Ask anyone if they know who Malcolm Cameron was, and most won’t know anything but the name. But we should. In my opinion, he was the true founder of our city.
In 1834, Cameron bought 200 acres from the Crown for the sum of 400 pounds ($1,600). His property extended from the St. Clair River to what was to become East Street, and from approximately Davis Street to George Street.
The first thing he did was lay out a few blocks in a grid pattern and offer the lots for sale. He then went back home to Lanark County where he encouraged his neighbours to move to the area, where the soil was good and trees plentiful. And come they did.
Tradesmen soon settled in the burgeoning hamlet, and many families in Sarnia-Lambton can trace their ancestry to Lanark.
Cameron moved back to his new community three years later and went into the lumbering business. Unable to find enough ships to carry his timber to Britain, he began a ship building enterprise. In one year, 1/5th of all the oak shipped from Canada to England came from Cameron’s mill.
As the town grew, he named several streets: Cameron for himself, Christina for his wife, Euphemia for his mother, and Lochiel for the region in Scotland where his family originated. We still have those street names today.
As well as a lumber mill, Cameron, seeing a gristmill owned by George Durand doing exceptionally well, built a mill of his own and called it Sarnia Mill. When he sold it to his manager, it became the King Milling Company, which survived until it burned down in the 1960’s.
Old-timers will remember the Colonial Hotel on Christina Street. What even they may not have known is that the hotel was built on the bones of Cameron’s home, with the original roofline visible from across the street.
Cameron was active in politics, and served as the representative of our riding as well as several others over the years. He was a teetotaler, and an outstanding spokesman for the Temperance Society. He was also one of several land speculators in Lambton. He was appointed Postmaster General, and at another time, was responsible for the very first census in Upper Canada.
For all of his many enterprises, Cameron died broke in 1876. He and his wife Christina are buried in Lakeview Cemetery.
Pat McLean is a local historian and a longtime member of the Sarnia Heritage Committee