Museums and History

Take a glimpse into Smiths Falls’ heritage by visiting our museums.

History

The Town’s name is derived from the original owner of the land, Thomas Smyth, and the once-magnificent falls that were diverted in order to create the Rideau Canal and the three lock stations.

The history of Smiths Falls dates to the American Revolutionary War between the Americans and the British when land grants were issued to United Empire Loyalists who lost the lands they owned in the United States for supporting the crown. The area of Smiths Falls was granted to Lieutenant Thomas Smyth, who was issued 400 acres of land in 1786. Rights to his land and mill were contested in 1824, and Smyth lost his lands for having defaulted on mortgage payments. The area was then purchased by Abel Russell Ward, a self-proclaimed United Empire Loyalist, in 1825.

When Lt.-Col. J. By, a member of the Royal Engineering Corp. was charged with constructing a navigable canal linking Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River; he included the Rideau River running through Smiths Falls. The opening of the canal in 1832 is seen as a milestone for the area since it allowed for economic growth.

The true economic boom came after 1884 when the Canadian Pacific Railway constructed part of its line through the area. This provided a direct trade route to Montreal and its shipping lines. The population of the region increased rapidly.

Due to those early ventures, Smiths Falls has a diverse history of important industries, such as Frost and Wood Co. Ltd., Coca-Cola, RCA Victor Ltd., Rideau Regional Centre and Hershey’s Canada Inc.

In 2007 the Rideau Canal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first in Ontario. The Canal still plays an important role for the town, since Smiths Falls is the Heart of the Rideau Canal.


Museums

 

Heritage House Museum

The Heritage House Museum is an elegant Victorian dwelling offering the lifestyle of a wealthy mill owner. It was built in 1867 and has eight nicely decorated period rooms. The museum offers changing exhibitions, art shows, day camps, educational programs, gift shop, gardens, picnic area and special events though out the year.

This museum is located at 11 Old Sly’s Road. For more information, please contact the museum by calling 613-283-6311. Learn more about the Heritage House Museum.


The Rideau Canal Visitor Information Center

The Rideau Canal Visitor Information Center is the Flagship interpretation and orientation center for the entire Rideau Canal system. Five floors hold a unique blend of historic displays, artifacts and modern technology. Learn about this true engineering marvel with hands on exhibits. Explore the Tunnel of History or test your skill as a Canal Captain. From the lookout, enjoy an aerial view of the Canal and Smiths Falls.  This Center is located at 34 Beckwith Street, South. Please call 613-283-5170 for more information or visit the museum website.


The Railway Museum

While visiting the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario, you’ll find rail heritage comes alive at this National Historic Site. Visitors can climb up into the cupola of a caboose or inspect the track in a Speeder Car. New exhibits, events and programs take place all season. Don’t miss their fantastic events! Rail-fest takes place on August 27th and 28th. This museum is located at 90 William Street West. Please contact the curator for more information by calling 613-283-5696 or visit their website.