Student Blog — A bit of Peterborough History

Mary has some facts about Peterborough to share in her blog post. — Kate

The site our field school has been excavating is so conveniently on the south of the Trent Campus, that most people wouldn’t realize that back when the house was built, this site was considered pretty close to nowhere. At that time it was built, Peterborough itself would have been a fairly young community, though the city does have a some interesting history from the 1800s and even earlier. Here are four facts about the early city of Peterborough and its history in industry!

1) Peterborough’s location was chosen because of war.

The first European settlers arrived in what would become Peterborough on 1818. A larger group ended up following in 1925. Prior to these waves of settlers, the area was well known among Indigenous populations, especially those of the Mohawk and Ojibway tribes. At that time, the region would have been known as Nogojiwanong, the place where rapids end. The specific area appears to have originally been relatively unpopulated, and was probably chosen because the War of 1812 encouraged people to settle on waterways, simply to block off American invasions. Whatever the reason, a city soon began to form. The Europeans later named where they were living after the city of Peterborough in England. Early European immigrants were almost never creative when it came to naming cities, it seems.

2) Peterborough was considered Ontario’s best lumber producer

By 1870, Peterborough was known as being the greatest producer of lumber in all of Ontario. By the point in time, the Red Mill built by Charles Perry was up and running and most of the surrounding land was well on its way to being clear cut. The house being excavated by the field school was likely inhabited by someone who worked in the mills at this time. There was a budding clump of buildings were many mill workers and needed trades and facilities for them at this time too, all associated with the running saw mill.

3) Peterborough has a place in Canada’s history of electricity

If you were to look into the history of electricity in Canada, you’d see a lot of developments dating to the 1890s and early 1900s, and often you’d come back to Niagara Falls. As it turns out, Niagara Falls generating electricity occurred well after electricity had been brought to Peterborough. At one point in time, Peterborough was known as ‘the electric city’ because it was the first Canadian city to have electric street lights. This early development occurred because the Trent-Sevren waterway easily opened the way for generating hydro electric power.

4) Along with lumber exports, Peterborough made a lot of canoes

If anyone ever plans to go to Peterborough for a trip, or lives in the area, they’ve probably heard of the Canadian Canoe Museum. One might then wonder, perhaps, why canoes get their own museum. As it turns out, making them was quite a business in the area! While the Peterborough Canoe Company wasn’t founded until 1893, making canoes began in the 1850s. A factory was later built on of the same location as the Adam Scott mill had been. If one takes a look even further forward in time, it turns out a by the 1930s a quarter of Canada’s boat making industry was located in Peterborough. Peterborough may only be ever known for a few different professions, but when it does get known, it really does go all out!

— Mary Williams

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