History of the Village of Hastings

Morrison Fowlds photo courtesy Trent University Archives
Photo courtesy Trent University Archives

The Village of Hastings traces its origins to the United Empire Loyalist William Hare who, in 1804, obtained an 850-acre land grant from the Crown for the south side of the Trent River where it exits from Rice Lake. Rice Lake, named for the wild rice (actually a water grass seed) collected by native people in their exquisite birch bark canoes, was a central part of what would become the Trent Severn Waterway. Samuel de Champlain had first seen this land when he was surveying in 1615 and used the Percy Portage, a native way, to traverse the rapids that are now at the centre of Hastings. The Percy Portage is a geo-heritage place identified in the footprint of Richardson Rd. just off Highway 45.

James Crooks, one of Upper Canada’s early entrepreneurs, recognized the potential of the land Hare had been granted as a place for waterpower, lumbering, pulp and paper and textile industries. (Today, Crooks is remembered today as the first paper-maker in Upper Canada.) In 1810, Crooks persuaded Hare to transfer ownership of the land to his name and he called the place Crooks Rapids. The war of 1812, speculative losses and even a term of imprisonment delayed Crooks development of the village. In 1823 he petitioned the government to build a mill on the north side of the river. However, Crooks was more interested in speculation than actual development and did not make many improvements or attract people to the area.

The Upper Canada government was taking steps towards canalization of the Trent waterway. In 1835 a work crew began construction of a dam at Crooks Rapids and later constructed a lock, log slide and swing bridge. Seeing the potential of this community as an industrial centre of Upper Canada, Crooks hired Richard Birdsall to survey the land in 1839 and merchants, innkeepers and artisans moved into the area. Crooks had many properties throughout Upper Canada and by the 1850’s he decided to sell Crooks Rapids.

Henry Fowlds, a fellow Scot who had prospered as a lumberman in nearby Westwood, purchased most of the lots in the village, renaming it Hastings after the Marquis of Hastings. His much improved grist mill produced flour under the name “Avon Flour’. He had several other enterprises in town including the ‘Albion Arms Hotel’ a family home converted for lumbermen and itinerant labourers. Fowlds built a carding mill on the south side of the river and then a woolen mill. Unfortunately, as with many of the buildings during this era, the structure burnt down taking with it a sawmill and sash and door factory. Fowlds retired in 1865 and his four sons James, Henry, Martin and William kept the lumber and flour businesses going until 1884. They built a four-floor solid stone structure of the Grist Mill which opened in 1872 and is still standing and producing electricity until this day.

Notes by Dr. Skye Morrison, artist, Founders Week Project, Village of Hastings