About Essex County
Essex County is the southernmost county and census division in Canada located in Southwestern Ontario. Essex County has a population of 177,720, and the census division including Windsor and Pelee has a population of 388,782 as of the Canada 2011 Census, making it one of the most populous divisions in Ontario. Essex County is largely composed of clay-based soils, with sandy soils along the beaches and shores. For the most part, Essex County is flat farmland, with some woodlots. There is a small 30–50 foot (10–15 m) high ridge near Kingsville and Leamington in the southern part of the county, and large marshland near Hillman Marsh Conservation Area, and Point Pelee National park. The most built-up part of the county is the city of Windsor, Ontario. Excluding Windsor (which is a Separated Municipality), Leamington is the most urbanized part of the county.
Essex County hosts some of the warmest summer weather in Canada, given that it is the southernmost part of Canada. The area always has four distinct seasons, with cold, wet winters with considerable amounts of snow, and warm or hot summers. Early spring and late summer are the likeliest time for thunderstorm development. Thunderstorms often break out every five to seven days during the spring and summer. (Windsor, Ontario is considered by some as the “thunderstorm capital” of Canada). Many storms are categorized as severe, often bringing small to significant-sized hail and strong, possibly damaging winds. Tornadoes can be likely with certain storms. Southwestern Ontario averages the most tornadoes in Canada. Temperatures usually cool by mid to late October, making way for winter. Snowfall will usually start between mid-November and late-December. The year 2011 was below average for snowfall. Several winter temperatures were milder than normal, limiting the amount of snowfall and snow accumulation in the Essex County Area.
Essex was one of the first counties to be settled in Upper Canada, later to become Ontario, mostly by French people in the mid-18th century. Around 1749, the first permanent settlements began to appear on what is now the Canadian side of the Detroit River which despite its name is not a river as such, but a strait connecting Lake Huron and the smaller Lake Saint Clair in the north to Lake Erie in the south, as part of the Great Lakes system in the middle of the North American continent. Lower down the river, lands were occupied by native people known as Wyandots or Hurons, around the Mission of Bois Blanc (French for White Wood) as its centre, opposite the island of the same name. The Mission was eventually abandoned and re-established closer to what became Sandwich Township, and was closer to the safety of the British fortified Fort Detroit. When farmers first arrived, they encountered difficulty in trying to clear the extremely thick forests that covered Essex County. The farmers grew to “hate” the trees, and chopped them down, starved them from nourishment by cutting deep gashes in the bark, and burned them to clear the way to get to the fertile soils underneath. The fires were so intense, that the reddish glow could be seen from Fort Chicago, 300 miles (500 km) away, as millions of cords of wood burned.
Settlement continued southward along the river and was known as Petite Côte (Small Coast), which was a reference to the shorter length of river frontage compared to the Detroit/American side. Names such as LaSalle and Ojibway appeared, which continue to be in use. The first road in Ontario was laid out to connect the settlements, which is now over 200 years old and is known as Former King’s Highway 18 (now County Road 20).
When river frontage along the Petite Côte was occupied, settlement began to extend toward Lake St. Clair, which became known as the “Assumption Settlement”. In the late 18th Century and early 19th century the French ventured east along the south shore of Lake Saint Clair and settled in the present-day areas of Belle River (Belle-Rivière), Rochester, Tecumseh, Saint-Joachim and Stoney Point (Pointe-aux-Roches). These communities still have a large francophone population.
Amherstburg and Sandwich were the first towns established in Essex County, both in 1796 after the British finally ceded and evacuated Fort Detroit along the Detroit River under the terms of the “Jay Treaty” negotiated by John Jay, and signed in 1794, which upheld the original boundary lines along the Great Lakes between the U.S.A. and Upper Canada by the Treaty of Paris of 1783 and the wider set of treaties known as the Peace of Paris which ended the American Revolution (1775-1783) and overseas European and multicontinental wars, and ceded the territory of eastern North America to be the United States. Fort Malden was built near Amherstburg, opposite Bois Blanc Island, separating the British military presence from the more heavily populated area of Sandwich upstream, and positioned strategically to control the entrance of the river from Lake Erie and Lake Huron to the north. The populations of both towns were augmented by people immigrating from the southern United States after the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), from the new City of Detroit who chose to remain British subjects, known as “Loyalists” or “United Empire Loyalists”.
After the American Revolution, and the War of 1812 (1812-1815), people continued to migrate north to the area, and coming from the east from Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River of Lower Canada seeking land. Settlers began to move eastward along the north shore of Lake Erie. Land was purchased from the Indians in the southern half of the current county, located in the four townships formerly known as Gosfield North and South and Colchester North and South. The British Court made land available for settlement, provided that the land bear certain improvements within a year and that it not be used for speculation. This area became known as the “New Settlement” (as compared to the “Old Settlement” of the towns of Amherstburg and Sandwich. Settlers in this area included Hessians who fought for the British against the American rebels, (especially known in history at the Battle of Trenton in New Jersey on Christmas 1776) and Pennsylvania Dutch pacifists (Mennonites, many from Pennsylvania).
Formation of Essex County
In 1791, the province of Upper Canada was formed. In 1792, Upper Canada was divided into nineteen counties, of which Essex was the eighteenth and part of the Western District. At that time, the eastern boundary of Essex County extended further east into what is now Kent County. Settlement continued, on January 1, 1800 an Act for the Better Division of the Province established the Townships of Rochester, Mersea, Gosfield, Maidstone, Sandwich and Malden.
Settlement 1820 to 1850
Longer roads began to appear in the County after the War of 1812, the first of which followed Indian trails. Colonel Thomas Talbot contributed to road development, and Talbot Road was named for him. Talbot Road followed a natural ridge of glacial moraine which stretched from Windsor to Point Pelee. The establishment of good roads led to further settlement along the ‘Middle Road’ and in the area of what is now Leamington. Settlers of this era were often emigrants from Britain and Ireland; in the 1840s the Potato Famine led to significant immigration. The village of Maidstone was the centre of the Irish community, and an area known as the “Scotch Colony” appeared along the shore of Lake St. Clair to the north. Essex County was also a destination of the “Underground Railroad” by which African slaves in the 19th-century United States escaped to freedom. The John Freeman Walls Historic Site in Maidstone (Lakeshore) is testament to this period. Many of the descendants of the fugitives moved back to the United States to support the Northerners (Union Army) in the American Civil War, (1861-1865), or to reconnect with family after emancipation.
Economic development 1850 to Present
In 1854 the Great Western Railway connected the Detroit frontier with the east, crossing Essex County. The Canadian terminal was in Windsor, which consequently forged ahead of the other towns of the county. Other railway lines were built that connected settlements in Kingsville, Harrow, Essex and Leamington. By the late 19th century Essex County had seen fur trading and logging, land clearing and farming, road building and railway development, saw mills and gristmills, railway stations and water ports. By this time the forests were disappearing, replaced by fertile farmland. Also noticeable in some farmers’ fields, are oil pumps, particularly near Belle River and Leamington, in the northern and eastern parts of the county, respectively. This is from oil shale within the bedrock of the Marcellus Formation. Essex County is home to Canada’s largest wind farm as of June 2012. This is due to both its ideal wind conditions and abundance of available farmland.
Essex County restructuring, 1990s.
In 1992, discussions began to take place to reduce the number of individual municipalities, which at the time numbered 21 in the County. This culminated on January 1, 1999 when a Minister’s Order by the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing was implemented, putting in place the new municipal structure for the County of Essex.
Anderdon – Now part of Amherstburg
Colchester North – Now part of Essex
Colchester South – Now part of Essex
Gosfield North – Now part of Kingsville
Gosfield South – Now part of Kingsville
Maidstone – Now part of Lakeshore
Malden – Now part of Amherstburg
Mersea – Now part of Leamington
Pelee – Still exists
Rochester – Now part of Lakeshore
Sandwich East – Parts in Windsor and in Tecumseh
Sandwich South – Now in Tecumseh
Sandwich West – Parts in LaSalle and in Windsor
Tilbury North – Now in Lakeshore
Tilbury West – Now in Lakeshore