Cambridge Visitor Information Centre (Cambridge, Ontario, Canada)
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City of Cambridge History


The city of Cambridge was created in January, 1973. It was formed by the amalgamation of the city of Galt, the Towns of Hespeler and Preston, and parts of the Townships of Waterloo and North Dumfries. The history of the area is a diverse and interesting one.

In 1816, a large block of land originally owned by the Six Nations Indians was purchased by William Dickson – a Scotsman who dreamed of founding a settlement to attract his fellow lowland countrymen. Scots from the “old country” immigrated to the village called Shade’s Mill. In 1827, the Canada Company Commissioner, John Galt, visited the area and, in his honour, the village was re-named Galt.

John Erb, a Pennsylvanian, built a sawmill on land bordering the Speed River in 1806. He called his settlement Cambridge Mills. During the 1830’s, the village grew rapidly and when William Scollick surveyed the community in 1834, he renamed it in honour of his English home town – Preston.

Originally a hamlet called Bergeytown, and then named New Hope by its Pennsylvanian settlers, a thriving town grew on the banks of the Speed River. One prominent citizen was Jacob Hespeler who built a dike and diverted the river to provide power to his gristmill. He also opened a sawmill, a distillery, a woolen mill and a coopershop. In 1859, the town adopted the name Hespeler.

Today, the city of Cambridge is a thriving, cosmopolitan city with a population of approximately 124,000 and an average age of 36.4 years old. Located within the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and the gateway to Canada’s Technology Triangle, Cambridge is minutes from major metropolitan cities and in close proximity to three international airports, as well as three US border crossings.

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Cambridge History

The History of Blair

Blair, originally known as “ Shinglebridge ”, was one of the first communities to be settled inland of the Great Lakes. As with many tracts of land in the district, this one was originally inhabited by the Six Nations Indians. In 1800, settlers from the Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania moved here, built the first dam in the area, and shortly thereafter built the first sawmill. As a result of this settlement, Blair also has one of the oldest European cemeteries in the Region, est. 1804. Blair is renowned for its rare Carolinian forest and the Sheaves Tower - the most painted piece of scenery in Waterloo Region and home to one of the world’s smallest hydro generating projects.

The History of Galt

The Hon. William Dickson, a prominent lawyer, established the area originally known as "Shade's Mills," before it was changed to Galt. Walk or drive through the area know as Dickson Hill and you will be immediately awestruck by the majestic Victorian homes, lighted streetscapes and overarching maple trees. The beauty of this area is attributed to Florence Dickson, granddaughter of the Hon. William Dickson, a single woman in the 1800's who defied the traditional role of a woman and dedicated her life to designing and developing Dickson Hill. Cambridge's heritage in stone stands as a testimony to the triumphs and hard work of the past.

The History of Hespeler

The town of Hespeler’s story is a bit different. Hespeler was developed primarily as an industrial community and housed many woollen and textile mills. During the Depression of the 1930’s, management of the largest mill, Dominion Woollens and Worsteds, ensured that at least one member of each family living in Hespeler was employed at the mill. During the Second World War, with much of its workforce on military duty, Dominion Woollens recruited young women from eastern Canada and Northern Ontario. Many of these women continued to work and live in the community long after the war ended and today some of the original mills are still standing, as are many of the workers homes. Also, not to be missed is the Forbes Estate, one of the most prominent homes in all of Cambridge. This home was originally built for the daughter of industrialist Robert Forbes, founder of the Dominion Woollens Textile Mill. While the significance of the textile industry has all but disappeared, the strong sense of community which has carried Hespeler throughout its long history, continues to be its greatest resource.

History of Preston

Preston, once known as “Cambridge Mills”, is located in the northwest area of Cambridge and is arguably the oldest settled area in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. While Preston was a prosperous manufacturing centre for stoves, furniture, wools and shoes, it became best known for its mineral springs. At the turn of the century, Preston housed five major hotels. Visitors from around the world travelled here seeking out the healing effects of the mineral baths that were thought to cure a variety of ailments. The sole remaining hotel today is the majestic Preston Springs Gardens, built in 1890, and currently under re-development.