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Ernie’s Oilers
Made for Service and Long Life


By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
September 2012

Symons Oilers advertising, c. 1964
(Click image for larger view)
WDM-1980-S-192

Ernie Symons was a tinkerer. Born on the family homestead in the Wapella area of southeast Saskatchewan, young Ernie had a gift for making things out of bits and pieces of junk. As he grew older, he added metalworking to his growing skills. By age 19, he had his own blacksmith shop where he repaired machinery and sharpened plowshares. In 1920, a neighbour gave him three pump oilers, a gift that changed Ernie’s life.

Building It Better
None of the oilers worked very well so Ernie set about to make them better. His improved design worked so well that in 1922 he filed for a patent. On March 6, 1923 Symons was granted Canadian patent 229,360 for an oil can pump, a can with a long spout used to oil machinery. Opportunity knocked when a building in Rocanville came up for sale. Ernie and his repair business made the move to Rocanville.


Symons Metalworkers Limited Factory years after it closed, Rocanville, SK, 2006.
Ruth Bitner photo

Oil Can Operation
Symons could not find anyone to manufacture his new oilers so he decided to do it himself. The first few oilers were produced in 1924. In 1926, Ernie turned out 3,500 units. Demonstration at the Regina and Brandon fairs helped to boost sales. During the lean years of the 1930s Symons kept his business afloat by reconditioning cream separators and feed augers and repairing farm machinery.

The War Years
Orders for the oilers soared during the Second World War so part of the work was contracted to a Winnipeg firm. Some 65,000 oilers were sold in 1943 alone. Saskatchewan servicemen reported seeing Symons oilers in far-flung places like Burma, Germany and Italy. Production slowed at War’s end but Symons Metalworkers continued to make improvements to meet the needs of industry.

Oil Can advertisementSymons Oilers advertising, c. 1955
(Click image for larger view)
WDM-1980-S-196

World's Largest Oilcan - RocanvilleThe Legacy
Ernie Symons’ factory in Rocanville pumped out oilers for decades. In 1973 on the 50th anniversary of his patent, the citizens of Rocanville honoured Ernie by erecting the world’s largest oil can. The tip of the spout is 8.5 metres from ground level. Ernie Symons and his metalworking company put Rocanville on the map, manufacturing oilers for 60 years.

At right:
“World’s Largest Oil Can,” Rocanville, SK, 2006.
Ruth Bitner photo


View the Original Patent Documents Online

Click on the patent number below to view the original patent documents on the Canadian Patent Office Patents Database.

Oil Can Pump
Ernest Symons, Wapella
Patent No. 229360   1923


Saskatchewan InnovationYou might also be interested in:

- More Saskatchewan Innovations

- About the WDM Collection

- How to donate an artifact