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Thames River

Thames River
Plaque no. 43
Date of plaque unveiling
1 June 1997
Leonard N. Johnson
331 Thames Street, Ivey Park, just above the dock at the Forks of the Thames River, London, Ontario
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The history of the Thames River can be traced back more than 15,000 years to its origins as a spillway for water melting from retreating glaciers.

Around 7,500 B.C., aboriginal peoples migrated to this area, attracted by abundant fish and game. Centuries later, Neutral tribes lived along this river they called Askunessippi, (antlered river).

French fur traders called it La Tranche (the ditch), and Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe renamed it the Thames. In 1793, he designated the Forks of the Thames as the future site of the capital of Upper Canada.

It was not until the 1820s that substantial settlement began along the river. The Thames became a transportation route, source of power for mills, and provided water for domestic and industrial use. The picturesque shoreline attracted prominent Londoners to build large estates along the Thames, such as Eldon House and Thornwood.

The river was popular for boating, from competitive rowing to steamboat excursions. The most tragic incident on the Thames was the sinking of the steamer “Victoria” on May 24, 1881, which claimed 182 lives.

The Thames has long been a subject for artists, from early British topographers such as James Hamilton, to later painters like Jack Chambers and William Lees Judson.

By the mid-twentieth century, industrial development along the river had rendered the area polluted and unsightly. In the 1960s, a civic renewal programme was begun to convert the river lands to recreational areas with parks, gardens, walking trails, and bicycle paths.

Today, most of London’s 2,800 acres of parkland is along the Thames River.