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Petrolia Public Library

4200, Petrolia Line, Petrolia, Ontario, N0N, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1975/06/06

The Petrolia Public Library, from across Petrolia's main street, Petrolia Line.; Petrolia Municipal Heritage Committee, 2010.
Petrolia Public Library
A vintage image of the Petrolia Public Library, seen here in 1908.; Petrolia Public Library, 2010.
Petrolia Public Library
No Image

Other Name(s)

Petrolia Public Library
Former Grand Trunk Railway Station

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2010/12/16

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Petrolia Public Library was built in 1903 and is a striking example of the Queen Anne style. It is located on Petrolia Line, the main street of Petrolia's downtown. The Petrolia Public Library showcases an eclectic architectural style and has a fascinating history.

The structure was designated by the Town of Petrolia under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-Law 1975-35) for its cultural and architectural value.

Heritage Value

The Petrolia Public Library is connected with Canada's railroad history and it demonstrates incidents of communities working together towards common goals. The structure was constructed in 1903 to replace Petrolia's old, out-dated Grand Trunk Railway station; some historians have suggested that the new station's exceptional grandeur was an attempt to overcompensate for the old, uninspiring clapboard station that had served the town since 1866. The Grand Trunk Railway amalgamated with the Canadian National Railway on January 23rd, 1923. The Petrolia station continued to operate until service was discontinued in 1930. Over the next seven years, the Queen Anne structure served as a civic centre, hosting dances, socials and town meetings.

In 1927, local Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital Guild members donated books and set-up a distribution centre from a local Union Gas office. The book collection resided in a variety of different locations, until the local Lions Club encouraged the formation of a public library association in 1934. 300 to 400 memberships were quickly sold, at $1.00 apiece. Mrs. Sterne's Flower Shop then became the repository for the book collection, which had grown from under three hundred to one thousand volumes with Mrs. Sterne severing as the librarian. By 1937, Petrolia was in need of a structure to house their expanding public book collection. Negotiations between the Canadian National Railway and Petrolia's budding library association resulted in library's occupation of the west half of the former station; May 15th, 1937 marked the opening of the new Petrolia Public Library. The station's transformation into a library is likely the first Canadian example of an unused railway station being preserved by a town for adaptive re-use. Mrs. Nettie Wark was appointed Petrolia's first official librarian on April 13th, 1937. The collection had swelled to two thousand books. Funding had not allowed for the purchase of furniture, so local civic, fraternal and religious organizations donated two reading tables, chairs, and a librarian's table to help furnish the library's new home. The Canadian National Railway initially leased the structure to the Public Library for $125.00 per year, but on September 18th, 1961, the C.N.R. sold the property to the town for $1.00. The structure remains the town's public library to the present day.

The Petrolia Public Library building is an excellent example of early railway architecture. The Queen Anne structure reflects an eclectic architectural style popular during the first decade of the 1900s, with features such as the paired turret rooms. Its grand architecture stands as a testament to the oil boom that swept over central Lambton County in the nineteenth century; it was an impressive structure, especially for a town with less than 4000 residents. In 1903 the oil boom was coming to an end and Petrolia's construction frenzy had subsided; local powerhouse Imperial Oil had moved its refinery and head office to Sarnia. Some historians have suggested that this extravagant and beautiful structure was built to boost civic morale, and in anticipation of an eventual return to affluence.

Source: Town of Petrolia Municipal Office: By-law No. 35 of 1975. Entry in the Government of Ontario's “Ontario Heritage Properties Database,” “Grand Trunk Railway Station – Petrolia Public Library.”

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Petrolia Public Library include its:
- original design as a Grand Trunk Railway station
- two conical roofed turrets
- ladies' waiting room in the west end turret
- gentleman's waiting room in the east end turret
- bevelled glass windows
- pine floorboards
- graceful supporting brackets
- restorations in the 1990s to preserve the structure which included a new slate roof
- downtown location




Recognition Authority

Local Governments (ON)

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Municipal Heritage Designation (Part IV)

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1930/01/01 to 1930/01/01
1937/01/01 to 1937/01/01
1961/01/01 to 1961/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design
Developing Economies
Communications and Transportation
Building Social and Community Life
Education and Social Well-Being

Function - Category and Type



Station or Other Rail Facility

Architect / Designer



Grand Trunk Railway

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Town of Petrolia Municipal Office 411 Greenfield Street P.O. Box 1270 Petrolia, Ontario N0N 1R0

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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