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New Abraham Gesner sculpture narrative planned for Chipman Corner

The organizing committee scouted the old Gesner memorial at Chipman Corner with sculptor Ruth Abernethy recently. The volunteers include Geof Turner, left, Abernethy, council Pauline Raven and Dr. Elisabeth Kosters.
The organizing committee scouted the old Gesner memorial at Chipman Corner with sculptor Ruth Abernethy recently. The volunteers include Geof Turner, left, Abernethy, council Pauline Raven and Dr. Elisabeth Kosters. - Submitted

New sculpture will tell the story of Abraham Gesner, inventor of kerosene

KENTVILLE – A large, world class bronze narrative by Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy is being planned for Chipman Corner this fall.

Kings County council has pledged unanimous support for a project celebrating Abraham Pineo Gesner, whose invention of kerosene in the 1840s launched the petroleum industry.

Abernathy spoke to a special session of council on April 10 about Gesner and his creativity.

It was the discovery of Gesner's almost hidden memorial on Middle Dyke Road that initially moved Dr. Allen Eaves to commission Vernon Smith's Work at the Trestle in Wolfville and Dr. Apple in Kentville.

Eaves' goal has been to create sites that inform the public about Canadians whose discoveries created the wealth and reputation of our country, Abernathy said, and many are woefully unknown.

The Canada Post stamp that honoured Abraham Gesner and the invention of kerosene was produced in 2000.
The Canada Post stamp that honoured Abraham Gesner and the invention of kerosene was produced in 2000.

She explained that a primary donor “thought it (the late 1960s plaque) was not good enough when we live in the time of petroleum. We need to tell the story,” Abernathy said. She has called her design ‘Disruptor.’

“Certainly Gesner's contribution was disruptive in a way that eclipses Elon Musk and Henry Ford,” she said. “With nearly 200 years of hindsight, I was happy to connect the immense whaling industry to the immense petroleum industry and have Gesner featured.”

The statue will feature Gesner holding a lamp. A whale tail will symbolize the fact that his invention curbed the need to kill whales for oil. There will also be eight information panels about his achievements.

Coun. Pauline Raven brought the project to council.

“This collaborative project with Parks Canada, involves a generous donor, and will be cost neutral to our council,” Raven said.

Upon learning about Gesner, the inventor, geologist and physician, council members concluded his contributions to the early petroleum industry and Maritime geology are unparalleled, making him a phenomenally important son of Kings County, Raven said.

She serves on an organizing committee where an application for financial support to Legacy Canada is currently being prepared.

Dr. Elisabeth Kosters, a past-president of the Atlantic Geoscience Society, said Gesner is revered amongst society members and a medal is handed out annually in his name.

Some fundraising will need to take place before the sculpture can be unveiled, but the county motion established the project will be cost neutral to Kings County.

Coun. Jim Winsor said he had not known of Gesner’s achievements and indicated he felt “privileged the county could have a role in bringing alive this great man.”

Gesner was celebrated on two postage stamps, in 2000 and 1984. Allison Mitchum wrote a biography, Prophet of the Wilderness, about him more than 20 years ago.


Did you know?

Abraham Gesner was a Kings County physician, geologist and inventor before the time of Confederation.

In his lifetime he suffered financial difficulty and patent woes, but today he is known as the father of the petroleum industry and, incidentally, as someone whose invention reduced the slaughter of the whaling industry.

He was born three miles north of Kentville, in Chipman Corner, Cornwallis Township, in 1797 and died in Halifax in 1864.

An early adventurer, at 21 he tried shipping horses to the West Indies and was shipwrecked twice. He married Harriet Webster, whose father was a Kentville doctor that encouraged young Abraham to enroll as medical student in England. There, he developed a keen interest in earth sciences. Practicing in Parrsboro, he gathered specimens while making patient visits. Gesner wrote his first book in 1837 about the geology and minerals of Nova Scotia.

That led to his hiring by the province of New Brunswick, where he was asked for make a geological survey. The project took him five years. He received assistance from First Nations guides.

Invited by both Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to carry out geological surveys, Gesner began experimenting with a new hydrocarbon-based lamp fuel, kerosene, in the 1850s. More chemical innovation took him to New York City. He returned to Nova Scotia in 1863 and was hired as a professor of natural history at Dalhousie University, but he died the following year.

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