Sarnia, Ontario by Ken Lund
Sarnia is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, and had a 2011 population of 72,366. 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 city’s natural harbour first attracted the French explorer La Salle, who named the site "The Rapids" when he had horses and men pull his 45 tonnes (50 short tons; 44 long tons) barque "Le Griffon" up the almost four-knot current of the St. Clair River on 23 August 1679.
This was the first time anything other than a canoe or other oar-powered vessel had sailed into Lake Huron, and La Salle’s voyage was thus 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 massive 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 led to oil drillers from Sarnia travelling the world teaching other nations how to drill for oil.
The complex of refining and chemical companies is called Chemical Valley and located south of downtown Sarnia. While in 2011, the city had the highest level of particulates air pollution of any Canadian city, it has since dropped down to 30th. About 60 percent of the particulate matter, however, comes from the neighboring 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, which makes temperature extremes of hot and cold very rare. In the winter, Sarnia experiences lake-effect snow because Arctic air blows across the warmer waters of Lake Huron and condenses to form snow squalls once over land.
Culturally, Sarnia is a large part of the artistic presence in Southern Ontario.