The township of Ontario, California was founded in September of 1882 by brothers George and William B. Chaffey, and named after their hometown, Ontario, Canada. The brothers purchased the “San Antonio lands,” which consisted of 6,218 acres with water rights and set aside 640 acres for the Community of Ontario. Half of the initial 640 acres was deeded to the Chaffey Agricultural College as an endowment.
The Chaffey's established four principles for the colony that had social and economic implications including: a mutual water company concept, a prohibition of intoxicating liquors, a grand thoroughfare through the City, and an agricultural college for general education. On December 10, 1891, Ontario was incorporated as a city under the California Constitution with a City Council-City Manager form of government.
In 1903, Ontario was proclaimed a “Model Irrigation Colony” by an Act of Congress. The Ontario planned community had many modern innovations, many of which still show merit today. An impressive two-hundred feet wide and eight miles long, Euclid Avenue (on the National Register List of Historic Places) was the stately back-bone of the colony. Provisions for an electric railway, water rights for each landowner, a local educational institution, electric lights, one of the first long distance telephone lines, and access to water and transportation set a new standard for rural communities and irrigation practices and ensured the success of the Model Colony.
Ontario first developed as an agricultural community, largely, but not exclusively, devoted to the citrus industry. The Sunkist water tower, a reminder of the heydays, remains to this day. In addition to oranges, the production of peaches, walnuts, lemons, olives and grapes were also important to the growth of Ontario and the neighboring city of Upland.
In 1923, airplane enthusiasts Waldo Waterman and Archie Mitchell established Latimer Field. From that point on, Ontario became an aviation town. Urban growth pushed the fliers east until they took up their permanent residence located at the Ontario World Airport. During WWII, this airport was a busy training facility for pilots.
Since WWII, Ontario has become a diversified community which has grown to a population of approximately 173,000 residents in 2015. Although the City boundaries have been extended from 0.38 square miles in 1891 to almost 50 square miles today, Ontario’s Historic Downtown still retains the original irrigation system and land subdivision pattern established by the Chaffey brothers. The Euclid Avenue corridor continues to remain the stately back-bone of the city that it once was.
Learn more about Ontario’s diverse history which includes irrigation, agriculture, viticulture, dairy, aeronautical, World War II production era, and expansive industrial growth. Several tours, histories and contexts have been developed for Ontario and are listed below.
Self-Guided Walking Tours.
Discover Historic Downtown. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through downtown with the Historic Downtown Ontario self-guided walking tour map in hand. Discover the people, businesses, and architecture associated with Ontario’s buildings and sites. Did you know that downtown was home to Los Angeles famed architect Paul Williams’ “Old Post Office” building on Emporia Avenue, which is now used for an art gallery and work/live lofts? See a collection of Work Progress Administration (WPA) architectural gem buildings, such as the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, on South Euclid Avenue and the United States Post Office on East Holt Boulevard. Don’t forget to have a look at the WPA-sponsored artwork displayed in the lobby of the post office. A printed copy of the tour guide may be picked up at the Ovitt Family Community Library, the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, or at the Ontario City Hall.
College Park Historic District. In conjunction with Ontario Heritage, local non-profit preservation advocacy group, a fun and fact-filled walking tour was developed for one of Ontario’s most desirable neighborhoods. The Walking Tour highlights homes, sites and features of this historic neighborhood including the Historic Graber Olive House
Mural at Ontario Town Square. The mural, Ontario through the Years, is located in the heart of downtown at the Ontario Town Square, along North Euclid Avenue between B and C Streets. The images included in the mural highlight events, people, and places that helped shape Ontario from “The Vision” Era (1880s) to the “Commitment to Community” Era (2000s). The mural commemorates and celebrates Ontario’s past and the framework it has established for the future.