Chatham, one of the oldest communities in western Ontario, was founded in 1794. It was planned originally as a military settlement by John Graves SIMCOE, lieutenant-governor of UPPER CANADA. The military function did not develop, however, and settlement lagged until the 1830s. The names Kent and Chatham, given by Simcoe, are after the county of Kent, England, and in honour of the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt the Younger.
Lumbering was the first industry in Kent County, and once the land was cleared Chatham developed as a marketing centre for the surrounding rich agricultural area. Chatham became a town in 1855 but only became responsible for its own management in 1879 when it formally separated from Kent County.
In the1850s Chatham was a centre of anti-slavery activity and one of the northern terminuses for the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD that brought fugitives of slavery to Canada; descendants of thousands of these formerly enslaved people are an integral part of the local population. Buxton National Historic Site, 19 km south of Chatham, recalls the history of the Underground Railroad and what was then known as the Elgin Settlement. This BLACK settlement was founded in 1849, and descendants of some of its early settlers still live there.
As the largest community of Chatham-Kent, Chatham (pop 43 690, 2001c) continues its role as a marketing and retail centre. The administrative functions of the municipality are also centred in Chatham. Automotive manufacturing and supporting industries represent a large part of municipality's economic activity. Post-secondary education includes 2 campuses (Chatham and Wallaceburg) of the St Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology, and Ridgetown College, which is affiliated with the UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH.
There are 2 provincial parks within Chatham-Kent's boundaries: Wheatley and RONDEAU. A piece of Carolinian forest is preserved in the Clear Creek Forest. At the mouth of the Thames River is one of Ontario's oldest lighthouses. In October, Chatham's Heritage Days celebrates life along the Thames in the early 19th century.
Author DANIEL FRANCIS
Links to Other Sites
The official website for Chatham-Kent, ON.
War of 1812 in the Western District
An extensive website about the many border conflicts in the western Ontario region during the War of 1812. Check out the video clips and other special features. From the Windsor Public Library and partners.