By 1783, there were French settlers in Detroit and Windsor. There were also settlers in the Niagara and Kingston region, but no real settlers to speak of in the Kent County region. In 1790, Alexander McKee negotiated Treaty #2 of 1790 with Pottowatomie, Huron, Chippewa and Ottawa leaders in Detroit to acquire what is now Southwestern Ontario. With this area now being British-owned, settlers began moving rapidly into this new land area, and eventually, the County of Kent, and Blenheim.
Land began being surveyed in 1791 in Harwich township under the order of Lt.-Col. John Graves-Simcoe. Joining his crew was a man named Thomas Talbot who expressed great interest in this land, and Simcoe granted him any plot of land he so desired. He decided on a plot where present day Fingal resides. Being a man with substantial finances, he set out to begin road-building in Southwestern Ontario in 1800. His main road was designed to go all the way to Detroit. It consequently ran directly along a ridge of high land, and on that ridge is where present-day Blenheim stands. The great Talbot Project was suspended until the completion of the War of 1812.
After the War of 1812, North American settlers began arriving in this area to live peaceful lives after a violent war, as did settlers who came from England after a European war with France. After timber clearing, this land was ready for growth. Blenheim itself was established in 1825-1850. It was amidst of dense forest, and its development lagged behind other nearby settlements. Albert Robertson purchased this land, and after the real estate traded hands over a few years, Harvey Halstead, Thomas Lynch, and George Hughson were recorded as the first three lot-tenants who built homes.
This “Ten Mile Bush” was a dense Carolinian forest with wild elk, bear, wolves, and eagles inhabiting the region. When the forests were cut down for farming, the bush became a “patchwork quilt of farms” Even a minor inspection of the contemporary area reveals acres of farms still in operation, but the elk, bear, and wolves are long gone.
Some believe that Blenheim was named after Blenheim Palace in England. However, articles written by historian Dr. Fred Landon in The News Tribune dated February 7, 1934 recount a party in the early days of the settlement, at which local resident Mungo Samson gave a well-received recitation of the poem "The Battle of Blenheim." This is where the town got its name. Blenheim, Ontario had a general store by 1845. However, the town was not incorporated until 1885, some 40 years later. In 1837 James W. Little, a militia officer and land speculator of neighbouring Raleigh Township, purchased land at the intersection of Ridge Road and Communication Road, the latter planned by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe to connect the town of Chatham with Lake Erie. The area consisted of fertile farmland noted for sugar beets, tomatoes, and corn. Blenheim's primary resource was timber. Once the bush was cleared adequately in about 1900, farming superseded timber as the key resource of Blenheim due to the area's rich soil and ideal climate.
By 1874, Blenheim had a full list of occupants varying in professions from dentistry to carpentry. In 1866, a town hall was built, fit for a village which was ready to emerge as an important voice in Kent County. Blenheim became an official town in 1885.
In 1888, a church for the large Methodist population was built. The telephone was introduced to Blenheim in 1885 by Bell. Electricity came in 1888. A full-fledged fire department arrived in 1891. The railway arrived in 1894 and traveled through Blenheim to Windsor. The first high school was built in 1900.
As cars became increasingly popular, Blenheim paved its first street in 1920, which opened a period of enormous growth. The Prohibition gave Blenheim a chance to grow, as many men were involved in illegal rum-running operations for larger centres. In 1924, W.G. Thompson opened a grain mill for local farmers, which is still present today.
Blenheim grew through the "Starving 30s", and the "War-Torn 40s". The period of 1950 to the present time has seen Blenheim mature into a town of 4,800.
Today Blenheim’s claim to fame is the RM Classic Car Exhibit. A guided tour gives a close-up view of more than 50 classic automobiles from the past century.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books