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Charles Oliver Fairbank III


Charles Fairbank, it seems to many, has forgotten more about the oilfield that gave birth to the modern global petroleum industry than many of us will ever know.


Ask Charlie what his main occupation is and he'll tell you it's producing oil at Fairbank Oil Properties. But ask this fourth-generation member of a family that has produced oil longer than anyone in the world and he'll tell you it's spreading the word about Oil Springs, Ont., and about the Oil Heritage District, a swath of Lambton County in southwestern Ontario that has been set aside as a living museum and testament to Canada's oil pioneers.


The great-grandson of Oil Springs pioneer John Henry Fairbank, who was inducted into the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame in 1997, Charlie took over Fairbank Oil—a company that has been in his family for 150 years—in 1973 and, under his leadership, the company has grown to 350 wells, producing about 24,000 barrels of oil a year from 600 acres. Charles uses only 19th century technology to produce the oil, including the jerker line system his great-grandfather developed in 1863—a dedication to preserving history that earned Fairbank Oil field designation in 2010 as Ontario's first industrial-based Heritage Conservation District and recognition from the federal government as a National Historic Site. And work is underway to submit a proposal for a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.


A teacher by vocation—he has a biology degree from the University of Western Ontario and a teaching degree from Queen's University—Charles is passionate about preserving the history of Oil Springs and spreads his knowledge with expertise and enthusiasm at numerous speaking engagements, interviews and events.


In 2002, he co-authored The Oil Heritage Tour of Lambton County: The Birthplace of the Canadian Oil Industry for touring industrial archeologists and geologists. He has also created a publishing enterprise for oil research that has contributed to a number of oil history books and was a valuable source for authors such as Earle Gray (a former editor of Oilweek and publisher of two major oil history volumes, including The Great Canadian Oil Patch and Ontario's Petroleum Legacy), Gary May and Hope Morritt.


"No one knows more about the oil field that gave birth to the global petroleum industry, and its history, than my good friend Charlie Fairbank," Gray wrote in a letter supporting Charlie's nomination to the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame. "That this dramatic story is not known to every schoolboy and girl in Canada is an indictment of our country's sad lack of knowledge of its history. But no one is doing more to spread that story than Charlie, with tireless effort."


In 2008, Charlie sat on the organizing committee for two major conferences in Oil Springs: The International Council on Monuments and Sites and a joint conference of the Petroleum History Society of Canada and its American counterpart, the Petroleum History Institute. And the following year, he addressed The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage at its annual conference in Freiberg, Germany.


As might be expected, all of Charlie's efforts have not gone unnoticed and he's been recognized on several fronts for his historical and business achievements. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Petroleum History Society of Alberta, The Samuel T. Pees Keeper of the Flame Award from the Petroleum History Institute, and the Ontario Lieutenant Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award for Heritage.


"It is clear that Mr. Fairbank has made multiple 'legacy contributions' to how Canadians view and celebrate their remarkable petroleum heritage," Robert Tremain, general manager of Lambton County's Cultural Service Division, wrote in support of Charlie's nomination.


"Mr. Fairbank makes an ideal candidate to be formally recognized for his first-hand knowledge, his advocacy on behalf of Canada's petroleum heritage, and his support of the ongoing heritage integrity of Ontario's historic oil fields."


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