Place:Western District, Upper Canada, Canada

NameWestern District
TypeAdministrative region
Located inUpper Canada, Canada     (1792 - 1841)
Also located inCanada West, Canada     (1841 - 1849)
See alsoLondon District, Upper Canada, Canadaadministrative region formed from part of the Western District in 1800
Essex, Ontario, Canadaadministrative county following abolition of the district system in 1849
Kent, Ontario, Canadaadministrative county following abolition of the district system in 1849
Lambton, Ontario, Canadaadministrative county following abolition of the district system in 1849
Much of the information in this article has been gathered from Ontario GenWeb and The Archives of Ontario online article: The Changing Shape of Ontario

The Western District was called Hesse District from 1788 to 1792. The Western District originally consisted of that part of Upper Canada west of a line running north from Long Point on Lake Erie to Georgian Bay. The remaining boundaries were all bodies of water: Lake Erie, Detroit River, Lake St Clair, St Clair River, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The district town was Sandwich, later renamed Windsor.

The Western District originally consisted of the area that is now found in the counties of Brant, Bruce, Dufferin, Elgin, Essex, Grey, Huron, Kent, Lambton, Middlesex, Norfolk, Oxford, Perth, and Wellington. The southern part of the county had been settled by French settlers during the time of New France (pre 1763). After 1800, as population in the district increased, so did the demands on administration. The London District was formed in 1800 leaving the Western District with Essex, Kent, Lambton and Huron (which was not settled till later). Oxford, Brant and Perth were not carved out of their neigbouring counties until later. There were further re-arrangements of the areas making up the individual districts in the 1830s. When the district system was abolished in 1849 the Western District only included the counties of Essex, Kent, and a part of Lambton.

The principal town of the Western District was originally London and later Chatham.

Maps of the Early Ontario Districts

The Archives of Ontario provides two Maps of the original Districts of Upper Canada as they were in 1788 before Upper Canada was created and three years later in 1792. The orignal counties of western Ontario had been laid out by the time of the second map; they were to change a great deal over the next two centuries.

A further series of maps illustrate the growth of the District system across the province.

Ontario Districts: an Explanation

When Upper Canada was formed in 1788 it was immediately divided into four districts: Hesse, Nassau, Mecklenburg and Lunenburg. In 1792 these names were changed to Western, Home, Midland and Eastern respectively. The expansion in population of the province, and in the area settled, obliged the number of Districts to increase. By 1849 there were twenty individual districts, each with a number of counties under its jurisdiction.
After 1841, when the government of Upper Canada was reorganized and the province became known as Canada West, some of the responsibilities of the districts were transferred to local municipal councils in cities and towns (e.g. property tax collecting), although the districts still retained complete control over judicial matters.
From 1788 until 1849 in the area which is now Ontario, the District was the layer of government responsible for all judicial and administrative functions that could be carried out at a level below that of the province itself. Counties existed in the province from 1792, but they were little more than electoral and census divisions.
In 1849 the Districts were abolished and their functions were taken over by the individual counties or by united counties working within one municipal administration.

Most of the government documents the genealogist may require—those dealing with land, the registration of marriages, and minor criminal proceedings--will have been produced by the District before 1849 and by the Counties after that date. Serious land conflicts, or those concerning more than one District, will have found their way into Provincial Records. The same will have been true of criminal matters. Divorce was not even a provincial matter, but a federal one, until 1930.