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Errol: The city that never was

Published on

Phil Egan           

Special to The Sarnia Journal

It was there, and then it wasn’t.

Today, travellers setting out from Christina Street to journey along the road to Errol, or Errol Road as we know it more familiarly, will find their eastward path blocked by a cemetery – a subtle reminder if there ever was one of the fleeting mortality of big town dreams.

Located fourteen miles northeast of “The Rapids,” which was soon to be renamed Port Sarnia, Errol was a community with big dreams. The planned village was viewed by government as a future county town, and its citizens expected that over time Errol would develop into the region’s greatest city.

Scottish and Irish immigrants had begun settling in the area as early as 1833. The colonial government under Sir John Colborne was concerned about the virtually defenceless state of the western frontier after visiting the region in 1835. A military depot was planned for London, and Colborne wanted a road connecting London with Lake Huron on the frontier. Planners thought that Errol was the ideal community at which to terminate such a road.

A school was built, and a church. Errol established a postal service with Chatham, while the struggling hamlet of Sarnia was simply a brief stop along the postal route to Errol.

Commissioners Courts for the trials of “small causes” were held in a log tavern in Errol. Port Sarnians with grievances had to travel fourteen miles to Errol to have their cases heard.

Confident of the community’s golden future, more settlers arrived, and roads were built out from Errol east and west of the town. Grand plans were laid for the town’s appearance – streets were mapped out, including Front, Colborne, Maitland, James and Frances Streets. There was a spacious King’s Square, seen as the future site of the county buildings, and there was also a Main, Victoria, Clarence and Rear Street.

Three magistrates moved to the future county town, and a blacksmith shop and general store were established. Lots sold at high prices, and speculators purchased multiple lots. The Samiel became the first weekly newspaper printed in Lambton County, and publisher George Mckee used its pages to continue trumpeting the advantages and future of Errol.

It would all be for naught.

The fledgling Port Sarnia had something that Errol lacked – a champion who was also a winner. Historians today can only wonder what might have happened had Sarnia founder Malcolm Cameron chosen to move to Errol rather than Port Sarnia in 1834.

Already a member of the Upper Canada legislature at the time of his move from Perth, Cameron built a business empire in lumber, shipping and land acquisition.

As The Samiel railed in outrage in Errol, Cameron bought up huge tracts of virtual swamp land and began constructing the London Road, bypassing the Egremont Road connection to Errol and leaving the supposed county town alone and isolated.

The isolation of Errol led to its withering and ultimate demise. Buildings stood for as many as 50 years, but today, Errol is just a memory…Sarnia’s greatest rival, and the metropolis that never was.

 

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