History of St. Thomas

The city has come a long way since it was first settled in 1810. Named after Thomas Talbot, who helped promote the development of this region during the early 19th century, the city was named the seat of the new Elgin County in 1844 and was incorporated as a village in 1852, as a town in 1861 and as a city in 1881.  

In the late 19th century and early 20th century several railways were constructed through the city, and located exactly halfway between Detroit and Buffalo, St. Thomas became an important railway junction. By 1914 there were 8 different railways operating in St. Thomas with over 100 trains a day passing through the city, earning it the title of the 'Railway Capital of Canada', which is celebrated today in the revitalization of the original train station and Elgin County Railway Museum.

The trains contributed to a sadder part of our local history, when Jumbo, P.T. Barnum's famous elephant died here on September 15, 1885, when he was struck by a locomotive. Barnum was a trustee of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts and Jumbo's remains were sent there. Though only his tail and some ashes remain after a fire in 1975, Jumbo's memory lives on in a life-sized commemorative statue, erected in St. Thomas in 1985, the centennial of Jumbo's demise. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, with the decline of the railway as a mode of transportation, other industry,  principally automotive manufacturing, began to locate in the city with plants operated by Magna, Ford and Sterling Trucks along with many secondary producers driving economic prosperity for the next 50 years. 

Unfortunately, the auto industry suffered significantly in the the worldwide recession that began in 2008 and even St. Thomas could not completely escape unscathed. Several plant closings, including those of some of the city's larger employers, hindered economic growth. 

Fortunately, work had already begun on diversifying the economy and just as St. Thomas was able to successfully negotiate the decline of the railway industry, the city is well-positioned to prosper in the new economy. 

The citizens of St. Thomas have also prospered away from home, most notably including the NHL's Joe Thornton, NASCAR driver D.J. Kennington and the actresses Helen Shaver and Rachel McAdams.