Snapshot of Smiths Falls, Ontario

October 16, 2020 | Sam

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It’s been two years since marijuana was legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018. This changed the course of the small town of Smiths Falls, home to a significant pot-producing factory in Canada. So how did my hometown (hi, Mum and Dad!) get to where it is today? To find out, I turned to Digital Archive Ontario. It has tens-of-thousands of digitized photos of Ontario communities. 

Main street of small town with businesses and a horse and buggy.
“Main Street from the bridge”, Smiths Falls, 1910, Digital Archive Ontario. Minus the horse and buggy, Main Street looks pretty much the same today.

Indigenous land

Smiths Falls has long been a place of industry. Situated on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and Mohawk peoples, the area was being farmed by Iroquois peoples when Jacques Cartier arrived. By the time colonization began, the area was Algonquin territory, home to the Anishinaabe people who became key trade allies to European settlers. In 1822, the Rideau Purchase 27 ¼ came into effect, which included the area that would become Smiths Falls. However, not all of the Indigenous groups in the area signed the treaty, meaning the land remains unceded. At the time of writing this post, Smiths Falls and the Eastern Ontario watershed is part of ongoing treaty negotiations between Ontario, Canada and the Algonquins of Ontario (learn more about the Algonquin land claim). The Ontario government notes that "if successful, it will be the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty."

 

Industrial projects at the end of the 19th century

At the end of the 19th century, colonization brought its own industrial projects to the area. The Rideau Canal was completed in 1832, with multiple locks connecting the waterways in Smiths Falls. A stone mill, constructed in the 19th century, now houses the Rideau Canal Visitor Centre. In 1884, the Canadian Pacific Railway came to town, connecting the area to important shipping hubs like Montreal. Via Rail still has a station in Smiths Falls, and the Rideau Canal is a popular recreational destination.

Train tracks and station.
The Canadian Pacific Railway station in Smiths Falls, 1910, Digital Archive Ontario. The station was in use until 2011, when VIA built a new station in a different part of town.

 

Who was the "Smith" of Smith Falls?

Interestingly, the man for whom the town was named never actually set foot on the land. Thomas Smyth was a Loyalist who was granted 400 acres in 1786. While he did build a saw mill in the area, he never personally visited. Eventually Smyth mortgaged the land but lost it after a court found the mortgage had not been paid. In 1825, Abel Ward purchased the land, and in 1826 he moved to the area to begin settlement. Different names for the area were proposed (Ward favoured Wardsville), but by this time most people were used to calling it Smyth’s Falls, so the name stuck and eventually morphed into the contemporary Smiths Falls. (Source: Ken Watson, Town of Smiths Falls, Rideau Canal.)

Carnegie library  seen from the corner with Smiths Falls written on it
Smiths Falls Public Library, 1910, Digital Archive Ontario. Opened in 1904, a Carnegie grant made the library possible, with donations matched by C. B. Frost, F. I. Frost and W. H. Frost of the Frost & Wood farm implements company, which had a location in Smiths Falls.

 

Recent history

In recent history, Smiths Falls has endured some hard times as industry exited the town, including the Rideau Regional Centre for people with disabilities in 2009 and the Hershey’s factory in 2008. These two facilities took about 40% of the jobs in Smiths Falls with them when they closed. Those of us who grew up in Smiths Falls will remember the smell of chocolate wafting across town, and it was a hard loss when that disappeared. But in 2014, Canopy Growth took over the factory and became one of the country’s largest marijuana-producing locations, bringing more jobs along with it.

Cover of photo album  with a photo of a rapid.
Photograph view album of Smiths Fall, 190-, Digital Archive Ontario. The full version has been scanned and is available on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

In 2020, Smiths Falls continues to grow and change. The town’s first Pride Parade was held in August 2018. In 2019, the third annual Spirit of the Drum powwow was held on Duck Island, accessible by bridge from the middle of town. As for chocolate, Canopy has started producing it at the old Hershey’s factory — with some additional ingredients!

Brick hotel on corner of street.
The Rideau Hotel, 1910, Digital Archive Ontario. The building is being converted to rental apartments.

 


Browse more photos of Smith Falls on Digital Archive Ontario.

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