Welcome to the Town of Renfrew, Ontario - Photographs by J.J. Guy Longtin and A. J. Kent Tubman - Copyrights Retained.

History

Over 180 years have passed since the first settler arrived in 1820 and laid the foundation for what would become the flourishing Town of Renfrew.

Built alongside the Bonnechere River, the settlement was originally called Renfrewville after Renfrew, Scotland and had its first permanent resident, Joseph Brunette, in 1823.

The original settlers of Renfrewville were farmers or workers in the lumber industry, and although the community grew quickly, it would be 20 years before the first store opened in 1840. Other businesses were quick to follow. By the time it was incorporated as a village in the year 1858, the community could boast of a blacksmith shop, tannery, shoe-maker, brewery, a doctor's office and an operating sawmill, along with other area shops and services.

The opening of a colonization road, the Opeongo Line, in 1854 saw immigration to the area grow rapidly. In 1895, just 75 years after the first settler had arrived in the area, the village of Renfrewville became the Town of Renfrew.

Today, the founders of the past are still very much a part of the present, with many of the buildings erected then still standing, and names of the town's pioneers can be found on street signs and buildings in the area.

The Town of Renfrew invites you to explore its past while enjoying all it has to offer in the present.

The Railroad
Like many Canadian communities, the arrival of the railroad meant the true arrival of the Town. Before the Canadian Central line arrived in 1872, Renfrew was only accessible by the waterways and the most primitive of roads. Two more railway lines
would pass through the Town, making the area grow and thrive.

The most important of the three lines was the Kingston and Pembroke, or the Old K&P, that connected the vibrant timber industry of Renfrew County with the Quebec and U.S. markets. The final route ran between Ottawa, Amprior and Parry Sound and opened in 1893.

Along with bringing economic and population growth, the railroad also meant huge advances in the lives of residents.
The loading docks became vital for businesses importing and exporting area goods and services and train travel from the Renfrew Train Station gave people access to the area as well as to the world beyond.

The Lumber Industry
Before Renfrew was settled, the area was called the Second Chute of the Bonnechere by lumbermen using the area waterways for transport.

Timber camps, like The Square Timber Trade, first employed lumberjacks in the area around 1830. By 1845 the upper Ottawa River watershed had almost 10,000 raftsmen running squared timber down to area sawmills.

However, it was the opening of the Opeongo Line in 1854 that made millionaires of area lumber barons, like M. J. O'Brien,
who used it to access the white pine forests and move men and supplies to their timber stands.

Across the area, men would winter in the woods cutting down pine and hauling it to the river's edge. In the spring, the men and logs would float down the river to the sawmills. As the land cleared, farmers moved onto the land with cattle and crops and sold their produce to the camps to feed the men.

The timber industry continued to flourish and remained the largest area export until the beginning of the 20th century.

Did You Know

Renfrew's 'Swinging Bridge', built in 1895, is one of only two remaining in Canada.

The first female mayor of a major Canadian city was bom in Renfrew; Dr. Charlotte Whitton, Mayor of Ottawa during the 1950's and 1960's.

At various points in history, Renfrew has been visited by Prime Ministers' Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Lester B. Pearson, John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark and John Turner.

The National Hockey Association, the brainchild of local businessman Ambrose O'Brien, was the precursor to today's NHL. O'Brien and his father M.J. also established a team that would become the Montreal Canadiens, and another that went on to become the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In exhibition play, the Renfrew Creamery Kings soundly defeated the Montreal Wanderers, holders of the Stanley Cup in 1910.

Welsh poet W.H. Davies passed through Renfrew, riding the rails on his way to the Klondike. He injured himself trying to hop on the back of the train, was treated at the Renfrew Hospital where he had his right leg amputated. He later sent a letter of thanks to the Town and spoke admiringly of Renfrew in his book Autobiography of a Super Tramp.

Author Robertson Davies spent six years of his early life in the town of Renfrew. His father, Rupert, was the editor of the local newspaper. The writer would base his novel "What's Bred in the Bone" on Renfrew.

Renfrew citizen Jack Davis was the first Canadian soldier wounded in WWI.

Over the course of both World Wars and the Korean War, over 1,500 local men and women served. Sixty-nine soliders from Renfrew were killed in action or from wounds inflicted during WWI and 68 died in WWII. There were no casualties from Renfrew in the Korean War.

Every 25 Ib. shell that Canada supplied to the war effort during WWI came to Renfrew to be filled with the new cordite explosive developed by industrialist M.J. O'Brien.

Through Andrew Carnegie's Library program, Renfrew's library developed from one room to an entire building at a cost of $19,315 in 1921.

The "Renfrew Agricultural Fair" is one of the oldest in Canada having begun in 1854.

 

Town of Renfrew
127 Raglan Street South, Renfrew, Ontario K7V 1P8
Telephone: 613-432-4848 ~ Fax: 613-432-7245
info@town.renfrew.on.ca

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