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Our History



This page is for all you history buffs out there. Enjoy!


 The southern reaches of the Town of Essex have a long and distinguished history as the oldest English settlement in Essex County. The origins of the settlement that arose along the north shore of Lake Erie date back to the late 1700s, a time of rapid change in the political landscape of North America.

The village known today as Colchester Centre was the first village laid out in Upper Canada west of Niagara. Lots 68, 69 and 70 were identified on late 18th century maps as "land reserved for a village," but settlement here did not fully materialize until a new survey conducted in 1841 laid out one-acre village lots.

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Settlement along the lakeshore came much earlier and can be traced back to 1784 when Captain William Caldwell, looking to provide new homes for disbanded British soldiers and Loyalists, secured a tract of land from Mill Creek to Malden Township. A survey conducted in 1787 marked out 97 narrow ribbons of land measuring approximately 200 acres each. These lots were created in the French tradition and fronted on Lake Erie to facilitate easy communication along the "water highway" as roads were yet to be built.

The tract of land was originally called "The New Settlement" to distinguish it from older settlements at L'Assomption and Petite Côté, both situated on the Detroit River. Of the 121 people living along the lake in the summer of 1790, only three were not Loyalists or disbanded soldiers. The settlement was now called "Two Connected Townships in the New Settlement, Lake Erie."



When John Graves Simcoe took up his post as the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, he divided the province into 19 counties. The southernmost county became Essex County and the settlement area along Lake Erie was divided into two named townships: Colchester and Gosfield. Colchester's date of origin is thus tied to the Proclamation of 1792.

From 1792 to 1880, Colchester was a single township that extended from the north shore of Lake Erie to the centre of Essex County. As lumber and drainage operations slowly opened the interior, new settlers arrived. Notable among them were groups of African-American freedom seekers. Being so near the American border but distant from urban populations, Colchester became a last stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by African-American slaves to escape to Canada. Elijah McCoy, the son of two such freedom seekers, was born and raised here. Patented in July 1872, his revolutionary lubricating cup system had engine buyers soon asking for "The Real McCoy."

During the 19th century, commerce flourished along Lake Erie as lumber, crops, and other goods and resources were exported by ship. Growth in population and changing transportation methods drew attention away from Colchester and onto inland settlements with railway crossings. When the Canada Southern Railway laid tracks across the Talbot Trail in 1872, the village of Essex Centre emerged in the northeast corner of Colchester Township and quickly grew into a key transportation hub. When Hiram Walker's Lake Erie and Detroit River Railway laid tracks through Harrow in 1888, that town also began to grow. At the turn of the 20th century, the railway was credited with helping Oxley build a thriving summer tourist industry.

Recognizing changing settlement patterns and the need to provide fair representation to its citizens, the Province in 1880 divided Colchester along the 7th Concession Road into two townships - Colchester North and Colchester South. On January 1, 1999, the former towns of Essex and Harrow, along with the former townships of Colchester North and Colchester South, were brought together through a provincially mandated amalgamation process. This merger effectively restored the boundaries of Colchester Township as it had been established in 1792.

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