Sarnia is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada (city population 71,419, census area population 88,793, in 2006). It is the largest city on Lake Huron and is located where the three upper Great Lakes empty into the St. Clair River.
The city's natural harbour first attracted the French explorer La Salle, who named the site "The Rapids". The name "Sarnia" was the Latin name for Guernsey in the Channel Islands just off the coast of Normandy, France. The Sarnia port is still an important centre for lake freighters and "salties" carrying cargos of grain and petroleum products. It is the largest community in Lambton County.
The aforementioned natural port and the salt caverns that exist in the surrounding areas, coupled with the oil discovered in nearby Oil Springs lead to the massive growth of the petroleum industry in this area. Since Oil Springs was the first place in North America to commercially drill for oil, the knowledge that was acquired there and strengthened in Sarnia led to Sarnians traveling the world teaching other nations how to drill for oil. What is now known as the Chemical Valley, located down river of Sarnia proper, once adorned the back of the Canadian ten dollar bill.
Sarnia was once the kissing capital of the world, but the Chilean capital, Santiago ousted Sarnia in 2003. On February 14, 2004, the Filipino capital of Manila claimed the title and is now the official kissing capital of the world.
Since 1938, Sarnia has been the Canadian side of one of busiest U.S.–Canada border crossings. The Blue Water Bridge (also known as the "Sarnia Bridge") links Sarnia's neighbouring village Point Edward to the city of Port Huron, Michigan.
From "The Rapids" to "Port Sarnia" to "Sarnia", the city has undergone many changes—from an Indian hunting ground to an up-and-coming settlement and an industrial centre. In 1812, Sir John Colborne was appointed Governor of the Isle of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. In 1829, the area and Townships of Sarnia and Moore were surveyed by Boswell Mount, and named by Sir John Colborne.
Previously thought to be the Roman name for the Isle of Guernsey, it has now been found that the name Sarnia has a Celtic origin.
In 1835, Colborne paid his first visit to what is now the city of Sarnia, then known as "The Rapids". Previous to his visit, the villagers had decided that a change of name was necessary, but found it impossible to agree on a new name. The English settlers favoured the name "Buenos Aires" and the Scottish, "New Glasgow". To break the deadlock, Sir John Colborne suggested "Port Sarnia" and on January 4, 1836, the name was formally adopted by a vote of 26 to 16.
A year previous to the adoption of the name Port Sarnia, the village was composed of 44 taxpayers, 9 frame houses, 4 log houses, 2 brick dwellings, 2 taverns and 3 stores. An Act to incorporate the Town of Sarnia was assented to on June 19, 1856. The name Port Sarnia was officially changed to "The Town of Sarnia" effective January 1, 1857. The population of the Town was mentioned in the Act at upwards of 1,000 inhabitants and there were three wards.
An Act to Incorporate the City of Sarnia was assented to on April 20, 1914. The name Town of Sarnia would be officially changed to "The Corporation of the City of Sarnia" effective May 7, 1914. This day was marked by the visit of Canada’s Governor General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, and his daughter Princess Patricia. It was also on this day that Sarnia adopted the title of "The Imperial City". The population of the City was mentioned at 10,985 in the Act, and there were six wards.
On January 1, 1991, The Corporation of the City of Sarnia and the Corporation of the Town of Clearwater (formerly the Township of Sarnia) officially became "The Corporation of the City of Sarnia-Clearwater". The new city would consist of four wards.
The City of Sarnia and the neighbouring Town of Clearwater amalgamated on January 1, 1991, to become the "City of Sarnia-Clearwater". The new community has a population of 70,000 and a total land area of 44,000 acres (180 km²).
The early growth of Sarnia was stimulated by the wealth of adjoining stands of timber, by the discovery of oil nearby and by the arrival of The Great Western Railway in 1858 and the Grand Trunk Railway in 1859. These rail lines were later linked directly to the United States by the opening of a rail tunnel under the St. Clair River at Sarnia in 1889. A convenient link for vehicular traffic was provided when the Bluewater Bridge was opened in 1938.
Sarnia became a prominent deep water port during the 1920s when many of the shipping facilities that exist today were constructed, including the winter harbour, the elevator slip and the large grain elevators.
While there had been a petroleum industry in the Sarnia area since the mid-1800s, the establishment of the Polymer Corporation in 1942 to manufacture synthetic rubber during World War II was the first step in establishing Sarnia as a major petrochemical centre.
The climate of Sarnia is considered a mild climate for Canadian standards. Winters are mild to cold and summers are warm to hot/humid. Lake Huron can create large temperature differences within the city in spring and early summer. Humidex readings can be quite high at times from late May to late September. Thunderstorms can become quite severe from April to September. The area enjoys a longer growing season than cities at similar latitudes, such as London, Ontario; Madison, Wisconsin; or Lansing, Michigan due to the lake influence. The mild climate of Sarnia is one of the reasons that Sarnia has attracted retirees.
When World War II threatened tropical sources of natural latex for rubber, Sarnia was selected as the site to spearhead development of synthetic petroleum-based rubbers for war materials, and Polymer corporation was built by Dow Chemical at the request of the Government of Canada. Large pipelines bring Alberta oil to Sarnia, where oil refining and petrochemical production have become mainstays of the city's economy. Shell Canada, Imperial Oil, and Suncor Energy (Sunoco) operate refineries in Sarnia. Large salt beds found under the city became a source of chlorine and another significant ingredient in the success of the "Chemical Valley". Chemical companies operating in Sarnia include NOVA Chemicals, Bayer (LANXESS and H.C. Starck), Imperial Oil, Dow Chemical, Royal Group Technologies, Cabot Corporation and Ethyl Corporation. Dow has announced plans to leave the area permantly by the end of 2008
While industry expanded south along the St. Clair, Sarnia's population tended to move out eastward along the Lake Huron shoreline. The sandy fresh water beaches are a popular tourist attraction, while the sheltered harbour houses marinas for recreational sailing. Since 1925, the 250-mile (400 km) Mackinac race from Sarnia/Port Huron to Mackinac Island, at the north end of the lake, has been the highlight of the sailing season, drawing more than 3000 sailors each year.
In 2002, Michael Moore filmed segments of his documentary Bowling for Columbine in Sarnia. He interviewed residents outside the local Taco Bell, the plaza beside it, the Famous Players' Lambton 9 movie theater and at a gun show in nearby Point Edward. In the summer of 2004 Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley (who was also interviewed in the film), offered to name Moore an honorary citizen of Sarnia. In his 2007 film Sicko, Michael Moore returned to Sarnia to film and interview his relatives at Sears and in the Marina restaurant at the former St. Clair Parkway site.
Sarnia City Council consists of nine elected members, including the Mayor, four City and County Council members, and four City Council members.
City and County Council members are elected to serve on both the City of Sarnia and Lambton County Councils, along with the Mayor. City Councillors serve on City Council only.
All Council members are elected for 4 year terms (as of November 2006 elections).
The current Mayor, Mike Bradley, has held the position since 1988 and is the longest serving person in this position. He was subsequently elected in 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006.
There are also 3 independent Christian elementary schools in Sarnia: Sarnia Christian School, Temple Christian Academy, and Bluewater Lighthouse Christian Academy A new Christian highschool, Patmos College will open in September 2007.
Lambton College is one of Ontario's 21 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology. It has a full time enrollment of 2,500 and a part-time enrollment of about 8,000. It is the city's only post-secondary school.
In 2005 The University of Western Ontario opened a Research and Development Park in Sarnia to work on a variety of research innovations.
Famous people from Sarnia include:
Sarnia Bayfest, which began in 1995 as "Festival by the Bay", is an annual concert festival that featured rock bands, typically during the third weekend of July. The festival has included big name acts such as Bon Jovi, The Black Crowes, Motley Crue, Kid Rock, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Our Lady Peace, David Lee Roth, The Foo Fighters, The Guess Who, Blink 182, Sum 41, ZZ Top, Collective Soul, among many others. Bayfest has since added Country and Western acts as it headlined Gretchen Wilson, Keith Urban and Brooks and Dunn with great success.