Peterborough | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Founded in 1825, Peterborough was named the following year for Peterborough, New Hampshire, and intended as a compliment for Peter ROBINSON, who directed the settlement of a large number of Irish immigrants in the area.


 Peterborough, Ont, incorporated as a city in 1905, population 78 698 (2011c), 75 406 (2006c). The City of Peterborough is situated on the Otonabee River, about 40 km north of Lake Ontario and 110 km northeast of Toronto. The seat of Peterborough County, it is the largest city on the TRENT-SEVERN WATERWAY and the regional centre for the KAWARTHA LAKES cottage country.

Settlement and Development

Founded in 1825, Peterborough was named the following year for Peterborough, New Hampshire, and intended as a compliment for Peter ROBINSON, who directed the settlement of a large number of Irish immigrants in the area. Its history has been tied to the waterways and forests and to its proximity to Toronto. The site, Nogojiwanong, at one end of the long portage to Lake Chemung, was well travelled by the Mississauga and their forebears, and was visited by Samuel de CHAMPLAIN in 1615. Under European settlement, Peterborough quickly emerged as the administrative centre for the region north of Rice Lake, particularly with the Robinson settlement and the creation of the Colborne District in 1842. It was incorporated as a town in 1850. The development of Red Fife WHEAT in the area was an important contribution to Canada's agriculture, but timber was the main source of wealth for more than half a century.

By the 1870s Peterborough was Ontario's principal timber producer, shipping over 236 000 m3 to American wholesalers annually. The subsequent development of hydroelectricity along the Trent system (before NIAGARA FALLS), together with generous municipal bonuses and concessions, attracted large manufacturers, including Edison Electric (later Canadian General Electric) and Quaker Oats. The city remains a major manufacturing centre, with the addition of such companies as Fisher Gauge. However, since the 1960s major companies have closed their operations. The proportion of the workforce in manufacturing has declined, but the diversity of employers has increased. TRENT UNIVERSITY and Sir Sandford Fleming College have made the city a major education centre. Associated with the city have been literary figures such as Catharine Parr TRAILL, Robertson DAVIES and Margaret LAURENCE; the capitalists Sir Joseph FLAVELLE and George A. COX; engineer Sir Sandford FLEMING; and Lester B. PEARSON, who attended school here.


 Peterborough is nestled in the Otonabee River valley but intermingled with the rolling hills of a major drumlin field. Its 19th-century prosperity shows in 2 impressive blocks of pre-Confederation buildings, which include locally quarried stone buildings from the 1830s and several stately residences. The city sprawls over lands formerly in Smith, Douro, Otonabee and North Monaghan townships. Although some annexations occurred in the 1870s, the bulk of annexation has occurred since World War II. The axis of residential growth in the 1960s was north and west; more recently, the major growth has been west and south. The canal and marshlands long defined the eastern limits of the city, but notable subdivisions have spread to the east as well.

The engineering marvels of the world's highest lift lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway, the Centennial Fountain, and the architecturally acclaimed Trent University reflect continuing change. By contrast, the nearby petroglyphs and the SERPENT MOUNDS date back at least a thousand years.


Peterborough's population doubled every 2 decades before World War I, thanks to the lumber economy and manufacturing and to the 1904 annexation of Ashburnham (pop 2000e) as the city grew from 4611 (1871c) to 18 360 (1911c). The modest growth since then has been more rapid than elsewhere in eastern Ontario (except Ottawa) because of manufacturing expansion through the 1960s and the more recent opportunities in education, tourism and commerce.

The city's unique quality is its demographic averageness - by religion, occupation and ethnicity - making it a bellwether riding provincially and federally and a favourite site for consumer market testing. This has changed somewhat since 1990 as average family income has declined below provincial and national averages and the proportion of the population over the age of 60 is higher. However, the diversity of the workforce remains.

Economy and Transportation

In addition to manufacturing, since the 1960s the economic impact of educational institutions, insurance companies, shopping plazas and tourist attractions has been strong. Mixed agriculture remains a feature of the area.

Peterborough is on the Trans-Canada Highway and has multi-lane highway access to Toronto. The city is tied to Toronto by express bus service, but lost its dayliner service in 1993; there remains hope that it will be restored.

Peterborough had train service as early as 1854, and was a major hub of railways from the 1870s to the 1920s. Since the mid-1950s railway trackage has decreased, and there is no functioning railway station. The former Canadian Pacific Railway station, built in 1884 when Peterborough was a major stop on the Montréal to Toronto line, has been restored as the home of the local chamber of commerce.

Government and Politics

The city's municipal history has been marked by fiscal restraint since the railway failures of the 1850s. For 80 years after 1861, a Town Trust Commission managed its finances. Peterborough has usually favoured a ward system and has resisted provincial efforts to abandon the township/county system for regional government. Since 1905 provincially and 1911 federally, the constituency with rare exceptions has been Conservative. However, in swing elections the riding has generally swung with the winning part at both levels. With the shift to 3-year elections, the city's council has nursed some long terms for politicians, notably Jack Doris (since 1967) and Sylvia Sutherland (since 1984).

Cultural Life

 Peterborough's vigorous cultural life features several successful writers, book publishers, a symphony orchestra, a theatre guild, the 4th Line Theatre and other professional companies, public and private art galleries, and several heritage and historical organizations, including the Hutchison House Museum and the Peterborough Centennial Museum and Archives. Major community efforts have led to the city's acquisition of a major collection of photographs (the 3-generation Roy Studio) and the restoration of the landmark Market Hall (1889). Long recognized as the home of the Canadian and Peterborough CANOE, the city is now home to the Canadian Canoe Museum. It has a winter carnival (Snofest) and its Festival of Lights is a summer-long music and water festival by Little Lake.

Peterborough's amateur teams have won national titles in junior hockey, lacrosse and synchronized swimming. The city hosted the 1980 and 1986 Ontario Summer Games and the 1998 Ontario Winter Games. The Peterborough Sports Hall of Fame is situated at the recently renovated Memorial Centre, home to junior hockey's Peterborough Petes since 1954. The city has developed several walking and cycling trails along its former rail connections and in historic and scenic Little Lake Cemetery (1851).

Further Reading

External Links

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