Ontario is located in Western San Bernardino County, approximately 40 miles east of Los Angeles flat alluvial plain at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Although officially settled in 1881, the area Ontario is located in today had visitors as far back as prehistoric man. More recently, it was a stopping spot on the road north for Spanish missionaries like Juan Bautista de Anza, who stopped in the area in 1774 and again in 1776 while searching for an inland route from Sonora, Mexico to Monterey.
While his first expedition camped along the San Antonio Creek, near where De Anza Park is in Ontario today, the area was already part of the Mission San Gabriel, a sprawling 1.5-million acre area founded in 1771. After Mexico converted its missions to ranches in the 1800s, the part of San Gabriel that became Ontario fell into the hands of several families, portions ending up in the hands of George and W.B. Chaffey.
The two turned a 1-mile square plot into an irrigation colony called Etiwanda. Etiwanda was the name of an Indian Chief who had established friendly relations with the Chaffey’s uncles in Michigan. By the time the colony began selling land, the Chaffey’s had 1,000 acres divided into 10 acre parcels. By 1888, the Etiwanda Colony had grown to 2,500 acres.
In the fall of 1882, the Chaffey’s expanded their colony with additional lands, and created the Ontario Irrigation Colony. The colony was named for their home city of Ontario, Canada. “Ontario” is an Iroquois word for “sparkling water”. Although the Chaffey’s eventually abandoned the city for greener pastures in Australia, the town thrived going though a building boom in the 1880s and 90s.The town of Ontario was incorporated in December 1891.
By the early 1990s, Ontario had a population of 145,000 and was 37 square miles in area.
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