History of Ontario, CA

“From the plateau at the foot of the mountain I obtained a bird’s-eye view of the whole area I proposed to acquire, and while I was standing there looking at it, I saw what Ontario was to and did become” - George Chaffey

George Chaffey was born in Ontario, Canada in 1848. His family was in the business of freighters and tug boats, and George was raised on the many lakes and rivers of Canada.  As a teenager George was especially interested in mathematics and used his uncle’s boating business as a chance to explore engineering.  His skill in this field was evident when he successfully designed a new propeller that “increased ship speed without increasing fuel output” (Austen, 27).  Chaffey was responsible for creating new passenger and freight ships for lake trade as well.  By 1878, Chaffey was an established businessman in the shipping field known for his clever ideas.  When his brother-in-law returned from a visit to Riverside, California bursting about the land and its possibilities, Chaffey knew he had to see for himself.  In 1880 Chaffey traveled to Southern California where he remained for the rest of his life, never returning to Canada.

Chaffey’s first investment was the Etiwanda Colony.  He purchased this land in 1881 as a place to experiment with his many ideas regarding water.  For that was the major problem of this new area; the land and heights were gorgeous, but how to get the water from the mountains to the valley was the major difficulty.  When Chaffey bought the Etiwanda lands, 560 acres of land and water rights for $30,000, his plan was to build a new way of bringing water to the colonies.  The solution was thus: Chaffey would buy the water rights for the entire area (all 560 acres).  When the individual plots sold, so would the water rights for that location.  Meanwhile, the company holding the rights would then be responsible for making sure the area had water; regardless of proximity to the original water source.  This plan guaranteed that residents would have access to water, and more importantly, that feuds over water rights and land lines would come to an end.  Instituted in Etiwanda, his plan obviously required immediate access to large quantities of water.  In order to insure this, Chaffey built a series of flumes that would carry water from the mountains to a reservoir from which water would then be sent to the relative land sites.  On his own piece of land in Etiwanda, Chaffey used a water powered turbine to light “two 3,000 candlepower lights” at his home.  He also wired his home for the new electric technology which drew attention to not only him, but to the colony that he was building up around him.  The city of Los Angeles took notice, and Chaffey formed the Los Angeles Electric Company in 1882 which lead to Los Angeles being “one of the first cities in the world to be lighted by electricity.”

Having successfully laid out his plan in Etiwanda, Chaffey learned about more land that was available for purchase in what was then called the Cucamonga Rancho.  Over the course of a few months in 1882 Chaffey purchased over 8000 acres of land and the accompanying water rights for all the land.  This cost him just over $91,000 dollars.  Most importantly, his purchases secured him a tract of land over which the Southern Pacific Railroad traveled, ensuring that his future colony would have access and the attraction of a railroad depot.  His master plan included these four provisos:

Distribute the water over the whole tract to each farm lot in cement pipes, each holder to share in the water proportionately to his holding irrespective of distance from the source;

Construct a main thoroughfare from one end of the settlement to the other, and lay it out in such a way that it will be a thing of beauty forever;

Provide a College for the agricultural education of the people of the colony and for the general education of their children;

Secure the best possible class of settlers by a reversionary clause in the deeds to each allotment forbidding absolutely the sale of intoxicating liquor.

Chaffey named this colony Ontario, after his homeland of Ontario, Canada.  By doing this he hoped to attract as many Canadians to Ontario as possible. He also named the “main thoroughfare” Euclid in honor of his favorite mathematician.   This thoroughfare was seven miles long, stretching from its “southernmost boundaries to the mountains.”  It has since grown to over 15 miles in length.  Euclid was to meet several provisos as well.  It was to be a “200-foot-wide double drive . . . [with a] center parkway to be flanked by a 65-foot-wide drive on each side.  Every half-mile, paralleling Euclid to the east and west, were 65-foot-wide avenues.  North and south, at quarter-mile intervals, were cross streets.”  Chaffey also planned for electricity in Ontario with street lamps being placed a mile apart on Euclid and an electric streetcar that would travel up and down Euclid daily.  Most importantly, Chaffey promised cement pipes on each 10 acre tract of land to ensure water for each settler.  Ontario, California was available for settlement on November 1, 1882.  During the first week, 190 acres sold for a total value of $28,500.

Hearing of incredible success in irrigation to an arid plateau, Australian businessmen ventured to Ontario in 1885.  Their aim was to view the practices of those who had successfully irrigated their lands in hopes of taking some of their techniques home to Australia.  The Chaffey brothers (George and William) saw Australia as their next venture and sold Ontario (land and water rights) to the highest bidder: the Ontario Land and Improvement Company (OLIC).  In 1886, the OLIC received a deed for “7,500 acres of land, the Ontario Hotel, the water works . . . and even the horses, implements, office and office fixtures, and all other personal property belong(ing) to George and William Chaffey.” (Austen, 37).

The OLIC was formed primarily in order to purchase the Chaffey’s tract of land.  Under the auspices of the OLIC, Ontario settlers could have their say in the development of their city, and did.  The manager of the OLIC, and now manager of the Ontario Model Colony, was Charles Frankish.  As stated previously, Chaffey had purchased land on which the South Pacific railroad traveled through.  Unfortunately, however, the train did not actually stop in Ontario.  Instead, visitors to Ontario would travel to Cucamonga where Chaffey would have a carriage waiting that would bring them back to the model colony.  Yet, both Chaffey and Frankish had the foresight to build for the eventuality of the train stop.  The Ontario Hotel and a train depot were built across from each other at the foot of Euclid in anticipation of the train’s eventual arrival.  In 1883 the Ontario Fruit Grower, the city’s first newspaper, announced that the train would begin making stops in the city of Ontario.  In order to entice and tantalize future settlers and visitors to Ontario a fountain was installed near the stop that would be turned on and off when a train passed through.  The idea, of course being that train-goers would see how abundant the water supply was in Ontario and decide to locate there.

Also included as one of Chaffey’s tenets of the Ontario model colony was the creation of a college.  20 acres at the corner of Euclid and 4th street were laid aside for this purpose.  The cornerstone of the building was laid in March 1883 before the city was even inhabited.  Chaffey, having arranged for the college to be in trust of USC, was able to lure over 500 visitors to Ontario that day for the groundbreaking ceremony.  Of course, while they were there he also treated them to a tour up and down Euclid’s 7 mile avenue and an explanation of his vision.  Thus, while the city gained a college, it also gained a large number of new residents.  When completed, the college has 15 classrooms, a chapel, a library and two dormitories.  As the only public school in the vicinity, the college had students from as far as Riverside and Hemet.  Further advertising his town, Chaffey boasted that the moral atmosphere of the college, combined with the excellent morals of the town of Ontario, was able to “offer city advantages without city dangers.”

By January 1883 the city’s first family, the Whitaker’s, had settled their plot of land on 5th street, west of Euclid.  By the end of the year the Whitaker’s had over 50 neighbors. By 1885 the city boasted a school district, a planned library, a grocery store, a post office, a general store and a livery stable.  A weekly newspaper, Ontario Record, made its appearance in December 1885.  The Methodist and Presbyterian Churches opened in 1885 and the College of Agriculture was officially opened as well.  The city also had a drug store, shoe store, furniture market and meat market.

At this point, Ontario was not incorporated. After a failed attempt at incorporation in 1888, the city was finally incorporated in 1891. Yet, the site of incorporation was relatively small; a mere half-square mile bordered by the “Southern Pacific tract to the south, G Street to the north, Sultana Avenue to the east and Vine Avenue to the west.”  David T. Jones became the President of the Board of Trustees in Ontario, an older title to signify the status of Mayor.   In 1901, residents of Ontario learned that those living in North Ontario were also thinking of incorporation: as their own city.  In order to eliminate this possibility, the city expanded their half-square mile to over 10 square miles.  The population of Ontario jumped from 722 to 4,274 accordingly. (Austen, 47). The expansion included all the original colony lands purchased by Chaffey as well all of San Antonio Heights.  The town of Ontario officially opted to call itself the City of Ontario in 1910.