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Venerable Canadian oil firm goes solar

One of Canada's first oil companies has started a solar division, in an effort to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

One of Canada's first oil companies has started a solar division in an effort to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

Van Tuyl and Fairbank Inc. launched the Solarware section at its Petrolia, Ont., store Saturday.

The shop in southwestern Ontario will sell solar collector panels, solar-powered hot-water heaters and in-floor heating systems.

The Fairbank family has been part of Canada's oil industry since it began in the 1860s, and the business is listed as the oldest oil company in the world, according to Library and Archives Canada.

John Henry Fairbank arrived in the Petrolia area only a few years after James Williams, while digging a water well, accidentally struck North America's first oil well in 1858 in nearby Oil Springs, Ont.

The Fairbank family set up a hardware store to tap into the vast potential of the booming oil industry.

In 1863, Fairbank invented the jerker rod system of pumping oil, a system still used in the area today.

Family business comes full circle

Charles Fairbank, president of Van Tuyl and Fairbank and great-grandson of one of the country's first oil barons, says that much like his ancestors' foray into the burgeoning oil industry, the move toward solar technology has brought the company full circle.

John Henry Fairbank was one of Canada's first oil barons. His family has pumped oil on its Oil Springs, Ont., property since 1861. ((Oil Museum of Canada))
"He was involved in the beginning of the oil industry and established the age of excess we're in now using fossil fuels and we're coming now to the point where fossil fuels are going to be a problem both by scarcity and expense," Fairbank told CBC News.

The company hopes to reduce pollution from oil use by shifting to green products.

"We're getting to the point where we need to have renewable sources of energy and the sun is where things are going to have to go," Fairbank said.

On the record, roughly 27,000 oil wells have been drilled in Ontario since 1858, according to the Ontario Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Library. Of those wells, approximately 1,200 are still active.

The province produces roughly 700,000 barrels of oil every year.

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