The history of Sarnia-Lambton begins with the original inhabitants of the area, the Attiwandaron Indians. These first peoples occupied many villages in Western Ontario and were later known as “the neutrals” by the first French missionaries who visited the area in 1627. A village named St. Francis was situated a few miles from where the City of Sarnia (formerly named “The Rapids”) is present today.
The existence of the Attiwandarons came to end following an attack by the Iroquois nation in 1648. Soon after, bands of Chippewas (a nomadic people) moved into the area and today reside in three First Nation Communities within the County of Lambton.
The area of Sarnia-Lambton remained in French control until the signing of the Peace of Paris Treaty in 1763 when the British took possession. In an effort to increase settlement, the lands west of the Ottawa River were divided into four districts. The district of Hesse, later to become the western district in 1792, contained the present day Lambton.
The first wave of immigrants to land in the region of Sarnia-Lambton occurred in the early 1830’s and by 1834 numbered 1,728, many of whom were farmers and artisans. The next wave did not occur until the potato famine in Ireland in the mid 1840’s. Lambton’s population rose to 10,815 by 1851.
In 1849 the County of Lambton was officially established with the name Lambton originating from John George Lambton, Lord (Earl of) Durham, a former Governor General of British North America in 1838. However it wasn’t until 1853 that Lambton became an independent County and elected Archibald Young as its first Warden.
Even though this area was one of the last regions in Southwestern Ontario to be settled, development and settlement progressed quickly. The natural resources, extensive waterways, forests, and rich agricultural soils, attracted many poor immigrants from the British Isles. Those seeking a better life were lured by the prospect of cheap land. Eventually other settlers, disillusioned by life in eastern regions of the provinces, also made their way to Lambton.
Many of the County of Lambton's first farmers supplemented their income by selling forest products and about 70 per cent of area residents were farmers. By 1861, the population had reached 24,835 and the principle crops were wheat, peas, pork and cattle.
In 1858 James M. Williams developed the world’s first commercial oil well. With the start of the "oil boom", the railway arrived, the shipping industry expanded and ferry service to the U.S. was formed, bringing in prospectors from all over North America.
Until such time as the discovery of oil, the majority of the labour force was agriculture based. This remained the occupation of dominance until 1921 when industrial workers took over as the primary source of employment. This trend would continue as the need for goods during World War II increased. The area became a major processing centre for oil from Alberta.
Today, with approximately 128,000 people in Sarnia-Lambton, the petrochemical industry remains a significant sector of the economy. Given Sarnia-Lambton's location bordering the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, tourism is another important industry. Agriculture also remains a significant sector of the economy.