So in an effort to get to know the area, I’m going to do some walking and exploring through some of the parks and see what bits of information and history I can dig up. One such bit, though, was in an unexpected place – the corner variety store.
The convenience store closest to me is ugly. It’s weather-beaten, awkward, and covered in garish signs – neon or otherwise – advertising products and the fact that there’s an ATM within. To look at it, one actually wonders why it simply isn’t knocked down and rebuilt. But the answer comes on the street corner itself, where a plaque stands erected with the title, “Supertest”.
Supertest was a Canadian petroleum giant, the outcome of a partnership between locals J. Gordon Thompson and James D. Good. In 1923, they formed a company here in London called London Automotive Services Ltd., buying out the assets of the Energy Oil Company.
They took the run-down building they purchased and turned it into a small service station, featuring Supertest gasoline, though at the time they were getting it from Imperial Oil. To compete with other petrol companies, they led the pack in customer service, becoming the first company ever to offer ‘full service’ – one attendant “handles the gasoline sale, the other checks the oil, radiator and air before cleaning the windshield. The true service station is born.”
The company took off, spreading all across southern Ontario, into Quebec, and eventually, nationwide. Incorporating in 1925, Supertest Petroleum Corp. (the “All-Canadian Company”) grew over the next few decades, merging petrol businesses all across the country.
Then in 1971, Supertest Petroleum was purchased by the Canadian faction of British Petroleum, which slowly but surely phased out the logo and visage of the once-strong company over the next couple of years. Comeuppance achieved, BP Canada was all but entirely purchased in 1983 by Petro-Canada, the Federal government’s 1975 brainchild for keeping domestic oil profits within Canada.
And though very little still exists of Supertest Petroleum – be it relic or lore – Petro-Canada continues to use the name of Supertest in their line of lubricants to this day.
And the reason my ugly neighbourhood convenience store remains in its current state? Its every inch is the original structure of one of the earliest Supertest locations, a mixed Victorian/Tudor design unique to the company before their facelift in the early 1960s. Below, a photograph gives a rough idea of how the station would once have looked.
And that’s what I learned today.