddenly by a heart attack while cleaning the windows at the front of his Petrolia Street establishment.
He is interred at Hillsdale Cemetery.