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Oil Springs cemetery tour to delve into unique past

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Oil Springs will be hosting their first ever cemetery tour on Sept. 16. Funds raised will go towards restoring monuments. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Oil Springs will be hosting their first ever cemetery tour on Sept. 16. Funds raised will go towards restoring monuments. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Oil Springs is preparing to host their very first cemetery tour this month to raise funds that will go towards restoring monuments.

 

Cemetery Board members Suzy Gonerman and Marie Stephenson were inspired by the successes of Petrolia’s Hillsdale Cemetery tour. Gonerman said restoration can be expensive, and with Oil Springs being such a small community, it was imperative that they find a way to help supplement costs.

 

With the help of the Petrolia Heritage Committee, they managed to organize a historical tour that is sure to intrigue both locals and those from out of town.

 

Gonerman said the tour will feature acts from the Petrolia Community Theatre and antique hearses on display from Steadman’s Funeral Home. The stories told have been pulled from the Oil Museum of Canada’s historic documents.

 

“It’s very interesting, it talks about the people who lived there, the transportation and the jobs that people did,” she said. “There’s a personal touch.”

 

While organizers don’t want to give too many surprises away about who will be featured on the tour, Gonerman said it’s safe to say that the legendary Bootjack Mary will be one of them. The infamous and true tale of the prostitute has had books written about her, with many curious to hear her story.

 

“She was a notorious lady who was well known in the oil fields as legend would have it,” Gonerman said. “She was one of those ladies of the night situated in a community that was mostly men.”

 

The Oil Springs cemetery dates back to 1864, when the first burial was placed there. The first section of land was donated by resident Leonard Stephenson after his wife died, and she was the first person to be buried in the new cemetery. There was no room left in the cemetery in town, located behind the Presbyterian church.

 

Gonerman said a lot of the burials from the old cemetery was eventually moved over to the new one, located on Plank Road South, the border between Oil Springs and Enniskillen Township.

 

“It’s a need…he donated it because we needed it,” she said. “After that it took off and filled right up…the 1800s were very bad for cholera and consumption, so there were a lot of deaths.”

 

Gonerman said in the late 1800s, ships from Europe were being quarantined in an attempt to stop cholera from coming into Canada. But a ship slipped by, and it spread like wildfire where people had been settling along the St. Lawrence River and to Windsor.

 

Gonerman added that according to the Cemetery Act, restoration is necessary for both safety and historical significance. With Oil Springs being central in the discovery of oil, there are plenty of people buried there who were a part of the boom that occurred in the late 1800s.

 

“There’s a lot of history attached to the cemetery,” she said. “The municipality has an obligation to find the funds.”

 

 

IF YOU GO:

Where: Oil Springs Cemetery, 4297 Plank Road South

When: Sept. 16, noon – 4 p.m. Tours run every 15 minutes.

Cost: $12

 

mschilz@postmedia.com