Blast from the Past: 4 Historical Figures who Shaped Cambridge’s Boom!

Class is in session! Here are four people who made history in Cambridge.


John Erb (1764-1832)

If you’ve already brushed up on your Preston history books, you may very well have heard of Mr. John Erb – otherwise known as the founder of Preston.

Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1764, John Erb, accompanied by his family, relocated to Canada in 1805 and settled along the Speed River. Soon after, he got to work founding his businesses.

In 1806, only one year after arriving in Canada, Erb erected the area’s first sawmill. At the time, this was a significant development. Until this point, sawed lumber could not be acquired in the region aside from in Toronto or Niagara.

Yet another year later, in 1807, he erected a grist mill. Slowly but surely, a community began to grow around the grist mill, later rebuilt by John Erb’s son, Joseph, in 1834.

John Erb played a vital role in the development and growth of Preston – not to mention his family of nine children.

Jacob Hespeler (1811-1881)

Hespeler residents are more likely to be familiar with this notable figure. Jacob Hespeler, much like John Erb, founded his own settlement in the region. The only difference is that Hespeler’s settlement ended up taking his name.

Jacob Hespeler was born in Ehningen, Germany, in 1811. He emigrated to Canada with eight of his brothers and sisters and later found himself in the fur trade, first with John Jacob Astor, then with the Hudson Bay Company.

In 1835, Mr. Hespeler opened his first store with a business partner by the name of Mr. Yoeste. He soon became the shop’s sole proprietor as Yoeste had an unfortunate run-in with authorities south of the border. Although the store carried on with operations, Jacob Hespeler set his sights on new business opportunities.

To give the Erb family a run for their money, Mr. Hespeler set out to open a competing grist mill along the Grand River. While a viable business concept, he failed to obtain water rights and soon abandoned the site. Nevertheless, in 1845, Jacob Hespeler purchased a plot of land in the settlement of New Hope and began redeveloping its existing dam and erecting a grist mill followed by a gas house, distillery, and eventually, a stone woollen mill.

As a prominent business person in the area, John Hespeler soon incorporated the settlement of New Hope, which Queen Victoria proclaimed as the Village of Hespeler in January 1859.

Nathaniel Dean Fisher (1804-1887)

Here is a lesser-known name among Cambridge residents. Nathaniel Dean Fisher pushed the region further along as the industrial revolution gained momentum by establishing Galt’s first foundry.

Born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1804, Nathaniel Dean Fisher was heavily involved in the boot and shoe trade in Warsaw, New York, before making his move to Galt.

In 1842, Fisher founded Galt’s first foundry to manufacture portable and stationary steam engines, cut-offs, boilers and heaters, and other woodworking equipment.

Mr. Fisher operated the foundry alongside a handful of partners before making his exit. The foundry operated until the 1950s, changing ownership numerous times before it was eventually decommissioned.

Little else is known about Nathaniel Dean Fisher. What is known is the significance of his contributions to the development of Galt’s industrial infrastructure by providing the necessary equipment for a variety of businesses along with employment opportunities for many of the region’s earliest settlers.

Robert Turnbull (1827-1879)

Many Cambridge residents know Cambridge’s significance within the Canadian textile industry. Robert Turnbull was notable for his involvement in the writing of this historic chapter.

Robert Turnbull was born in Hawick, Scotland, in 1827. Growing up, he worked in the textile industry as a cloth finisher at William Watson and Sons. After arriving in Galt in 1852 at the age of 26 years old, he started his career as a woollen manufacturer.

Given the technological limitations of the mid-1800s, central heating had yet to emerge, allowing Turnbull to target an untapped market with what would become a hot commodity: knit woollen underwear!

In 1859, Robert Turnbull founded his knit woollen underwear business, manufacturing units out of the back of his home alongside a partner, John Deans, until 1870. Turnbull was the first and only manufacturer to produce full-fashioned underwear in North America until 1946.

The hottest product on the market was Turnbull’s CEETEE underwear. They were known for their ultra-comfortable, durable, and soft design – accomplished using the incredibly advanced machinery equipped in Robert Turnbull's factory.

These are just four of the historical figures who helped develop Cambridge throughout the industrial revolution. We’re always excited to dig through archives and discover new bits of history and share new (old) stories about our community.

Do you know of any other significant Cambridge residents who helped shape our City? We’d love to hear about them! Use the #MakingHistoryInCambridge hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to share your Cambridge history knowledge.

Since '73: Five Historic Events that have Shaped the Cambridge of Today

A look at events that shaped Cambridge and united our community.

The Flood of ‘74

Perhaps a retelling of such a disaster may not be the most positive way to kick things off… but for many Cambridge residents, this was a time to remember.

The Flood of ‘74 was a significant event in Cambridge’s history. Most importantly, this event proved our community’s resilience in the face of an unexpected challenge.

Hardly a year after Cambridge’s formation, a devastating flood rushed through Downtown Galt. On May 17th, 1974, heavy rain and an opened reservoir upstream overwhelmed the Grand River’s banks, with water flowing up to 17.4 feet high at a rate of up to 53,000 cubic feet per second.

Fortunately, there was no loss of life during the Flood of ‘74, though damages reached a value of nearly $7 million in 1974. The Flood was the largest ever recorded in the history of the Grand River Watershed.

Take a look through the Royal Commission Inquiry Into the Grand River Flood report here to learn more about this record-breaking day.

Toyota Comes to Cambridge

Cambridge has always played a significant role in Canadian manufacturing history. We are proud to say that our city has been helping drive Southern Ontario’s economy since the opening of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Canada (TMMC) plant in 1988.

The plant opened its doors on November 30th, 1988 and began producing the Toyota Carolla. Ten years later, in 1998, the company completed the construction of the North Plant — a considerable expansion for the plant. The same year, TMMC rolled out the Toyota Carolla and the all-new Camry Solara. In 2000, TMMC became the first facility outside of Japan to manufacture a vehicle from the Lexus brand.

Today, the Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Canada plant produces three vehicles and occupies a 280,000 square meter facility on a 1.62 square kilometre plot of land. Most notably, the company is the largest employer in the city, with over 9,700 employees!

Lights! Camera! Action!

Cambridge has been a popular location for film and television producers to shoot scenes for upcoming releases on the big and small screens.

Hollywood North typically refers to Toronto and Vancouver’s importance in the film industry. When the 1988 Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement was introduced, it created favourable film and television production conditions north of the 49th parallel. This has led to Cambridge getting its fair share of screen time.

Here’s a quick look at just some of the popular productions filmed in Cambridge:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale (2020-Ongoing, HULU)
  • Murdoch Mysteries (2008-Ongoing, Citytv and CBC)
  • The Queen’s Gambit (2020, Netflix)
  • 11.22.63 (2016, Warner Bros. Television Distribution)
  • RED (2010, DC Entertainment)

Use the Filming in Cambridge interactive map to see where exactly films and TV shows were shot in Cambridge.

Cambridge on Ice

Only the most die-hard Cambridge hockey fans will know that the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) was founded and headquartered here in our City.

The league was born when managers from the Western Ontario Hockey League, Mid-Western Junior Hockey League, and Golden Horseshoe Junior Hockey League came together to form a united league. The first game happened on September 8th, 2007, between the now-defunct Cambridge Winterhawks and the Guelph Dominators.

Today, the league consists of 25 Junior B hockey teams across Southern Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe – including the Cambridge Redhawks!

To score more info about the league and find upcoming games to cheer on your favourite – the Cambridge Redhawks – visit the GOJL website.

Exchanging Ideas at the Idea Exchange

We’re firm believers in accessible knowledge and educational programming here in Cambridge. Our City officials have invested heavily in providing residents with spaces to expand their minds — we call this space the Idea Exchange.

Formerly known as the Cambridge Libraries and Galleries from [date-date], its name changed to the Idea Exchange as it became a space for curious minds to create, discover, and innovate.

The Idea Exchange offers Cambridge residents a suite of events and programs ranging from arts and technology classes to Dungeons & Dragons and Nerf nights! Explore upcoming Idea Exchange events here.

In 2018, the City of Cambridge and the Idea Exchange repurposed the Old Galt Post Office as the Idea Exchange’s newest location. The project blends the building’s historic Gothic, Romanesque, and Second Empire features with a modernized addition to make it Canada’s first bookless library.

Here is where you can find all five Idea Exchange locations:

  1. Queen’s Square: 1 North Square
  2. Preston: 435 King Street East
  3. Hespeler: 5 Tannery Street East
  4. Clemens Mill: 50 Saginaw Parkway
  5. Old Post Office: 12 Water Street South

We’re always excited to retell our stories with visitors and new residents in Cambridge. These events have allowed our residents to come closer together over shared experiences we can recount as we continue to grow as a prosperous community.

We would love to hear your stories of Cambridge! Share your most memorable experiences in the City from the past 50 years using the #CBridge50 on Instagram and Twitter.

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane at Cambridge’s Museums

The City of Cambridge is home to five distinct museums dedicated to preserving and exhibiting our community’s rich heritage. Discover the stories that shaped Cambridge into the prosperous city it is today.

Firehall Museum & Education Centre

The Firehall Museum & Education Centre is appropriately housed in the old City of Galt firehall. Designed by Architect Frederick Mellish and constructed in 1898, the hall once served the area until it was decommissioned in 1979. This historic building was soon purchased, repurposed and preserved as Cambridge’s Firehall Museum & Education Centre. The family-friendly, volunteer-led museum houses a collection of vintage equipment, displays, and archives to showcase the evolution of local and international fire safety.

Discover Cambridge’s firefighting history at the Firehall Museum and Education Centre by visiting their website here.

Fashion History Museum

The Cambridge region was an integral contributor to Canada’s textile and garment industries back in the 19th Century. The Fashion History Museum preserves and displays the City’s contributions alongside curated exhibitions and collections celebrating fashion from France, Britain, Canada and the United States. The Museum was opened in 2014 by Jonathan Walford and his partner Kenn Norman and lives in the historic Town of Galt post office. It features a collection of over 10,000 items with pieces dating as far back as the 17th Century.

Who knew history could be so fashionable? Learn more about the Fashion History Museum and find upcoming exhibitions here.

Cambridge City Archives

The Cambridge City Archives began as a community exhibit for a 1980 homecoming celebration. Located in the historic Galt City Hall, the Archives maintain over 63,000 historic artifacts including photographs, government records, newspapers, diaries, genealogical records, statistical data, and much more. For those who prefer a digital experience, the Cambridge Online Archives provides records dating back over 200 years along with over 10,000 images available for viewing.

Learn from Cambridge’s historical artifacts at the City Archives website here

McDougall Cottage Historic Site

The McDougall Cottage is a preserved historic site, constructed in 1858, honouring Cambridge’s Scottish heritage. This limestone and granite home, located right along the Grand River, was the residence of two Scottish families, the McDougalls and the Bairds. The home was approved for restorations in 1988 once the historical significance of its hand-painted friezes, ceilings and wall murals had been recognized. In 2002, Heritage Cambridge, the City of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo purchased the home and preserved it as a museum. The McDougall Cottage now offers all-age special events open to the public which include workshops and gatherings.

Tour the McDougall Cottage at an upcoming event by visiting the Region of Waterloo Museums website here.

Hespeler Heritage Centre

The Hespeler Heritage Centre is a community resource centre devoted to the preservation and promotion of Hespeler’s history and artifacts. The Centre was created in 1992 as a research project undertaken by two local professors, C. Kenneth Banks and J. Marshall Mangan. The Centre is home to over 5,000 Hespeler-related documents, photos, and artifacts dating as far back as the 19th Century all located in the old Hespeler Town Hall, a two-storey Beaux Arts style building constructed in 1914.

Learn everything about Hespeler’s history by visiting the Heritage Centre’s website here.

Cambridge’s museums and centres serve as heritage-preserving institutions for our community. They offer visitors the opportunity to get up close with the region’s history and learn from the guides, curators, and historians who are most passionate about each exhibit and item display.

Don’t miss out on the biggest exhibitions during Cambridge’s 50th Anniversary year! Subscribe to the Cambridge newsletter to have upcoming museum events and news delivered right to your inbox.