London is the seat of Middlesex County, at the forks of the non-navigable Thames River, approximately halfway between Toronto, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. London and the surrounding area (roughly, the territory between Kitchener-Waterloo and Windsor) is collectively known as Southwestern Ontario. The City of London is a single-tier municipality, politically separate from Middlesex County though it remains the official county seat.
London was first permanently settled by Europeans between 1801 and 1804 by Peter Hagerman and became a village in 1826. Since then, London has grown into the largest Southwestern Ontario municipality and the city has developed a strong focus towards education, health care, tourism, and manufacturing.
The current location of London was selected as the site of the future capital of Upper Canada in 1793 by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe named the settlement after London, England and renamed the river. However, this choice of a capital site in the midst of extensive hardwood forests was rejected by Guy Carleton, (Governor Dorchester). In 1814, there was a skirmish during the War of 1812 in what is now southwest London at Reservoir Hill, formerly Hungerford Hill.
The village of London was not founded for another third of a century after Simcoe's efforts, in 1826, and not as the capital he envisioned. Rather, it was administrative seat for a great area west of the actual capital, Toronto. More locally, it was part of the Talbot Settlement, named for Colonel Thomas Talbot, the chief coloniser of the area, who oversaw the land surveying and built the first government buildings for the administration of the Western Ontario peninsular region. Together with the rest of Southwestern Ontario that formed the settlement, the village benefited from Talbot's provisions, not only for building and maintaining roads, but also for assignment of access priorities to main routes to productive land, rather than to Crown and clergy reserves, which were receiving preference in the rest of Ontario.
In 1832, the new settlement suffered an outbreak of cholera. London proved a centre of strong Tory support during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, notwithstanding a brief rebellion led by Dr. Charles Duncombe, who was forced to flee to the U.S. Consequently, the British government located its Ontario peninsular garrison there in 1838, increasing its population with soldiers and their dependents, and the business support populations they required.
On April 13, 1845, fire destroyed much of London, which was at the time largely constructed of wooden buildings. One of the first casualties was the town's only fire engine. On January 1, 1855, London was incorporated as a "city" (10,000 or more residents).
In the 1860s, a sulphur spring was discovered at the forks of the Thames River while industrialists were drilling for oil. The springs became a popular destination for wealthy Ontarians, until the turn of the 20th century when a textile factory was built at the site, replacing the spa.
"Sir John Carling, the noted brewer and Tory MP for London, in an address in 1901, gave three turning-points to explain the rise of London; the location of the district court and administration in London in 1826; the stationing of the Imperial military garrison there in 1838; and the arrival of the railway in 1853. His analysis is quite correct.
In 1875, London's first iron bridge, the Blackfriars Street Bridge, was constructed, replacing a succession of flood-failed wooden structures that had provided the city's only northern road crossing of the river. A rare example of a bowstring truss bridge, it remains open to vehicular traffic. The Blackfriars, amidst the kilometer plus of river-distance between the Carling Brewery and the historic Tecumseh Park (and including a major mill), linked London with its western suburb of Petersville, named for Squire Peters of Grosvenor Lodge. That community joined with the southern subdivision of Kensington in 1874, formally incorporating as the municipality of Petersville. Although changing its name in 1880 to the more inclusive "London West", it remained a separate municipality until ratepayers voted for amalgamation with London in 1897, largely due to repeated flooding of the village, with its lower ground. The most serious flood was that of July 1883, which resulted in serious loss of life and property devaluation. This area retains much original and attractively maintained 19th C tradespeople's and workers' housing, including Georgian cottages as well as larger houses, and a distinct sense of place. The renamed Labatt Park is a very well tended sports field beside a newly designed and landscaped promenade walk along the dike, overlooking Harris Park, constructed by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. London's eastern suburb, the aptly named London East, was (and remains) an industrial centre, which also incorporated in 1874. Attaining the status of town in 1881, it continued as a separate municipality until concerns over expensive waterworks and other fiscal problems led to amalgamation in 1885. The southern suburb of London was collectively known as "London South". It includes the distinctive Wortley Village. Never incorporated, South was annexed to the city in 1890. By contrast, the settlement at Broughdale on the city's north end had clear identity, adjoined the university, and was not annexed until 1961.
While other Protestant cities in Ontario (notably Toronto) remained under the sway of the Orange Order well into the 20th Century, London abandoned sectarianism in the 19th Century. In 1877, Catholic and Protestant Irish in London formed the Irish Benevolent Society, which was open to both Catholics and Protestants and forbade the discussion of Irish politics. The influence of the Orange Order (and of Catholic organizations) quickly waned. The Society survives to this day.
On May 24, 1881, the ferry SS Victoria capsized in the Thames River, drowning approximately 200 passengers, the worst disaster in London's history. Two years later, on July 12, 1883, the first of the two most devastating floods in London's history killed 17 people. The second major flood, of April 26, 1937, destroyed more than a thousand houses and caused millions of dollars in damages, particularly in West London. After repeated floods the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in 1952 opened Fanshawe Dam on the North Thames, to control the downstream rivers. Financing for this project came from the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Other natural disasters include a 1984 tornado that led to damage on several streets in the White Oaks area of South London.
London's role as a military centre continued into the 20th Century during the two World Wars, serving as the administrative centre for the Western Ontario district. Today there is still an active Garrison Support Unit in the city at Wolseley Barracks.
London annexed many of the surrounding communities in 1961, including Byron and Masonville, adding 60,000 people and more than doubling its area. After this amalgamation, suburban growth accelerated as London grew outward in all directions, creating expansive new subdivisions such as Westmount, Oakridge, Whitehills, Pond Mills and White Oaks.
In 1993, London annexed nearly the entire Town of Westminster, a large, primarily rural municipality directly south of the city, including the town of Lambeth, Middlesex County, Ontario. With this massive annexation, London almost doubled in area again, adding several thousand more residents. London now stretches south to the boundary with Elgin County.
The 1993 annexation made London one of the largest urban municipalities in Ontario. Intense commercial/residential development is presently occurring in the southwest and northwest areas of the city. Opponents of this development cite urban sprawl, destruction of rare Carolinian zone forest and farm lands, replacement of distinctive regions by generic malls, and standard transportation and pollution concerns as major issues facing London. The City of London is currently the tenth-largest city in Canada, tenth-largest census metropolitan area in Canada, and the fourth-largest city in Ontario.
Historically, the Board of Control was introduced during a period of expansion so the ward councillors could deal with ward issues while the board dealt with problems affecting the entire city. Although London has many ties to Middlesex County, it is now "separated" and the two have no jurisdictional overlap. Exception here is granted to the Middlesex County courthouse and former jail as the judiciary is administered directly by the province.
The composition of the City Council was challenged by two ballot questions during the civic election of 2003 on whether city council should be reduced in size and whether the Board of Control should be eliminated. Councillor Fred Tranquilli, Ward 3, was responsible for these ballot intiatives. He presented a re-designed form of local government entitled 'A Better Way', which was a refinement and modification of a similar proposal presented by the Urban League of London after the City's last annexation in 1996. Both would have seen the council reduced to ten wards and Board of Control eliminated. The council could not come to a determination and as a result decided to put two questions on the ballot for the fall 2003 election.
While the "yes" votes prevailed in both instances, the voter turnout failed to exceed 50 per cent and was therefore insufficient to make the decisions binding under the Municipal Act. When the council voted to retain the status quo Imagine London, a citizens group, petitioned the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to change the ward composition of the city from seven wards in a roughly radial pattern from the downtown core to 14 wards defined by communities of interest in the city which includes a separate ward for the core.
The OMB ruled for the petitioners in December, 2005 and while the city sought leave to appeal the OMB decision via the courts, leave was denied on February 28, 2006 in a decision of Superior Court's Justice McDermid.
In response, the city conceded to the governance change, but asked for special legislation from the province to ensure that there will only be one councillor in each of the 14 new wards, not two. On June 1, 2006 the Ontario bill received royal assent which guarantees that London will have one councillor per ward.
In the provincial government, London is represented by:
In the federal government, London is represented by:
Special City of London initiatives in Old East London, such as the creation of the Old East Heritage Conservation District under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act, special Building Code policies and Facade Restoration Programs, are helping to create a renewed sense of vigour in the East London Business District.
London is home to over 100 heritage properties, registered at all levels of government. A variety of architectural styles can be found in London, including:
The Thames River dominates London's geography, with the North Thames River and Thames River meeting at the centre of the city known as "The Forks" or "The Fork of the Thames." The North Thames runs through the man-made Fanshawe Lake, located in northeast London. Fanshawe Lake was created by Fanshawe Dam, which was constructed to protect the areas down river from catastrophic flooding which affected the city on two occasions in the past (1883 and 1937).
London's downtown mall, the Galleria, since 2000 has suffered after the collapse of Eaton's and the Hudson's Bay Company moving out of the mall. Currently the large spaces which were left empty by the departure of Eaton's and the Bay have been replaced by London's central library which now resides in that space. Other sections of the Galleria have also lost businesses and have been replaced by information centres for London's major post-secondary education schools, Fanshawe College and the University of Western Ontario. Some have accused London's extensive suburban malls and suburban expansion for causing business to be moving to the suburbs instead of remaining downtown.
For many years, London has been deemed a "test market" for Canada. International companies have used London to introduce their products and companies into Canada. They use London because it is considered an average Canadian city, in that respect similar to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In the five years between 1996 and 2001, the population of metropolitan London grew by 3.8%, compared with an increase of 6.1% for Ontario province as a whole. Population density of metro London averaged 185.3 people per square kilometre, compared with an average of 12.6 for Ontario altogether.
The majority of Londoners profess a Christian faith, some 75.8% (Protestant 44%, Roman Catholic: 27.9%, other Christian, mostly Orthodox: 3.9%). Other religions include Islam: 2.7%, Buddhism: 0.6%, and Judaism: 0.4%. There are also centres for Theosophy and Eckankar devotees, as well as a centre for Unitarians. There is also an active Bahá'í community in London.
According to the 2006 census, the racial makeup of the city of London is as follows:
Comparatively speaking, London manages its street crime well, though Marijuana can be easily found, though still illegal, as well as ecstasy. London has witnessed an increase in crack cocaine consumption and crystal meth use is also on the rise. Pharmaceutical drugs, such as morphine, oxycodone and other opiates are increasing in use.
Making headlines in the 1970s serial killer Russell Johnson operated in London, Ontario, and southwestern Ontario often scaling high-rise apartment buildings to reach his victims. He was captured and jailed in 1978.
UWO, founded in 1878, has 1,164 faculty members and almost 29,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It has consistently placed in the top three in the annual Maclean's magazine rankings of Canadian universities. The Richard Ivey School of Business, part of UWO, was formed in 1922 and has been ranked among the best business schools in the country; however, at present, the school is ranked fourth, behind Schulich, Queen’s, and Desautels. UWO has three affiliated colleges: Brescia University College, founded in 1919, Canada's only university-level women's college; Huron University College, founded in 1863 (also the founding college of UWO) and King's University College, founded in 1954. These are liberal arts colleges with religious affiliations: Huron with the Anglican Church of Canada, King's and Brescia with the Roman Catholic Church.
Fanshawe College has an enrolment of approximately 13,000 students, including 3,500 apprentices and more than 200 international students from over 80 countries, as well as almost 40,000 students in part-time continuing education courses. Fanshawe's Key Performance Indicators (KPI) have been over the provincial average for many years now, with increasing percentages year by year.
The Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology (OIART) is also in London.
Other sports teams from London include:
The University of Western Ontario teams play under the name Mustangs. The university's football team plays at TD Waterhouse Stadium. Western's Baseball Club (defending OUA champions) plays all their home games at Labatt Park.
Labatt Park, which opened in 1877, is the world's oldest operating baseball grounds still in its original location.
The World Lacrosse Championship was played in London from July 13 to July 22, 2006. Twenty-two teams from around the world competed, with Canada beating the U.S. in the final. The event also includes a "Festival of Lacrosse", with tournaments in at least six divisions, ranging from an under-19 division to an over-50 ("Centurion") division.
London's diverse cultural offering boosts its tourism industry. The city is home to many festivals throughout the summer including the London International Children's Festival, the Home County Folk Festival, the Taste of London festival, London Ribfest which is the second largest rib festival in North America, Pride London Festival one of the biggest Pride festivals in Ontario, and Sunfest, a World music and culture festival — the second biggest in Canada after Caribana in Toronto.
Musically, London is home to Orchestra London, the London Youth Symphony, the Amabile Choirs of London, Canada and also the Guy Lombardo Museum. There are several museums and theatrical facilities including Museum London, which is located at the Forks of the Thames. Museum London exhibits art by a wide variety of local, regional and national artists including Paul Peel and Greg Curnoe. London is also home to the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, owned by the University of Western Ontario (UWO), with a reconstructed Neutral Nation village, the McIntosh Gallery which is an art gallery on the UWO campus and The Grand Theatre which is a professional theatre with a secondary stage named the McManus Studio. Other places and events of artistic and cultural interest include:
London is currently one of the largest cities in North America not to have an urban freeway serving the metropolitan area. This is despite plans to construct such a road (around the city's periphery) which have existed for decades, but have recently been revived. Notable in the 1960s and early 1970s was an effort to route, through the north and east sections of the city or in the rural areas beyond, an expressway from Sarnia. The assorted route options (in-city that served users but disrupted neighbourhoods, or out-of-the-city that avoided neighbourhoods but did not serve city users) were fought over, but in the end, city council rejected the freeway, and instead accepted the now named Veterans Memorial Parkway to serve the east end.
Another freeway near the city's western edge is also under consideration, as future traffic volumes for the city may outpace capacity for the north/south western arteries, even with massive widening projects. Some Londoners have expressed concern that the absence of a local freeway may hinder London's economic and population growth, being far behind growth rates of other Canadian cities for some time. Many other Londoners have voiced concern that such a freeway would destroy environmentally sensitive areas and further contribute to London's already uncontrolled suburban sprawl.
Although there are many factors at play, proponents of the project attribute the lack of progress largely to litigation by environmental lobbies and local home-owners. Critics of the plan have voiced concern that the property-development companies that back the plan have little regard for the integrity and history of London's neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, the recent road capacity improvements to Veterans Memorial Parkway (formerly named Airport Road and Highway 100) in the industrialized east end does represent some small movement toward the pro-freeway agenda and may aid some traffic (largely coming off the 401) in reaching the east and north ends of the city. However, the Veterans Memorial Parkway has received criticism (like Airport Road in the past) for not being built as a proper highway and having intersections instead of interchanges.
Aboutown Transportation is a diversified transportation company based in the city that operates the North Link, intercity bus service from Owen Sound, and six transit bus routes between Kings and Brescia Colleges, and the main campus at the University of Western Ontario.
Like most cities of its size or larger, London has several taxi and for-hire limousine services and the London Transit Commission has 38 bus routes throughout the city. London is believed to be the only jurisdiction in North America where executive-class, sedan limousines can accept street-flags and wait for walk-on customers outside bars and restaurants, a popular by-product of the city's controversial and on-going taxi wars. Recently, London has constructed cycleways along some of its major arteries in order to encourage a reduction in automobile use.
The city of London is considering BRT (bus rapid transit), GLR (ground light rail), and/or HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes to help it achieve its long-term transportation plan. Additional cycleways are planned for integration in road-widening projects, where there is need and sufficient space along routes. An expressway/freeway network is possible along the eastern and western ends of the city, from Highway 401 (and Highway 402 for the western route) past Oxford Street, potentially with another highway, joining the two in the city's north end. A parclo interchange between Highway 401 and Wonderland Road is also planned for completion by 2009, to move traffic more efficiently through the city's southwest end. Also in the works is revival of service on the London and Port Stanley Railway.