Smiths Falls is one of the most varied and historic towns in Ontario. Located in the heart of Eastern Ontario, it is the Falls located in the centre of town from which the name was derived.
Originally known as Smyth's Falls, it was named after Thomas Smyth, a United Empire Loyalist who received a 400 acre land grant in the area in 1786. In 1823, Smyth built a saw mill at Smyth's Falls, but he never lived there, choosing to stay in Elizabethtown Township on the St. Lawrence and also at Burritts Rapids. It was Ward who in 1826 was the first to move into the area and actively start to build a settlement. The building of the Rideau Canal, completed in 1832, greatly expanded the settlement. Now called Wardsville, it became the hub of commerce in the region. In 1836 the name of St. Francis was proposed, but most residents had reverted to using the original name of Smyth's Falls, or Smiths Falls as it was now known.
In 1882 the village council wanted a new name. Rideau City and Atironda were put forward but the residents resisted, preferring the commonly used "Smiths Falls". The town was incorporated in 1883. A clerical error at that time in Toronto resulted in the registration of the name as Smith's Falls. That error was rectified in 1968, officially recognizing the long-standing use of the town's name as Smiths Falls.
In the late 1800s, the railroad came to town. Rail transportation was taking over from water transportation and Smiths Falls benefited by becoming the hub of rail traffic in the region. A direct rail link was made from Smiths Falls to Montreal. The Canadian Northern Railway station, built in 1914, is now the Smiths Falls Railway Museum. The last passenger train to stop at the station was in 1979. The town also has a C.P.R. rail yard. Smiths Falls is a divisional point of CP Rail's main line from Montreal to Toronto. All through trains operating between Eastern and Western Canada pass through the town.
One of the historic buildings in town is the Heritage House Museum. It was built in 1862 by Joshua Bates, a prominent miller and merchant. In 1977 the building was purchased by the town of Smiths Falls and returned to its 19th century glory. The Rideau Canal Museum is housed in an interesting building, part of the Woods Mill complex, established on Wards Island in the 1840s. Purchased by Parks Canada in 1981, it underwent extensive renovations, opening as the Rideau Canal Museum in 1991.
For more information about Smiths Falls read, "Smiths Falls: A Social History of the Men and Women in a Rideau Canal Community, 1794-1994" by Glenn J. Lockwood. Today the residents of Smiths Falls are proud of their community and take a very active involvement in its on-going development of industry and tourism.