London, Ontario… at first.

It’s Canada 150, so we must celebrate! And since London’s actually 224 years old, we’re going to highlight some of the Forest City’s firsts. What do we mean, you ask? Read these tidbits and see. You just might find new, interesting knowledge of London to impress your crush with.

Here we go!

1 – London’s first recorded dog

Arguably one of the more important facts about London’s heritage, is the first recorded dog, Jack Sharp. Jack was brought to London on a one-day excursion by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe on March 2, 1793.

historic - dog and small child
Not Jack, but still cute. Photo by George Marr via London Public Library Image Gallery

Jack was a large Newfoundland dog, with a wild spirit. It was reported that he came close to capsizing the Governor’s canoe on more than one occasion. During their journey, their supplies depleted and it was said that someone noted Newfoundland dogs were quite edible. Don’t worry, Jack was fine.

2 – London’s first million dollar fire

London, England had one, so naturally, we had to have one as well. On April 13, 1845, London, Ontario experienced our very own Great Fire of London.

fire hall
Central Fire Hall in London, Ontario, taken in 1889. Photo via the London Public Library Image Gallery

It’s difficult to imagine but 150 buildings and nearly 30 acres of London were destroyed in the fire or one-fifth of the entire city. Ironically, that included the town’s only fire engine. The fire resulted in over a million dollars in damage, making it London and Ontario’s very first million dollar fire.

3 – First bank robbery

Since its inception, Wortley Village has always remained a cultural gem among London’s pockets. But, on December 1, 1920, a calm Wednesday afternoon, Wortley was struck by London’s very first bank robbery.

London Ontario, Wortley
York Street Looking East from Wortley Road in 1941. The village progresses! Photo via London Public Library Image Gallery

At 2:20pm, two American men entered the then, Mercantile Bank of Canada (now impressions, the retail store). Revolver in hand, the two men proceeded to assault the bank manager and assistant, successfully robbing the bank of $776 (worth $8,730 now) in bills.

The two mystery men quickly fled the scene and took off in the direction of Port Stanley, never to be seen again. The whole crime taking only three minutes in total. If the two men were to have arrived a mere hour earlier, they would have been able to steal $2000 ($22,5000) in cash. Let’s just say security tightened up there after!

4 – London’s first gang member

London has seen some amiable characters in its years. But what about the questionable ones? Fuse discovered Herbert Emerson Wilson, our very first gang member.

4 collage - Herbert Emerson Wilson
Andy Warhol’s (aka Emma Marr’s) interpretation of Herbert Emerson Wilson, London’s first gangster.

Herbert was born in 1881, near London. After graduating high school in 1900, Herbert moved to London to join the military, to escape his strict religious household. During his time serving, Herbert was a prisoner of war, won several medals, and met the young Winston Churchill.

At the end of the Boer War, Herbert returned to London, to become a Baptist Minister. He traveled throughout North America and in 1916, while in San Diego, Herbert mysteriously and suddenly lost his faith and took up a career in crime.

For the next five years, Herbert ran an organized gang of thieves, all of whom possessed skills in the art of disguise, deceit, and strong-arm tactics, with himself as the good-looking, smooth-talking, leader. His wildly successful crime sprees netted millions of dollars but came to an end when Herbert was arrested for a robbery in December 1920 when he was identified by fingerprints.

Herbert spent only a year in jail before escaping with another inmate and fellow gang member. In 1923, he was recaptured and charged for the murder of Herb Cox, the chief prosecutor’s witness.

While imprisoned, Herbert wrote an autobiography of his exciting life of crime, published ‘I Stole $16 Million’, a story that was made into a movie.

Moving back to London to live with his widowed mother at 22 Carfrae. Soon after, Herbert was convicted of defrauding a finance company of $100,000. When his sentence was served, Herbert lived out the remainder of his days in British Columbia.

5 – London’s first iron bridge

London’s pride, joy, and most Instagrammed location! It’s Blackfriar’s Bridge, baby.

The beautiful Black Friar’s Bridge in 1878. Hey look you can see the original Carling Brewery on the right also! Photo via Wikipedia

Built in 1875, the Blackfriars Street Bridge was the very first iron bridge in London. This London staple remains the oldest surviving bridge in London. It’s a rare type of bowstring truss bridge, one of the few remaining bow-type bridges in North America.

Go on down to Harris Park for a stroll, you’ll notice the setting looks a little different now than it did in this photo.

Oh London, look at you go! We’ve come so far as a city but we can never forget our humble beginnings. What are some more London firsts? Let us know in the comments!

Many of these stories were found in the wonderful book, Old South Tales by Jean Ramer. Visit Old South Tales to find more interesting facts about London, Ontario

Feature photo by Emma Marr


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