Discovering the Village of Sombra

In this blog post, we’ll take a quick look at the Village of Sombra and its earliest settlers/growth and take a look at the Sombra ferry’s history.
The village wasn’t always known as Sombra; in its earliest inception, the village was called “Lewisville.” The earliest settler were Abraham Smith and Samuel H. Burnham in 1821. Lela Sutcliff related in an article in the London Free Presson March 11, 1961 that “1835 was the year the nucleus of the present village began and the first few houses to comprise it were erected.” Samuel Burnham’s son, Morgan Lewis Burnham, did much of the original construction; because of this, Lewis Burnham was considered the “father” of the village and it was dubbed “Lewisville” in his honour. It was some years later that the name should switch to Sombra. The village would blossom as a town hall valued at $1,800.00 was built in 1867.
The ferry has a rich and interesting history. The first ferry in Sombra was The Silent, a sailboat run by Samuel Whiteley. When there wasn’t any wind, he would use a rowboat to ferry customers across the river. He charged 10 cents a round trip. An old Irish woman is reported to have gotten on his case for those exorbitant prices, cornering him with this gruff statement: “You just take a stick in your hand and charge 10 cents for that?!” (Gazette, November 18, 1981). A second ferry was opened by William Bell and taken over by the American Joe Miller, causing competition for Whiteley’s operation. It is rumoured that during one exceptionally sore argument, each ferry would only go to the middle of the river, where passengers were made to switch boats! The feud would end when Whiteley eventually bought out his American competitor.
To learn about establishments and events in Sombra if you feel like going for a visit, check out the website Discover Sombra Village. Don’t miss the Sombra Museumif you go visit!
If you would like some extra details about what the Village of Sombra had to offer in 1856, please look over this excerpt from an article that appeared in the Toronto Leader, April 28, 1856:
Grand land sale by public auction, in the village of Sombra, at the town of Port Sarnia, on Thursday inst., 200 town lots of the above Village…
The local advantage of the Village, in addition to those already mentioned, are great; it being situated half-way between the towns of Port Sarnia and Chatham, the County Towns of Kent and Lambton – and the principal depot for supplying wood to the innumberable fleet of Steamers continually plying the noble river in front…
The Township of Sombra, of which this Village is the first center, is the best Township of land in the County of Lambton and is fast filling up with enterprising and industrious settlers. The Village has only been in existence three years, and already contains four Merchant’s Shops and a large Hotel with as good accommodations as any west of London, one Blacksmith Shop, Tin Shop, Tailoring and Shoe Shops, Tannery, School House and Church… and is the principal place of import and export for a considerable portion of the County.

5 Responses to “Discovering the Village of Sombra”

  1. Lorraine Whiteley

    I was recently trying to find newspaper articles about my father James F. Whiteley, who was the superintendent of Sarnia jail from approx, 1974-1983. I found an article about a Samuel Whiteley who ran a ferry from Sombra across the river. My family is from England so I am very curious to find out more about this Samuel Whiteley and where he’s from! Any help greatly appreciated!!

  2. Janet Watson Hamilton

    I am looking for marriage records of relatives apparently married in Sombra, Ontario in 1903. The names are William ( Bill) Warnock and Eva Watson. Do you know of a researcher that I could hire to possibly find a marriage certificate? I am on a free trial with Ancestry and have searched 53 pages to no avail!
    Cheers from J. Hamilton

    • Dana Thorne

      Hello Janet, thank you very much for your inquiry! We offer research services at the Lambton County Archives. You can reach us by email at Please get in touch, we would love to help you!

  3. Jamie Toeppner

    Here is a little piece of your past!


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