London is a Canadian city located in Southwestern Ontario along the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor. The city has a population of 366,151 according to the 2011 Canadian census. London is at the forks of the non-navigable Thames River, approximately halfway between Toronto, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. The City of London is a separated municipality, politically separate from Middlesex County, though it remains the county seat.
London and the Thames were named in 1793 by Lord Simcoe, who proposed the site for the capital of Upper Canada. The first European settlement was between 1801 and 1804 by Peter Hagerman. The village was founded in 1826 and incorporated in 1855. Since then, London has grown to be the largest Southwestern Ontario municipality, and Canada's 11th largest municipality, having annexed many of the smaller communities that surrounded it.
London is a regional centre of health care and education, being home to the University of Western Ontario, Fanshawe College, and several hospitals. The city hosts a number of musical and artistic exhibits and festivals, which contribute to its tourism industry, but its economic activity is centred on education, medical research, insurance, and information technology. London's university and hospitals are among its top ten employers. London lies at the junction of Highway 401 and 402, connecting it to Toronto, Windsor, and Sarnia. It also has an international airport, train and bus station.
Prior to European contact in the 18th century, the present site of London was occupied by several Neutral and Odawa/Ojibwa villages. Archaeological investigations in the region indicate that aboriginal people have resided in the area for at least the past 10,000 years.
The current location of London was selected as the site of the future capital of Upper Canada in 1793 by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe intended to name the settlement Georgina, in honour of King George III, and renamed the river. However, the choice of a capital site in the midst of extensive hardwood forests was rejected by Guy Carleton (Governor Dorchester). In 1814, there was a skirmish during the War of 1812 in what is now southwest London at Reservoir Hill, formerly Hungerford Hill.
The village of London, named after the English capital of London, was not founded until 1826, and not as the capital Simcoe envisioned. Rather, it was an administrative seat for the area west of the actual capital, York (now Toronto). Locally, it was part of the Talbot Settlement, named for Colonel Thomas Talbot, the chief coloniser of the area, who oversaw the land surveying and built the first government buildings for the administration of the Western Ontario peninsular region. Together with the rest of Southwestern Ontario, the village benefited from Talbot's provisions, not only for building and maintaining roads, but also for assignment of access priorities to main routes to productive land. At the time, Crown and clergy reserves were receiving preference in the rest of Ontario.
In 1832, the new settlement suffered an outbreak of cholera. London proved a centre of strong Tory support during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, notwithstanding a brief rebellion led by Dr. Charles Duncombe. Consequently, the British government located its Ontario peninsular garrison there in 1838, increasing its population with soldiers and their dependents, and the business support populations they required. London was incorporated as a town in 1840.
On April 13, 1845, fire destroyed much of London, which was at the time largely constructed of wooden buildings. One of the first casualties was the town's only fire engine. This fire burned nearly 30 acres of land destroying 150 buildings before burning itself out later the same day. One-fifth of London was destroyed and this was the province's first million dollar fire.
On January 1, 1855, London was incorporated as a "city" (10,000 or more residents). In the 1860s, a sulphur spring was discovered at the forks of the Thames River while industrialists were drilling for oil. The springs became a popular destination for wealthy Ontarians, until the turn of the 20th century when a textile factory was built at the site, replacing the spa.
Sir John Carling, Tory MP for London, gave three events to explain the development of London in a 1901 speech. They were: the location of the court and administration in London in 1826; the arrival of the military garrison in 1838; and the arrival of the railway in 1853.
In 1875, London's first iron bridge, the Blackfriars Street Bridge, was constructed. It replaced a succession of flood-failed wooden structures that had provided the city's only northern road crossing of the river. A rare example of a bowstring truss bridge, the Blackfriars remains open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, though it is currently closed indefinitely to vehicular traffic due to various structural problems. The Blackfriars, amidst the river-distance between the Carling Brewery and the historic Tecumseh Park (including a major mill), linked London with its western suburb of Petersville, named for Squire Peters of Grosvenor Lodge. That community joined with the southern subdivision of Kensington in 1874, formally incorporating as the municipality of Petersville. Although it changed its name in 1880 to the more inclusive "London West", it remained a separate municipality until ratepayers voted for amalgamation with London in 1897, largely due to repeated flooding. The most serious flood was that of July 1883, which resulted in serious loss of life and property devaluation. This area retains much original and attractively maintained 19th-century tradespeople's and workers' housing, including Georgian cottages as well as larger houses, and a distinct sense of place.
On May 24, 1881, the ferry SS Victoria capsized in the Thames River, drowning approximately 200 passengers, the worst disaster in London's history. Two years later, on July 12, 1883, the first of the two most devastating floods in London's history killed 17 people. The second major flood, on April 26, 1937, destroyed more than a thousand houses and caused over $50 million in damages, particularly in West London. After repeated floods the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in 1953 built Fanshawe Dam on the North Thames to control the downstream rivers. Financing for this project came from the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Other natural disasters include a 1984 tornado that led to damage on several streets in the White Oaks area of South London.
London's role as a military centre continued into the 20th century during the two World Wars, serving as the administrative centre for the Western Ontario district. In 1905, the London Armoury was built and housed the First Hussars until 1975. A private investor purchased the historic site and built a new hotel (Delta London Armouries, 1996)in its place preserving the shell of the historic building. In the 1950s, two reserve battalions amalgamated and became London and Oxford Rifles (3rd Battalion), The Royal Canadian Regiment. This unit continues to serve today as 4th Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment. The Regimental Headquarters of The Royal Canadian Regiment remains in London at Wolseley Barracks on Oxford Street. The barracks are home to the First Hussars militia regiment as well.
Annexation to present
London annexed many of the surrounding communities in 1961, including Byron and Masonville, adding 60,000 people and more than doubling its area. After this amalgamation, suburban growth accelerated as London grew outward in all directions, creating expansive new subdivisions such as Westmount, Oakridge, Whitehills, Pond Mills, White Oaks and Stoneybrook.
In 1992, London annexed nearly the entire township of Westminster, a large, primarily rural municipality directly south of the city, including the police village of Lambeth. With this massive annexation, London almost doubled in area again, adding several thousand more residents. London now stretches south to the boundary with Elgin County.
The 1993 annexation made London one of the largest urban municipalities in Ontario. Intense commercial and residential development is presently occurring in the southwest and northwest areas of the city. Opponents of this development cite urban sprawl, destruction of rare Carolinian zone forest and farm lands, replacement of distinctive regions by generic malls, and standard transportation and pollution concerns as major issues facing London. The City of London is currently the eleventh-largest urban area in Canada, eleventh-largest census metropolitan area in Canada, and the sixth-largest city in Ontario.
This is a summary of the annexations the City of London has made during the late 19th and 20th centuries:
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 1915 are now available [October 2014]; 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, known to Canadians as "LAC". Copies of original microfilms are online at the LAC website for all censuses up to 1911. Each census database is preceded with an explanation of the geographical area covered, the amount of material retained (some census division material has been lost), the questions on the census form, and whether there is a name index. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited. The 1921 census is only available through Ancestry.ca, but it is free-to-view.
E-books and Books
Websites with more local information on Middlesex County