Oil well found near Sarnia East Side Mario's

A redevelopment project in the parking lot of an East Side Mario's location in Sarnia, Ont. accidentally uncovered an abandoned oil well, prompting a drilling expedition.

'I was humming the tune from The Beverly Hillbillies,' said Mitchell Cohen

This 1967 file photo shows cast members of the television series "The Beverly Hillbillies," an American comedy about a backwoods family who struck it rich from oil discovered on their land. (The Associated Press)

Mitchell Cohen calls it a rags-to-riches-to-rags story.

Cohen is the chief operating officer of Westdale Properties, a Toronto-based real estate company. They're in the process of redeveloping a property on London Road in Sarnia, currently home to an East Side Mario's restaurant and other businesses.

A month ago, in the midst of fixing up the parking lot, a bulldozer hit something workers weren't expecting to find. After a week of investigation, it was determined to be an abandoned oil well.

"The moment I heard that, I was humming the tune to The Beverly Hillbillies," Cohen said, referring to the hit 1960s CBS comedy where a poor rural family strike it rich after finding oil on their property.

"I always thought Sarnia was a great place to do business, but I never thought it would be that easy, that I could pump the oil out of the ground."

A drilling crew was brought in, going as deep as 52 meters over the course of two weeks. No oil was found.

Chris dela Torre speaks to Mitchell Cohen, chief operating officer of Westdale Properties. Cohen explains how a simple parking lot repair lead to the discovery of a historic oil well in Sarnia. 4:56

Cohen believes the well dates back to the mid 1800s, when oil was found elsewhere in Lambton County.

"It appears that maybe this was somewhat of a wayward wildcatter that put this drill down, because there's no oil around anywhere. Nothing," he said.

As a result, the well will be capped and parking lot restored. 

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Cohen declined to say how much the drilling expedition cost, except to say that he would have had to sell a lot of oil to recoup his cost.

But the property developer doesn't regret the effort.

"I got to think for a couple of weeks that I'm going to be Jed Clampett," Cohen said.

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.