History of Campbellford

For more info check out Gleanings, A History of Campbellford-Seymour

Campbellford is an area rich in history. Our community is very proud of our past and we are incorporating “Industrial Heritage” as the theme for our new Waterfront Development Boardwalk along the east side of the river.

The Campbellford/Seymour Heritage Society is an active group working to preserve the areas history for generations to come. Gleanings is the book that they have produced on this area after years of extensive research. Some exerpts from that book are condensed under “History & Heritage” below.

Champlain travelled through this area in 1615. The initial settlement of Europeans in the Trent Valley started after the end of the American Revolution in 1783. In the early 1800’s, the British government offered land grants to retiring army and navy officers to encourage settlement. In 1831, two Scottish born brothers, Lieut. Col. Robert Campbell and Major David Campbell were granted 2200 acres of land in Seymour Township. Here at Campbell’s Ford a settlement developed because it was the calmest and shallowest stretch of the river. Today, that settlement is known as Campbellford.

Area History

At the end of the Pleistocene Age, some 12,000 years ago, the glaciers, like huge bulldozers, gourged and molded the landscape into the Trent-Severn Waterway and Trent Hills. Campbellford is located in the Peterborough drumlin field with beautiful rolling hills and valleys. The Trent-Severn has played a significant role in the evolution and development of local culture over the years.

As the glaciers retreated, nomadic tribes of Paleo-Indian hunters arrived using the river as a transportation route. Over the next 2000 years, Southern Woodland People began to form camps to take advantage of the abundant fish and wild rice. During the Middle Woodland Period, the Lower Trent became a religious ceremonial centre with the building of burial mounds along the waterway. Reminants of one such mound was found on the shores of Percy Reach near Bradley Bay.

Around 1500AD, with the establishment of Indian agriculture, villages in the area grew. In 1615, Champlain travelled the waterway describing it as having streams teaming with fish and wilds full of deer and other wildlife. During his journey, he came across the Huron Indians with a highly developed culture based on a mix of agriculture, hunting and trade. With the arrival of European Fur Traders, the Indian population dropped severly due to war and disease.

After the American Revolution ended in 1783, European settlement of the Trent Valley began. In 1791, Upper Canada (Ontario) was established and divided into 19 counties. Northumberland County was named for the county in England which contained similar geographic features with rolling hills and valleys. The Township of Seymour is thought to have been named for Lady Elizabeth Seymour, wife of the Duke of Northumberland.

Settlement began in Seymour Township in the early 1800’s. Eager to settle Upper Canada, the British government offered land grants to retiring army and navy officers. In 1831, two Scottish-born brothers, Lieut.-Col. Robert Campbell and Major David Campbell were granted 2200 acres of land in Seymour Township. Here, at Campbell’s Ford, a settlement developed because it was the calmest and shallowest stretch of the river.

River crossing was done by ferry until 1840 when the first bridge was built connecting the small communities on both sides. Business commerce began to develop near the bridge with factories, mills, hotels and stores being erected.

Around 1846, plans were made for laying out the village streets and building lots. With donations of land for a church, surveying the village into lots, roads and streets and a proposed rail line, Campbellford was seen as being a progressive and properly planned area. In 1854, the population of the Township of Seymour was 2,117 and roads were trails only. In 1876, the area had grown sufficiently that the Village of Campbellford became a separate municipality. The new village had a population of 1,092 and was home to 66 businesses. In 1906, Campbellford became a town … the rest is history.

Commercial History

Commercial Development of the Trent River Valley began with the logging industry. Large stands of red and white pine were cut and shipped to Britain. Wooden dams with log slides and timber sluices were built to encourage lumbering. In 1836, the ground work was laid for a dam at Healey Falls and a lock at Hastings.

In 1837, money was set aside to build the section of the canal from the mouth of the Trent to Percy landing. Many years passed before the canal was fully navigable. On July 26, 1918, the first boat from Lake Ontario reached Orillia. The Trent-Severn Waterway took almost ninety years to build at a cost of $24 million. The system contains remarkable feats of engineering such as the height of the Healey Falls lift which required 3 locks together.

The Trent-Severn Waterway was planned as a commercial venture to move wheat from the prairies to Lake Ontario and Montreal but… by the time it was completed, grain was being moved other ways. The Trent Canal never developed into the commercial enterprise envisioned by its founders.

The 240 mile waterway with 42 locks is basically a tourist attraction used by pleasure craft now. 100 years ago, the Trent Severn’s fortunes were tied up with that of freight movements and fortunes of Ontario. Grain barges, log booms and steamers were seen on the river. Now a tourism attraction, American and Canadian fishermen make Campbellford a destination yearly, just as they did as kids years ago on family vacations. All it takes is one visit here, and you’ll be back.

Commerce in Campbellford has changed drastically over the years. In 1886, the Trent Valley Woolen Mill and The Rathburn Lumber Mill were the largest businesses. Rathburn alone, turned our 100,000 board feet of lumber planks, studs, railway ties, square timbers, shingles and lath each day. The community was becoming well-established with several churches, a stone town hall (now the Heritage Building on Front St.N.), a schoolhouse, blacksmiths, copper shops and grist mills. The river served several important functions such as water for livestock, crops and human consumption as well as a cheap power source and the prime mode of transportation.

Today, Campbellford has a diverse economy with a focus on retail trade and tourism. Fishing, golfing, hiking, boating, bird watching, B&B’s, resorts, camping, one-of-a-kind shops, mouthwatering eateries, department stores, artists and artisans galore, Westben Theatre and more… Today’s Campbellford is expanding in manufacturing with the World’s Finest Chocolate begin produced right here, to name one. A great destination.

Campbellford is the largest commercial area between Belleville and Peterborough. It is uniquely located where the Trans Canada Trail crosses the beautiful Trent River. The historical buildings in the downtown give Campbellford it’s `character` and the main bridge spans gracefully over the water to join the west and east sides. Campbellford is accessible by foot, bike, car or boat.

Diversity is the focus of downtown with clothing boutiques, antiques, gift shops, groceries, personal needs, sporting needs, department stores, furniture stores and much more. The quality of life offered by the community will draw you back again and again. Campbellford is a friendly, helpful, caring community and a safe place to shop, visit or live.

Agricultural History

Agriculture, the backbone of Seymour Township, has changed drastically over the centuries. In the early 1800’s, the pioneer and his family built a log shanty and cleared a few acres to grow some wheat and a few vegetables. Seymour settlers were all willing to help each other and `bees` were the regular way of helping a farmer in distress or who needed help for a big undertaking. All were just as ready to go out and cut a man’s grain or plow his land as they were to help him erect a home or a big frame barn. All worked and all helped.

By the 1850’s farmers began to produce a few items for sale like wheat, potash and livestock. Cheese factories were springing up all over Seymour as dairy products like butter, cheese and milk took off. A steady income meant better cattle and larger farm buildings and homes. As transportation methods improved, export of products increased.

By 1919 every county, including Northumberland, had an agriculture representative to assist farmers and support the rural organizations. The arrival of the motor car changed our rural community drastically as people could travel around and outside of our locality with ease. During the 1930’s, the great depression occurred and the farm community was reduced to a subsistence level of operation. The two great wars did much to increase the production of food for Canada and starving Europe.

After 1950, farm production increased while farm populations decreased drastically. Farm acreage declined as millions of acres went out of production, 3.8 million acres from 1941-1961 alone. The average farm size grew from 105 acres in 1901 to 154 acres in 1961. Today the small family-operated farm is still alive in Trent Hills but, in other areas, large business-like acreages that specialize in cattle, swine, poultry, milk or food products are becoming more common. Many local farm families supplement agricultural income with off-farm employment.

Historically, there had been more than 17 cheese factories in the Trent Hills area alone but now, Empire Cheese Factory is the lone survivor, as it is the only operating cheese producing plant in Northumberland County. The first Empire Cheese Factory was built in the late 1870’s. In 1953 Empire amalgamated with Kimberly Cheese Factory. Today is is still owned by local dairy farmers and is the first cheese manufacturing plant east of Toronto. At Empire, the traditional way of cheese making in an open vat has been handed from cheesemaker to cheesemaker to insure the quality and flavour of the cheese and curd.

Traditional agriculture is still alive in Campbellford but new, expanded agriventures are on the rise in our area with bison, llama, ostrich and emu farms on the rise.

To see all that Trent Hills produces locally, all you need to do is stop at the Farmer’s Market Wednesday afternoons or Saturday mornings. The Farmer’s Market changes with the seasons and offers a wide variety of items grown right here. Vivid plants, hanging baskets, spring flowers, crates of strawberries, pungent herbs, garden vegetables, gooseberries, raspberries, corn, fruits of all kinds, gourds, pumpkins, dried flowers, squash, carrots, beets, potatoes, pickles and preserves, honey, maple syrup, cider, apples, to fresh bread and deserts.

The Campbellford-Seymour Agricultural Society was formed in 1854. Back the Campbellford Fair took place in October and was held at various locations. By 1878, attractions included horses, sheep, swine, grains and seeds, dairy and kitchen products. The Riding Show became a popular event for the area farmers. By 1889, roots and fruits were added to the usual farm products and to kick off the festivities, Campbellford and Hastings would have a friendly baseball game.

In 1895, the society purchased land at the present location of the Campbellford Fair Grounds. Eventually buildings were erected including a cattle barn and a horse barn. The General Exhibition Arena was built in 1922 for housing poultry but by 1937 it was being used for produce, cheese, school projects, homemaking and flower displays.

The major centenial project in 1967 was the construction of the Campbellford-Seymour Community Arena. Today the Campbellford Fair is a continuing success held over 3 days on the second weekend in August each year. It is still an agriculturally dominated fair but has many other attractions including a large midway with various rides, novelty contests for kids (and the young-at-heart), a petting zoo, school displays, and the biggest attraction – the demolition derby. Horses, cattle, ponies, swine and poultry are exhibited and judged. Other events include Western and English horse shows, a tractor pull competition and horse & pony drawing matches. Still great family fun after all these years.

Ferris Park

The land where Ferris Provincial Park is was crown land until 1839. In 1892, the Ferris family purchased the property which remained basically untouched and natural. The unusual dry stone fences were built to clear the land and to serve as divisions for fields. The land was passed through three generations of the Ferris family until it was donated in 1960 on the condition that it remain in its natural state and be available to the public. In 1962, Ferris Woods, as it was then known was made a Provincial Park with additional properties being added in 1965.

The park was operated by the province until 1994 when they made a decision to close this park and seven others in Ontario. A delegation of concerned citizens from Campbellford/Seymour formed a group called `The Friends of Ferris` to help carry out the Ferris Family’s wishes. Because of the effort of these fine citizens, Ferris Park reopened that year.

Presently, the park is run by the Provincial Parks section of the Ontario Government in co-operation with the Friends of Ferris. Both work hard all year long to attract attention to our beautiful asset, Ferris Provincial Park. They are determined to keep it’s natural beauty in tact and hold several events over the course of the year to support it.

In 2003 the Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge was built linking Ferris Provincial Park to the Trans Canada Trail. Access to this great attraction will be through Ferris Park.

For more info check out Gleanings, A History of Campbellford-Seymour