Sarnia is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, with a 2016 population of 71,594. It is the largest city on Lake Huron and in Lambton County. Sarnia is located on the eastern bank of the junction between the Upper and Lower Great Lakes where Lake Huron flows into the St. Clair River, which forms the Canada–United States border, directly across from Port Huron, Michigan. The site's natural harbour first attracted the French explorer La Salle. He named the site "The Rapids" on 23 August 1679, when he had horses and men pull his 45-ton barque Le Griffon north against the nearly four-knot current of the St. Clair River.
|City of Sarnia|
The Imperial City; Chemical Valley
(Latin for "Sarnia Always")
|Coordinates: 42°59′58″N 82°18′32″W|
|Incorporated||19 June 1856 (town)|
|Incorporated||7 May 1914 (city)|
|• Mayor||Mike Bradley|
|• Governing Body||Sarnia City Council|
|• MPs||Marilyn Gladu (CPC)|
|• MPPs||Bob Bailey (OPC)|
|• Land||164.85 km2 (63.65 sq mi)|
|• Metro||1,118.65 km2 (431.91 sq mi)|
|Elevation||180.60 m (592.52 ft)|
|Forward sortation area|
N7S to N7X
|Area codes||519, 226 and 548|
This was the first time that a vessel other than a canoe or other oar-powered vessel had sailed into Lake Huron, and La Salle's voyage was germinal in the development of commercial shipping on the Great Lakes. Located in the natural harbour, the Sarnia port remains an important centre for lake freighters and oceangoing ships carrying cargoes of grain and petroleum products. The natural port and the salt caverns that exist in the surrounding areas, together with the oil discovered in nearby Oil Springs in 1858, led to the dramatic growth of the petroleum industry in this area. Because Oil Springs was the first place in Canada and North America to drill commercially for oil, the knowledge that was acquired there resulted in oil drillers from Sarnia travelling the world teaching other enterprises and nations how to drill for oil.
The complex of refining and chemical companies is called Chemical Valley and located south of downtown Sarnia. In 2011 the city had the highest level of particulates air pollution of any Canadian city, but it has since dropped to rank 30th in this hazard. About 60 percent of the particulate matter comes from industries and polluters in the neighbouring United States.
Lake Huron is cooler than the air in summer and warmer than the air in winter; therefore, it moderates Sarnia's humid continental climate, making temperature extremes of hot and cold less evident. In the winter, Sarnia occasionally experiences lake-effect snow from Arctic air blowing across the warmer waters of Lake Huron and condensing to form snow squalls over land.
The name "Sarnia" is Latin for Guernsey, a British Channel Island. In 1829 Sir John Colborne, a former governor of Guernsey, was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. In this capacity, he visited two small settlements in 1835 that had been laid out on the shores of Lake Huron. One of these, named "The Rapids," consisted then of 44 taxpayers, nine frame houses, four log houses, two brick dwellings, two taverns and three stores. The villagers wanted to change its name but were unable to agree on an alternative. The English settlers favoured the name "Buenos Aires," and the ethnic Scottish favoured "New Glasgow".
Sir John Colborne suggested Port Sarnia. On 4 January 1836, the name was formally adopted by a vote of 26 to 16, and Colborne also named the nearby village Moore after British military hero Sir John Moore. Sarnia adopted the nickname "The Imperial City" on 7 May 1914 because of the visit of Canada's Governor General, H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, and his daughter Princess Patricia.
First Nations peoples have lived, hunted, and travelled across the area for at least 10,000 years, as shown by archaeological evidence on Walpole Island. About A.D. 796, these peoples emerged from an amalgamation of Ojibwa, Odawa, and Potowatami clans, and formed the Three Fires Confederacy, also called the Council of Three Fires. They spoke Algonquian languages, or Anishinaabe, and also had connections through common elements of cultures. They developed a self-sufficient society in which tasks and responsibilities were equally shared among all members.
By the time of the 1600s and 1700s, The Three Fires Confederacy controlled much of the area known as the hub of the Great Lakes, which included the Canadian shore where Sarnia is now located. During this time, it maintained relations with many of the First Nations, including the Lakota (Sioux), and the Iroquoian-speaking Huron and Five Nations of the Iroquois League, as well as the colonizing nations of Great Britain and France. Both of the latter nations had colonists and missionaries in North America, particularly closer to the Atlantic coasts and related waterways. The Confederacy's trading partners, the Huron, welcomed La Salle and the Griffon in 1679 after he sailed into Lake Huron. The Ontario Heritage Trust erected a historical plaque under the Blue Water Bridge in commemoration of the voyage, as shown in the photo.
Because of this early encounter with Europeans in the area, the members of the Confederacy helped shape the development of North America throughout the 18th century, becoming a centre of trade and culture. Britain tried to strengthen relations with the tribes in the area as a set of allies against the French in Quebec and the Illinois Country, and the Iroquois, who were based mostly east and south of lakes Ontario and Erie. The people of the Three Fires Confederacy sided with the French during the Seven Years' War with Great Britain. They made peace with Great Britain only after the Treaty of Fort Niagara in 1764. The Confederacy fought on the side of the British during the War of 1812, hoping to expel the Americans from the Great Lakes hub.
The Three Fires Confederacy broke several treaties with the United States prior to 1815, but finally signed the Treaty of Springwells in September of that year and ceased all hostilities directed at the US. The Grand Council survived intact until the middle to late 19th century, when more modern political systems began to develop.
Before the War of 1812, the first Europeans in the area were French-Canadian settlers loyal to the British Crown. Some traders and families had been in the area east and west of the Detroit and St. Clair rivers since before the British took over this territory. In this period, Detroit was still within the British colony of the Province of Quebec. Ignace Cazelet, Joseph La Forge, and Jean-Baptiste Paré are credited as the first settlers of what became Sarnia in about 1807–1810; their role is marked by a historic plaque installed by the Ontario Heritage Society. They were fur traders with the Huron and Three Fires Confederacy. At this time the French Jesuits also established a mission near the Huron village on the east bank of the river. Later the men established farms, attracted other settlers, and stimulated growth in the area.
The township was surveyed in 1829, and in the early 1830s, numerous Scottish immigrants settled in the area, claiming by number to be the founders. Port Sarnia expanded throughout the 19th century; on 19 June 1856, Parliament passed An Act to Incorporate the Town of Sarnia, and the name Port Sarnia was officially changed to Sarnia, effective 1 January 1857. The Act mentioned 1,000 inhabitants in three wards. The lumber industry was based on the wealth of virgin timber in the area, at a time of development around the Great Lakes. Lumber was also in demand in the booming US cities of Chicago and Detroit.
The discovery of oil in nearby Oil Springs in 1858 by James Miller Williams, and the arrival of the Great Western Railway in 1858 and the Grand Trunk Railway in 1859, all stimulated Sarnia's growth. The rail lines were later linked directly to the United States by the opening of the St. Clair Tunnel under the St. Clair River at Sarnia in 1890, by the Grand Trunk Railway. This was the first railroad tunnel ever constructed under a river. The tunnel was an engineering marvel in its day, achieved through the development of original techniques for excavating in a compressed air environment.
20th century to present
Canada Steamship Lines formed in 1913 from many previous companies that plied the waters of the St. Clair River. One of these companies was Northwest Transportation Company of Sarnia, which was founded in 1870. By 20 April 1914, when Parliament passed An Act to Incorporate the City of Sarnia, the population had grown to 10,985 in six wards. Sarnia officially became a city as of 7 May 1914.
Sarnia's grain elevator, which in the early 21st century is the 15th-largest operating in Canada, was built in 1927 after the dredging of Sarnia Harbour in order to allow access to larger ships. Two years later, grain shipments had become an important part of Sarnia's economy.
The grain elevator rises above the harbour, and next to it is the slip for the numerous bulk carriers and other ships that are part of the contemporary shipping industry. They include vessels from all over the world. The waterway between Detroit and Sarnia is one of the world's busiest, as indicated by the average of 78,943,900 tonnes (87,020,800 short tons; 77,697,100 long tons) of shipping that annually travelled the river going in both directions during the period 1993–2002. Lake freighters and oceangoing ships, which are known as "salties," pass up and down the river at the rate of about one every seven minutes during the shipping season.
The Paul M. Tellier Tunnel, which was named after the retired president of CN in 2004, was bored and began operation in 1995. It accommodates double-stacked rail cars and is located next to the original tunnel, which has been sealed.
A petroleum industry was established in the Sarnia area in 1858, and in 1942, Polymer Corporation manufactured synthetic rubber there during World War II, enhancing Sarnia's notability as a petrochemical centre. During the Cold War, the United States Government included Sarnia on its list of possible targets for a Soviet nuclear strike because of its petrochemical industry.
On 1 January 1991, Sarnia and the neighbouring town of Clearwater (formerly Sarnia Township) were amalgamated as the new city of Sarnia-Clearwater. The amalgamation was originally slated to include the village of Point Edward, although that village's residents resisted. They were eventually permitted to remain independent of the city. On 1 January 1992, the city reverted to the name Sarnia.
Sarnia's population continued to grow from 1961 to 1991, with a 1991 population of 74,376. In 2001 the population had declined by approximately 3,000. Since 2001 Sarnia's population has been growing slowly, with a 2011 population count of 72,366. An April 2010 report "Sarnia-Lambton's Labour Market" states: "Large petrochemical companies are the community's main economic drivers. Over the recent past, several plants have shutdown,[sic] and of those still in operation, increased automation and outsourcing has led to significantly fewer workers."
These shutdowns and the resulting loss of jobs, and therefore of population as workers search for employment elsewhere, will contribute to a general decline, as forecast by an August 2011 study. It projects a 17% decline in population over the next twenty-five years. The Monteith-Brown study cited outlines a plan for restructuring the city based on hybrid zoning areas, which will bring work opportunities closer to the neighbourhoods where people live. The City of Sarnia and Lambton County are also implementing an economic development plan with an emphasis on bio-industries and renewable energy.
Sarnia is located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron at its extreme southern point, where it flows into the St. Clair River. Most of the surrounding area is flat, and the elevation ranges from 169 metres (554 ft) and 281 metres (922 ft) above sea level. The soil mostly comprises clay. Despite this high percentage of clay, the soil is remarkably rich for cultivation.
Prior to the Ice Age, glaciers covered most of the area, as can be seen not only by the creation of the Great Lakes but also by the deposits of alluvial sand, terminal moraines, and rich oil reserves. When the entire area was submerged, plant and animal matter formed many layers of sediment as they settled after the waters receded. Sarnia is not part of the Canadian Shield and is located just beyond its southernmost reaches, 280 kilometres (174 mi) west of Toronto and 90 kilometres (56 mi) north of Detroit.
Wiltshire Park, Woodland, Oak Acres, Wees Beach, Oakwood Corners, Woodrow Shores, and Blackwell, are part of the North End of Sarnia, which begins immediately north of Ontario Highway 402 and terminates at the shore of Lake Huron. Coronation Park, Heritage Park, College Park, The Tree Streets, Mitton Village, and Sherwood Village are some of the neighbourhoods south of the highway.
The village of Blue Water was built to house workers and their families in Chemical Valley during the construction of Polymer Corporation; at one point it had nearly 3,000 residents. In 1961, all the residents were relocated, mostly to the North End, to make way for expansion of the chemical industry. The village was demolished, and all that remains is a historical marker at the corner of Vidal Street and Huron Avenue. This neighbourhood was largely forgotten until historian Lorraine Williams wrote two books about it. She was instrumental in gaining approval for the historical plaque.
Sarnia has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfb). Winters are cold with a few short-lasting Arctic air masses that dip far enough south and bring with them daily high temperatures below −10 °C (14 °F). Sarnia, while not quite located in the southwestern Ontario snowbelt, sometimes receives large quantities of lake-effect snow. Sarnia averages 112.0 cm (44.1 in) of snow per year, while London averages 194.3 cm (76.5 in).
The lake creates a seasonal lag and, compared to the rest of Canada and inland Ontario, Sarnia has a noticeably longer warm period following summer. However, cooler temperatures tend to prevail for longer after winter. Lake Huron can also create large temperature differences within the city in spring and early summer, particularly on hot days in late May and early June. Finally, extreme temperatures, particularly lows, rarely occur. Daily lows of less than −10 °C (14 °F) occur an average of 30 days a year, and less than −20 °C (−4 °F), two days a year. Summers are warm to hot and usually humid. Humidex readings can be very high at times from late May to late September. Sarnia has the second greatest number of high humidex days at or above 35 °C (95 °F) (with 23.16 days on average per year) and humidex days at or above 30 °C (86 °F) (with 61.20 days on average per year) in Canada, ranking after Windsor, Ontario. Thunderstorms can become quite severe from April to September. Destructive weather is very rare in the area but has occurred, such as the tornado event of 1953.
|Climate data for Sarnia (Chris Hadfield Airport), 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1926–present|
|Record high °C (°F)||18.9
|Average high °C (°F)||−1.2
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−4.8
|Average low °C (°F)||−8.3
|Record low °C (°F)||−28.9
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||51.5
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||22.9
|Average snowfall cm (inches)||31.0
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm)||15.0||11.9||12.9||14.0||12.6||10.9||10.9||10.4||11.4||12.2||13.7||14.2||150.0|
|Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm)||5.0||4.9||7.5||12.4||12.6||10.9||10.9||10.4||11.4||12.2||11.5||7.2||116.7|
|Average snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm)||11.3||8.4||7.0||2.4||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.19||3.0||9.0||41.4|
|Average relative humidity (%) (at 0600 LST)||83.5||82.8||84.0||83.2||83.8||86.3||89.0||91.5||90.5||86.6||84.8||84.7||85.9|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||81.7||100.3||139.9||185.2||236.6||266.3||299.1||254.3||191.3||151.2||87.6||67.4||2,060.9|
|Percent possible sunshine||28.0||33.9||37.9||46.2||52.2||58.0||64.3||58.9||50.9||44.1||29.9||24.0||44.0|
|Source: Environment Canada|
In 2016, the City of Sarnia had a population of 71,594, a decrease of 1.1% from the 2011 Census. With a land area of 164.85 km2 (63.65 sq mi), it had a population density of 434.298/km2 (1,124.83/sq mi) in 2016.
As of the 2016 Census, Sarnia has a population of primarily European descent; 6.69% are visible minorities, and 3.9% are Indigenous. The largest visible minority groups in the city are South Asians (1.7%) and Black Canadians (1.4%). In 2011, 87.92% of Sarnians called English their mother tongue, 2.65% listed French, 0.98% stated both of those languages, and 8.44% said another language was their mother tongue.
The median age in Sarnia is 45.6 which is older than the Canadian median of 41.2, indicative of Sarnia's aging population. According to the 2011 Census, Sarnia is predominately Christian as 28.46% of the population were Catholic, 12.4% were members of the United Church of Canada, 7.3% were Anglican, and 20.06% were of other Christian faiths, Muslim, or Jewish; 28.38% professed no religious preference or were atheists. The median income counting all persons 15 years old or older in Sarnia in 2015 was $33,833 while median family income was $86,654, in line with the averages for Ontario as a whole, at $33,539 and $91,089, respectively. The cost of living in Sarnia, however, is significantly lower than it is in Ontario as a whole. The median value of a dwelling, for instance, is $200,387, compared to the $400,496 of Ontario as a whole.
Economy and infrastructure
The Sarnia-Lambton Workforce Development Board states in its March 2011 Labour Market Report that: "Even though employment in both the petrochemical and agricultural industries has declined significantly in recent years, these two industries remain central drivers of the Sarnia Lambton economy."
When World War II threatened tropical sources of natural latex for rubber, Sarnia was selected as the site to spearhead development of synthetic petroleum-based rubbers for war materials, and Polymer Corporation was built by Dow Chemical at the request of the Government of Canada. Large pipelines bring Alberta oil to Sarnia, where oil refining and petrochemical production have become mainstays of the city's economy. Shell Canada, Imperial Oil, and Suncor Energy (Sunoco) operate refineries in Sarnia. Large salt beds found under the city became a source of chlorine and other significant ingredients which contributed to the success of Chemical Valley. Chemical companies operating in Sarnia include NOVA Chemicals, Bayer (Lanxess and H.C. Starck), Cabot Corporation, and Ethyl Corporation.
Dow ceased operations at its Sarnia site in 2009 and returned in 2019 buying out Dupont's local production. The original Dow plant was decommissioned, and the land has been sold to neighbouring TransAlta Energy Corporation. TransAlta produces power and steam for industry, and is the largest natural gas co-generation plant in Canada. It has created the Bluewater Energy Park on the former Dow site. Lanxess produces more than 150,000 tonnes (170,000 short tons; 150,000 long tons) of butyl rubber annually at its Sarnia location, and is the sole producer of regulatory-approved, food-grade butyl rubber, used in the manufacture of chewing gum. Within the boundaries of its Sarnia plant Lanxess has also created the Bio-industrial Park Sarnia.
Chemical Valley and the surrounding area are home to 62 facilities and refineries. These industrial complexes are the heart of Sarnia's infrastructure and economy. They directly employ nearly 8,000, and contribute to almost 45,000 additional jobs in the area. In 1971, the Canadian government deemed this area so important to the economic development of the country that it printed an image of a Sarnia Oil Refinery on the reverse of the Canadian $10 note. The huge industrial area is the cause of significant air and water pollution. The Canada Wide Daily Standard for airborne particulate matter and ozone pollution, regulation PM2.5, is 30 micrograms per cubic metre. Forty-five percent of this particulate air pollution in Sarnia comes from Chemical Valley, and the rest drifts over the St. Clair River from the neighbouring United States in the form of what is known as "Transboundary Air Pollution."
Sarnia is the location of Enbridge's Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant. The facility went into full commercial operation in December 2009, with 20 MW of power. As of September 2010, the plant was the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar power generation facility in the world, putting out 97 MW.
The 80-acre (0.32 km2) Western University Research Park, Sarnia-Lambton Campus was established in 2003 by the University of Western Ontario as a joint initiative with the County of Lambton and the City of Sarnia. The park is also the location of the Bioindustrial Innovation Centre, Canada's centre for the commercialization of industrial biotechnology.
In 2015, BioAmber opened a $141 million plant that manufactures 30,000 metric tons (66,000,000 lb) of succinic acid per year, a chemical used to make plastics, lubricants, paint, cosmetics, food additives, and other products. BioAmber plans to construct a second site and may build it in Sarnia. Solutions4CO2 is developing a 4,645-square-metre (50,000 sq ft) demonstration facility at Bluewater Energy Park. This company captures waste gas/water streams to process into value-added co-products, pharmaceutical drugs, and biofuels. PlantForm Corporation, a Canadian biotech startup company producing ultra-low-cost therapeutic antibody drugs, opened an office at the Western University Research Park in 2011. At the same Park, from the summer of 2012 to the summer of 2016, KmX Corporation operated a pilot plant to produce membranes that filter wastewater from industrial processes. KmX production in Sarnia has since moved to Ottawa and Edmonton.
Retail and hospitality
Sarnia has two large malls: Lambton Mall with 72 stores, and the Bayside Centre with nine stores, and several government and medical services. These large malls combine with several smaller shopping centres, discount stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, and a collection of antique and specialty stores to form the crux of Sarnia's retail business. Travellers can choose from eight branded and many family-owned hotels and motels.
The Blue Water Bridge links Sarnia and its neighbouring village of Point Edward to the city of Port Huron in the United States. It spans the St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair. The bridge's original three-lane span, opened in 1938, was twinned on 22 July 1997, making the bridge the fourth-busiest border crossing in Ontario.
The Blue Water Bridge border crossing makes use of both the NEXUS and the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program. Linking Highway 402 with the American Interstate 94 (I-94) and I-69, the bridge forms part of the NAFTA Superhighway. It is one of the most important gateways on the north–south truck routes.
Public transportation within the City of Sarnia, including conventional bus transit, transportation of people with disabilities, transportation support for major events, and charter services, is provided by Sarnia Transit. From the city's local Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport, Jazz Aviation operated services to and from Toronto Pearson International Airport on behalf of Air Canada Express. For rail travel, Sarnia is one of the two western termini, along with Windsor, of the Via Rail Quebec City – Windsor Corridor. It has service departing Sarnia station in the morning and returning in the evening.
Sarnia is served by Bluewater Health, a hospital with 188 acute care beds, 70 complex continuing care beds and 27 rehabilitation beds. The hospital opened in 2010, following the amalgamation of several smaller facilities. Bluewater Health was recently recognized by Healthcare Insurance Reciprocal of Canada, one of the country's largest hospital insurers, for its continued improvement in patient safety and care quality.
Music, theatre, and arts
Sarnia's musical and theatrical presence in Southern Ontario is significant. The International Symphony Orchestra plays at the Imperial Theatre for an annual season lasting from September to April. In addition to symphonic concerts, the Imperial Theatre offers year-round dramatic productions; Michael Learned played the lead in Driving Miss Daisy at the theatre in 2010. Former Max Webster frontman Kim Mitchell has returned to his hometown on occasion to play a concert, including his visit in 2008 for Sarnia's popular Ribfest, a competition where local amateur chefs share their recipes for barbecued ribs and compete against each other. Canadian composer and music educator Raymond Murray Schafer was born in Sarnia and developed his radical schizophonia techniques there.
The Sarnia Bayfest (which was preceded by the "Festival by the Bay") was an annual concert festival that featured big-name rock and country bands. Musicians and groups such as Aerosmith, KISS, Keith Urban, Jon Bon Jovi and Rascal Flatts have played at the event. Financial problems caused the event's cancellation in 2013. In the summer of 2017, a new festival called Bluewater Borderfest enjoyed a successful inaugural event.
Besides the single museum in Sarnia proper, six other museums in the local area document Sarnia's history, including its legacy as the home of the North American oil industry. Gallery Lambton offers 12 annual art exhibitions. In 2012 the Judith and Norman Alex Art Gallery opened. It is an international Category A art gallery, featuring exhibitions of Canadian art history, including paintings from the Group of Seven.
During the Christmas season, the city of Sarnia presents the annual "Celebration of Lights" in Centennial Park. The event was created in 1984 by Dr. Wills Rawana and a committee funded by the retail chain Hudson's Bay, and the national telecommunications company Telus. From modest beginnings, the event has garnered numerous awards as it has grown, including second place in the 2002 Canadian Government's Canada WinterLights competition. The celebration was incorporated in its national prizewinning year and is now run by a voluntary Board of Directors.
There are more than 100 parks in Sarnia, the largest being Canatara Park, which covers more than 200 acres (0.81 km2) along the shore of Lake Huron. Canatara is an Ojibwe word that means Blue Water. The park was opened in 1933. Within the park is Lake Chipican, a haven for many different species of birds on their migration routes. Most years, birdwatchers recognize around 150 species. The park also maintains a Children's Animal Farm as part of Sarnia's commitment to wildlife. The annual "Christmas on the Farm" weekend event held at the Farm in early December is a popular community event enjoyed by families. Canatara Park is one of the first parks in southern Ontario to feature an outdoor fitness equipment installation.
The largest recreational park in Sarnia is Germain Park, which incorporates five baseball diamonds, four soccer fields, an outdoor pool, and the Community Gardens. As a memorial to Canadian aviators who died in World War II, one of the remaining Canadair Sabres in Canada is on display in the park.
Centennial Park was opened on Dominion Day in 1967, as part of Canada's centenary celebrations. The City of Sarnia decided in 2013 to close much of Centennial Park, after the discovery of toxic levels of lead and asbestos in the soil. After years of remediation, the park was reopened in 2017.
Howard Watson Trail is a former railway line that passes through a combination of urban and rural areas. This linear park is managed by a volunteer committee and spans 16 km (9.9 mi) through wooded areas and alongside ponds. Benches are available along the path as well as washroom facilities. The path is open year-round: bicycling, running, and dog walking are popular activities in the summer. Snow shoeing and cross-country skiing can be enjoyed on snowy days. An access to Lake Huron is available at Blackwell Side Road.
Sarnia connects to the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, which stretches over 2,100 km (1,300 mi) along the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron and the Niagara, Detroit, and St. Lawrence rivers. The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail connects 114 communities and hundreds of parks and natural areas including wetlands, forests, and beaches.
The city's sandy fresh water beaches are a popular tourist attraction, while the sheltered harbour houses marinas for recreational sailing. Since 1925, the 400 km (250 mi) Mackinac race from Sarnia/Port Huron to Mackinac Island at the north end of the lake has been the highlight of the sailing season, drawing more than 3,000 sailors each year.
Sarnia's fresh-cut potato fries are another popular tourist attraction. Thousands of visitors annually visit the chip trucks parked under the Blue Water Bridge. Lynn Ogryzlo, a Niagara-based cookbook author and food e-magazine publisher, visited the chip trucks in August 2012 and said, "I was blown away by Sarnia." She was impressed by the city's waterfront, where the chip trucks are located, as well as by the products of the chip trucks themselves. She published her article "Aromas of Local Food", in her e-magazine The Ontario Table, recognizing the outstanding quality of Sarnia's fresh-cut fries. Pat Brennan, a travel writer based in Guelph, also wrote about the quality of Sarnia's fries in his article, "Sarnia Boasts Best Fries in the World." (2007) In 2012, during construction along the waterfront, Sarnia officials created a special detour to enable visitors to reach the chip trucks. Realizing the popularity of Sarnia's chip trucks, the Ontario Medical Association includes them in a campaign to have fries and other junk food labelled for being dangerous in the same manner as cigarettes.
Sarnia is home to the Sarnia Sting, a junior ice hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League. Dino Ciccarelli, a former NHL player, was a part owner of the team. Former Sting player Steven Stamkos was selected first overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and was followed by Nail Yakupov in 2012. Sarnia is also home to the Sarnia Legionnaires ice hockey team, which plays in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. The team is successor to the Sarnia Legionnaires (1954–1970), who won five Western Jr. 'B' championships and four Sutherland Cups during 16 seasons in the Ontario Hockey Association.
Sarnia has a successful tradition in Canadian football. As members of the Ontario Rugby Football Union, the local team Sarnia Imperials twice won the Grey Cup, in 1934 and 1936. The modern Sarnia Imperials are a semi-professional team playing in the Northern Football Conference.
Sarnia City Council consists of nine elected members: the Mayor, four members from the city, and four members from the county. The Mayor and all Council members are elected to four-year terms. The four Lambton County Council members serve both County and City Council.
The current mayor, Mike Bradley, has held the position since December 1988 and is currently the second longest-serving mayor in the province of Ontario behind Milton's Gord Krantz. Past mayors of the city have included Andy Brandt, Marceil Saddy, Paul Blundy, Thomas George Johnston, and Alexander Mackenzie, the second Prime Minister of Canada.
At the provincial level, Sarnia is located within the Sarnia—Lambton provincial electoral district, represented in 2013 by Bob Bailey, a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. At the federal level, Sarnia is located within the Sarnia—Lambton federal electoral district, which in 2019 is represented by Conservative Marilyn Gladu.
Over the past 50 years, Sarnia's voters have been moderate, and the party affiliation of its Members of Parliament, both provincial and federal, has swung back and forth largely between the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties (a New Democrat was elected in their 1990 provincial wave).
The Lambton Kent District School Board is responsible for the 13 elementary and three secondary public schools (Northern Collegiate Institute and Vocational School, Alexander MacKenzie Secondary School, and Great Lakes Secondary School) located within Sarnia's boundaries.
The St. Clair Catholic District School Board is responsible for the city's seven elementary and only secondary Catholic, St. Patrick's. In 2014, St. Patrick's and St. Christopher's merged, under the St. Patrick's name, on St. Christopher's North Sarnia site.
The Conseil scolaire catholique Providence (CSC Providence) represents the two French Catholic schools in the city, Saint-François-Xavier and Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin, while the Conseil scolaire Viamonde operates two French public schools, the elementary École Les Rapides and the secondary École Secondaire Franco-Jeunesse. There are also two independent Christian elementary schools in Sarnia—Sarnia Christian School and Temple Christian Academy.
Lambton College, which offers two and three year programs and diplomas, is one of Ontario's 21 colleges of applied arts and technology. It has a full-time enrolment of 3,500 and a part-time enrolment of about 8,000. It is the city's only post-secondary school.
There are four radio stations that originate from Sarnia, although other stations rebroadcast their signal there, notably CKTI-FM, a First Nations produced station from Kettle Point, and CBEG-FM and CBEF-3-FM, simulcasts of CBC Radio One and Ici Radio-Canada Première, respectively, from Windsor, Ontario.
- CHOK, country/news/sports
- CFGX-FM The Fox, adult contemporary
- CHOK-1-FM (rebroadcaster of CHOK AM)
- CHKS-FM, active rock
Some stations from Windsor, Detroit, Port Huron, and London can also be received.
Sarnia does not have a network television station of its own, although it has a community channel on Cogeco, which is the cable television provider in Sarnia. Cable systems pipe in stations from London, Detroit, Kitchener and Toronto. The only over-the-air station serving the area is a rebroadcaster of Kitchener CTV outlet CKCO-DT, located in Oil Springs.
The city's main daily newspaper is the Sarnia Observer, owned by Postmedia, which purchased Sun Media in 2014 for $316 million. A weekly newspaper called the Sarnia Journal began distribution in March 2014. It is distributed to 30,000 households in Sarnia, Bright's Grove, Point Edward and Corunna. The community publications Sarnia This Week, Lambton County Smart Shopper and Business Trends are owned by Bowes Publishing. The monthly business oriented newspaper First Monday is owned by Huron Web Printing and Graphics. Lambton Shield Publishing has been in operation since November 2010 and runs an on-line only news website, lambtonshield.com, delivering local news and services to the Sarnia-Lambton area. There are two magazines currently published in Sarnia, Business Trends and Report on Industry. Business Trends is distributed through City Hall and Report on Industry is sent to executives in surrounding businesses. Report on Industry articles are available online.
- Kim Mitchell, a rock musician and guitarist who also formed the Canadian rock band Max Webster.
- Retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, who flew on two NASA Space Shuttle missions and served as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 35, was born in Sarnia.
- The Nobel laureate George Andrew Olah moved to Sarnia from his native Hungary to join Dow Chemical in 1957.
- James Doohan, Star Trek actor, attended high school in Sarnia.
- Harmonica player Mike Stevens lives in Sarnia
- Sid Meier, video game programmer
- The Honourable Alexander Mackenzie, second Prime Minister of Canada, was buried at Lakeview Cemetery, Sarnia, where a monument has been erected.
- Marie Prevost, actress.
- John Wing, comedian, writer, actor, and radio personality, born in Sarnia.
- Emm Gryner, singer-songwriter and actress, born in Sarnia.
- NHL Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli
- Former NHL star Pat Verbeek,
- Retired NHL referee Kerry Fraser,
- Current NHL player Steven Stamkos
- Curler Steve Bice
- Golfer Mike Weir, who was the 2003 Masters Champion.
- Dominique Pegg, gymnast.
- Donovan Woods, folk musician
- Eric Ethridge, country pop singer
- Comedian Katherine Ryan
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