‘Voices from Lambton’s Past’: Part 3 of ‘Old Home Week’

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From July 18 to July 25 of 1925, Sarnia celebrated a Sarnia and District OLD HOME WEEK. Each day included a different focus ranging from military to railways to Imperial Oil. The week was well planned with a souvenir booklet of more than 100 pages.

The following excerpt tells about the origin of the name “Sarnia.”

This is the last of three excerpts from the souvenir program for the Sarnia and District OLD HOME WEEK of 1925.

Origin of Name “Sarnia”

Sarnia has for civic godfather a most distinguished soldier and statesman, Sir John Colborne, First Baron Seaton, who was appointed governor of Upper Canada in 1828.

Sir John Colborne was born at Lyndhurst, Hampshire, England, on the 16th day of February, 1778. At an early age he entered the Army serving throughout the Peninsular campaign as Major of the 20th Regiment and military secretary to Sir John Moore. Napier, in his history of the Peninsular War speaks of Colborne as “a man of singular talent for war”.

Colborne was a leading actor in the desperate struggle which closed with the death of Sir John Moore at Corunna. Wolfe’s immortal poem “The death and burial of Sir John Moore” is familiar to every schoolboy.

We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning
By the struggling moonbeams misty light
And the lantern dimly burning.

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corpse to the rampart we hurried,
Not a soldier discharged a farewell shot
O’er the grave where our hero was buried.

When dying Sir John Moore dictated a despatch to the authorities at Whitehall commanding Colborne for his gallant conduct and recommending him for promotion.

Soon after Colborne received his commission as Lieut. Colonel of the 52nd Regiment, one of the three famous regiments comprising the Light Brigade. As Colonel Of the 52nd he charged and broke Napoleon’s Old Guards at Waterloo.

By some historians this feat is regarded as the turning point of the battle. In 1812 Colborne was appointed Governor of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, the Roman name of which was Sarnia.

Seven years later he became Governor of Upper Canada and in 1829 founded Upper Canada College. The same year governor surveyor Boswell Mount laid out what are now the Townships of Sarnia and Moore which were named by Sir John Colborne–“Sarnia” from the Roman name of Guernsey, and “Moore” after his lamented chief, Sir John Moore.

In 1835 a township was surveyed at Corunna and plans were drawn up for the erection of a fort on Stag Island to offset the American Fort Gratiot at the mouth of the St. Clair River. In the same year said John Colborne paid his first visit to what is now the city of Sarnia, then known as “The Rapids.”

Previous to Sir John’s visit the inhabitants were convinced that a change in the name of the village was necessary but while no party approved the designation “The Rapids” it seemed impossible to agree on a new name.

With a pitiful lack of imagination the English favored “Buenos Aires” and the Scotch “New Glasgow”. To break the deadlock Sir John Colborne suggested “Port Sarnia” and at a meeting held January 4, 1836, Capt. Richard Emeric Vidal, R.N. in the chair, by a vote of 26 to 16 the name of “Port Sarnia” was formally adopted.

A second excerpt, titled “Port Sarnia in 1836” read as follows:

A year previous to the adoption of the name “Port Sarnia” in 1836, there were forty-four taxpayers in the village, nine frame houses, four log houses, two brick dwellings, two taverns and there isthree stores. There was one carriage.

The hotels were operated by Allan and Crompton respectively. Allan’s hostelry was the well known “NNI” standing on the present site of the Belchamber apartments. It took its title from the sign “INN” which had been swung in the reverse position by the painter who erected it. It was widely known as the “Double-N-I.”

Durand’s store, the first in Sarnia, stood on what is now the southwest corner of the London Road and Christina Street, the property now owned by Mrs. R. S. Gurd. George Durand at that time was postmaster.

Cameron’s store, a two-story log building, occupied the present site of the Bank of Montréal, at the northeast corner of Lochiel and Front streets.

HISTORICAL NOTES from the author: 

The image accompanying this story is of the Durand store as it appeared in 1832, drawn by Mrs. Elizabeth Faethorne in that year.

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