Sarnia is a city in Southern (Southwestern) Ontario, Canada (2011 population 72,366; Urban Area population 79,526; Census Agglomeration population 89,555). It is the largest city on Lake Huron and in Lambton County. It is located where the upper Great Lakes empty into the St. Clair River, across the border east of Port Huron, Michigan.
The natural port and the salt caverns that exist in the surrounding areas, coupled with the oil discovered in nearby Oil Springs in 1858 led to the massive growth of the petroleum industry in this area. Since Oil Springs was the first place in Canada and North America to commercially drill for oil, the knowledge that was acquired there and strengthened in Sarnia led to Sarnians traveling the world teaching other nations how to drill for oil. The complex of refining and chemical companies, called Chemical Valley and located south of downtown Sarnia, once adorned the back of the Canadian ten-dollar bill. Sarnia has the highest level of particulates air pollution of any Canadian city. Forty-five percent of this comes from Chemical Valley, and the rest comes from the neighbouring United States. The Canada Wide Daily Standard for MP2.5 is 30 micrograms per cubic meter. This standard was exceeded on one day during 2011.
The name "Sarnia" is Latin for Guernsey, and that Channel Island has been called Guernsey since 1635 when John Selden penned the Mare Clausum. Selden's 1635 work definitively states--"That a possession and Dominion of this Southern Sea hath been held also of by the Kings of England, is not a little manifest by the dominion of those islands that lie before the shore of France. For 'tis generally known that, after King John and Henry III were driven out of Normandy itself, that the isles of Caesaria and Sarnia (which we call Jersey and Guernsey), Ameney, and some other neighboring isles lying near the shores of Normandy and Bretaign, yea and situated within that creek of sea which is made by the shore Bretaign on the one side and Normandy on the other, have in the following ages, both now and heretofore, remained the Dominion of England." The Channel Islands lie between Southern England and Northern France, as indicated by Selden.
Claims that Sarnia is instead the older name of Sark are incorrect, as shown by Berry's 1814 treatise on the History of Guernsey. In this work, Berry shows that Sark's previous name was Sarmia, with an "M" instead of an "N." Berry further states that "...and thus applying Sarnia to Guernsey...". Since ancient Gaul was a Celtic society and the channel islands were disputed from 933 to 1635 by Duke of Normandy (see Sark), it is at least possible that the name Sarnia is of Celtic etymology, as well.
From "The Rapids" to "Port Sarnia" to "Sarnia", the city has undergone many changes—from a First Nations hunting ground to an up-and-coming settlement and an industrial centre. In 1821, Sir John Colborne was appointed Governor of the Isle of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Colborne served in that capacity from 1821 to 1828. In 1829, he arrived in York to become Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Also in 1829, Sarnia and Moore were surveyed by Boswell Mount, and named by Sir John Colborne, who first visited "The Rapids" in 1835 when the village was composed of 44 taxpayers, 9 frame houses, 4 log houses, 2 brick dwellings, 2 taverns and 3 stores. Previous to his visit, the villagers had decided that a change of name was necessary, but found it impossible to agree on a new name. The English settlers favoured the name "Buenos Aires" and the Scottish "New Glasgow". To break the deadlock, Sir John Colborne suggested Port Sarnia and on 4 January 1836, the name was formally adopted by a vote of 26 to 16.
First Nations peoples have lived, hunted, and traveled across the area for as many as six-thousand years as shown by archaeological evidence on Walpole Island. These peoples were drawn from an amalgamation of Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potowatami, clans, forming the Three Fires Confederacy, also called the Council of Three Fires. These clans came together through common links in both language and culture, developing a self-sufficient society where tasks and responsibilities were equally shared among all members. The Three Fires Confederacy helped shape the development of North America throughout the 18th Century, becoming a center of trade and culture. When war came to the new continent, the peoples of the Three Fires fought against the British in the Seven Years' War and on the side of the British in the War of 1812. Despite breaking numerous treaties with the United States prior to 1815, The Three Fires Confederacy finally signed the Treaty of Springwells in September of that year and ceased all hostilities directed at the United States.
After the War of 1812, the first European settlers were French loyalists who moved north from Detroit. They successfully traded with the Three Fires Confederacy to contribute to the growth of the area. Sarnia grew further throughout the 19th Century, and on 19 June 1856, the residents passed the Act to Incorporate the Town of Sarnia and the name Port Sarnia was officially changed to Sarnia effective 1 January 1857. The Act mentioned 1,000 inhabitants in three wards. The wealth of adjoining stands of timber, the discovery of oil in nearby Oil Springs in 1858 by James Miller Williams, and the arrival of the Great Western Railway in 1858 and the Grand Trunk Railway in 1859 all stimulated Sarnia's growth. The rail lines were later linked directly to the United States by the opening of the St. Clair Tunnel under the St. Clair River at Sarnia in 1890 by the Grand Trunk Railway, which was the first tunnel ever constructed under a river. The tunnel was an engineering marvel in its day, achieved through the development of original techniques for excavating in a compressed air environment. The Paul M. Tellier Tunnel, named after the retired president of CN in 2004, was bored and began operation in 1995. Accommodating double-stacked rail cars, it is located next to the original tunnel, which has been sealed.
Alexander Mackenzie, a stonemason by trade, came to Sarnia in 1846. He founded and then edited the Sarnia Observer for many years, and had many editorial battles with a Sarnia timber cutter named Malcolm Cameron. Mackenzie finally got the upper hand by printing an article showing Cameron had dealt unfairly with the Three Fires Confederacy. Although Cameron served two terms in Parliament, his further ambitions were thwarted because of the scandal. Mackenzie went on to serve as the second Prime Minister of Canada. He died in Toronto in 1892, aged 70, from a stroke related to a fall and was buried in Sarnia.
Canada Steamship Lines formed in 1913 from many previous companies that plied the waters of the St. Clair River. One of these companies was Northwest Transportation Company of Sarnia, which was founded in 1870. By 20 April 1914, when the residents passed Act to Incorporate the City of Sarnia, the population had grown to 10,985 in six wards. Sarnia officially became a city as of 7 May, also adopting the title "The Imperial City" because of the visit of Canada’s Governor General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, and his daughter Princess Patricia.
The city became a prominent deep water port during the 1920s when many of the shipping facilities that exist today were constructed. Sarnia’s port and harbour facilities regularly accommodate ships from all over the world. The waterway between Detroit and Sarnia is one of the busiest in the world with 100 million tons of shipping passing along this route each year. Ships pass up and down the river at the rate of about one every seven minutes during the shipping season. One of the largest grain elevators in Canada rises above the harbour, and next to it is the slip for the numerous bulk carriers that are part of the 100 million tons of shipping passing up and down the St. Clair River annually.
On 1 January 1991, Sarnia and the neighbouring town of Clearwater were amalgamated as the new city of Sarnia-Clearwater. The amalgamation was originally slated to include the village of Point Edward, although that village's residents resisted and were eventually permitted to remain independent of the city. On 1 January 1992, the city reverted to the name Sarnia.
Sarnia's population experienced a continual growth from 1961 to 1991, with a 1991 population of 74,376. In 2001 the population had declined by approximately 3,000. Since 2001 Sarnia's population has been growing slowly, with a 2011 population count of 72,366. Despite these modest gains, an April 2010 report "Sarnia-Lambton's Labour Market" states: "Large petrochemical companies are the community's main economic drivers. Over the recent past, several plants have shutdown, and of those still in operation, increased automation and outsourcing has led to significantly fewer workers" . These shutdowns and the resulting loss of jobs, and therefore population as workers search for employment elsewhere, have contributed to a general decline since the 1960s. In fact, one August 2011 study shows that the population will decline by 17% over the next twenty-five years. The Monteith-Brown study cited outlines a plan for restructuring the city based on hybrid zoning areas, which will bring work opportunities closer to the neighborhoods where people live. The City of Sarnia and Lambton County are also implementing an economic development plan with an emphasis on bioindustries and renewable energy. In the same article, Mayor Mike Bradley jokes that he'll attract new developers by giving them a ride in his vintage Mustang and providing them with a plate of Sarnia's world famous fresh cut fries under the Bluewater Bridge.
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
Some websites with more local information on Lambton County