As Peterborough seeks to rebrand itself, it is worth considering that Peterborough has been through the process many times. There are many ways in which slogans can be helpful.
When Bruce Dyer and I were seeking a title for our 1987 book on the history of Peterborough over 160 years we chose Peterborough: the Electric City. All these years later I still love the title and it makes an ideal slogan.
The idea of the Electric City blossomed in Peterborough in the years between 1900 and 1914. During those years Ontario was promoting the idea of a power grid for the province based on power generated by Niagara Falls. Already for more than 20 years, Peterborough had enjoyed its own power grid as more than 20 power stations stretched along the Otonabee and Trent waterways from Trenton to Bobcaygeon.
In 1907, for example, Peterborough ranked seventh in the nation for the amount of manufactured goods produced in their plants, always known locally as the “Works.” We had the Electric Works, the Lock Works, the Rope Works, and more. Almost everything was manufactured in Peterborough. In 1901, the value of Peterborough manufacturing was $3.8 millions; for 1906, it was $11.5 millions. In those years, the value of manufacturing in Ontario rose 20% (from $241.5 millions to $365.7 millions) compared to the 300% in Peterborough. Peterborough ranked seventh in manufacturing after Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg and London.
In November 1909 more than 200 people joined the Board of Trade conference in the Collegiate Institute looking for ways to boost the “industrial expansion and growth of Peterborough.” The hosts were George A. Gillespie, the chairman of the Board of Trade, and Mayor Henry Rush.
According to The Examiner, “It was agreed unanimously that Peterborough had not been sufficiently taking advantage of her great natural advantages.” It was felt then that hiring an industrial commissioner who could inform companies hunting for new locations of the many Peterborough advantages. Effective advertising and bragging might assist the growth of manufacturing.
The great advantages included cheap electrical costs and railways that radiated in every direction, effectively serving all points between Montreal and Detroit. Apparently every hour there was a train carrying mail in and out of town.
W. H. Denham, of Quaker Oats, pointed out that manufacturers needed ” first, plenty of power at reasonable rates, and, secondly, good shipping facilities for receiving raw material and shipping out finished goods.” Quaker Oats had come for both reasons. Peterborough, he noted, had two trunk lines: CPR and Grand Trunk; had the best links to Georgian Bay and the wheat fields of the west. Railways prospered from their connections with Peterborough. In the previous 30 days, Quaker Oats Co. had paid $700,000 for grain, and a boat docked in Midland had 528,000 bushels destined for Quaker.
The coming of provincially owned power at Niagara Falls, that city and Welland had cheaper electricity than anywhere else; but those seeking new locations for manufacturing plants needed to know that.
In the spring of 1910, more than 1,000 people submitted possible slogans, and the winner of the diamond ring donated by the College of Opthamology was W. J. Stubbs, 659 Water St.: “Peterborough Presents Possibilities Unparalleled.” In practice, the winning slogan became “Peterborough presents progressive possibilities.” Alliteration was accentuated.
The runner-up was “Popular Peterborough for Progressive People,” the suggestion of Miss Mamie Menzies, 279 Sherbrooke Street. Interestingly, a great many slogans were built around alliteration such as the two winners had. One person submitted, “Examiner Want Ads Always Produce Results.”
Several entries tried to tie to Quaker Oats or Canadian General Electric. “Peterborough for Porridge” was common. There were several variations of “the Electric City” theme. “Boost our Electric City”; “The Power City: and “Peterborough for Light.”
The 1870s slogan, “The Plate Glass City” was resuscitated. Also quite general was the suggestion “the Wide Awake City.”
Peterborough manufacturing was central to a large proportion of the submissions. Along the general line, there was “Peterborough: the Great Manufacturing Centre.” More explicit was “Peterborough for Poodles, Pork Packing, Paddles, Porridge and Padlocks.”
There have been other slogans tied to Peterborough over the years. The shift from manufacturing to tourism was the new trend.
The Chamber of Commerce and the Peterborough Automobile Club produced a promotional film about the Trent and Kawartha districts in the summer of 1926: it was called, “Bright Waters and Happy Lands.” Aimed at American markets in Michigan and Ohio, it described the Trent Waterway as Ontario’s premier summer resort area.
In January 1927, The Examiner fumed when a New York City newspaper said Lionel Conacher, the great athlete was born “in the obscure little town of Peterboro on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada.” The Examiner said, “Here we are with the world’s largest lift lock, the largest single concrete span on the terrestide footstool, the biggest cereal mill in the British Empire, the headquarters of canoe building and the gateway to some of the finest scenic country on the continent, and some hack writer tries to make us out as a suburb of Toronto.”
Between 1928 and 1930, the Trent Waterway Association defined its tourism promotion around the Iroquois Trail theme. Communities along the water, from Orillia to Trenton and even to the St. Lawrence, could identify with the historic First Nations roots, notably making a connection with Champlain’s 1615 route leading Huron allies against the Iroquois. The proposal which originated with the Orillia Board of Trade suggested that the Trent Waterway was a “marine highway.”
The artistic tourism handbook for 1930 featured a pictorial map of the waterway; pictures of a fisherman, of a paved highway, ferries and cruisers on the waterway, and railways. These suggested the Trent waterway, where river and road met, had terrific facilities. By 1930, the Iroquois Trail was marked by 475 distinctive signs from Trenton to Orillia. However, there were problems defining the route. The roads close to the water were generally quite poor and tourists did not welcome being sent there. Some towns, such as Bobcaygeon and Lakefield, did not easily fit the route, although they might be good for side trips. Others, such as Lindsay, expected to get a free ride because of their location.
However, as much as the boat was important to defining local tourism, especially after 1932 when Highway 7 reached Peterborough, the automobile had become more important. Tourists were attracted by the scenery, the hunting and the fishing, but the automobile defined the possibilities for tourism in the Kawarthas.
When I was writing Peterborough the Electric City in 1986 the reigning tagline was “Peterborough: the Participaction City.” Saskatoon and Peterborough were the first cities to promote the Participaction Challenge as part of encouraging people to be more active physically. In my discussion, I extended the term to include arts, music and culture and the tag seemed to suit the 1980s. However, I had to convince my American editors that this was not a typo. We even included a photo of Mayor Sylvia Sutherland holding Participaction balloons. In those years, Peterborough also bragged that it was “The Lacrosse Capital of Canada.”
By the way, for as long as I could remember, Saskatoon was the “Hub City” usually clarified by calling it the “City of Bridges”. Admittedly, the South Saskatchewan River was a challenge to cross, but in the 1960s there were still only three road bridges and three railway bridges.
By the mid-1990s, the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce was inviting people to “Come Share the Magic!” Later in the decade, Peterborough adopted the slogan, “I’d rather be in Peterborough.” A version of this was “Is there anyplace you would rather be?”
In the more recent years, “It’s a Natural!” has been the city’s slogan, and there were other variations of the theme earlier.
However, I prefer “Peterborough: the Electric City”. It immediately suggests the importance of manufacturing, of hydroelectricity generated on the river. However, it also suggests that this is a place where people do amazing things. It generates pride and a belief that ours has been a special history. And it seems almost timeless, as well.
Elwood H. Jones, archivist, Trent Valley Archives, can be reached at email@example.com. For details of upcoming tours and walks visit www.trentvalleyarchives.com or phone 705-745-4404.