History of Pembroke
The City of Pembroke stands at the joining of the Ottawa and Muskrat rivers in the beautiful Ottawa Valley. The settlement was started by the cutting of the first tree by Peter White, a lumbering prospector, in May 1828. He moved his family to a home he built on this homestead, and began his lumbering operations which prospered.
White collected around him the workmen necessary for lumbering operations and soon a blacksmith shop, a sleigh maker, shoemaker, harness maker and other mechanics were providing him with the works necessary to establish a lumbering centre.
Attracted by the magnificent forest of virgin pine, other lumbermen joined Peter White and a store was established west of his homestead at the mouth of the Muskrat River in 1836, and the site was named Campbelltown. Across the Muskrat River, a small community called Miramichi sprang up. This hamlet was later called Moffat, then Sydenham, and finally, in 1856, the whole area was joined together as a Police Village and re-named Pembroke. 1877 saw the incorporation of Pembroke as a Town, and in 1971 the municipality was granted City status.
The history of Pembroke is linked with the advancement of the lumber industry in the Ottawa Valley. With a natural harbour on the Ottawa River, it was the base for boats which brought passengers and freight from Cobden Lake to Des Joachims, thus opening up great stretches of the Ottawa River. The trip from Ottawa to Portage du Fort by boat, then overland to Cobden Lake, setting out from there, again by boat, to Pembroke could be made in one day. In 1865 Pembroke shipbuilders launched the first boat and the routes were travelled later by Captains Overman and Cowley, who were to obtain Samuel de Champlain’s Astrolabe from its discoverer at Green Lake east of Cobden.
The Village became the County Seat for the County of Renfrew in 1866 and County Court House was built in that year of freestone. It remains one of Pembroke’s finest buildings today. The Municipal Building was erected in 1870 of red sandstone and stands at the junction of the Muskrat and Ottawa Rivers.
Pembroke was the first town in Canada in which electric power was generated for commercial use. On October 8, 1884 the very first street lights in Canada cast their glow down Pembroke Street. A small building on Pembroke Street east of the Muskrat River provided electricity for street lighting as well as for the factories in the Town.
With settlement came the first school in 1838, the first church in 1839, and a high school in 1895. In 1905 the Mackay Street Arena was built and hockey greats Frank Nighbor, Hugh Lehman, and Harry Cameron played there before going on to the NHL.
In the early 1900’s Camp Petawawa was built ten miles west of Pembroke. Then as today, Pembroke has provided a home base for the service men and women and their families.
Recognizing the needs of the people, the Council of 1912 set up the Pembroke Public Library Board and Carnegie Public Library was founded in that year. The Town’s Centennial project in 1967 was the enlargement of the library and it now services the reading and research requirements of a large area.
In 2000, in honour of the Millennium, the City completely redeveloped its waterfront – from one that was originally industrial in nature in the early part of the century, to one which had evolved into a more park like setting during the 50’s and 60’s, the redevelopment included the building of an Amphitheatre, a Boardwalk, and a Walkway. The beautiful Waterfront is now filled with people throughout the summer months, enjoying a stroll along the river’s edge or a picnic at one of the many gazebos and benches. The Pembroke Marina is also located here, and boating enthusiasts can dock and walk into downtown Pembroke for all of their on-board supplies.
Today, Pembroke is home to many industries that have their origin in the lumber trade. But it also has grown to include other industries and businesses based on technology and innovation. In 2003 a fully redundant fibre optic cable was installed around Pembroke, enabling local businesses to work anywhere in the world – without leaving their desks – through a telecommunications infrastructure that is vital to remaining competitive in today’s global economy.
To find out more about the history of Pembroke, visit:
The Ottawa Valley Historical Society
222 Dickson St
Pembroke ON K8A 2X3
Phone: (613) 735-6664