Fueling Communities Since 1943 – A 3rd Generation Family Business
HISTORY OF DOWLER-KARN
George Dowler had been employed for a number of years by Imperial Oil, when he was given the opportunity to become the Imperial Oil Agent for the St Thomas area. It was an exciting time for him and his wife, Winnie and their daughter, Joyce. A few years after he took on this role, Joyce started to help her father by assisting him with his bookkeeping. She worked from a 10′ X 10′ building adjacent to the Imperial Oil facility, located at 105 Flora St. in St. Thomas. In the late 40’s and early 50’s, homeowners were actively switching their heating systems from coal to furnace fuel. With the business expanding rather quickly, Imperial Oil felt it necessary to create two distributors – one would become the Home Comfort dealer, supplying home heating fuel, while the other would become the Farm Trade Agent supplying fuels to the farming sector. George Dowler decided to keep the Home Comfort division and remained operating as “Dowler Fuels” and he had someone in mind for the Farm Trade Agent role.
Joyce Dowler was dating a young man by the name of Jack Karn who was employed as a butcher at the Dominion grocery store. George Dowler and Imperial Oil approached Jack and insisted he take over the Farm Trade business and work with Imperial Oil. Jack agreed to try a new career and the new agency was formed under the name “Jack Karn Fuels.” Jack and Joyce were married in 1954 and Joyce continued performing office duties throughout the ensuing years.
Both businesses operated successfully throughout the years. In 1967 George Dowler, Jack Karn ,and Imperial Oil jointly decided to amalgamate the two agencies. A new company was created called “Dowler-Karn Limited.”
Sadly on June 10th, 1970 George Dowler passed away.
In 1973, Dowler-Karn put their first tandem fuel delivery truck into service, one of the first of its kind to be operated in Ontario.
In 1978, Jack and Joyce’s oldest son, John Karn, graduated from high school and assumed a role working full time within the company.
The year was 1979 when Jack Karn made a business decision that would turn out to be a defining moment for him and the company. Dowler-Karn was losing fuel customers, not to the regular fuel competitors, but to a relatively new fuel – Propane. Home heating, vehicle fleets and even tobacco curing kilns were switching to this alternative fuel. It was at this point that Dowler-Karn ventured into the propane business. This would allow Dowler-Karn to supply both petroleum products and propane to their customers.
In 1983, after graduating high school, Dave Karn joins the family business full time.
When Barb Molinaro, Jack & Joyce’s daughter, joins Dowler-Karn in 1984 it officially becomes an entire family affair – Jack, Joyce, and each of their three children then worked full-time for Dowler-Karn.
In 1985, Dowler-Karn realized it had outgrown its location and purchased property east of St. Thomas from Thompson Transport which would become the long-term head office, still used today. This same year, Dowler-Karn purchased the St. Thomas and Aylmer branches of Maple City / Sterling Fuels.
In 1987 Jack brokered a deal with Imperial Oil to become one of the first Branded Resellers in Canada. Dowler-Karn Limited was then able to operate of their own volition, and handle customers directly without constant observation or regulation from Imperial Oil. This same year, Dowler-Karn purchased Lacey Fuels in St Thomas.
When Dowler-Karn purchased Ball Truck and Auto Repair and moved it to their primary location, they were able to perform inspections and maintenance on their own fleet and provide conversion services to help their customers convert their vehicles to propane.
Imperial Oil approached Dowler-Karn with an offer: Take over the London agency from Rowberry Fuels. Dowler-Karn completed the deal, which meant that when Imperial Oil purchased Texaco Oil Limited‘s operations later that year Dowler-Karn acquired Dykxhoorn Fuels who had been the Aylmer agent.
In 1992 Dowler-Karn purchased London’s biggest heating oil supplier, Maple City Gas and Oil, along with their second office in Lucan.
In 1994 Dowler-Karn purchased Sarnia Propane from Ross McEachran, almost doubling Dowler-Karn’s propane operations and expanding into Sarnia and Chatham in one fell swoop. Later that year Dowler-Karn was offered the Imperial Oil agency in St. Mary’s, which they purchased and operated from Imperial Oil’s property.
Jack Karn was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Ontario Propane Association, of which Dowler-Karn is recognized as one of the founding members. Jack was made the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the OPA, and also became a member of the Propane Advisory Council of Ontario’s Technical Standards & Safety Authority (TSSA).
In 2002, Dave Karn became the Chair of the Ontario Propane Association’s “Emergency Response Assistance Plan” (ERAP Plan). This plan details the proper precautions and response in the event of a transportation accident involving “high risk” goods, including propane and other flammable materials.
In 2003, Jack Karn steps down from the Ontario Propane Association‘s board of directors and the TSSA Propane Advisory Council. The same year Dave Karn puts his name forward for a position in both roles and is elected to both the OPA Board of Directors as well as the Propane Advisory Council.
After 61 years of employment in the Dowler-Karn organization, and as one of the founders of the company, Joyce Karn retires from her position as Credit Manager. She leaves her full time position due to vision issues. Joyce continues as a director of the company, but reduces her time spent working. She quickly settles into retirement to enjoy time with her family and friends.
On December 7th, 2006 Jack passed away at the age of 75. He had unknowingly suffered a stroke during a trip to London three days prior, and spent his final days in the care of St. Thomas Elgin general Hospital. Following his passing, Joyce took over the role of company president with the support of her children David, John and Barb.
Fall of 2010 was a much anticipated and very special time for family and staff of Dowler-Karn. The Jack & Joyce Karn Collection, also known as the Dowler–Karn Museum, was finally completed and opened to the public. More than 5000 memorabilia items collected over the past 60 years are on display. The museum is open to the public for viewing every Wednesday or by appointment. The collection has over 10,000 memorabilia items that have been collected over the past 60 years, including clear vision pumps, vintage signs, model trucks, oil cans, and a fully restored 1919 Ford Model T fuel tanker.
When Dowler-Karn purchased J&D Cooper Oil Limited in Chatham, it gave the company the ability to serve petroleum and propane to their customers in the Chatham-Kent area. The existing facilities owned by Imperial Oil had become obsolete and inadequate as time passed, so Dowler-Karn built a new state-of-the-art facility to the South of the existing building.
2011 marked the formation of a new Propane Association, the Canadian Propane Association (CPA). Once operational, the two existing associations, the Ontario Propane Association (OPA) and the Propane Gas Association of Canada (PGAC), will cease operations. Dave Karn was part of the working group that helped to design the new association and was also elected to the inaugural board of directors.