St. Thomas (2011 population 37,905) is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. It gained its city charter on March 4, 1881. The city is also the seat for Elgin County, although it is independent of the county. It is part of the London census metropolitan area.
The city, located at the intersection of two historical roads, was first settled in 1810. It was named the seat of the new Elgin County in 1844 and was incorporated as a village in 1852, as a town in 1861. In 1881 St. Thomas became a city. It was named after Thomas Talbot who helped promote the development of this region during the early 19th century.
The founder of the settlement that became St. Thomas was Capt. Daniel Rapelje, descendant of a Walloon family settled in New Amsterdam, now New York City, at its inception in the seventeenth century. In 1820, Rapelje, the town’s first settler, divided his land into town lots suitable for a village. Owner of the New England Mill, Rapelje subsequently donated two acres of land for the building of Old St. Thomas Church.
In 1871, the developing village of Millersburg, which included these lands east of the London and Port Stanley Railway, amalgamated with St. Thomas.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century several railways were constructed through the city, and St. Thomas became an important railway junction. A total of 26 railways have passed through the city since the first railway was completed in 1856. In the 1950s and 1960s, with the decline of the railway as a mode of transportation, other industry began to locate in the city, principally primary and secondary automotive manufacturing.
Jumbo the circus elephant died here on September 15, 1885, when hit by a locomotive following a performance. There is a life-sized commemorative statue that was erected in 1985.
In 1824, Charles Duncombe and John Rolph established the first medical school in Upper Canada, in St. Thomas, under the patronage of Colonel Thomas Talbot. Duncombe’s house now forms part of The Elgin Military Museum complex. Between 1881 and 1988 the city had a private woman’s school operating called Alma College which was destroyed by fire in 2008.
St. Thomas’ late 19th- early 20th century architecture includes the Elgin County Court House, Wellington Street public school, Myrtle St. School (demolished in 2014), Balaclava St. School, Elmdale School and its city hall, most designated heritage properties and all designed by former resident Neil R. Darrach.
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