Chatham-Kent, Ont, incorporated as a municipality in 1998, population 103,671 (2011), 108,177 (2006). The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is located on the Thames River 80 km east of Windsor. The city of Chatham (incorporated 1895) and Kent County (created in 1792) are but two of the 23 former municipalities that comprise Chatham-Kent. Others include the towns of Wallaceburg, Blenheim, Tilbury, Ridgetown and Dresden. This large municipality is bounded by lakes St. Clair and Erie (to its west and east), with the lower Thames River running down its length. Chatham lies in its centre.
Chatham, one of the oldest communities in western Ontario, was founded in 1794. It was planned originally as a military settlement by John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. The military function did not develop, however, and settlement lagged until the 1830s. The names Kent and Chatham, given by Simcoe, are after the county of Kent, England, and in honour of the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt the Younger.
Lumbering was the first industry in Kent County, and once the land was cleared Chatham developed as a marketing centre for the surrounding rich agricultural area. Chatham became a town in 1855 but only became responsible for its own management in 1879 when it formally separated from Kent County.
In the1850s Chatham was a centre of anti-slavery activity and one of the northern terminuses for the Underground Railroad that brought fugitives of slavery to Canada; descendants of thousands of these formerly enslaved people are an integral part of the local population. Buxton National Historic Site, 19 km south of Chatham, recalls the history of the Underground Railroad and what was then known as the Elgin Settlement. This Black settlement was founded in 1849, and descendants of some of its early settlers still live there.
As the largest community of Chatham-Kent, Chatham (population 43,690 — 2001 census) continues its role as a marketing and retail centre. The administrative functions of the municipality are also centred in Chatham. Automotive manufacturing and supporting industries represent a large part of municipality's economic activity. Post-secondary education includes two campuses (Chatham and Wallaceburg) of the St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology, and Ridgetown College, which is affiliated with the University of Guelph.
There are two provincial parks within Chatham-Kent's boundaries: Wheatley and Rondeau. A piece of Carolinian forest is preserved in the Clear Creek Forest. At the mouth of the Thames River is one of Ontario's oldest lighthouses. In October, Chatham's Heritage Days celebrates life along the Thames in the early 19th century.