Western digs into the past

chivalrousslateOil and Offshore

Nov 8, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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Western News at The University of Western Ontario
Western digs into the past
Chantall Van Raay
June 21, 2001
Western will help dig up the past by documenting and researching the industrial remains
of Lambton County, where the North American oil boom began in 1858. Students from
across North America are involved in a field school in the Petrolia and Oil Springs
region this summer, joining Western, the West Virginia University Institute for the
History of Technology and Industrial Archeology and Wilfrid Laurier University. "The
History of Technology and Industrial Archeology at West Virginia University found
that the best existing example of oil technology in North America is basically in our
back yard," says Western's Department of History Chair Ben Forster, and director
of the public history program. "They were quite interested in the availability of these
sites, because there is nothing like it elsewhere." A team from West Virginia University
visited sites in Oil Springs and Petrolia in 1999, where original drilling equipment is still
used commercially. Because of the historic importance, integrity, and unique nature
of the region's resources, plans were made to establish an Industrial Archaeology
Field School, to provide students with an opportunity to learn methods of historic site
documentation, through both classroom instruction and field work. "We can explore this
old industrial technology and understand it really thoroughly because we have working
examples still around," Forster says. Throughout the six weeks, students will participate
in weekly field trips to regional archives, museums, and historic sites, including a
19th-century water pumping station in Hamilton, the Oil Museum of Canada, Toronto's
19th-century railroad roundhouse and the Welland Canal. The graduate course, which
runs until July 14, also includes four weeks of class instruction at Western and two
weeks of field study in Oil Springs and Petrolia. Students from across North America are
involved for several reasons, Forster says, noting one student is establishing a small oil
industry museum and another student was sent by Parks Canada. "We have an eclectic
collection of people," he says. "Field school is a way of doing industrial archeology in
this while educating a number of graduate students and others in the whole business of
industrial archeology."
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