The Chamber Through the Years
The Smiths Falls and District Chamber of Commerce has witnessed many phases of development and change in our community. Throughout the years, the Chamber has continuously strived to help create a harmonious balance between tourism and merchant trade.
The Chamber actually began as the Smiths Falls Board of Trade in 1889. Handwritten minutes from meetings in the 1920’s reveal a great deal of interesting history. Membership dues were $3.00 per year and the fees helped the Board of Trade to play a key role in fixing up the main market building in Town. At the urging of the local Council of Women, the Board even arranged for a civic restroom for women installed in the Market. In 1929, the Board of Trade became a corporation and, from that point on, was called the Smiths Falls Chamber of Commerce.
The new Chamber dealt with a large variety of issues, including signage, attracting industry to Town, beautification, and tourism, among other topics. The social welfare of the community was an important concern for the Chamber. Housing became a key concern in the post war era and was noted on many occasions in the minutes. The Chamber played an active role in advocating for the Town Council to request, from the Wartime Housing Committee, an additional 75 houses be built in the area for returning soldiers and their families. Minutes also refer to repeated donations of financial aid to causes such as the Salvation Army, the Welfare Association and the Red Cross to help provide meals to children in times of great need.
The Chamber fought for a number of issues that we take for granted these days. At one point the Directors lobbied the province to keep the highway between Smiths Falls and Carleton Place open by way of Franktown. Closing the road during the winter months was reported to have caused a great inconvenience to private and commercial traffic that had to travel through Perth. Chamber Directors also arranged for a speaker from the Wartime Prices Committee to speak at a gathering in Town Hall. The topic of discussion was to ensure that Smiths Falls residents and merchants understood the necessity for introducing special pricing initiatives.
The persistence of the Chamber to encourage economic development, improve trade and create a positive climate in the community has not waned. The current Chamber of Commerce continues to represent the membership at community meetings and advocates for a pro-business community wherever decisions and strategic plans for Town development are being made. We are eager to work with all levels of government for the betterment of the community by being “The Voice of Commerce” in Smiths Falls.
Members From Days Gone By
Digging through our files, we found several membership lists from days gone by. The Chamber originally began as the Smiths Falls Board of Trade in 1889. In 1929, the group changed names and was incorporated as the Smiths Falls Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber had 37 individual members at that time.
1939 saw fees reduced from $5.00 to $3.00 per business and marked the beginning of memberships being held in the name of businesses rather than individuals. The first businesses mentioned in the Chamber of Commerce roster were: Royal Bank of Canada; the T. Eaton Co. Ltd.; R.A. Beamish Stores; Record News; A & P.
The 1960’s marked the Chamber’s cooperative partnership with the Smiths Falls Industrial Commission. The group actively undertook a variety of awareness raising and media campaigns in an effort to draw attention to the region and to attract new investment and industries.
The Chamber has seen its membership numbers rise and fall throughout the years. Currently, the Chamber has over 250 members and is growing weekly. The mandate of the Chamber has always been to promote and advocate for businesses in the region.
An excerpt from a speech delivered by the Chamber President in recognition of the Smiths Falls Chamber 125th Anniversary:
“… this year the Smiths Falls & District Chamber is celebrating 125 years of being “The Voice of Business”. It was at a public meeting held March 8, 1889 that a group of local businessmen decided that the town’s leaders needed a greater voice in the community and on April 27, 1889 formally signed the documents creating the Smiths Falls Board of Trade. In 1929, the name was changed to the Smiths Falls & District Chamber of Commerce.
Over the years, the Chamber has been involved in many initiatives, from establishing town entrance signs to beautification of the Downtown and in 1989-1990, raising thousands of dollars in support of the Rideau Canal Museum. Most recently, the Chamber has been active in some pivotal discussions including physician recruitment and the economic development task force.
In the 1950’s, the Chamber would celebrate every summer by stopping the first vehicle with out of town license plates. In 1960, police Chief Reg Wride stopped a Pennsylvania car that turned out to be executives from Hershey. The Chamber dined their visitors, informing them of the benefits of business in town and in 1961 Hershey announced it would open its first Canadian plant in Smiths Falls….”