Historical Evolution of Cambridge:

Cambridge Civic SquareThe City of Cambridge was incorporated in 1973, when the three municipalities of Galt, Preston and Hespeler along with parts of Waterloo and North Dumfries Townships were amalgamated into a single legal entity under a new name. (A new name that was not very new as Preston was once referred to as Cambridge Mills.) The  the settlement of Blair had previously been amalgamated into Preston in 1969.

Each of the communities possessed a long and proud history and there was considerable resistance among the local population to this "shotgun marriage" arranged by the Provincial government. A healthy sense of rivalry had always governed relations among our three communities. Even today, while our residents will tell the outside world that they call Cambridge home, they will often identify themselves to each other as citizens of Galt or Preston or Hespeler.

While the original communities have come together well in the years since amalgamation, they began life apart and as a result Cambridge is blessed with not one but three historic core commercial areas to preserve for future generations. As Cambridge has developed the open spaces between the original municipalities have been filled in a fourth commercial core. Today, Cambridge is a thriving emerging and modern city with a diverse population of more than 125,000. It is located within the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and is apart of one of Ontario's fastest growing and economically prosperous regions. With its perfect position being located along Highway 401, only 45 minutes from the provincial capital of Toronto, Cambridge is well poised to continue to grow and flourish into a prosperous metropolis and one of the best places to live in the Province of Ontario.

History of the City of Galt:

Historic City Hall GaltIn 1784 the British Crown granted to the Six Nations, in perpetuity, all the land along the Grand River six miles deep on each side of the river from its source to Lake Erie. The First Nations, led by Joseph Brant, had the land surveyed in 1791 and divided into Reserve lands as well as large tracts from which they intended to sell to land developers. One such developer was the Honourable William Dickson who, in 1816, came into sole possession of 90,000 acres of land along the Grand River that was later to make up North and South Dumfries Townships.

It was Mr. Dickson's intention to divide the land into smaller lots that would be sold primarily to the Scottish settlers whom he hoped to attract to Canada. In the company of Absalom Shade, Mr. Dickson immediately toured his new lands with the intention of developing a town site that would serve as the focal point for his attempts to populate the countryside. They chose the site where Mill Creek flows into the Grand River and in 1816 the settlement of Shade's Mills was born. The new settlement grew slowly and by 1825 though still very small, Shade's Mills was the largest settlement in the area and was large enough to build its own post office. Mr. Dickson decided that a new name was needed for the Post Office and subsequently the settlement and he chose Galt in honour of the Scottish novelist and Commissioner of the Canada Company, John Galt. The settlers resisted preferring the more familiar Shade's Mills. However, after Mr. Galt visited Mr. Dickson in the settlement in 1827 the name Galt received more wide spread acceptance.

In its early days Galt was an agricultural community serving the needs of the farmers in the surrounding countryside. By the late 1830's, however, the settlement began to develop an industrial capacity and reputation for quality products that in later years earned the town the nickname "The Manchester of Canada". Galt was the largest and most important town in the area until the beginning of the 20th century when it was finally overtaken by Berlin later known as Kitchener.
In the late 1960's the provincial government began looking at ways in which municipal governments could become more effective. It was proposed that the Regional Municipality of Waterloo would replace the County of Waterloo. As part of that process, the City of Galt would amalgamate with the towns of Preston and Hespeler as well as the settlement of Blair to form a single city. So it was that on January 1, 1973 the City of Galt ceased to exist as a separate political entity and became part of the new City of Cambridge.  
History of the Town of Preston:

Preston Town HallThe story of Preston, Ontario, Canada begins in the early 1800's with the arrival of a group of German speaking Mennonites from Pennsylvania. The land upon which they settled was acquired from the Six Nations through a land speculator named Richard Beasley.

Among the first settlers to arrive in what was later to become Preston was John Erb, who acquired 7500 acres including land at the confluence of the Grand and Speed Rivers. Mr. Erb and his wife settled on his Speed River lands in 1805 and built a sawmill on the banks of the river in 1806. A gristmill followed in 1807. The sawmill has long since disappeared, but the gristmill was the beginning of a flour milling business that has operated continuously on that spot to the present day. The site is recognized as the oldest continuously operating industrial site in the region.

It was around Mr. Erb's mills, known locally as Cambridge Mills that the settlement that became Preston began. It was not Mr. Erb's intent, however, to create a town. Mr. Erb consistently refused to sell land for commercial development and it was not until after his death in 1832 that his lands to the south of the Speed River were surveyed and divided into lots.

The task of surveying the land fell to William Scollick, a surveyor, conveyancer and Justice of the Peace from Preston, Lancashire, England, who completed the survey of Mr. Erb's lands in 1834. The linear shape of the survey with virtually all the buildings in the settlement stretched out along the Great Road from Dundas is said to have reminded Mr. Scollick of his native town in England and he gave the name of Preston to the settlement.

The sale of the newly surveyed lands immediately attracted a significant number of tradesmen, artisans and craftsmen primarily young German immigrants who had recently arrived in North America. These men saw a place where the German language was spoken, where much of the land had been cleared and where there was an acute shortage of skilled artisans and craftsmen. The population grew rapidly from about 250 inhabitants in 1836 to about 1600 in 1855. Of these approximately 70% were German in origin. Preston's location on the Great Road into the interior of the province made it a natural stop for travelers and with its eight hotels and taverns attracted more Europeans than any other village in the area.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, these European travelers were joined in increasing numbers by people who were attracted to the town's mineral springs which were thought to possess remarkable curative powers in the treatment of a variety of ailments. The springs were discovered accidentally in 1837 by a member of the Erb family who was drilling for salt and found instead "stinky water". The water, with its high sulphur content, was well named and was initially thought to be worthless. It was not long, however, before some enterprising businessmen and medical practitioners let it be known that the mineral springs, while not heated like that of some European health spas, could offer relief if not an outright cure for a number of ailments including arthritis and rheumatism. Soon three major hotels, first the North American and later the Del Monte and finally the Sulphur Springs, sprang up to serve the well-heeled clientele which began to arrive in Preston from all over North America to "take the waters".

While the town became an important destination for those seeking to re-new their sometimes fragile health, the well-being of the town itself was in question. Between 1861 and 1871 Preston's population declined from 1539 to 1409 and showed only a marginal increase to 1419 by 1881. It was not until 1891 that the population once again began to increase and it was not until 1900 that the population broke through the 2,000 barrier. Part of the reason for this turnaround can be traced to the coming of the electric railway systems that began to serve the community in 1894.
The idea of an electric railway to connect Preston with Galt, its larger neighbour to the southeast, was first proposed in 1890. At first, Preston's town council was not eager to get the town involved in a potentially hazardous railway scheme and it was not until 1893 that Preston Council decided to enter negotiations. In many ways, the building of the electric railway marked Preston's emergence from its well earned identity as a "sleepy German town" where very little happened to a much more energetic presence in the region.

A steady growth followed and the decades of the 1950's and the 1960's saw the continuing growth of Preston's industrial base and the gradual expansion of the town toward the borders of its nearest neighbours Galt and Hespeler. By the late 1960's a move was under way to institute a new level of local government that would see the creation of a new Regional Municipality of Waterloo. Included in that plan was the formation of a new city to be formed by the amalgamation of Preston with its immediate neighbours Galt and Hespeler.

The plan, proposed by the Provincial government in the name of administrative and economic efficiency, was not met with universal approval. In the end, it was the common interests and the long-standing relationships that had developed between the communities over the years that finally prevailed. It was noted at the time that despite the municipalities' long-standing rivalries, there was very little difference between them in areas such as type of labour force, newspaper circulation, ethnic origin and religious affiliation. In addition, problems resulting from the continued growth of all three municipalities were better solved with the pooling of their resources. Thus, on January 1, 1973, the Town of Preston ceased to exist as a separate political entity as it became part of the new City of Cambridge.  

History of the Town of Hespeler:


Hespeler Town HallThe area that eventually came to be the town of Hespeler was originally part of the land granted to the Six Nations by the British Crown in 1784. The Six Nations, led by Joseph Brant decided to sell a part of their grant and had the land surveyed. In 1798 a block of land, known as Block 2 and measuring over 90,000 acres was sold to Richard Beasley and his partners who looked to resell the land in small parcels. This land came to the attention of a group of Mennonites from Pennsylvania that were looking for land on which to settle.
The first of the Pennsylvanian Mennonites to own land in the Hespeler area was Abraham Clemens who arrived in 1809 having purchased 515 acres from Mr. Beasley. The following year, Cornelius Pannabecker, said to be Hespeler's first blacksmith, arrived and sometime thereafter built a forge on his farm in the Beaverdale area.
In 1830 Joseph Oberholtzer purchased a large tract of land from Abraham Clemens. This tract included much of the future site of the settlement of Hespeler. At about the same time Mr. Oberholtzer deeded some of this land to his sister Susanna who had recently arrived with her husband Michael Bergey. The Bergeys settled on the land and are considered to be Hespeler's first residents. The settlement's first name, Bergeytown, commemorates their arrival. This name did not last long, however, and by the mid-1830's the settlement was known as New Hope.
It was to the settlement of New Hope that Jacob Hespeler, for whom the town was later renamed, brought many of his hopes and ambitions in 1845. That year Mr. Hespeler purchased a total of 145 acres fronting on the Speed River. He then proceeded to build an industrial complex that would provide the footings for the settlement's later industrial strength. The incorporation of the settlement of New Hope as the village of Hespeler in 1859 was due, in no small part, to the efforts of Mr. Hespeler and was, in part, made possible by the arrival of the Great Western Railway to New Hope on its route from Galt to Guelph. The presence of the railway construction crews in the vicinity of New Hope encouraged Mr. Hespeler to call for a census of the settlement in 1857 hoping to find enough "residents" to qualify for incorporation under the terms of the Ontario Municipal Act of 1849. Incorporation was essential to Mr. Hespeler's plans for the settlement that could then separate from the county and elect its own Council. This Council would then have jurisdiction over all aspects of roads and bridges and a variety of other issues the most important of which were the location of industries and the ability to make provisions for fire protection and public health. The census was taken and on July 31, 1858 the government of her majesty Queen Victoria proclaimed that the settlement of New Hope would become the incorporated Village of Hespeler effective January 1, 1859. Over the following years the community continued its slow but steady growth and in January 1901, Hespeler attained a new status when it was incorporated as a town.
The town's industrial strength continued throughout the 20th century even though the population remained small reaching the 6,000 level only in the late 1960's. Despite its small size, the town was the home of Dominion Woollens and Worsteds Ltd., one of the largest textile producers in the country. The general decline of the Canadian textile trade in the years following World War II had a major effect on the town, as its largest employer could no longer compete on the world stage. The town was successful in attracting new businesses, but remained in the shadow of its larger neighbours. When, in the late 1960's, the provincial government proposed the amalgamation of Hespeler with its larger neighbours Galt and Preston to form a single city, the idea was not well accepted. However, in the end amalgamation could not be resisted and on January 1, 1973 the Town of Hespeler disappeared as a separate political entity with its amalgamation with Galt and Preston to form the new City of Cambridge. 


History of the Village of Blair:


Sheeve Tower BlairThe settlement of the area around what was to become Blair began in 1800 with the arrival of Samuel D. Betzner, one of a group of German-speaking Mennonites who originated in Pennsylvania. The land they settled on had recently been acquired from the Six Nations through a land speculator named Richard Beasley. Upon their arrival, the Mennonites immediately set about clearing the land and it was only by chance that their leaders later learned that Mr. Beasley had overextended his finances. This was of significance to the Mennonites because Mr. Beasley's creditors had placed a lien against the land the Mennonites had recently purchased, thereby calling into question the Mennonite ownership of the lands. Now in a precarious legal position regarding the land, yet unwilling to walk away from their new homes, the Mennonites created a land development company known as the German Company and, in 1803, purchased an additional 60,000 acres of unsurveyed land from Mr. Beasley. The money they paid for this land would be used to pay off Mr. Beasley's creditors, thus ensuring the Mennonites obtained clear title to their lands.
Although he was the first settler in Blair and Cambridge, Samuel D. Betzner had little influence on the development of the community. He purchased the block of land that would later hold the bulk of the village and cleared and farmed a portion of this parcel, but he sold the property to Joseph Bowman in 1817 and moved to West Flamborough. Rather than the Betzners, it was the Bowman and Bechtel families who are credited with initiating the development of the village of Blair.
Joseph Bowman built the first dam in the village, located on Bowman Creek, and erected the area's first sawmill, a business that represented the first industrial enterprise in the village. In 1846, Samuel B. Bowman, one of Joseph Bowman's sons, built a four-storey flour mill on the site now occupied by the Blair Flour Mill.
In about 1876 the Sheaves Tower, sometimes known as the Power Tower, was built by Allan Bowman to provide extra power for the flour-mill. The tower was erected on Bowman Creek and was located two hundred and forty feet from the mill. It was thirty-one feet high and had a twelve-foot square base. Inside was a water-powered turbine that turned a vertical shaft that ran from the turbine to a horizontal shaft mounted at the top of the tower. The horizontal shaft extended through the east wall where it was attached to an eight-foot diameter cast-iron wheel. The wheel was designed to permit installation of hardwood blocks around the rim. The blocks had deep grooves or sheaves cut into them through which ran a wire cable. This cable was connected to a similar wheel attached to the west side of the mill. To keep the tower from collapsing from the strain imposed by the cable, a brace cable was installed on the backside of the tower. The Sheaves Tower is particularly significant because it represents a unique method of the mechanical transfer of power and may be the only early example of this technology still extant.
Like many mills of its day, the Bowman Mill had a second identity and was also known as the Carlisle Mill. This name was extended, for a time, to the whole village, which was known locally as Carlisle until 1858 when a post office was opened there. Since a Carlisle post office already existed in Ontario, a new name was needed for the new post office. The name chosen was Blair, selected in honour of Adam Johnston Fergusson-Blair, the first judge of Wellington District and a colonel in the local militia. He won election to the Upper Canada legislature in 1850 and won re-election by acclamation in both 1854 and 1857.
The village of Blair had a number of other names in its early history. One was Durham or Durhamville, derived from the Durham Flour Mill built by Henry Bechtel in the early 1830s. Another name was Lamb's Bridge, which was used for a short time in the early 1850s in recognition of John Lamb's Tavern and store, located at the village end of the bridge that spanned the Grand River. The first recorded name for the settlement was Shinglebridge, from the shingle-roofed covered bridge that crossed the Grand River at the settlement as early as 1835. The covered bridge was severely damaged by ice in January 1857 and was replaced by an iron bridge that remained in use until 1957. This iron bridge was demolished in 1958, leaving only the support piers still to be seen in the river today.

The village of Blair was amalgamated into Preston in 1969.