On Jan 1, 1874 the Village of Petrolia officially gained town status and in their wisdom the residents of this vital and burgeoning new municipality elected the young and upcoming lawyer, George Moncrieff, as its first mayor.
It seemed that upon
his very arrival in the community Moncrieff inspired confidence and immediately became an integral part of not only the community’s social fabric, but also its local government. When in 1866, the village’s first reeve, William H. McGarvey, resigned
to pursue business interests, it was the 25 year-old Moncrieff who stepped in to fill the void.
He was also instrumental in the development of many of the town’s cultural institutions, most notably the Petrolia Assemblies and the Petrolia Literary
and Musical Society. As the author Christina Burr noted in her excellent book titled Canada’s Victorian Oil Town, these institutions were components of the transformation of Petrolia from a rough, frontier village into a respectable Victorian
George Moncrieff was born in 1842 in Musselburgh, Scotland, the son of Rev. William G. Moncrieff, a Presbyterian clergyman. He received his early education in Edinburgh schools but when a teenager his family immigrated to Canada, settling
in London, Ontario where he continued his education.
He studied law in London as well as at McMaster University in Hamilton and was called to the Upper Canada bar in 1864.
While a student he worked in the law office of Judge James Daniels but
upon his graduation entered a partnership with London lawyer John Geary under the firm name of Geary and Moncrieff. This partnership existed for several years.
At that time London was the refining centre of the country’s nascent oil industry and
as a consequence much of their work entailed the drafting of legal contracts for the oil industry. This was the catalyst that attracted him to Petrolia, where the great oil boom was just getting underway.
Moncrieff arrived in Petrolia in 1866,
quickly set up a law practice and also invested heavily in oil production. In 1872 he married Isabella Thompson of Adelaide Township (the older sister of Charlotte Eleanor Englehart) and the couple built a stately home in Crescent Park, which in later years
became the home of Harrison (“Tip”) and Helen Corey.
By all accounts George Moncrieff was a quiet and unassuming man who took a great interest in his community and gained the esteem of not only the townsfolk, but his peers in the legal community.
He was a highly successful commercial lawyer and was solicitor for most of the leading oil concerns in the region.
In 1889 he was named Queen’s Counsel by Lord Stanley, the then Governor General of Canada, an honour not often bestowed on small
In 1887, he contested the federal riding of Lambton East for the Conservative Party and was elected Member of Parliament on Feb. 22, 1877 and held that seat until 1896. He was appointed the town’s solicitor in 1875 and served in
that capacity until the time of his death in 1901.
George and Isabella raised five children: three boys, George Jr., Colin, and Hugh and two girls, Isabelle and Helena. George Jr. also became a lawyer and practiced law in Petrolia.
George Moncrieff was an adherent of the Anglican faith and a strong supporter of Christ Church Anglican. Fraternally, he was a member of the Sons of Scotland, the Knights of Pythias and the Royal Arcanum.
George Moncrieff died March 28, 1901 at
St. Joseph’s Hospital in London after having emergency surgery performed by five doctors. While he had been ill for some time his death was said to have still been rather unexpected.
His obituary in the Advertiser Topic noted that Moncrieff
was possessed of an abundance of good nature coupled with a keen intellect and a pleasing presence. “It could not well have been otherwise than that the young George Moncrieff should have risen to the eminence to which he attained in the esteem of his
fellow citizens,” it stated.
His funeral was attended by many prominent people from across the province including an abundance of government officials and members of the province’s legal community. Along with the many floral tributes
received was a pillow embroidered with the letters K.C. (King’s Counsel) from the judges and lawyers of Sarnia’s legal fraternity.
George Moncrieff is interred in Hillsdale Cemetery.