About Bridgenorth

The following information was provided by Helen Willcox whose book:  Bridgenorth, the Centre of the Universe is available at the Bridgenorth Public Library.  We thank Helen for her contribution to our website.

To quote Helen:  “Bridgenorth is the centre of the universe – you can go anywhere from the village.  For instance with the right boat and the right crew, leaving from the end of Maitland Street, Gore Street, Colborne Street, East Communication Road or the 8th. Line, a trip could be taken to Nova Scotia, down the St. Lawrence Seaway or to Florida through the intercoastal waterway.  The estimated time of arrival is not guaranteed.”

Thomas Ward (aha! “Ward” street) who had received a tract of land as a reward for his government services, came to observe his newly acquired property in Smith township in the company of persons who became well-known in the Peterborough area – Charles Fothergill, John Edmison, and Adam Scott.  What he saw was a large tract of dense forest on the shores of a small and shallow lake.  Ward had come from his home which is now the site of Trinity College in Port Hope.  Much of the forest was white pine, a tree which would later figure prominently in the business history of  Bridgenorth.  White pine grew tall and straight and made excellent masts for sailing ships in Britain.

The date that these men made their trip into the wilderness was in 1818 soon after Smith Township was named. With a sparse population, what we know now as Peterborough, seven miles to the south was called Scott’s Plains .  Adam Scott had established a mill for the Irish settlers  on the banks of the Otonabee River.

Bridgenorth has never been incorporated as a village , although efforts to that end were made in the 1920s and again about 1970, but abandoned because of the cost of establishing a Council and Council chambers.  It remains only as a “settlement” in Smith Township with a population varying from about 1700 souls.

 The main street, after settlement was established, was Hunter street.  The prominent business was Jopling’s meat market.  The original shop still stands as a dwelling.  According to Beth Chambers , who lived in the house for many years with her husband David and two children, it was interesting to go up in the attic and see where their home had been built around an original building (which would have been the meat market, complete with machinery and safe.) At the back of the house there was a concrete building and a cement pit with a trap door (about 4×8) – no doubt for the storage for furs.  The blacksmith shop, a very important business in the days of horse and buggy, was located on the south side of Hunter, opposite the cemetery and was run by William Nicholls and Joseph Sucee.

 There “was a tavern in the town”  in 1833 , run by William Valley on the shores of the lake at the foot of what is now Willcox street.  There were trappers and hunters needing bed and breakfast as they hunted through the forest .  All guests slept together in the upstairs room

 By 1851 there were several businesses, mostly on Hunter street, with some on Ward St. such as Marcus Dean who operated the new post office as well as a general store, Asa Dunbar and John Pope were innkeepers, James McCall, a carpenter;  Neil McDonald and George Gray had  blacksmith shops and shoed horses.  Making boots and shoes were William Carter and William McCall.  Harness makers were essential, so Matthew Boyle filled that role. Shoes were not available in a store, so they were made to measure by William Carter, William McCall, and John Roberson.  Clothing was made by hand by John Robertson, augmenting the work done by seamstresses who called at the various homes.  So the little village was quite self sufficient.

Everyone knew everyone else.  The sick were treated  by neighbors with the  occasional visit to Peterborough by horse and buggy,if someone was in dire need.

 It was a pretty noisy place in the “olden days”.  The screech of the saws at Kelly’s mills could be heard far and wide.  ( Dr. Doug Chenoweth of Peterborough is a descendant of this family) There was also the  excursion and lumber boat whistles which would dock at the end of Gore street to take on a full boatload of passengers: the jingle of harness, the clip clop of hooves.  Sundays were quieter, marked only by the bell of the Methodist church which had been built by Mr. Jopling in 1889, with only one wheelbarrow of supplies left over .

The first and only place for business, school, political, church or other meetings in the early days  was in a building which still stands across the road from Bell’s garage, now used as a private garage.

The main business was Kelly’s mill, run by Smith Kelly who came from Haldimanad township, bringing his muley saw with him.  He hired men form the village and vicinity.  He bought up properties in the village for the pine trees on them, finally acquiring the large tract of forest which is still called Kelly’s woods (Bridgenorth Estates).

In 1881 Alex Elliott , a merchant from Peterborough , (the Palace Grocery at 353 George St. ), along with Hy Rush, and David Hatton bought  the property adjoining Bridgenorth which became known as Chemong Park.  They made it into a recreational subdivision ,  one of the first such in Ontario.

Besides the opportunity for recreation by Americans and monied people from Peterboro ugh,  there were businesses established on the Park – such as pavilions, grocery outlets and dance halls. The park became an opportunity for Bridgenorth persons to be hired  to install and bring in docks, repair and sell boats, and supply baked goods and goceries.

Time passes; things change – there was no longer a need for shoeing horses or making cartwheels…..the Kelly property was sold  (bounded by Gore street and Bridge street along Ward.)  Two Kelly houses still stand at Gore and Ward – one was the business office)  Jopling’s barn was torn down ( see cover of “Bridgenorth the Centre of the Universe “ ) to make way for shops. The Jopling potato field was taken for the present plaza.

Although transportation became much easier, Bridgenorth remains a small town , still unincorporated, still friendly, oriented to the lake, although the floating bridge is long gone.

 –         Helen Rutherford Willcox

–         April 23, 2012


In Helen’s book, she uses a quote by Winston Churchill (1941) to describe Bridgenorth:  In the past we have had a light which flickered; in the present we have a light which flames; and in the future there will be a light which shines over all the land and sea.”


Dates the Ice Went Out of Chemong Lake in Bridgenorth:
Apr.16 1901 Apr. 17 1926 May. 2 1951 Apr. 26 1976 Apr. 10 2001 Apr. 16
Mar. 23 1902 Apr. 6 1927 Apr. 17 1952 Mar. 29 1977 2002 Apr. 7
Apr. 28 1903 Mar. 28 1928 Apr. 19 1953 Apr. 6 1978 Apr. 28 2003 Apr. 20
Apr. 5 1904 Apr. 28 1929 Apr. 9 1954 Apr. 13 1979 Apr. 13 2004 Apr. 10
Apr. 20 1905 Apr. 17 1930 Apr. 18 1955 Apr. 12 1980 Apr. 11 2005 Apr. 17
Apr. 4 1906 Apr. 14 1931 Apr. 10 1956 Apr. 29 1981 Mar. 31 2006 Apr. 11
Apr. 26 1907 Apr. 22 1932 Apr. 6 1957 Apr. 2 1982 Apr. 24 2007 Apr. 12
Apr. 20 1908 Apr. 26 1933 Apr. 11 1958 Apr. 14 1983 Mar. 21 2008 Apr. 19
May. 3 1909 Apr. 12 1934 Apr. 25 1959 Apr. 23 1984 Apr. 15 2009 Apr. 3
Apr. 21 1910 Apr. 30 1935 Apr. 20 1960 Apr. 22 1985 Apr. 16 2010 Mar. 31
Apr. 28 1911 Apr. 24 1936 May. 3 1961 Apr. 24 1986 Apr. 4 2011 Apr. 10
Apr. 28 1912 Apr. 26 1937 Apr. 25 1962 Apr. 21 1987 Apr. 8 2012 Mar. 20
Apr. 15 1913 Apr. 15 1938 Apr. 17 1963 Apr. 15 1988 Apr. 6 2013
Apr. 16 1914 Apr. 21 1939 Apr. 30 1964 Apr. 15 1989 Apr. 19 2014
Apr. 22 1915 Apr. 14 1940 Apr. 28 1965 Apr. 29 1990 Apr. 13 2015
Apr. 10 1916 Apr. 15 1941 Apr. 17 1966 Apr. 13 1991 Apr. 7 2016
Apr. 23 1917 Apr. 21 1942 Apr. 10 1967 Apr. 11 1992 Apr. 26 2017
Apr. 10 1918 Apr. 18 1943 Apr. 26 1968 Apr. 14 1993 Apr. 19 2018
Apr. 23 1919 Apr. 14 1944 Apr. 27 1969 Apr. 16 1994 Apr. 16 2019
Apr. 21 1920 apr. 14 1945 Mar. 28 1970 Apr. 23 1995 Mar. 31 2020
Apr. 19 1921 Mar. 25 1946 Apr. 3 1971 Apr. 29 1996 Apr. 19 2021
Mar. 28 1922 Apr. 16 1947 Apr. 24 1972 May. 1 1997 Apr. 23 2022
Apr. 26 1923 Apr. 27 1948 Apr. 14 1973 Apr. 7 1998 Apr. 3 2023
Apr. 23 1924 Apr. 14 1949 Apr. 10 1974 Apr. 15 1999 Apr. 6 2024
1925 Apr. 8 1950 Apr. 19 1975 Apr. 22 2000 Mar. 25 2025