The earliest known settlement was an Indian village, “Asaukhknosk,” replaced by a French Mission “Kente,” and thereafter named for prominent citizens, “Thurlow Village,” “Singleton’s Creek” and “Meyers Creek.”
In 1789 some fifty United Empire Loyalists settled here. The most notable was Captain John Walden Meyers, a true renaissance man. Hardworking and resourceful, he built a dam on the Moira River and erected a sawmill, a gristmill and a distillery. Meyers operated a trading post and a brick kiln. He is credited with building the first brick house in Upper Canada in 1794. Meyers’ gristmill drew settlers from Napanee to Port Hope to have their grinding done and the community soon became known as Meyers’ Creek.
The Moira River, which wends its way through the city, played an important role in the early stages of the community’s development. A strong demand for timber in England led to Belleville’s development as a bustling lumber town. Rich forests nearby were easily accessible by the river and French Canadian loggers were a familiar sight in the community. The logs were cut into timber at several local mills and loaded on schooners or were rafted and taken down the St. Lawrence to Quebec.
With its export trade in lumber and flour Belleville’s harbour was alive with vessels of every description. Belleville soon gained the reputation as the most prosperous town in Upper Canada.
A visit in the spring of 1816, by Sir Francis Gore, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada and his wife, Lady Arabella, inspired the residents to change the name of their settlement to Belleville in honour of the fair lady.
The lumber boom peaked and the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856 gave Belleville a link with Montreal and Toronto. For many years the railway was Belleville’s largest employer. In 1866, discovery of gold near Madoc, earned Belleville the name “Gateway to the Golden North” as miners stopped
for supplies on their way north of the city.
While the lumber trade declined towards the end of the nineteenth century industries were expanding. Handcrafted, pioneered items gave way to factory made goods. Iron foundries, furniture manufacturers, plants producing wagons, carriages, candles and soap abounded. Situated in the centre of a
cheese-producing district Belleville became renown for its world-class cheddar.
From the pioneering past to the present vibrant community, Belleville continues to enjoy a diverse industrial base along with strong links to agriculture and its waterfront.