To really get to know an area, a person needs first to understand its history. Let’s learn about what brought people to London, Ontario, and discover how the city developed from its humble beginnings.
The history of London begins over 10,000 years ago. The present-day site of London was then occupied by three villages: the Neutral, Odawa, and Ojibwe. These populations were driven out of the area in the middle part of the 17th century by the Iroquois.
Things changed when a British General who happened to be the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada visited the area. This man, John Graves Simcoe, who envisioned the site as the future capital of the region named the village accordingly in 1826. Unfortunately for Simcoe, London did not become the capital he envisioned since York (which, of course, is now Toronto) did become the capital.
Even though Simcoe was given the distinction of naming the new town, London was part of the Talbot Settlement. Colonel Thomas Talbot was the main person in charge of colonizing the area. Talbot oversaw the surveying of the land and building of roads and government buildings.
London popped up occasionally as being important in the history of Upper Canada.
For example, during the War of 1812, the Battle of Longwoods was fought in the area that is now southwest London.
Later, during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, which was an uprising against the British rule, the area maintained Britsh support. As a reward, the British government placed one of its garrisons there. This increased the town’s population as soldiers moved to London. As the soldiers came, so did businesses.
Things were not always easy. The settlement suffered from an outbreak of cholera in 1832, and in 1845, a fire devastated 150 structures of the town.
By the time the railroad came to town in 1853, London was home to a fire department, many churches, a weekly newspaper, and a post office. In the 1860s, a spring was discovered near London, and wealthy Canadians visited the area when entrepreneurs built a spa at the site. Several tanneries, oil refineries, flour mills, and brewing companies opened for business as the population continued to grow.
Even though London continued to show signs of growth, the inhabitants were not immune to disaster. A ferry capsized in the Thames River in 1881, and 200 passengers drowned in the river. Floods in 1883 and 1937 also killed more inhabitants of London as well as destroying homes and commercial properties. And in 1898, the floor of the City Hall collapsed and killed 23 people.
Currently, London’s primary industries are medical research, insurance, and technology. The largest employer is the London Health Services Centre, and 3M, London Life Insurance Company, Imperial Oil, GoodLife Fitness, and Labatt and Carling Breweries all have main offices there.
Even though London did not become the area’s capital as Simcoe envisioned, London continues to thrive today. Simcoe, who also named the local river after the English river Thames, would probably be thrilled to see how the town developed a thriving metropolis.