Dr. Charles Sparling Evans: The Father of Dawn Storage
When Dr. Charles Evans joined Union Gas in 1937 as its first full-time geologist, natural gas was in short supply in Ontario, while cold winters and the looming war were driving demand for affordable energy.
In the years that followed, Evans recognized a looming crisis was taking shape. Ontario homeowners continued to experience shortages during cold winter months, spurring the provincial government of the time to bring in conservation legislation to preserve Ontario's supply, which had peaked and was in decline.
Armed with industry knowledge and geological expertise, Evans proposed a game-changing innovation – using depleted production wells near Dawn Township in southwestern Ontario to store natural gas. On Oct. 28, 1942, Evans’ proposal became a reality when Union Gas injected natural gas in depleted wells at Dawn, marking the birth of Canada’s first commercially successful underground storage facility.
In his 25 years with Union Gas, "Doc" Evans became known and respected as one of Eastern Canada's leading geologists. As well as proposing storage, Evans discovered numerous southwestern Ontario gas fields over his career with Union Gas. His impact on the industry was so great that some consider Evans to have ushered in a new era of oil and gas exploration and development in southwestern Ontario, which had until then been considered "drilled out" and the industry was seen as having a negligible future.
Evans was said to have had an uncanny sense of where to drill for oil and gas, backed by patient study and research. He once described searching for gas or oil as similar to looking for golf balls. Golf balls could be found anywhere, he wrote in 1949, but "the best place to look is on or near a golf course, and, since more people slice than hook, and most golfers are right handed the rough to the right of the fairway, 100 yards from the tee is the best place. Similarly, the best place to look for gas or oil is in an area where seeps or springs of oil or gas have been observed."
Born in Galt, Ontario, Evans attended the University of British Columbia before volunteering to serve overseas during the First World War. Following the war, Evans completed his geology degree at the University of British Columbia before enrolling at Princeton University in New Jersey. It was there that Evans received his doctorate of philosophy in 1927.
Evans spent two years as an associate professor of geology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, returning home to Canada in 1929 to join the Geological Survey of Canada. As a full-time Survey employee, Evans served as assistant geologist and later as associate geologist.
The post of chief geologist at the Union Gas Company brought Evans to Chatham. Writing some 25 years later in the Chatham Daily News, his friend Victor Lauriston remembered Evans as a good neighbour, quiet and diligent, and a man who made history in Chatham-Kent through his work.
Evans' other passion was culture. Dedicated to the arts and his local community, Evans spent 20 years as a member of the Chatham Public Library Board, two of which were as chairman, and helped to establish the Chatham Little Theatre Group.
Evans was recognized as a man of the highest integrity and ideals to his profession, his community, and his family. Evans, who died in 1962, was an innovator fuelled by intelligence and the strength of his convictions and the impact that he had on the Ontario energy storage industry has been providing value to Ontario for 75 years.