Star of Bethlehem - Archibald, the brother of Duncan McKillop – whose descendants still manage the farm he cleared at 24810 Talbot Line – settled here in the early 1800s. A “fold” of Highland cattle can be found in this field; a hardy breed that survived in the Scottish...
Following the footsteps of Thomas Talbot
Land fit for a King: That’s what Thomas Talbot must have thought when he spied the fertile shores of Elgin County in 1803. For the next 30 years he oversaw as official land agent for 29 townships, the settlement of 3000 new residents in the area stretching from Woodstock to Windsor. Settlers fulfilled conditions, such as building roads and clearing land, before he finalized the grant. Talbot penciled in each settler’s name on his land chart so if they didn’t perform he could erase them and grant the land to someone else. By the time he died in 1853, the area he settled had a population of 60,000 people.
During the War of 1812, the settlement suffered losses from American raids, particularly during 1814 as American soldiers and sympathizers roamed freely along Lake Erie between Detroit and Brantford, burning mills and stealing horses. After the war, settlers flocked to the area: Highland Scots, Irish and Quakers from Pennsylvania. Towns like St. Thomas and Sparta appeared in the interior and many ports — Talbot and Stanley, for example — developed along Lake Erie’s shores to export grain and wood.
Railways arrived in the 1850s, spurring growth in the towns they connected and decline in others overlooked. Over the next 100 years five railways including three American lines ran through Elgin County and St. Thomas, which became the Railway Capital of Canada. It was here in 1885 that a locomotive killed Jumbo the elephant, owned by circus impresario P.T. Barnum.
With the establishment of plants such as the Carnation Milk Company and the Canadian Canners Limited in Aylmer as well as many local cheese factories and fisheries, agriculture and food processing became key industries. The sandy soils in the county’s east were ideal for tobacco production and the Imperial Leaf Tobacco Company opened a processing facility in Aylmer in the 1940s.
Today, Elgin County’s storied past can be found in the historic village of Sparta, the Southwold Earthworks near Iona, its many museums, and during annual events such as Doors Open in September. Experience the bounty of local gardens, orchards and vineyards at festivals such as Shedden’s Rosy Rhubarb Festival in June or at one of the area’s many restaurants. Create your own memories during the Talbot Trail yard sales on the last Saturday in August or at the Blue Flag beach in Port Stanley.