Smiths Falls’ long-time residents might recall that in 1963 the first Beatles record ever made in North America was at its RCA Victor plant. During that time and for a few decades afterwards, Smiths Falls was a thriving manufacturing town – home to some important key players, such as Frost and Wood Co. Ltd., Coca-Cola, RCA Victor Ltd., Rideau Regional Centre and Hershey’s Canada Inc.
Then in the 1990s, the town, like many others, began to see a downturn in the manufacturing sector. Smiths Falls needed to reinvent itself. And over the past several years, more than $122 million has been invested in the town to upgrade its infrastructure, making Smiths Falls well positioned for future growth.
Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow believes one of its strengths for prospective companies lies in its small-town friendliness.
“We pride ourselves on the quality of life opportunities, and an extraordinary sense of community,” he says. “We are also very fortunate to have an abundance of parks, sports fields and kilometers of waterfront as the Rideau Canal bisects our town.”
Located in the heart of the Rideau Canal, the province’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, and situated halfway between Kingston and Ottawa, Smiths Falls’ proximity to three major city centres – Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal – is drawing those who seek a slower pace of life while still enjoying great connections. Smiths Falls offers residents quality schools, good medical services, several recreational facilities, a lower cost of living and minimal commute times.
“The Town has developed a strong sense of direction and is implementing lifestyle features on many fronts including asset revitalization projects, recreation amenities, leveraging tourism assets, business development and sustainable planning for the future,” says Smiths Falls CAO Malcolm Morris. “Our healthy commercial and industrial stock at affordable rates is a central reason newcomers are choosing to locate in Smiths Falls to access a higher quality of life.”
A town with a rich history
Incorporated in 1882, the town of over 9,000 residents got its name from American Lieutenant Thomas Smyth, and the falls that were rerouted due to the construction of the Rideau Canal. Dating back to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and the inflow of Loyalist settlers to the region along the St. Lawrence, Smyth was granted hundreds of acres in 1786, along with many other absentee Loyalists, including the family of Benedict Arnold. Following the War of 1812, the Rideau River was identified as a safe military route, and by the time canal-building began in 1827, a sawmill had been in operation at Smyth’s falls for several years. In the succeeding generation, the Town of Smiths Falls sprang up around the construction of the Rideau Canal and became a hub of transportation, including the use of steamships.
This rise in industries in the area grew in step with a tide of Irish immigrants labouring on the canal and filling the townships along the Rideau, along with established British immigrant settlers and French Canadians from Lower Canada.
However, it wasn’t until 1884 when Canadian Pacific Railway constructed part of its train line through the town – opening up a direct trade route to Montreal – that Smiths Falls really began to experience an economic boom.
Today, Smiths Falls is reinventing itself after experiencing an economic downturn after the loss of some of its key manufacturing industries, building on successful companies that have flourished here for decades, such as innovative industrial services provider Kilmarnock Enterprises, or Guildline, manufacturer of research- and nuclear-grade electrical components. The Town’s Strategic Plan is focused on growth and retention of its successful businesses, while attracting new business in advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, tourism, arts, entertainment and recreation, and information and cultural industries.
Smiths Falls’ leaders are looking at attracting talent and investment and, in the process, accelerating urban development and improving the overall quality of life for their residents.
The town features a strong support system for businesses, whether a start-up, midsize or established one. The town is committed to assisting potential business investors with new initiatives and resource tools. Through a number of economic development strategies such as infrastructure improvements, no development fees, excellent transportation linkages including passenger and freight rail services, a large stock of investor-ready industrial space, and a highly skilled labour force, Smiths Falls is making it a priority to ensure ongoing success in all sectors of the economy.
These factors – along with proximity to top-flight universities, the excellent quality of life and low housing prices that attract the highly skilled labour force needed to help innovative businesses succeed – have helped Tweed, located in the former Hershey’s chocolate plant, position itself and grow to become the largest producer of medical marijuana in the world.
Smiths’ Falls leaders are committed to building a strong community, one which will continue to attract investors and entrepreneurs lured by the opportunity to be competitive in the international marketplace. Additionally, the town’s economic base is diversifying, as Smiths Falls aligns its economic development strategy with companies in advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food processing, international trade, emerging technologies, arts, entertainment and recreation, and information and cultural industries.
Next month in Part 2: Former water treatment plant in Smiths Falls offers new investment opportunity